How To Write A Movie Script: A Beginners' Guide
Making a script for the big screen is no easy task. Luckily, we have just the guide for you! Read on for easy-to-follow steps on how to write a movie script with an effective screenwriting software.
Read more posts by this author.
We've talked about how to write a screenplay for television . And now, it's time to move onto the big screen! If you're an aspiring film screenwriter, but have no idea where to begin, this may just be the guide for you.
Screenwriting for film can seem incredibly daunting, especially for a beginner. So, here are some steps you can follow in crafting your film script.
1. Write a logline
You'll likely already have a story in mind, but the key here is to put it into words. You may find it helpful to write a logline of your script before anything else.
A one-line summary of your film, the logline should answer key questions about your film. Who is the protagonist of your film, what is the conflict they have to face, and against whom?
To help you better understand what a logline should look like, here's the logline for The Godfather.
"The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son."
Although a logline is meant to be a hook for readers, starting with your logline can help you determine the direction you want your story to go. After all, it can be all-too-easy to lose track of the end goal of your story while you're all caught up writing.
As you write the script, you may find yourself going back and making adjustments to your logline — which is a good sign that you're developing your story for the better!
2. Craft your story outline
Crafting your story outline before you start writing proper is of utmost importance. This helps you sort out the acts in your story, identify plot holes or awkward transitions, and altogether makes the writing process much smoother for you.
Most films follow the classic Three-Act structure, in which the story can be broken into three different parts.
Act 1: The Setup
The beginning of your story, the first act should introduce your protagonist(s) and any relevant characters. It should also contain the inciting incident, or the situation that starts off the conflict and pushes your characters into action.
Act II: The Confrontation
What it says on the tin — this is the main part of the story, where your protagonist(s) have to struggle and contend with the main conflict. Act II ought to take up the bulk of your story and is often the most exciting part!
Consider ending this act on a cliffhanger, where your protagonists are on the brink of despair, and where your antagonists look like they're about to prevail.
Act III: The Resolution
The third act should tie up all loose ends, close out the conflict and the story. This act ought to contain both the climax of the conflict as well as the denouement. Make sure that your resolution is complete and satisfying; that is, unless you're planning on leading into a sequel.
Other narrative structures in film
Of course, this is but a template that you can reference while writing your story! While the Three-Act structure can be helpful (especially for beginner screenwriters), feel free to make adjustments to the structure, or to follow other narrative structures instead. When it comes to writing, there's simply no hard and fast rule!
For example, American screenwriter Blake Snyder came up with the Save the Cat story structure, which further breaks up the Three-Act Structure into 15 parts.
So don't be afraid to find the narrative structure that best fits you and your story!
3. Write a film treatment
Before you start writing, consider building a film treatment first. A treatment is a narrative version of your script that covers the most important parts of your story: the title, your logline, plot summary and key characters.
Writing a treatment has several benefits. For one, it helps you get an overall feel of your story before you dive into scriptwriting. When you lay everything out in narrative form, it might be easier for you to spot plot holes or inconsistencies, and you'll be able to smooth those out before you start your script.
Treatments will also help you pitch your story to studios and producers! They are, after all, a summary of your story. If you're looking to go indie, a treatment can also be pitched to raise money for your film.
4. Start writing
And now that you have your story sorted out, it's time to write your first draft! Since this is just a first draft, don't worry too much about the formatting rules, and instead focus more on following your outline and treatment.
5. Proofread, edit and rewrite
After you've completed your first draft, take a break before you come back for proofreading. Taking a break will help you come back with fresh eyes, and you'll be able to better spot mistakes and inconsistencies in your script.
Aside from spotting grammatical and spelling errors, do make sure that your dialogue flows well, and that your story is coherent. You should then make edits accordingly.
Sometimes, making edits isn't enough. This often happens when your story simply isn't flowing the way you want, or when there are plot holes you need to fix. When that happens, don't be afraid to rewrite! It can be incredibly scary and discouraging, but sometimes, rewriting your screenplay is for the better.
6. Double check your formatting
Before you export and pitch your script, it is of utmost importance that you make sure your screenplay follows all formatting rules. If you're a Microsoft Word user or a Google Docs writer, here are guides on how to format your screenplay on both these writing programs.
Or, save yourself the hassle of manual formatting by using JotterPad to write your film script! JotterPad is a digital writing tool that can streamline your screenwriting with Fountain .
Formatting your screenplay with JotterPad
First, simply create a new Fountain document. On the document, everything that you write will be exported in the appropriate font and font size, as well as with the right page margins and page numbers.
JotterPad also offers a wealth of easy-to-use formatting features that will streamline your writing process. For example, creating a title page has never been easier; all you need to do is go to Properties and input the relevant information in the window that pops up.
Your title page will then be fully formatted upon exporting!
Need to add a transition? We've got you covered. JotterPad makes things easy on you by giving you a list of transitions that you can input into your screenplay with proper formatting – all with a single click!
These are just some of the many formatting features that JotterPad has to offer!
Screenwriting for a film is no easy feat, but we hope that this guide has been helpful. Have fun and good luck!
- Screenwriting \e607
- Directing \e606
- Cinematography & Cameras \e605
- Editing & Post-Production \e602
- Movies & TV \e60a
- Producing \e608
- Documentary \e603
- Distribution & Marketing \e604
- Sound & Music \e601
- Festivals & Events \e611
- Games & Transmedia \e60e
- Fundraising & Crowdfunding \e60f
- Film School \e610
- Grants, Contests, & Awards \e60d
- Marketplace & Deals \e60b
- Off Topic \e609
- This Site \e600
How to Write a Movie Script
If you want to know how to write a movie script, you've come to the "write" place (sorry not sorry)..
We all know the most horrific thing on the face of the earth is either Pennywise... or staring at the blank page. Pennywise isn't real (I swear), but that blank page and blinking cursor will haunt you for your entire life, especially if you're a writer.
If there is a fool-proof way to learn how to start writing it hasn't been discovered yet. Instead today I'll go over all the steps I take to get my story onto the page and into my manager's hands so he can go sell it.
Let's go learn how to write a movie script!
Table of Contents
How to Start Writing: Get Your Words on the Page
I'm excited to go over the strategies I use partly because each key point here is elaborated on in a separate post on that exact method, tool, and resource.
Why is that cool? Because with this SINGLE post you should have a whole kit to help you start writing your screenplay from start to finish.
It should also save you about 100k in film school debt. Which currently crushes me and defines every decision I make in life.
But enough about me, let's get into the article!
How to get ideas for writing
Ideas can come from all over. You can steal stories from the news, talk about current events, write a biopic about your favorite famous person, or use something from the public domain .
The point is, you need to keep an active list of ideas. You never know when inspiration will strike.
Anything can be a movie idea, but the best movie ideas come with great endings, not just great opening scenes .
More on that later.
Let's keep learning how to write a movie script.
The ways to begin a story
You can begin a movie a number of different ways. People like flashbacks or other plot devices . I like to begin in media res , or in the middle of a scene. Let the audience come in on the action and play catch up.
This gets people engaged right way and invests them in the story.
"I have ideas but I can't write..."
Ok so now you have ideas.... but you need to get WORDS on the page... how can you do this?
There are plenty of cures for writer's block out there, but I am guessing you're just dealing with imposter syndrome or the fake feeling that you don't deserve success or belong.
That's all horseshit.
Dreams are dreams until you make them realities. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. It's as simple as that.
So sit down and write. That's how to write a movie script.
1. The best way to start a story? A logline .
Loglines are the way I generate ideas for my screenplays . I usually come up with a list of about ten loglines and then talk with my manager about which he thinks are marketable and could work.
Don't have a manager? This alternative is even better:
Share them with your friends, preferably not ones in the industry, and see which ones grab their attention and which ones don't.
What if you don't have any friends?
Go up to some strangers at a coffee place and say "Hey wanna hear 10 loglines?" They probably will want to and you'll also get a great read on the quality of your ideas.
After you and your manager/friend/stranger pick the top three loglines, it's time to go off and turn those into beat sheets.
Before you move on to beat sheets, please make sure to read up on how to write a noisy logline . The logline really is the core strand of DNA for a story. If it works, the story can work. Problems with the logline will mean problems with the story. Don't settle when it comes to loglines!
2. Another good way to start a story?A Beat Sheet .
Ok, so we're on to the beat sheet now.
A beat sheet is a list a writer makes of the emotional moments, plot points, or 'beats' that outlines and defines their story.
Beat sheets give the relative moments that happen in each story. They can also help whittle down which ideas were good loglines but might not have enough to them to sustain an audience for an entire movie, or TV pilot, or whatever you are writing.
I know I have a solid idea if I make it the all the way through a beat sheet and I still love it the idea by the end.
But more than just 'loving it' you need to feel like each beat is taught, and earned, and part of a story that has a reason to continue.
What comes after a beat sheet?
3. A treatment can help learn how to write a movie script.
Once I have my beats, I assemble it in long-form within a treatment. The treatment is a written-out version of the story that captures the tone, characters, and moments that I think pop.
I write my treatment like a short story, It has lots of editorial notes, pictures, and even references other movies or tv shows. I want the story to be clear and concise. It's starting to feel more like a fully fleshed out idea with elements that can attract people beyond words.
Next I share my treatment with my manager.
He helps me poke plot holes, establish more of the acts, and gives general notes about the emotional payoffs.
I then use these notes to create my outline.
Again, if you don't have a manager you still should find a good sounding board. That stranger at the coffee place might st
4. Outline to learn how to write a movie script.
Lastly, I create an outline.
I make these outlines in my screenwriting software or in Word/Pages. This outline is super detailed. I include scene headings, every beat I now happens, and even some key dialogue I think belongs in the movie.
The reason I make this outline so detailed is that I don't want there to be any confusion when I sit at my laptop to write. I need a road map... a STORY map...
I want to be able to fly through the acts and get a first draft done as soon as possible.
So make your outline detailed and efficient.
5. Open your screenwriting software to get started writing.
Here it is, the moment of truth.
I like to have my title figured out before I write, that way I can label the drafts and ease into page one. But you gotta open it and start writing.
It can be scary, intimidating, and frustrating, but if you've done the prep it will be easier. I fail every day. Sometimes I write one line, sometimes I write 30 pages. The key is chasing the actual writing.
Sit down, hit the keys, and see your ideas come to life.
Terrified to write a scene ? Try out some of our 75 prompts to get your story going.
What's next? Start writing your feature film !
Screenwriting is hard. But to become a filmmaker, you need to learn scriptwriting to master storytelling. We'll give you free lessons.
- How to Write a Logline for your Screenplay (Free Template) ›
What Are 15 Outside-the-Box Writing Exercises for Screenwriters?
Sometimes you need to shake things up and get away from your comfort zone..
When you write as much as I do, there are times when you just feel like you're at your wit's end. You can't figure out a story beat or maybe there's a plot device that's not working out.
Those moments are when I like to shake things up and try stuff I would never do in order to solve the story problem.
Outside-the-box writing exercises for screenwriters specifically aim to sharpen skills such as dialogue, scene construction, and visual storytelling.
I talked to a few friends, did some research, and tried to assemble what I believe to be some great ways to just stir up emotions inside you and fight the good fight in writing.
Let's check them out together.
1. Silent Scene
Credit: United Artist
When the going gets tough, I like to write a scene without dialogue that conveys a character's emotions and the story through action and visuals alone.
These actions can break a scene and also can take the pressure off writing dialogue. You focus on what works in the story and what does not.
2. Reverse Engineering
Credit: Universal Pictures
Take a scene from your favorite movie and do your version of it. Take your characters and put them in the same situation. How do they react? Use some pastiche and make it your own.
3. Character Swap
Maybe you're telling the scene through the wrong characters' eyes. Take the scene that has you struggling and look at it from a different point of view .
4. Cinematic Themes
What themes are in your story? Write a few lines about why you believe in them and what you want to tell the world about them. If you understand the themes more clearly, maybe they can inform scenes you should have that explicitly show them.
5. Prop Challenge
Choose a random object and write a scene where the object plays a central role in the story, revealing character or advancing the plot. Make that prop the center of the scene, like the hammer is in Oldboy .
6. One Location, Many Stories
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Write multiple short scenes that take place in the same location but each tells a different story or is from a different genre.
7. Genre Blender
Credit: Studio Canal
Write a scene and then rewrite it in several different genres . For example, a romantic scene is rewritten as horror, sci-fi, or comedy.
8. Dual Dialogue
'When Harry Met Sally'
Credit: Columbia Pictures
Craft a scene where characters say one thing, but their subtext and actions convey the exact opposite. Sometimes this will open up a whole new set of motivations.
9. Play With the Mundane
Credit: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Take a mundane, everyday activity and write it as the most exciting and high-stakes scene possible. Can you add drama to washing the dishes or mowing the lawn?
10. Restrict Yourself
Write a scene with a restriction that forces creativity, such as no characters can enter or leave, or the entire scene must be one continuous shot.
11. Take a Private Moment
Credit: Paramount Pictures
Write a scene where we see a character alone, doing something they would never do in front of others, revealing their true self. Just give them that small scene who shows who they really are on the inside.
12. Unseen Main Character
'John Wick Chapter 4'
Write a scene where the main character is talked about by others but never actually appears on screen. What do people say behind their back? How do they frame them?
Write a scene that starts as a flashback and then transitions into the present in a way that changes the context or meaning of the initial scene.
14. A Character Interview
'Interview with the Vampire'
Write an interview with your protagonist or antagonist . How do they respond to deep or unexpected questions? What happens when the questions get harder?
15. Score Your Scene
Credit: Orion Pictures
Listen to a piece of instrumental music and write a story that you think fits the mood of the music. Then score the scene you're working on the song. Let the beats match up and see where that takes you.
The key to honing your craft as a screenwriter lies in continually challenging yourself with new exercises that push the boundaries of your creativity and skill.
By stepping outside the conventional confines of character development, dialogue, and plot structure, you open yourself up to a world of inventive storytelling possibilities.
Now you have the tools, it's time to get writing!
WE’VE LAUNCHED A NEW SCREENWRITING PROGRAM | VIEW PROGRAM
How to Write a Movie
(Updated Sept. 14, 2022)
Unless you’ve been contracted to write a screenplay by a director, producer, or movie studio, there are a few steps you can take before starting a screenplay in earnest. Essentially, you’ll start with a short explanation of your idea (loglines) and then add more detail in subsequent works (synopsis, treatments).
These efforts will help you expand that idea into a feature film. It will help organize your thoughts, give you opportunities to make small edits or wholesale changes, and can even help secure financing for your movie before you’ve written one page of a script.
How to Write a Movie: Loglines
Assuming you already have an idea for a movie , your next step should be to carefully craft a logline. The logline is a very brief (25 words or less as made famous in The Player ) summary that describes the central conflict of your story, introduces the characters, and hooks the reader. Here are a couple of logline examples—can you tell which movies they describe?
Logline One: The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Logline Two: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
A logline is a valuable tool in selling your idea. It’s essentially an elevator pitch for your movie. In the two examples used above, the first is for Pulp Fiction and the second is for The Godfather. You want your logline to excite a producer enough to ask for a synopsis or a treatment of your idea.
How to Write a Movie Synopsis
A synopsis is a one to three-page document that summarizes your plot, highlights your main characters, and describes what happens to them during your story. It’s best when it emphasizes the conflicts and resolutions as it unveils the plot. A synopsis can also help organize your movie idea, although it can be written after you’ve already completed your screenplay.
A synopsis is also a way to get some copyright protection for your story idea before you’ve actually written your screenplay (you can’t copyright an idea.) Make sure to include your movie title and your contact information on your synopsis. Most of all, make sure your synopsis does not deviate from your logline.
Writing a Treatment of Your Movie
Your next step in writing a movie is to create a treatment for your idea. A treatment can be thought of like a screenplay for a silent movie—in other words, it is a step-by-step, scene-by-scene breakdown that describes the action that takes place on the screen but contains no dialogue. Treatments for feature films usually run between 10 and 40 pages.
Not only does a treatment tell the story, but it also states how the story unfolds by going into the nuts and bolts of how your narrative is to be presented on screen. This is where the writer’s vision is unveiled—the structure, the tone, the pacing, the characters, and their roles all need to be fleshed out in the treatment. A treatment offers far more copyright protection of your original idea than a synopsis.
As an aspiring screenwriter, the treatment can be an effective bridge between the idea/synopsis and the final screenplay. Since the treatment breaks down your story into a scene-by-scene format, it gives you, the screenwriter, an opportunity to tinker with the structure before it gets locked in with dialogue. There are a few things to consider when creating your treatment:
- Write in the present tense. It should come across as if it were narrating your story in real-time.
- Each scene should have a slug—INT or EXT, location and time of day.
- Only write about that which can be shown on screen. In other words, don’t write about a character’s thoughts.
- Do include emotions as these can be shown on the screen.
- Be detailed when it comes to describing physical actions.
- Include a description of the information the dialogue will convey in each scene.
- Make sure you haven’t strayed from your logline.
Begin Writing Your Movie
Your penultimate step is to write your screenplay . Depending on how thorough you made your treatment this could be as simple as adding dialogue to the treatment or as complex as adding slugs and additional details to every scene. You’ll want to make sure you have everything in proper screenplay format, that spelling and punctuation are spot on, and that you copyright it as soon as you are finished.
When you write a movie script, there is a very specific format you must follow if you want to be taken seriously. Just like the essay you had to write in 11th grade English class, margins, scene headings, page numbers, and even font size must be followed. Fortunately for you, there are several screenwriting software options online for you to follow.
Scriptwriting is both art and craft. Create a plan or schedule that you adhere to. You should use self-imposed deadlines in all phases of the process from logline to final screenplay. You should plan on doing multiple rewrites if necessary, to ensure that your final screenplay matches your initial logline and eliminate things that do not move the story along or are extraneous to the logline.
The goal is to write the best screenplay you are capable of, not the best screenplay you can write in 100 hours. If it takes two years, it takes two years. The final step is selling your screenplay and having it made into a film. This should always be your goal. While all of this can sound straightforward and easy to do, it’s not. It’s something that repetition will help you improve and expert guidance can be invaluable.
Learn How to Write a Movie With a Professional
The Film Connection Screenwriting Workshop pairs you with a professional screenwriter via live, one-on-one remote sessions where you learn how to write like a professional screenwriter by being trained by one. We give you the rules, tricks, and tips for writing a Killer Script from someone who’s already making a living in the field.
Not only will the workshop help you as you write your own screenplay, but it will also open your eyes to the practices and principles that professional screenwriters use. Why move to Los Angeles to attend a “name” school for four years when you can have a finished screenplay in less than a year?
Additionally, the Film Connection can help you prepare for, and set up, a pitch meeting to sell your finished screenplay. If you’re looking to master the art of writing a screenplay, the best thing you can do is write as much as possible. But we’ll give you the tools to take that great idea and start writing a screenplay that gets read.
Ron Peterson’s insights on effective screenwriting .
Film Connection student Cheryl Gallegos Agbunag Channels Military Career into TV Pilot .
Arronn Lepperman Gets Mentored, Shoots Feature in 16 Days !
Learn the skills you need to take your idea from paper to the big screen.
Real world film education by filmmakers for filmmakers, optimized for today!
- Film Career Finder
- Filmmaking (Directing, Cinematography, Editing, & more)
- Creative (Writing, Special Effects, Art Direction, & more)
- Performing (Acting, Stunts, Choreography, & more)
- Business (Producing, Casting, Talent Management, & more)
- Directing Films
- Producing Films
- Writing & Screenplays
- The Film Business
- Art Direction
- Special Effects
- Music Composer
- Entertainment Law
How to Write a Movie Script: The Basics of This Storytelling Craft
Author: Anna Keizer
Last updated: Jul 23, 2022
Anna Keizer is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and filmmaker. She has been writing for film and television for 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago and an M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has been an Academy Nicholl Fellowships Quarterfinalist and an Austin Film Festival Script Competition Second Rounder. FULL BIO
Table of Contents
Movie Script vs. Other Storytelling Mediums
Movie script formatting & its importance, the three acts of movie script story structure.
Executive Producer (Film)
Director of Photography
People also ask
How can I write my own movie?
How long is a one-hour movie script?
How long does it take to write a script for a movie?
Every Screenwriter asks the question of how to write a movie script at some point in their careers. Because the truth is that there is no one tried-and-true formula that will work every time for every Writer.
Yes, there is a specific format for screenplays, as we will discuss. And yes, there’s even a three-act structure that most script experts recommend following when writing a screenplay.
But how to write a movie script also involves individual voice, imagination, and innovation, which is why even the most practiced Screenwriters may question themselves from time to time.
The good news is that by learning the basics of this storytelling craft, such as format and story structure, an aspiring Screenwriter can immediately put themselves in a better position to get their work noticed and career ignited. And that’s exactly what we will explain how to do!
In our discussion of how to write a movie script, we’ll cover:
- Knowing the difference between a movie script and other storytelling mediums
- Movie script formatting
- Three act structure
- Creating conflict
But first, what exactly is a movie script? 1 Plenty of people have heard the term thrown around in conversation, but why do screenplays exist?
Especially when so many films are made from existing intellectual property such as graphic novels, books, and even newspaper articles, why aren’t those storytelling mediums used for making a movie?
Well, let’s take a look at one of the most successful adaptations in cinema—that of the Harry Potter books.
As a whole, the series clocks in just under 20 hours of viewing time. Consider then just how long the films would be if the source material, which between all the books is approximately 4,000 pages, had been used instead of a script that hovers around 120 pages per movie.
How to write a movie script is critical, as in many cases the source material needs to be condensed to fit the length of a film. 2
Alternately, a 500-word newspaper article might make a great jumping-off point for a film, but it’s hardly enough material to sustain a two-hour movie. However, that’s when the talent of a Screenwriter can be utilized by fleshing out that article and making it an interesting story for the screen.
But even in the absence of source material, a screenplay is fundamental to the filmmaking process. Just as Architects require blueprints for the construction of a building, so too do filmmakers need scripts to create a film.
As we’re about to dive into, a movie script entails very specific formatting that can not only describe for a reader what is happening in the story but also reveal to a Director , Cinematographer or other entertainment professional the key elements necessary for it to be made into a movie.
Some Screenwriters like John Hughes have been known to write complete scripts over a single weekend. While he ended up having a widely successful career as a Screenwriter, Director , and Producer , most writing creatives do not work that fast.
The time it takes to write a script can vary anywhere from a few days to several years. A Screenwriter might have a great initial idea and then it stalls out during the outline phase. Or a production company hires someone to write a script , but they get fired off the project after a couple of months and the script goes into turnaround. Or any other number of reasons.
Some Screenwriters set timeline targets for themselves. Others hired onto a project are given deadlines. So in many cases, a script might be completed in just a few months. But the speed with which a Writer finishes a script does not indicate one way or another if it is a script that is ready to be produced.
A movie script is unlike any other type of storytelling format, as it is meant to be both understood via the written word and ultimately translated into the visual and audio medium of film. For those reasons, the way in which a screenplay is written is extremely specific with clearly defined elements, such as scene headings, action lines, and dialogue. 3
These are just a few of the most common script elements, but make no mistake, anyone intent on becoming a Screenwriter should take the time and energy to learn thoroughly what each element is and how it should be used in a screenplay. For now, it’s important to simply take note that these elements constitute the foundation of how to write a movie script.
A brief explanation of why these elements are necessary breaks down to this: Each succinctly tells the reader what is happening in a particular scene, and for the filmmakers who intend to turn the screenplay into a movie, what they need to assemble to make it happen.
For instance, an opening scene heading can let a reader or filmmaker know that they’re at the Corleone compound as opposed to anywhere else fictionalized or in real life. The following action line might then indicate that there’s a conversation taking place between Vito Corleone and another man. Finally, the initial line of dialogue, “I believe in America,” sets up in a significant way one of the major themes of the story and film.
For a Screenwriter, having depth of understanding as it regards screenplay formatting serves two purposes. First, as mentioned above, correct formatting allows anyone reading or working from the screenplay to understand the story and how it can transition to the screen. 4 Says Screenwriter Sara Strange, “The Writer’s main goal is to create a fluid reading experience. When you veer too far from proper/expected format, you create roadblocks/speed bumps for the reader that distract them from what’s truly important: the story.”
Second, though this may be considered a less tangible benefit, it demonstrates to others that the Screenwriter is of a professional caliber and knows how to write for the medium. For example, if a Manager , Agent, Producer or Executive comes across a script full of confusing scene headings, wordy action lines or dialogue attributed to the wrong character—it happens!—it can be the difference between wanting to move forward with the Writer or script and passing on it no matter how great the story.
In short, Writers should understand the importance of a good first impression, and solid script formatting can go a long way towards it.
As Screenwriter Courtney Suttle emphasizes, “Every Studio Exec, Agent, Literary Manager, Script Reader , Producer, Director, etc. has hundreds of scripts sitting on their desk at any given time and they are looking for any excuse to make that pile smaller. Improper, sloppy formatting provides an immediate excuse to toss the script directly into the pass pile. Don’t be that Writer.”
Some people might say “Just do it!” but the truth is that writing a movie script requires a person to have some insight into how to craft this very specific type of storytelling.
That being said, it all begins with an idea. What story do you want to tell? Why do you want to tell it? Start there.
Then start familiarizing yourself with how to properly format a screenplay. Understand how and why to use all the various aspects of script formatting like scene headings, action lines, and dialogue.
Take screenwriting classes or read books on how to properly build a script through three-act structure with imperative elements such as theme, plot, character arcs, and so on.
All the while, start writing! Your first few attempts may not be award-winning efforts, but they’re also not useless. Just as an athlete must practice, practice, and practice some more, a Screenwriter must continually work on their craft.
Hey, what do you think about trying our new Film Career Helper Film Career Helper really quick? It’s totally free and could help get your career moving fast! Give it a try. It’s totally free and you have nothing to lose.
Beyond the more technical aspects of how to write a movie script, Writers must also always be striving towards creating the best story possible—and there are many ways to do it. We’ve already mentioned theme. There’s also character arc. Conflict. Emotional weight. Plot progression.
All these elements and more can support an interesting and dynamic story, but all of them typically reveal themselves within the three-act structure.
(Three-act structure). Again, it’s a term used quite often in the entertainment world, but why is it so important for a screenplay? 5
On how to approach the three-act structure, Suttle notes, “Keep it simple, as every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
That’s your three-act formula. My job as a Writer is to provide the reader with the motivation to keep turning the page no matter which act they’re in.” But how exactly to keep the reader turning those pages?
Let’s use The Godfather again as an example. How interesting would it be if the story was just that a young man takes over the family business from his father? We go from point A to point B with no conflict, thematic value or character development.
But imagine instead that the story was the following: A young man wanting to escape the violent lifestyle that has allowed his father to become a wealthy and influential mafia figure ends up taking it over from him after the father is on the receiving end of an attempted hit and his older brother the victim of a successful one. Now that’s a story! Not to mention the assassination of his first wife and the execution-style hits on his many rivals that set him up as the unopposed mafia head.
At its core, a three-act structure provides the foundation for a writer to create a story filled with conflict that keeps the reader or viewer intrigued, as well as giving the characters within the story the chance to make decisions or be on the receiving end of others’ actions that inform their character growth for better or for worse. Or as Strange succinctly explains, “I’m old school and like the general 1) put your character up a tree; 2) throw rocks at them; 3) get them out of the tree structure.”
As with script formatting, it’s essential that aspiring Screenwriters continue to nurture their expertise by learning all they can about three-act structure, including the rare instances in which they may break the rules! But the reason why three-act structure has such a stronghold in screenwriting is that it works.
The first act provides the inciting incident which gives a reason as to why we’re following this story now and continues with the first major plot point. Moving into the second, the conflict should build, though the protagonist may experience the occasional “victory” along the way to keep the plot moving in a surprising and interesting way.
With the second major plot point, we enter the third act, which is where the climax of the story will take place, as well as the resolution.
Scripts are often referred to as blueprints because the similarities between them are so strong. Within a blueprint, you might have designations for plumbing, electricity, insulation and more alongside the actual building plans. In the same way, a screenplay encompasses many elements, correct script formatting and three-act structure among them.
While it can initially feel overwhelming to the Writer just starting out, the craft of screenplay writing can be so much more than a head-scratching proposition. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to connect with audiences around the globe and make them laugh, cry, shriek or even reconsider their deep-seated beliefs through a captivating story.
With passion, patience, and practice, the opportunity exists for all Writers to have the chance to enjoy this experience and further their craft of how to write a movie script.
Great question! Though it doesn’t always perfectly follow this convention, a one-hour movie script will likely run about 60 pages. That breaks down to one minute of screentime to one page of script.
- 1 . "What Is a Screenplay?" . Screenwriting.io.. published: . retrieved on: 15 November 2019
- 2 Haber, Joel. "Script Classics: Adapting to the Adaptation Process" . Writer’s Digest. published: 22 January 2018. retrieved on: 15 November 2019
- 3 Renee, V. "Learn Script Formatting (& Why Screenplay Format Matters)" . No Film School. published: 24 September 2017. retrieved on: 15 November 2019
- 4 Miyamoto, Ken. "Does Correct Screenplay Format REALLY Matter" . Screencraft. published: 23 July 2018. retrieved on: 15 November 2019