How To Write a Screenplay

Not to be confused by the book of the same name, if indeed it exists. Although, I may have inadvertently posted a link to it in the past. In any case, everyone has their unique perspective on what makes a good screenplay, and for the most part, they’re right, as far as they’re concerned. Get your good screenplay into their hands after you take their advice, and you may very well hear them say, “That’s a good screenplay!” as they hand it back to you, with a stack of voluminous notes, or, more likely a rejection letter. Sometimes, you don’t even get that. I’m still waiting for one from Stan Lee’s company, but that’s not what this is about.

Most of the advice out there is generic, and given by everybody, and of course, should be listened to. At the same time, this advice may not speak to you, which is why you have a stack of rejection letters next to your pile of award winning screenplays. Rejections include, but aren’t limited to:

  • We’re not looking to take on new projects at this time
  • We don’t make movies in this genre
  • While brilliant, we feel the audience for this is too small

Three polite ways production companies in the past have told me “No.” I’m sure I’m forgetting most of the rest of the rejection letters I haven’t received, simply because, I was brought into one company, thinking I was about to sign a contract, and they told me why they wouldn’t be able to make my film, and took up 15 minutes of my time. I could name the company, by there’s a slight chance I may work with them in the future.

How are these decisions made?

If you’re lucky enough to get your script in the hands of a decision maker, which we’ll define as someone that is able to take your stack of 120 or so pages of brilliance and turn it into a movie that will play at a theatre or drive-in near you. As always, if there aren’t any of these near you, move.

To continue, of those 120 pages, the above named producer might not read any of them. He hands them off to a reader with a check for $50, and in return, gets back a page or three of coverage, as to why your screenplay sucks. Then he has his secretary write his company’s version of a rejection letter, and you may or may not get one. Well, lately, they’ll make a phone call to an agent, and have a polite conversation. Or, they’ll put the agent on a ‘list.’ Don’t be on it.

The reader, can’t live on $50 a day, so, he’s reading 5 or 10 scripts a day, more over the weekend, if he’s a freelancer. If he works for a studio or a production company, it’s probably part or all of his job description, for which he can earn a meager living, until such time as his script is made into the next big budget production.

What this means to you, and as always, I’ve buried the lead, is that he’s not going to read all 120 some odd pages of your screenplay. I know this, because I was once told when I was handed a script to cover for the first time, “Read the first ten pages. If you like them, read the last ten. If you like those, then read the rest. I’ll want your coverage in an hour.” This was when I worked at a distribution company, no less.

This is why you have to grab the ubiquitous ‘them’ in the first ten pages. Ten is good number, as Monk would tell you. My advice is simply this: If the first nine pages aren’t interesting, I’m not reading the tenth. I’ll take that one step further. You need to be interesting in the first 8 pages. This is actually a recursive function, and you need to grab me on the first page, otherwise, I’m not turning to the second one.

Can you write a one page screenplay?

In proper format, no less. It’s harder than you think, however, there’s a few contests out there that ask you to do exactly that. Because if you’ve written a really good one page screenplay, and it’s more than one page, I’ll probably turn to page two. A real page turner, as they say in the trade.

I look forward to your comments.

72 and sunny in Redondo Beach.

e You next time.

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2 thoughts on “How To Write a Screenplay

  1. Great advice! If you write well, the pages will flow and the reader won’t even realize they’ve read not on the first 10 but the first 20… they’ll be hooked. But it all starts with a great page one.

  2. Agree. It’s the “What happens next?” scenario. If a reader doesn’t care ‘what happens next’ s/he’s not turning the page. Writers must remember, that the only reason a reader, studio exec, joe schmo, suit etc would want to know what happens on page 2, 3, 4 etc is because page 1 so so very damned entertaining

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