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Screenwriting, Getting Started

Where do you start?

The screenplay is the most important part of making a film. You cannot make a good movie with anything less than a great script. Hollywood sometimes gets away with marginal scripts because they have the big stars that will draw an audience regardless. As an independent filmmaker you can't be that lazy.

The screenplay is one of the few areas where you are on a level playing field with the big boys. It costs no more to write a great script than a marginal one. A great script can also attract financing and talent.

The odds are not encouraging. It's believed that more than 100,000 original screenplays are written each year. Approximately 7,000 of them get made into movies. But only about 200 of those movies get a fair shot at a broad theatrical showing.

Don't underestimate the difficulty of writing a great screenplay. It needs to tell a fascinating story, with interesting characters and great dialog. Screenplays have one of the most exacting formats of any art form. Take the time to get your screenplay right and everything else will fall into line.

Hiring a Writer

Another option is to look for someone else to write your screenplay. If you have a great idea but were never that good at writing then try to find someone who is. It may not be all that hard.

There are almost as many underemployed screenplay writers as there are out of work actors. But first a warning: most of them are terrible. You're going to need to do some work to find a great one.

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The WGA (Writer's Guild of America) is loaded with screenplay writers who might be willing to work for you. But the lowest rates you can possibly get from a WGA member will be over $25,000. Most of them live in Los Angeles and find work through their agents who probably won't take you seriously until you've made a successful film.

A better plan, although a bit more time consuming, is to sign up for local screenplay writing classes, attend writing groups and spot the winners of any local writing contests.

From the classes you will learn a lot about how to write a screenplay but more importantly you will get to see what the other students can do.

If there is a student that seems truly gifted then talk to him/her about your Great Idea and see if s/he would be interested in writing it. Let them know you can't pay them anything beyond expenses, their name in the credits and a percentage of the profits if the film is a success.

There's a good chance s/he will be flattered enough to give it a try, and they should be. If they balk at the deal then ask them how much money they are being paid by anyone else for screenplays they have written. If they still balk keep on looking.

A couple of warnings: First and foremost they have to really be a good writer. Only hire them if you are truly moved by what you have read of their writing and that they write in a similar genre to your Great Idea. Second is make sure you sign a contract with them that ensures the script becomes your property as it is written.

This is how it is done in the industry for good reasons. You don't want the writer to write a Great Script from your idea then back out at the last minute because they don't like how you are going to film it, or disapprove of changes you need to make for practical reasons.

Let them know that they will be a writer for hire.

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Write It Yourself

Important fact #1

Filmmaking is all about delivering Entertainment and that goes hand in hand with Marketing.

Keep that important fact in your head at all times while writing your screenplay. Your movie has got to appeal to an audience. You don't like boring movies so don't make one yourself, and write for an audience that goes to movies in numbers large enough to make your movie a success.

I covered a lot of the keys to making a movie entertaining in the section on Find the Great Idea. You should review those from time to time. At this point you have total creative freedom and all the time you need, so take advantage of it and do the greatest job that you possibly can.

Important fact #2

Stories should have something to say. Stories have always been about "something" since storytelling began.

Now let's find out about the tools you need.

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