How To’s

How to Write a Scene for Film

Screenwriting is a visual medium that requires a writer to create words on a page that can be transformed into images on the big screen. Writing for a script that will be visualized into a film is very different from writing for a novel. It’s a common beginner’s curve to break. We have seen many scripts that tend to focus too much on prose and unnecessary fluff. Generally, what a scriptwriter needs to understand is that their script is going to be analyzed by dozens if not hundreds of people in production, people who do not have time to interpret any vague ideas. That is why it’s important to be as descriptive as possible, as succinctly as possible. As NYFA Screenwriting Program Chair Melanie Williams Oram notes, “I always tell my students you cannot write what you do not see.”

2406045807_22c3946695_b

So in order to successfully write a scene for a screenplay, it’s important to remember that less is more. By that, we don’t mean less description is more. We mean that less wording in your description is more.

For example, let’s try describing a scene in which a character enters a hotel room. You may be tempted to describe it as vividly as possible. When writing a script, it’s helpful to also imagine which crew members will be reading the script and what information they will need to bring the script to life.

hotel-bed-bedroom-room

Example 1:

Susie, a 42 year old neurosurgeon from Connecticut, enters her hotel room, which entraps a blue hue that spreads from a ethereal neon glow just two yards from outside the window. She is contemplating the death of her brother, someone she will never see again. Susie says to herself, “I’m driving to Kansas tomorrow.”

This sounds like a pretty descriptive text. You can picture it in your mind, right? The actor, director, and camera and lighting crew have a lot to work with here. But if you were the costume designer, what clothes would you use for this scene? If you were the set designer, what sort of objects would be in the room? How much do they have to work with?

Let’s break it down and format all these details like a script.

pexels-photo-322686

Example 2:

INT. HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT.

SUSIE (42), a Connecticut neurosurgeon, enters a mostly bare HOTEL ROOM. Bible on the dresser. Notepad on the desk. Empty boxes in the corner.

Broken, she is dressed in black. When Susie enters the room she places a funeral program down on the table.

Outside the window is a NEON BLUE sign.

SUSIE

I’m driving to Kansas tomorrow.

Writing your scripts like this gives ample descriptions that everybody in production can work with and properly sets the tone for the remainder of the scene. We won’t know unless we’ve seen Susie previously that the funeral program belongs to her brother. But that’s okay. We can learn that later.  From here, the director, director of photography, actor, costume designer, art director, and set designer have enough to work with in order to bring the scene to life.

Saying more with less is a skill that can take time and practice to master. If you’re interested in learning more about how to write and break down a script for production, visit the Screenwriting Program at York Film Academy.

Anatomy of an Adapted Screenplay

Novels are terrific, but there’s something about the silver screen that transforms great ideas into pure theatrical magic. And many incredible films exist because a screenwriter was inspired to adapt a story from another medium. Today, we’ll look at how you can tackle this process yourself. But finding your inspiration is only the first step. Here are some crucial tips to keep in mind as you adapt your screenplay.

Great Adaptations

First, understand that the adapted screenplay is an artform, with many great examples to look to for inspiration and insights on craftsmanship.

Beloved films like “The Shining,” “Fight Club,” “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” all started out as books before a talented screenwriter turned them into adapted screenplays. Also, think “Twilight.”

And books aren’t the only inspiration for adapted screenplays — don’t forget plays, short stories, poems, and more! There is a long and successful history of adapting all kinds of literature into screenplays…

Plays inspired many film classics: “12 Angry Men,” based on the play of the same name; “Pretty Woman,” based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”; and “West Side Story,” based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

But literature doesn’t have to be long to inspire a film. “Story of Your Life,” a science fiction short by Ted Chiang, was recently adapted into the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film “Arrival.” And the Oscar-nominated 1939 classic “Gunga Din” was based on a poem of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

Sources for adapted screenplay material don’t have to end with books, plays, and poems. Need we mention all the films successfully adapted from comic books?  

Follow The Story

Book_sale_loot_(4552277923)

Your first step is to learn the source material inside-out, identify the main characters, and trace out their story lines. Passion for the story is the most important driver behind adapting a novel into a screenplay. You can make a list of key characters, crucial scenes, and major themes, but don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. Remember: your goal is to tell this story as a film, and you’re looking for ways to drive the action forward.

This is your brainstorming phase. Draw charts or diagrams. Storyboard. Write lists. Do whatever it is that helps you connect the dots in your own brain as you begin to shift your mind from interacting with this story as consumer, to becoming the storyteller. Your job at this phase is to organize your source material and begin to identify the shape your story will take on screen.

Adaptation Means Change

Sometimes you have to shed subplots or minor characters in order to keep the story rolling along. Or, use your imagination to fill in gaps. After all, you’re adapting one story form into another, and it has to fit into the structure of a 120-page screenplay. Think of The Harry Potter series, and how screenwriters had to carefully curate which characters and subplots could participate in the the story of a two-hour time film.

This can be a hard judgment call, so how will you know when to change something? A good rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t drive the story forward, you’ll have to change it.

Jane Anderson, scriptwriter for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, explained how screenwriters know when to twist a plot or kill off a character: “Once you know your theme and who you’re meant to follow, then it becomes very clear [what to cut or eliminate]. You have to decide, as a dramatist—how do I want to tell this story?”

Show Don’t Tell

It’s ever-so-tempting to translate those beautifully written sentences into voice-overs, but you must resist the urge! Remember that your audience wants to see the story and not hear it; they can hear the story on tape in Grandpa’s 1986 Chevy truck or download it on iTunes to listen at the gym. As a screenwriter, you know that you’re speaking a visual vocabulary. If you must use voice-overs to tell your story, limit it to the best lines in the book.

Once you have these tips in mind, choose your favorite novel or short and story and feel free to begin

adapting it for the big screen! What are your favorite adapted screenplays? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn more about the craft of filmmaking at NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

 

Great Films for Learning to Write Dialogue

Writing dialogue that is believable and natural can be a challenge. Each character in your script should sound distinct and different from the other characters. What they say needs to be important to character development or to advance the plot, but it can’t sound contrived. Above all, it has to be entertaining. Take a look (and a listen) to some of the silver screen’s masters of dialogue writing for inspiration. Below, we’ve rounded up some great scenes for you to watch for inspiration along with some great writing exercises. If you’re feeling stuck or simply want to flex your writing muscles, give these scene/exercise combinations a try!

1. Write: Characters Who Want Something From Each Other

521px-Quentin_Tarantino_(Berlin_Film_Festival_2009)_2_cropped

Without a doubt, Quentin Tarantino has a flair for writing memorable, quotable dialogue that is simultaneously intense, insightful, and often laugh-out- loud funny. It’s a challenge to find clips that are appropriate for a PG-13 audience, but check out this scene from 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” The dynamic between Vincent (John Travolta) and Mia (Uma Thurman) is immediately clear when she cuts off his protest with the reminder that he has been directed to do whatever she wants: “Now, I wanna dance; I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.” Her dominance continues as she does the talking for both of them when they take the stage.

Why this works: Mia’s aggressive dialogue is matched by Vincent’s monosyllabic responses. The pauses and body language throughout the scene take on as much meaning as the spoken words.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where one character wants something from another character.

2. Write: Solving a Problem

William Goldman’s screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) is full of great back-and- forth between Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford). He also includes some great ensemble scenes, such as this one where Butch and Sundance reunite with the Hole in the Wall Gang and find there has been a challenge to Butch’s leadership.

Why this works: There is humor and dramatic tension layered throughout the scene. From News Carver (Timothy Scott) wanting to read his own name in the paper to Harvey Logan’s (Ted Cassidy) insistence on settling the issue with a fight, the scene has crisp dialogue that reveals character and advances the plot, while cementing the bond between Butch and Sundance.

A challenge for you: Write a scene with three or more characters trying to solve a problem — make sure each character is unique.

3. Write: Unwilling Attraction

Claudette_Colbert_in_It_Happened_One_Night

“It Happened One Night” (1934) is a classic template for romantic comedy that works because of the smart screenplay by Robert Riskin and Samuel Hopkins Adams as much as because of the chemistry of the leads. The Screwball Comedies of this era usually matched a middle class character with a higher class character and “It Happened One Night” pairs a rough newsman with an heiress. In this scene where Peter (Clark Gable) and Ellie (Claudette Colbert) are hitchhiking, her cool wit undermines his gruff confidence.

Why this works: Ellie doesn’t speak many lines, but each one is sharp and cuts right through Peter’s bluster. He may have confidence, but she has brains. Their exchanges help establish the growing attraction between them.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where two characters are attracted to each other, but refuse to acknowledge it.

4. Write: Sustained Dialogue

Guy Ritchie’s films have dialogue that is as fast and twisted as any of the action scenes in them. His 1998 film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” opens with a street hustling scene featuring Bacon (Jason Statham) who delivers his lines in a rapid-fire manner that would leave most actors breathless. Bacon has a crowd gathered around him and he’s trying to sell hot wares with the help of another hustler planted in the audience. Bacon’s eyes move as quickly as his mouth as he tries to find the suckers in the crowd.

Why this works: The scene quickly establishes Bacon as a small-time con who is always looking for an advantage and an escape route.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where a character has a minute and a half of sustained, uninterrupted dialogue.

5. Write: Revealing a Secret 

The screenplay for “Jaws” (1975) was written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. The scene where Quint (Robert Shaw) describes surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the sea between Guam and the Philippines is intense and frightening because of Shaw’s masterful delivery and the sharp details of Quint’s story.

Why this works: The scene is a very primal one, calling to mind the stories told around a fire on a dark, moonless night. The details about shark’s eyes and Quint’s shipmates bobbing lifelessly in the water are told in an unflinching, matter-of-fact way that helps the viewer picture the scene.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where a character reveals a trauma from their past.

6. Write: An Exaggerated Reaction

Yuku

“Mean Girls” (2004) is full of scenes that are simultaneously funny and revealing. In this scene, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) tries to explain her friendship with Regina (Rachel McAdams). Gretchen’s anger and insecurity bubble up through the surface as she suffers from yet another humiliation at the hands of Regina.

Why this works: Tina Fey’s script mixes exaggerated teenspeak, manic energy, and characters who are realistic enough to be recognizable even when their situations and reactions are distorted for the sake of comedy.

A challenge for you: Write a comic scene where a character has an exaggerated reaction to a situation.

Don’t stop now!

There are hundreds of other examples of great dialogue in film from every genre and era — when you watch a film, listen to how the dialogue functions and keep an ear out for models you can use for inspiration in your own writing. As you watch your favorite show or film, stop and ask yourself what is happening in the scene — and then try writing that action yourself.

Want to know more about writing dialogue? Check out NYFA’s How to Write Dialogue in Film or How To Write a Phone Conversation in a Screenplay. And apply today to attend NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

 

Screenwriting 101: What Plagiarism Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Protect Yourself From It

Plagiarism is rare — at least when we’re talking about the screenwriting industry.

The only reason it seems so prevalent is that the few occasions in which it does occur at the top level — cases like Shia LaBeouf’s fall from grace, for instance — and usually result in huge amounts of press and gigantic court settlements.

The harsh reality, however, is you’ll be fighting hard to get your script noticed by anyone in the industry, meaning that plagiarism is likely to be the least of your worries. That’s the bad news. On the bright side, the incentive for a production company to steal work that lands on their desk and erase the writer’s name is virtually zero. The nature of the screenwriting business somewhat automatically protects your work: there’s no shortage of people with a screenplay to sell; the risk of being caught out with plagiarism is high; and the financial penalties for plagiarism can be crippling.

That all said, just because being struck by lightning is a very rare event doesn’t mean it never happens — and it is marginally more likely to occur when entering into less-than-reputable screenwriting competitions. So be careful, and do your due diligence in research ahead of time.

We thought we’d compile some tips on how to deal with the situation should you ever be unlucky enough to find your screenwriting work has been plagiarized.

And first up, we’ll start with something that gets to the root of the issue:

Busting the “Poor Man’s Copyright” Myth

1966503340_05db2596b4_b

It’s an old and enduring token of wisdom: If you want to copyright your screenplay, mail a physical copy to yourself.

The idea here is that the US postal mark will prove ownership of the mail inside and provide a certifiable date which will defend against any accusations of plagiarism from works after this date.

Problem is, it’s flawed on every level.

We’ll put aside the fact that the system is less than failsafe — it’s not hard to manipulate an envelope — or that this defense has never been successfully employed in court to win a copyright case. The reason mailing yourself your script doesn’t copyright your work is that there’s absolutely no need to: anything you create is already copyrighted to you.

You don’t even need to put the © symbol anywhere on your script — and it’s often seen as a sign of an amateur to do so — because your copyright is already inherent. All adding the symbol does is remind anyone viewing your script that it’s the intellectual property of someone else. Anyone in the industry will take this as a given anyway, while an intentional plagiarist isn’t going to be deterred by a symbol.

But let’s assume you’ve become aware of someone who hasn’t just taken your idea (more on that later), but has copied whole chunks of your text. Now what?

Fighting Against Screenplay Plagiarism

FileStack_retouched

Really, the best cure here is prevention.

Many networks or corporations won’t even look at screenplays or concepts by unknown writers without an agent. This is not because it’s some kind of closed cabal, but simply because they’re covering their own backs. In copyright cases, it nearly always comes down not to how similar the screenplays are, but whether or not it can be established that the defendant was aware of the other person’s work — or had contact with them along the way.

So, many networks and corporations won’t look at unsolicited ideas or manuscripts in the first place because this reduces the chances of their being successfully sued further down the line to virtually zero.

What this means for you in the writer’s seat is that not only will finding a good agent improve your marketability, but it’ll also offer you the same protection that the corporations enjoy. When dealing through an agent, everything gets recorded. Which is just the way it should be — and the way you want it.

But if you have identified a real case of suspected plagiarism and are writing solo, here’s a very helpful flowchart detailing the best approach at responding to the person whose work you find under their name (it’s intended for authors, but the advice is fairly universal).

Afraid of Accidental Plagiarism?

4815205632_632ee48a71_b

As a writer, you’ll no doubt recognize this very common scenario: you describe the brilliant screenplay you’re working on to a friend, only for her to reply with, “Hmmm, that sounds just like Movie X.”

Horrified, you look it up on IMDB or Wikipedia. You’ve never even seen the movie in question, but sure enough, you find it does indeed follow a pretty similar plot to your idea.

So, should you be worried about being sued for plagiarism?

Nope. Because you can’t actually be sued for plagiarism; that’s an ethical issue, not a legal one.

What you can be sued for is copyright violation, and it’s very difficult to commit this crime accidentally; this covers ripping off character names and entire passages of text, not expressing the same idea in a different way. Ideas, after all, are not copyrightable.

Simply having a similar plot (or even the same plot in most circumstances) does not constitute copyright violation. As we’ve covered previously, just as there are only seven notes with which to make songs, there are only so many plot archetypes and tropes with which to create a satisfying story. Every writer is inspired by works that have gone before their pen hit the page, and being inspired is far from violating copyrighted works. Think of the overt similarities between the TV show “House” and the “Sherlock Holmes” canon, for instance.

In fact, if you’re genuinely worried about mistakenly violating copyright, you’re precisely the type of person who’s least likely to do it.

So go forth and write! Strive for originality, but be aware that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

And that’s not a bad thing.

 

Screenwriting Tips: How To Nail Supernatural Realism

A penchant for the supernatural seems to have snuck in through the back door of the screenwriting industry recently, with a resurgence in movies and shows that have some kind of otherworldly element playing into the plot.

Not all of these are out-and-out horror, but it’s in part the success of franchises like Paranormal Activity and shows like American Horror Story that have fueled this recent trend.

Evan Peters in corpse paint in American Horror Story

Of course, some supernatural titles end up being better than others and their effectiveness is largely down to how “believable” the paranormal element is. The idea of needing to make the otherworldly seem real is something of a strange one, so for the benefit of those looking to do so at screenwriting school, today we’ll be exploring:

Creating Believable Supernatural Characters and Elements

In essence, what we’re dealing with here is the willing suspension of disbelief; the tricky thing with this is that not all viewers have the same willingness to go with whatever you present to them.

Not a great deal you can do about that—as the old adage goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But one surefire trick that’ll help you please most of the people all of the time is:

Internal Logic

Make sure it’s absolutely watertight.

an archway in the woods

You can come up with the most ludicrous paranormal premise imaginable—and remember, supernatural doesn’t just mean “ghosts” but also superpowers or any other paranormal element—and you can still get people onboard as long as two conditions are met:

  • The rules and limits of the supernatural element or character are clearly defined.
  • These rules are not broken.

The Sixth Sense worked because you get to the end and realize that everything held up to the revealed premise (if there was a single scene in which any of the ghosts interacted directly with any character other than the boy, the entire screenplay would have souffléd.)

Cabin in the Woods had a ridiculously over-the-top supernatural plot device, but it all adheres to the rules explained to us over the course of the movie.

On the other hand, nothing is more infuriating to us as viewers than a ghost ex machina. Suddenly having a character walk through walls, apropos of nothing, will have the audience groaning en masse.

Similarly, trying to tie up plotlines and provide resolution through the sudden introduction of a supernatural element has the opposite effect.

In short, anything goes when it comes to writing supernatural fiction… but not everything should go.

Playing In the Shadows

As a species, we’ve always held a macabre fascination with death.

drawing from victorian era of woman feeding supernatural characters

But whereas supernatural stories from antiquity and right up to the Victorian era concerned themselves primarily with exploring what happens in the afterlife, modern ghost stories are more speculative.

Instead of trying to come to a conclusion about the afterlife, it’s now more about asking the big question: what if?

A strong “what if” scenario is often the strongest weapon in the screenwriter’s arsenal, and doubly so when it comes to supernatural fiction. As long as the speculative element is engaging and the aforementioned internal logic is consistent, you’ll start off with a strong foundation for a great script.

Don’t Neglect Your Protagonist

In the quest for crafting a wholly believable and compelling supernatural antagonist or scenario, the human characters rooted to the confines of reality often fall by the wayside.

man holding body of woman in old film

A common pitfall is to have the main characters simply reacting to the otherworldly being throughout the entire script, which contravenes one of the golden rules of scriptwriting: characters should have their own goals and motivations.

If your human characters are nothing more than things for the ghost/werewolf/demon to toy with, you’ll never hook the audience emotionally.

On the other hand, if you have a cast of characters with goals of their own who react in a logical and realistic way to the supernatural force they’re up against, not only will you get the viewers more invested in the story but you’ll also make the paranormal seem more believable too.

Double win.

Avoid Lengthy Exposition

Although conveying the rules of how your ghostly being, haunted house or possessed doll operates is important, stick to the old ‘show not tell’ convention.

When dealing with concepts that are unbelievable by proxy, establishing plausibility is important. But again, do this by showing the supernatural character’s goals and limitations (as well as plugging up inconsistencies that the audience may find fault with.)

painting of woman reading a scary story at night

The Ghost Story. Frederick Smallfield (1829-1915). Watercolour. Catalogue No 1102c.

Two characters sharing exposition at length regarding the nature of the monster under the bed not required.

Learn more about the Screenwriting School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Adapting Short Stories for Film: Screenplay Do’s And Don’ts

Short stories, by their very nature, can be excellent sources of concise and punchy narratives and as a result lend themselves very well for the big screen treatment. There’s a strong precedent for short story adaption so far, with the following feature movies having had their origins in short literature:

Total Recall (Started out as the Philip K. Dick short We Can Remember it For You Wholesale)

A Scanner Darkly (Also Philip K. Dick)

Minority Report (Ditto)

The Shawshank Redemption (Based on a Stephen King novella)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (From the Truman Capote novella of the same name)

Memento (Adapted by Christopher Nolan from his brother Johnathan’s short story Memento Mori)

Eyes Wide Shut (Loosely adapted by Kubrick from the 1926 novella Traumnovelle)

2001: A Space Odyssey (Another Kubrick feature adapted from Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinal)

Apocalypse Now (Based on the 1899 Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness)

And the list goes on, with more genre defining titles that we could realistically list here which got their start as a short story or novella. The question is, how do you get yourself on the list of greats and adapt a shorty story into a great film?

Adapting Short Stories for Film: The Do’s and Don’ts

adapting short stories into screenplays

Playing it Loose

One of the major banes of a filmmaker adapting a novel—or series of novels—into a screenplay is striking the right balance between squeezing it all into the run time but not falling foul of charges from the book’s fans of being ‘unfaithful to the source material.’

You’re a little luckier when it comes to adapting short stories as for whatever reason, the need to be a literalist doesn’t seem to apply so feel free to rework things at your leisure to find the best fit for the screen. If all else fails, substitute the phrase “adapted from…” to “inspired by…” and you’ll be golden!

Honing in on What Matters

This is more common with longer works, but even short stories it’s important to trim the fat and focus on what really matters. And as with any screenplay, it all boils down to three main ingredients: character motive, conflict and resolution.

How you distill these ingredients from the short story and repackage it for film is up to you as a screenwriter, but you should strive to put these key features at the forefront of your screenplay. And speaking of packaging:

Translating Pace

Pacing, of course, plays a big role in the enjoyability of both books and film. Preserving and translating the pacing of a short story in particular requires a little extra attention to get it right as you expand it into a 180 minute feature film.

Occasionally, you’ll have to revamp things entirely as you may sometimes find a short story that is exceptional in every way except the pacing, but you’ll have the opportunity to do your job as a screenwriter and rectify this during the adaption process.

Usage Rights

Clearing the rights for a production and optioning the source material for adaption is usually down to the producer rather than the screenwriter, but if you’re one in the same person, it really pays to make sure you’ve not shirked your responsibilities in this regard (and can cause serious issues later on if you neglect this duty.)

How to go about optioning book rights is deserving of its own dedicated post altogether but if this is something you’d really rather skip, consider adapting works that are already in the public domain.

Of course, it doesn’t particularly matter if the screenplay isn’t intended to leave your hard drive or go any further than a workshop at screenwriting school, and this brings us onto:

Even If The Film Never Surfaces…

…use it as practice.

Without any hesitation whatsoever, you can grab a short story and instantly start playing around. It’s a great way of not only putting your skills to the test but also pushing them to new heights—especially if you intentionally set yourself a challenge by picking a short story that’s really not suitable for silver screen adaptation!

short story adaptation

Got any tips of your own for adapting short stories to screenplays? Any particular favorite examples of the process being done well? You know where to head—we’ll see you in the comments below!

6 Proven Ways to Smash Writer’s Block

writers blockAh, writer’s block—the dreaded, famous nemesis of screenwriters who have an excellent script idea brewing in the back of their mind, but just can’t seem to get the words down.

If you’re suffering from a bout of writer’s block, first recognize that you’re not alone. It can afflict year-one screenwriting school students with just as much frequency and severity as a seasoned professional, but for the most part it can thankfully be cured and overcome with a little perspective. Let’s begin with…

A Hard Truth

If we’re being honest with ourselves, ‘writer’s block’ is just a dressed-up name for ‘procrastination.’ An electrician never gets ‘electrician’s block,’ a surgeon never gets ‘surgeon’s block,’ and a plumber never gets ‘plumber’s block’… well, that may be a term in plumbing but it’s not what we’re talking about.

As much as anyone, screenwriters have a job to do and writer’s block isn’t a great excuse for not getting it done. That said, whatever we choose to call it, it’s still a real phenomenon and one in which there are some methods with which to circumvent it. Presenting:

6 Surefire Methods for Beating Writer’s Block

1. Find the Trigger

In the vast majority of cases, there’ll be a specific mindset (or set of circumstances leading to it) that tend to trigger periods of inactivity. It could be crippling self-doubt, an innate drive for complete perfection, something as serious as overuse of substances…or just plain tedium.

The ‘block trigger’ will be (hugely) different for every screenwriter and it can be tricky to identify exactly what it is, but in doing so, you’ll almost always discover the key to overcoming it.

2. Working Publicly

One common trigger when it comes to screenwriting freeze is the knowledge that you’ve got a long process ahead of you to create a finished body of work, then all of a sudden it’ll get judged publicly in one fell swoop. That can be so daunting that it’s difficult to get going in the first place.

Consider releasing scenes or even individual pages for critique as you’re goinggetting outside of your own vacuum can be liberating, and the feedback gained will help shape your direction and momentum as you progress. If worried about the potential for copyright theft, show it to your inner circle of personal friends instead of into the public sphere.

3. Define Your Processes

Feeding back into point one, just as you should identify circumstances that hamstring your mood, discover a setting and way of proceeding that tends to get you moving forward…then repeat, and tailor as you go.

4. One Simple Question…

As you find your mind wanderingin this day and age, usually manifested by opening a new tab and loading up YouTubeask yourself one simple question:   “Is this worth it?” (followed closely by “Will I regret this at the end of what’s supposed to be a writing session?”) In almost every occasion, you’ll find yourself answering in the negative and getting back to what’s really important.

5. Some Pages Are Not Equal

Don’t beat yourself up if you manage to nail six pages one day, then struggle to come up with one the next. Some scenes or dialogue will require a lot more finesse and time than others, so it may not be a case that you had ‘writer’s block’ on the one-page day and failed to produce; it’s all progress either way, and progress should be congratulated.

6. Begin

Writer’s block is most prevalent when the page is blank. After all, there’s over a million words in the English language, so which to begin with? This is the very first line of your magnum opus. It best be epic!

True enoughit should be a great opening line… but you can always work on that later.

Invariably, the best trick for getting over initial screenwriting block is to simply start. Go all stream-of-consciousness style if you have to; you’ll find yourself revving up to full speed in no time, and can always go back and refine the bit that got you there.

writer's block tips

After all, there’s no great writing. There’s only great rewriting.

Now go get to it, and show that writer’s block who’s boss.

Should You Upload Your Screenplay Online?

Screenwriters often feel like they’re stuck between the rock of getting noticed and the hard place of not being taken advantage of.

When you’ve put in the hours at screenwriting school and have crafted an industry killer script that you’re keen to get optioned, it seems silly to stop short of going the final mile; to not do everything within one’s power and pursue all options for getting it noticed by The Powers That Be.

should you upload your screenplay online

The first port of call in this situation is, more often than not, to upload the script to as many submission websites as possible…

… but the debate currently raging is a fierce one:

Should You Ever Upload Your Screenplay Online?

With the Internet in its adolescence, these kinds of websites—not to mention the many scriptwriting advice blogs out there—are legion and have been around for quite some time already. The idea is a simple one: you upload your screenplay to a centralized repository, producers (or their associates) crawl the repository for some untapped gold, and hopefully you’re the person with whom they get in touch.

All well and good, except that as mentioned, there’s a thousand and one such sites and they all promise the same kind of exposure and increased odds of being discovered; you never know which ones truly attract any kind of appreciable attention, and which ones attract only tumbleweed.

But even still… what if you somehow know for a fact that a script website’s claims are true? Or is there even any harm in shotgunning a load of websites with your script in an attempt to maximize your chances?

In a nutshell, yes. And here are the main risks you should consider:

1) You Could Be Throwing Cash Down the Drain

Without naming names, some script websites charge a fee (or require paid membership) before you can upload your work for the world to see.

That can be a costly business if you’re hitting up a number of different sites at once with little or zero to show for it. Only you can decide if it’s worth it in individual cases, but be suspicious of inflated claims that all the big producers are personally combing their archive—look beyond this for evidence of the site’s success rate and efficacy.

2) You Could Even Hurt Your Chances

Which, of course, is the opposite outcome that you’re after.

Some producers and agents get turned off by work that has been floating around in the public for all to see, with some even using it as a litmus test to save them some time—if that screenplay has been sitting on this site for X years without being optioned, it’s probably not worth bothering with.

In addition, you stand a better chance of gaining attention with a well-targeted, personalized pitch than by simply throwing it out there and hoping for the best. And that leads to our next point….

3) It Breeds Inertia

Many people get lulled into a false sense of security by uploading their scripts onto websites, thinking that the golden phone call might be just around the corner. In turn, that leads to inactivity at a time when you should be at your most active—after all, your job is not over until you’ve finally gotten that deal, and simply uploading the script to a few places usually won’t cut it.

4) Copyright

Disclaimer: this is actually a very minor concern. Everyone is terrified that other screenwriters are going to steal their work, but the frequency at which this occurs is practically negligible. Still, throwing your screenplay out there does put you at a greater risk—while your work is automatically copyrighted to you at the point of its creation without any need to register it (contrary to an enduringly popular myth), you may wish to file your script with either the U.S. Copyright Office or the Writers Guild of America for extra protection. The former costs a mere $30, the latter only $20 (and includes membership).

In conclusion, uploading your screenplay to one or more script websites may lead to great success… but you shouldn’t count on it. Quite often, there’s no substitute to just getting out there and leveraging your contacts.

Don’t have any contacts yet? Make them. Attending screenwriting school is a useful way of expanding your network, and a few very careful email queries can get you the rest of the way there.

Best of luck!

6 of the Best Screenwriting Competitions You’ve Never Heard Of

Screenwriting competitions can be a fantastic opportunity for both fledgling and professional screenwriters alike to raise their profile, and with a little bit of luck, earn some substantial cash prizes. 

screenwriting competitions

To boot, many great careers have been launched through a combination of time spent at screenwriting school and some notable contest wins, with many agents and other film representatives keeping a very close eye on the names that rise to the top of the following screenwriting competitions.

So, without further ado, here are a few that are well worth considering…

6 Best Screenwriting Competitions You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

BlueCat ScreenPlay Competition

Closing Date: October 15 (for next year’s competition). Entries open June 15.
Entry Fee: $35 to $70. Student discounts may apply.
What They’re After: Shorts and full screenplays of any genre. International entries accepted.
What You Stand to Win: Between $1,500 and $15,000 for finalists, plus every screenplay entered receives a written analysis.

PAGE International Awards

Closing Date: Final deadline for entries is May 15.
Entry Fee: $79 for last minute entry (plus $110 if feedback is requested).
What They’re After: Original screenplays, short film scripts and teleplays.
What You Stand to Win: Tiered cash prizes between $250 and $25,000.

Scriptalooza

Closing Date: Final deadline is April 29, so get in quick.
Entry Fee: $65 for last minute entry.
What They’re After: Original screenplays of various genres.
What You Stand to Win: Grand prize of $10,000, plus $500 for best of each genre.

Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest

Closing Date: May 20
Entry Fee: $55 if entered before May 1, otherwise $65
What They’re After: Original screenplays of various genres.
What You Stand to Win: Grand prize of $20,000 plus a huge exposure/development package. Runner up cash prizes and exposure packages also offered.

Slamdance Screenplay Competition

Closing Date: Regular deadline closes June 9, extended deadline July 21
Entry Fee: Between $35 to $80
What They’re After: Original screenplays in the category of short, original teleplay, feature and horror.
What You Stand to Win: Grand prize of $5,000 and $2,000 to winners of each category, plus free services.

TrackingB TV Script Competition

Closing Date: May 31
Entry Fee: $75 before April 30, otherwise $85
What They’re After: 30-70 page pilot script for comedy or drama TV show.
What You Stand to Win: A range highly lucrative and reputable exposure and development packages offered to 3 grand prize winners, 10 finalists and 25 semi-finalists.

 

3 Screenwriting Competitions You Should Have Heard Of

Below are three of the most noteworthy and renowned screenwriting competitions in the entire industry. Winning one of these is the proverbial golden ticket to career success, and although the odds of beating the mass of other entrants is low, those that win invariably never regret having entered.

Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Competition

Closing Date: May 1
Entry Fee: $75, plus an optional $40 to receive reader comments on your submission.
What They’re After: Original screenplays (no adaptations.) An additional caveat is that entrants must not have earned more than $25,000 writing screenplays for either film or television to date.
What You Stand to Win: Up to five $35,000 fellowships are awarded each year, plus Oscar level, career-launching exposure.

Austin Screenwriting Competition

Closing Date: April 20, with late entries closing May 20
Entry Fee: Between $30 to $50 depending on long form or short form submission and deadline window
What They’re After: Shorts, feature-length screenplays and teleplays.
What You Stand to Win: Cash prizes ranging between $500 and $2,500 plus coveted awards and exposure.

Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab

Closing Date: May 1
Entry Fee: $40
What They’re After: Original screenplays, though screenwriters who have already had more than one prior screenplay produced are ineligible for entry.
What You Stand to Win: Not technically a competition of sorts, selected applicants will be invited to attend the Screenwriter’s Lab; possibly the most prestigious and exclusive workshop in the entire country.

So there we have it—a total of nine screenwriting competitions that you should consider entering for the next awards season. Know of any others that you’d recommend a fellow screenwriter to check out? How about any success stories or experiences you’d like to share from entering competitions? Drop a comment below, and share with the group!

5 Ways Film School Makes You a Better Screenwriter

Typewriter keys

While some people are naturally great storytellers, or can strike up a conversation with just about anyone, writing can seem as foreign to them as flying a helicopter. Others seem to be born ready to write, naturally gifted with a pen or a keyboard. For either group, film school is a great tool to perfect—or just introduce—the skills needed to be a strong screenwriter.

Whether you’re a student who wants to focus on directing, editing, or other behind-the-camera skills, or someone who wants to draft the next great screenplay, film school can provide you with numerous advantages.  And if you’re one of those natural-born writers who’s been gifted with screenwriting skills, you might be surprised to find what classes can even offer you. Here are just five examples of how film school can help you become a great screenwriter.

Deadlines

Clock hands

Some writers thrive on deadlines, unable to get their gears turning until the clock is ticking and a draft is due at midnight. Others see deadlines as giant chains shackled to their creativity, hindering them from any productivity. However, film school, like Hollywood itself, lives and dies by deadlines. Being forced to write, even when you don’t feel like it, is a gift unto itself. Most writers agree that quantity leads to quality, and deadlines, if anything, produce quantity. You may not want to get started, but once you do you’ll find yourself surprised at how hard it is to stop.

Re-writes

If you’re the picky type of writer who abhors deadlines, there’s a good chance you’re equally repulsed by re-writes. A lot of writers start off writing because it’s fun—once it becomes a duty, it loses its flavor. Re-writing can taste just as stale, considering you’ve already brought to life the world and characters you intended. If writing is the creative, fun part then re-writing is the laborious, begrudging part. By forcing you to constantly re-visit and re-write your screenplay, film school makes you put in the work you may not want to, but ultimately rejoice in. Suddenly that world you had so much fun sketching in broad strokes has become a fine-tuned masterpiece ready to be put on screen.

Collaboration

If you went to film school to learn to direct, produce, edit or other filmcrafts other than writing, you may get frustrated when you’re forced to script something for yourself. After all, most of Spielberg or Scorsese’s great films were someone else’s drafts—why should you be any different? However, getting a feel for the craft of writing will help you in whatever aspect you choose to work in down the line. Knowing where a scene started on the page will only help you bring it to life on camera. Conversely, if you intend to primarily be a screenwriter, learning the other crafts will inform you how to put your words to page in a way that will best facilitate their filming down the line. Filmmaking is a collaboration through and through, and screenwriting is no exception.

Expanding Your Worldview

Working with other film students isn’t just essential to learning the art of collaboration—it will also expand your worldview. Chances are the high school and lower grades you’ve attended consisted mostly of students with the same background as yourself. Going to a film school with a diverse body of students, especially schools like the New York Film Academy with undergraduates and graduates from all over the world, offers you a window into numerous worlds and lifestyles. Even passively working and socializing with an eclectic group of artists and students will broaden your characters, themes, settings, and writing in general. That’s something no book or YouTube video can ever hope to gift you.

Learning the Rules to Break the Rules

Many writers and filmmakers fancy themselves rebels and trendsetters—not bound by the rules of everyone else. Maybe they’re right. But rules can never be effectively broken until they’ve been mastered. When conventions are shunned in writing and filmmaking in a thought-provoking and progressive way, it is because they are being used as a tool by the artist. Rules shouldn’t be broken for their own sake—they should be molded and made into something new. A statement is being made merely by changing the form—how effective that statement is depends entirely on how the form is changed. Film school teaches you the way other writers and the industry craft a screenplay. Once you’ve mastered that, playing with the conventions will be easier and more meaningful.  Simply put, it’s up to you what to build and how to build it. Film school gives you the best tools and materials to start building.

Check out our screenwriting programs at the New York Film Academy today!

How to Write Dialogue in Film

It can take many years—even decades—to master the art of writing dialogue. Good screenplay dialogue can be as multi-faceted and complicated as the real-life human relationships and interactions that inspire stories to begin with.

how to write dialogue

While we can’t possibly hope to cover every aspect of how to write dialogue in film here (it’s a topic that can fill an entire screenwriting school program let alone a blog post), we are going to tackle a couple of the biggest stumbling blocks with which new and experienced writers alike struggle.

Today, we’ll be covering an overview of exposition (and how to solve it), as well as how to begin your screenplay with a bang…

…literally.

Solve Dialogue Problems with Non-Dialogue

Ever feel like a character on-screen isn’t really talking to another character, but is instead lecturing you as an audience member?

That’s what we call heavy exposition, and there’s nothing more amateur to a screenplay than a character who constantly describes everything that’s going on for the “benefit” of the audience.

So how to write dialogue in film to get around this? What’s the best way of getting facts and tricky concepts across to the viewer?

writing dialogue exposition

Having a character who is not aware of what’s going on (thus creating a plausible reason for another character to explain key plot points) can be a good way of delivering information to the audience, but this needs to be handled carefully.

The main dangers here are:

  1. A) You might make the “clueless” character who needs everything explained to him immensely dislikable
  2. B)A heavy-handed approach can be a glaringly obvious ploy to the audience and might even bore them, especially for those who have already figured it all out for themselves.

Inception heavy exposition

If you’d like a bit of homework that will reinforce this, re-watch Inception and count the number of times Ellen Page’s character has the “rules” of the dream worlds explained to her at great length. At numerous points, it borders on a lecture to viewers and grinds the pace of this otherwise great movie to a standstill.

A far better approach—and a real golden rule in writing dialogue—is to show, not tell. In fact, it’s more of an anti-rule of dialogue, since you’re aiming to give the audience information without having a character overtly state it.

Let’s say you want to get across the fact that a character has a serious drinking problem. There are two possible ways you could do this:

1) John Doe is in the middle of an argument with his wife. While John storms away from the dinner table, Jane yells after him, “You’re always like this when you’ve been drinking!”

2) John Doe glances out of the window to see his wife has come home from work early. He hurriedly screws the top on a half-drunken vodka bottle, places it into a plastic bag, ties a knot in it, and hides it in the toilet tank.

In both screenplays we get the same idea, but we aren’t forcibly beaten over the head with the information in the second scenario.

alcoholism screenplay

If in doubt, a good rule of thumb is simply to assume that the audience is a lot more switched-on than you might give them credit for.

Consider Beginning In Medias Res

In Medias Res translates as “in the middle of things,” and the literary technique is exactly that.

If you’re starting out with narration in your screenplay, you might want to consider using this technique to hook the viewer right from the very get-go. Let’s take a look the opening of a story told in two very different ways:

1) “My name is Officer Mick Zerco. I’m standing at the foot of a building in downtown LA. My wife and kids are somewhere in there. In two minutes, I’m going to have to go up to the top floor and disarm the bomb that’s about to go off.”

2) “All I can hear above the ringing of my ears is panicked screaming. Half the block is in rubble, and my wife and kids are among it. Officer Leeroy must have rushed in first and botched the disarmament of that damned bomb. My name is Mick Zerco, and if you’re listening to this recording…I have failed.”

Both openings cover the same details, except one takes place right in the middle—or moments after—the main action, whereas the other starts a few minutes before. Which one grabs your attention more?

In medias res how to write dialogue

Don’t worry about wasting those precious few introductory minutes setting up every detail of the screenplay before you allow action to happen. A little mystery as to what’s going on can create insatiable intrigue and reel the audience in—you can always use flashbacks or other pacing techniques to deliver more exposition after you’ve got them hooked!

In short, always attempt to write with the golden rule in mind:

Show, Don’t Tell.

Happy writing!

From Film School With Love: 007 Ways to Write a James Bond Film

Spectre advanced movie poster

The new cast and title of the twenty-fourth film in the official James Bond series was announced this past week. Spectre, Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig’s followup to smash hit Skyfall, is a call back to the supervillain agency of 60s era Bond films, when Sean Connery and his jetpack would face off against bald badguys who stroked fancy white cats. Now that the dark and gritty Craig-era James Bond movies have broken the rules and started the series from scratch, it seems the producers, stars, and screenwriters behind 007 are willing to reconnect with their campy past.

While most details about Spectre are being tightly kept under wraps, the filmmakers undoubtedly are sticking to what’s worked before. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter and you want your name in the credits for Bond 25, here are 007 things to include in your script when writing a James Bond film.

1. Choose Your Title

While Bond films occasionally have stark one-word titles like Spectre, Skyfall, and Goldfinger, most titles tend to have fun with wordplay and include lots of prepositions. First, pick something badass and cool, like fire or ice. Then pick another noun, something simple yet epic, like dawn. Find a verb to connect them, typically related to at least one of the nouns, like burn. If you’re feeling adventurous, include an adjective. Finally, fill in the blanks with a preposition or four and bam! You have your title: Fire Burns Hottest at Dawn. Something that sounds wise and slick, but the more you think about it, isn’t really either. Or if Sam Mendes is directing again, just call it Dawnfire.

2. Choose Your Locales

Bond movies must take place in a minimum of three places around the world. Obviously London should be one of them so we get our requisite Moneypenny and Q action. When choosing which parts of the globe you want 007 to trot, keep your chase scenes in mind. If you want airboats fanning across a swamp, make sure you’re in New Orleans. Moscow makes for great tank chases. As Skyfall has shown us, Istanbul has the perfect rooftops for a jeep/motorcycle/train/bulldozer pursuit.

A tank with a horse statue on it in GoldenEye

3. Choose Your Puns

James Bond doesn’t tell jokes, he’s killed too many men for that. He does, however, love his puns, almost always involving either sex or murder. Make sure you’ve got a few lined up for your script. The key is constructing them in a way that any actor playing the super spy is forced to deliver them in the most painfully forced way possible. At least one of them shouldn’t really make sense at all like when Bond kicked a villain off a cliff in For Your Eyes Only before quipping “He had no head for heights.” What?

4. Choose Your Gadgets

It’s really important to get the gadgets from Q-branch right, because Bond is going to find himself in a situation where that specific gadget will be incredibly useful, before he discards it and never mentions it again. Those crocodile-shaped motorboats are expensive, James!

James Bond with his grenade flask in Goldfinger

5. Choose Your Bond Girls

Unfortunately, the rather condescending term Bond Girl is pretty much applied to any actress in a 007 film that isn’t Judi Dench (when, let’s be honest, she’s the greatest Bond Girl of them all.) Your Bond Girls should have either ridiculously stupid names, like Strawberry Fields, or names that are completely transparent references to sex, like Holly Goodhead. They can be Bond’s love interests, villains, or—typically—both. Don’t get too attached to them though, because one of them should die early on to raise the stakes for our double-oh.

6. Choose Your Climax

No, not that climax, that’s step seven. This climax is your big final showdown between Bond and his villain, with an optional doomsday machine thrown in the middle. This epic fight should be in a palace made of ice, or the inside of a volcano, or a supermodern submarine. Please don’t make it the Moon. If you’re struggling with this one, try to picture what would look best exploding into a million pieces, and then use that.

7. Choose Your Climax

So it’s come time for the end. Before the Daniel Craig era, nearly every Bond film ended with Bond and his love interest cuddled together after an explosive climax. Most of the time they’re in the water, because Bond looks sexier wet and women’s dresses become see-through. (James Bond may have a lot of class, but his films typically don’t.) You also have the option of having M, Q, and the British government somehow spying on Bond and his lover in some way. After all, even M16 wants to get their money’s worth when it comes to cinema’s most dashing secret agent.

Timothy Dalton and Carrie Lowell embrace in License to Kill

How To Write Underdog Sports Movies In Ten Easy Steps

Bad News Bear team picture

Few genre films follow the same beat-by-beat screenwriting path as sports movies—the rags to riches story of an athlete or team overcoming the odds and making it all the way to fame and glory. Whether it’s based on a true story of a major league championship or a made-up yarn about a peewee football team, comedy or drama, the elements nearly always remain the same.

Underdog sports movies are a pure form of storytelling—your characters have a strong goal, a clear arc, and the conflict of the narrative is quite literally a conflict. People are primed to root for underdogs already—its in our DNA—so follow these simple steps and the story will tell itself and engage the audience without you having to break a sweat.

1. Introduce the Underdog

First off, we have to get acquainted with who we’re going to be rooting for, whether it’s a down-on-his-luck athlete or coach, or a whole team of misfits. We meet Rocky when he is a hired thug for a mid-level mobster. Coach Gordon Bombay starts off The Mighty Ducks with a DUI. And that’s a Disney movie!

2. Show the Suck

You can’t just tell us who’s the underdog—you have to show us. We need to see the bumbling and the fumbling and how poorly the team works together, and that often means including an epic fail moment early on in the script. If it’s the story of a natural-born talent, we need to see why they’re not living up to their potential, whether it’s addiction or shady circumstances and characters holding them back.

Emilio Estevez in The Mighty Ducks

3. Set the Goals

The end of the movie should be telegraphed way in advance, with your underdog protagonist(s) starting the new season or setting the date for the big match or tournament. They’ll play their first game, terribly, and see just how much work they have ahead of them. This is a great time to introduce the opposition as well, the team or athlete your heroes will face off against. They should not only be the best, but also total jerks with smug smirks we can’t wait to see wiped off their faces.

4. Bring in the Surprise Star

Most sports movies have a little deus ex machina, usually in the form of a sports prodigy from a very unlikely place. Usually they don’t even play the same sport, and are antisocial misanthropes that don’t play well with others for a reason. Little Giants had Devon Sawa, the Bad News Bears had Jackie Earle Haley and Tatum O’Neal.

Scene from The Karate Kid

5. Make ‘Em Better

The surprise star athlete should be the catalyst for your team to start cohering and scoring their first wins. The main ingredient your characters needed before now was confidence, and by nurturing it, your story will grow along with them.

6. Make ‘Em Bond

Suddenly that antisocial wunderkind is a little less anti and a little more social. Rather than turning on one another, the team is using their newfound confidence and bonding together. Usually they’ll explicitly show this with a sing-along in the locker room or on the bus, or like in The Replacements, in jail. They don’t have to sing necessarily—in The Mighty Ducks, the team just had to quack at their principal in unison.

Remember the Titans training scene

7. Throw in a Little Romance

Your script will need a B-plot, usually one that isn’t sports related. The best way is to add a little romance, either with the tomboyish girl player on the team, or the coach with one of the kids’ moms, or the sports league official. Rocky had Adrian, and as such he had something more to fight for than just a championship belt.

8. Montage!

Okay, now your team is hot, they’re winning, or your athlete is kicking ass in training, and everyone’s getting a little nookie on the side. Your story is switching gears and ramping up and you’re running out of pages and screentime. Time for a montage. Let’s see everyone progressing a little more with each cut, and feel free to throw in some shots of your scowling villains, so we remember how much we hate them. Your montage can be simple—one of the most effective scenes of all time is Rocky’s jogging through the streets of Philadelphia.

Rocky running through the streets of Philadelphia

9. Kick Off the Big Game

You’re already at the big climax—that was fast! There’s lots of hype, lots of nerves, and lots of dramatic stakes for all of our characters. This is the culmination of all their hard work, and of course they’re up against the jerks from Act One. Sometimes it looks like our heroes are winning, but then it seems like they’re losing. Usually it all comes down to one big play….

10. Wrap It Up with Lessons Learned

Either your team wins, or they lose, just barely. (Unless you’re a sadist and your team didn’t even come close, or your athlete was arrested for cheating.) But that’s okay if they lost, some of our favorite athletes like Rocky and the Bad News Bears didn’t end the movie with a win. But it’s key that they learned some lessons along the way—whether it be teamwork, inner strength, self-respect, the power and glory of love, etc.—and that the previous nine steps weren’t all for nothing.

Football players on the field

How Screenplay Sequences Underpin Three Act Structure

When it comes to screenplay structure, aspiring screenwriters are usually told by tutors and books, like Syd Field’s Screenplay, to focus on three acts.

What they’re not told about so often is how these three acts are underpinned by seven or eight sequences.

So, in this post we are going to show you how sequences work within three act structure, and serve to break it down into a series of more manageable “mini-movies.”

How Sequences Work Within Most Films

Sequence A

Mary and Isaac in Manhattan

Mary (Meryl Streep) and Isaac (Woody Allen) in Manhattan

A screenplay starts (often, but not always) with an Inciting Incident to get it rolling—either a major change in the protagonist’s life, such as just getting out of prison, or arriving in a new town, or an event unknown to them, such as a murder the detective is yet to hear about.

Then, characters and world are introduced followed by a crisis around pages ten to fifteen. This is the hero’s Call to Action which sets into motion the main conflict for the overall screenplay and ends the sequence.

(In Romancing the Stone, Joan hears that her sister has been kidnapped. In Manhattan, Isaac meets Mary).

Sequence B

The protagonist struggles to get to grips with the Call to Action crisis established at the end of Sequence A.

But soon after there’s another shock in store—a Big Event which signifies what they’re up against. This is what the film’s really about: the main conflict they’ll have to tackle.

From this they must make a Big Decision to embark on a new and potentially life-changing adventure.

When they make this Decision we know they’re committed to solving the crisis established at the Call to Action and then the Big Event, and this signals the end of Act One.

(Neo takes the blue pill in The Matrix and enters “the real world.” In American Pie, the guys make a pact to lose their virginity).

Sequence C

The start of the strange and often scary new world in which the protagonist is often a “fish out of water.”

This sequence contains, what Blake Snyder calls, The Promise of the Premise—the trailer moments in which the hero struggles to adapt to the new world.

Note that the end of this sequence doesn’t determine the end of an act, but is still a definite step forward or backwards in the protagonist’s main goal established at the end of Act One.

(Truman gets stuck on the bus and fails to leave the island in The Truman Show. Tor is humiliated by rival cheerleaders, The Clovers, in Bring It On).

Sequence D

Chief Brody in Jaws

Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in Jaws

Having failed or succeeded at the end of the last sequence, the protagonist pushes on, invariably trying a different tack in order to achieve their overall goal.

The end of this sequence ends on either an “up” or a “down” and signals the script’s Midpoint—usually a surprising twist of some kind.

Here, the protagonist feels the full power of the antagonist but, conversely, is now fully committed to the goal, or a new variation of the goal.

The stakes are raised as the protagonist turns a corner and a “new self” is born.

(In Jaws, Chief Brody realizes they’ve caught the wrong shark. Charles returns home to find the killer, LaRoche, in his house chatting to his wife and kids in Derailed).

Sequence E

This sequence marks the beginning of the “changed hero.”

They begin to understand what they really want, but also to further realize the power of their adversary.

The stakes are raised as they react to whatever new crisis occurred at the Midpoint.

This is sometimes known as the “Gain” section of the script in which everything seems to be going well for the protagonist, but in reality it’s not.

For example, in Romantic Comedies this is often where the protagonist falls in love; but there is a sting in the tail at the end of the sequence in which love is hindered and the protagonist faces an unexpected setback.

(In Boogie Nights, Dirk rises to the top, but becomes too cocky and gets fired. In Sideways, Miles finally gets his act together and goes to see Maya at the restaurant, but she’s not working that night).

Sequence F

Heather's famous video confession in The Blair Witch Project

Heather’s famous video confession in The Blair Witch Project

The end of this sequence also corresponds to the end of Act Two; again either an “up” or “down” ending depending on the climax to the overall film.

The end of Sequence F can be viewed as either a “false victory” or “false defeat.” Either the hero seemingly wins the day—All is Joy—but it’s a temporary victory, or they wind up in a worst place than at the start of the film—All is Lost—but it’s a fleeting defeat.

However, often in Horror, things reach a low point at the end of this sequence and then get even worse at the Climax.

(A high point is reached in the film In Search of a Midnight Kiss, when Wilson and Vivian kiss at midnight. A low point occurs in The Blair Witch Project, when Heather makes a direct-to-camera apology to her parents, realizing she’s going to die).

Sequence G

This is often the shortest sequence of the screenplay as it’s all about urgency and motion—the Race for the Prize, as The Flaming Lips once sang.

The protagonist has finally realized what needs to be done to crack the mystery / get the girl / catch the killer etc.

The climax to Sequence G corresponds directly to the Climax to the whole film, wrapping up the A story on either an “up” or “down” beat, and tying up any loose ends.

In Drama and Comedy the protagonist has usually learned a great lesson. They are not the same person they were at the beginning of the film.

In fact, they have performed a complete u-turn and now want the exact opposite thing from what they wanted at the start.

In Action / Adventure the transformation is sometimes great, (Wanted) and sometimes insignificant (James Bond).

In Thrillers, the arc is usually minimal, as it is in Horror, where the protagonist’s primary concern is escape and survival.

Alternatively, this sequence can be an All is Lost (or All is Joy) success or failure, in exactly the same way as the new goal established at the Midpoint ended in a success or failure at the end of Sequence E.

(In The Godfather, Michael becomes head of the family. Benjamin dies at the end of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

Sequence H

The composition of this sequence depends on how the previous one ended.

Obviously, if Sequence G ended with the Screenplay Climax, the movie’s over, but if it ended with an All is Lost / All is Joy success / failure, then this sequence becomes in effect Sequence G—the protagonist’s sprint to solve the screenplay’s main goal before it’s too late.

(In The Heartbreak Kid remake (2007), there are eight sequences ending on Sequence H. Sequence G ends with an All is Lost failure when Eddie fails to win back Miranda. An eighth Sequence H then begins with him packing up and leaving town, before we jump a year and a half in time when Miranda turns up to provide the film’s neat ending).

###

We hope this has helped! For a fully comprehensive look at just how sequences work within three act structure making screenplays that much easier to write, check out our website ScriptReaderPro.com: http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/

Thanks for reading!

Alex, Scott, Rebecca, and David

Pixar’s Rules For Great Storytelling

Pixar logo

Emma Coats, a former story artist at Pixar Animation Studios, tweeted a series of “story basics” a while back which not only illustrates the kind of talent that Pixar employs, but serves as a fantastic guide for any aspiring screenwriters to learn some very basic and essential tenants of storytelling. Their overwhelming success is easily demonstrated by the numbers. Seven of the fourteen Pixar films have been nominated for Best Screenplay at the Oscars and the company won the Animated Feature Academy Award seven times. They have fourteen consecutive box-office toppers and 2 Best Picture nominations. If that’s not proof of their genius, then we don’t know what is. Steve Jobs purchased the studio in 1986 for $10 million. It was originally a hardware company with only one animator on its staff. Now it’s widely reputed to be one of the best film studios on the planet. Here’s a quote on Deadline from the producer of the Pixar hit Brave, which debuted at number 1 at the Box Office upon release, going on to gross over $500 million internationally. They attribute their phenomenal success to the basic wisdom that story trumps all.

It was not easy. The biggest challenges at Pixar are always the stories. We want really original stories that come from the hearts and minds of our filmmakers. We take years in crafting the story and improving it and changing it; throwing things out that aren’t working and adding things that do work. All of that is just the jumping off point for the technology and how we are going to make this happen.

Without further ado, here are 22 pointers from a former Pixar story artist for creating a compelling story and building a mega-successful franchise. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to learn more about our animation and screenwriting curriculum.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

How To Format A Screenplay: Learning The Screenwriting Formula

Screenplay template

Writing a screenplay is no easy feat, yet transferring your story and characters into a professional screenplay format can be very rewarding. If done correctly, this is where you can truly make every aspect of your story come alive.

Unlike your story, the screenplay is visual, and detailing your characters’ actions help to advance your story scene by scene. These actions are key for the audience because they provide the audience with the information that they need to know in order to follow along. The dialogue that you write for the characters takes on the supporting role, supporting the characters’ actions. Speaking the details and actually seeing the character do the actions can be transformative in the viewers’ mind.

Each scene that you write for screenplay needs to be detailed. The scene is divided into multiple categories to cover these details. Elements to be considered include who (who’s there, which characters are involved in the scene), what (what is the situation that is taking place), when (time & day the situation is taking place), where (where this is all happening) and why (what’s the point of the scene?).

Writing a Scene Heading

Another main element to writing a screenplay is devising the scene headings. When your character moves to a different setting, you will need to create a new scene heading and answer all of the same questions above. Scene heading elements are placed in a specific order. Generally, the scene location is first followed by the time of day.

An example of this would be a scene set inside a critical care unit at night. The heading would be written:

INT. CRITICAL CARE UNIT – NIGHT

Notice the use of abbreviations and all words capitalized.

A Breakdown of Industry Norms

An example of screenplay formatting using Microsoft Word

Interior is abbreviated as INT., exterior is shortened to EXT., and a small hyphen separates the location of the scene from when the scene takes place. Generally, there will be a two-line space that separates the heading from the scene’s description — the what.

In the scene description, write the names of the characters involved in the scene using all capital letters. When the names are repeated in the dialogue heading, the names are once again always capitalized. However, if there is someone in the scene without dialogue, his or her name is not capitalized.

For example:

JUDY sits in a wheelchair with her leg raised. Her head is back and she stares aimlessly at the exit sign above her.

Someone who is in the scene, but does not have dialogue would be written as follows:

The man coughs as he falls down in the middle of the room.

Sounds that are auditory to the audience are capitalized such as WHISTLE. If the character is making the noise, the sound does not necessarily need to be capitalized.

An important formatting rule is that dialogue is always centered under the character’s name. The character’s name is capitalized when it is used as the dialogue’s heading. For example:

NURSE

I’m sorry…

Any sort of character description is written under the name in parentheses as such:

NURSE

(frantically)

What do I do?

Here is an example of a complete scene in the screenplay format:

INT. CRITICAL CARE UNIT – NIGHT

A desolate critical care unit. Dingy and hopeless.

Unoccupied seats except for two are lined up in rows. A broken TV mounted in the corner near the ceiling BUZZES with fuzzy, flickering images.

A man coughs as he falls down in the middle of the room.

JUDY sits in a wheelchair with her leg raised. Her head is tipped back and she stares aimlessly at the exit sign above her.

She sharply lowers her head and whips it around to see the man collapse. With fear in her eyes, she looks around for a nurse unaware of this man’s dire situation.

The critical care unit doors open and a newly trained nurse rushes out to help the man.

NURSE

(frantically)

What do I do?

JUDY

(frightened)

What do you mean? You’re the nurse, help him!

NURSE

I’m sorry

JUDY

(yelling)

Help him!

As a screenwriter, there are many valuable tools available to you from books, articles and computer software which help to clearly format your screenplay. Researching screenplay formatting will give you a working knowledge of what is to be expected in professional circles.

Click here to learn how to master the craft of formatting a screenplay in New York Film Academy’s BFA degree program in Screenwriting.

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay

Writing a phone conversation into a script can be challenging to screenwriters. The mastermind behind the script needs the phone conversation to fit the context of the situation without being lame or dragging out the scene (AKA the moment of the feature where people decide to take their bathroom break). Once you have decided to include a phone conversation in your script, it is time to start planning the details.

Common Phone Situations

There are three common phone situations that are found in screenwriting. They are:

  • Focusing on one character where the audience can only see and hear this character.
  • Visually the audience only sees one character but can hear that character and also the character he/she is speaking with on the phone.
  • The audience can see and hear both characters.

Determine a Phone Situation

There are different reasons why a screenwriter chooses one phone scenario over another. One of the reasons why you would choose focusing on one character that the audience sees and hears is because the character on the other end is irrelevant. Another reason may be that from the dialogue, the audience has a clear picture of what is happening and it is unnecessary to cut back and forth between characters. The second format, seeing one character and being able to listen to both, is commonly used when you want the audience to see and hear the characters’ reaction to what the other character has to say or when you don’t want to reveal who or where the other character is, leaving him/her off screen. The third phone situation is used when the screenwriter wants to move from a master scene heading to another scene or intercutting the scenes.

Writing the Scene into the Screenplay

Once you have determined which type of phone scene you are going to use, it is important to indicate it properly. In the first telephone conversation, where only one character is seen and heard, write the dialogue with pauses, beats, or actions so that the character’s dialogue pauses periodically (which indicates that the other character is speaking).

This example is from Erin Brochovich:

 

     INT. MASRY and VITITOE’S NEW OFFICE – DAY

     The front doors open and Erin enters.

         ERIN

           Hey, Ros. Nice view, huh?

          ROSALIND

           Yeah, I’m gonna start sleeping here.

          (into phone)

           Masry and Vititoe, can I — damn it.

          (calling out)

           Does anyone know anything about these

           phones?

Erin Brochovich on the phone

In the second telephone scenario, where one person is seen and heard, while the other is only heard, you would indicate the unseen character’s dialogue as voice-over in the script, abbreviated as V.O. Here is an example from the movie Taken:

           BRYAN

           I don’t know who you are. I don’t know

           what you want. If you are looking for

           ransom, I can tell you I don’t have

           money. But what I do have are a very

         particular set of skills; skills I have

           acquired over a very long career. Skills

           that make me a nightmare for people like

           you. If you let my daughter go now,

           that’ll be the end of it. I will not

           look for you, I will not pursue you. But

           if you don’t, I will look for you, I will

           find you, and I will kill you.

            MARKO (V.O.)

           (after a long pause)

           Good luck.

Liam Neeson on the phone in Taken

The final phone scenario, where both characters are seen and heard, you would write INTERCUT – [LOCATION 1] / [LOCATION 2]. For example, look at this piece from the Bourne Legacy movie:

 

     INT. BEHIND THRESHERS / WATERLOO CONCOURSE– DAY

     INTERCUTTING BETWEEN ROSS AND BOURNE:

     Bourne spots the agents pulling back per Wills’ orders.

        ROSS (INTO PHONE)

          If I run now I can make it–

Scene from Bourne Legacy

BOURNE (INTO PHONE)

 No. Something’s not right.

Matt Damon in The Bourne Legacy

Now that you know your options and how to incorporate them into your screenplay, craft your telephone conversation into your screenplay. It may take a few drafts and even switching between options to find which option works best with the message that you are trying to portray.

Writing Tips: How To Write A Flashback

Flashbacks are creative ways to give the audience information about previous events that is needed in order to develop storylines and to understand the actions of characters throughout the feature. Some writers are more liberal with their flashbacks, creating an entire episode or film using almost only flashbacks while others are more conservative, using flashbacks only when necessary.

Flashbacks correlate with the present generally to justify or to explain the character’s actions in the present. Recalling a significant event from the character’s past can be shown visually, providing significant clues or revelations regarding the character’s motivations. This significant event can portray any type of experience: grieving, happy, shameful, mysterious, troublesome, terrifying or sexual.

Flashback Techniques

It is crucial for the screenwriter to choose the precise moment where a flashback is needed in the context of the script, the exact moment where the screenwriter opens the doors to let the audience into the character’s past. As a screenwriter, you must be mindful that the transition is seamless rather than jolting the audience from the present to the past, and back again into the present like a rickety roller coaster. Techniques that offer a smooth transition include looking at a photograph, hearing a song, or looking off into the distance to a setting that resembles the character’s past. All of these examples trigger a memory that smoothly carry the character into the past. Here is an example of a flashback from the movie The Sixth Sense:

 

FLASHBACK – CROWE RESIDENCE

Violent gun shots ring through the bedroom.

Anna rushes across the room to a crumpled Malcolm laying on

the floor. Malcolm’s hands are clutched at his side.

INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT – PRESENT DAY

MALCOLM

 (screaming)

Anna!

Transitioning Layout

 

Bruce Willis and Haley Joel-Osmont in The Sixth Sense

In the above example, the word FLASHBACK is used to indicate that the scene that follows is a flashback. Then, the scene is written and formatted like any other scene. When it is time to transition back to the present, the words PRESENT DAY are used to indicate that the script is now leaving the flashback and returning to the present moment.

Perfecting the Craft of Flashbacks

The best way to learn how to write flashbacks in your screenplay is to read other screenplays and watching the films. You will see how other screenwriters have incorporated flashbacks into their screenplays and how they manifest in real life or on the big screen. You will see where flashbacks have been effective and where they fall short so that you can avoid those pitfalls.  Some screenplays that have successfully incorporated flashbacks include Men in Black 3, The Godfather 2, and Slumdog Millionaire.

There may be many drafts in between because a flashback can make or break your screenplay. Choose wisely when and if you need a flashback and how to execute the flashback in your writing.

So You Want To Be Among The Screenwriting Masters?

Screenwriting master Woody Allen at his desk

If your dream is to become a successful screenwriter like Woody Allen, you’re going to have to be made of stern stuff. How often do you hear of a nobody screenwriter getting picked out to write the next episode of Game of Thrones, or to co-write a Hollywood blockbuster?

The answer, as far as we’re concerned, is never.

Becoming a working and respected screenwriter certainly doesn’t happen overnight. As with most creative disciplines, it takes years of hard work, of learning your craft and believing in yourself to follow this dream, so if you’ve got no staying power, lack determination and doubt your own abilities, you probably won’t last the distance.

Don’t want to be a nobody screenwriter? Good. Put that fire and passion to use—read on to discover what you can do to help your chances, and what resources there are out there to help you on the journey.

screenwriting books

 

In the spirit of standing on the shoulders of giants, learning from the screenwriting masters is heartily encouraged. If it’s screenwriting for film that drives you, there are a few notable books that you really should read. They are:

–       Save The Cat, Blake Snyder

–       Story, Robert McKee

–       How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days, Viki King

Of course, there are countless others, but these titles are consistently rated highly by screenwriting students. And if you need a structure of working to get your idea out of your head and on to the page, then Viki King’s book is superb. Doubtless you won’t have an amazing script by the end of it, but you’ll have a first draft and that’s a whole lot more to show than a blank piece of paper.

resources for screenwriters

As well as books there are blogs and websites which are stuffed with information and advice. Try these for starters:

Mandy: The very first port of call for most screenwriters in the industry. For jobs, ads and a noticeboard of things going on in the industry, Mandy is the place to go. You can search for people wanting scripts and screenwriters and post casting adverts once you’re in the process of making your film. Easy to use and a good way to see what’s going on.

Go Into The Story: There are hundreds (if not thousands) of screenwriting blogs out there, but Scott Myers’ regular musings on the intricacies of screenwriting and the business itself is among the best. Within the virtual pages of Go Into The Story, you’ll find some insider’s tips and deep insight, all of which can help you take your screenwriting game to the next level.

IMSDb: An acronym for the Internet Movie Script Database, IMSDb purports to be the web’s largest movie script resource and we can find nothing to contradict this. What the site lacks in cosmetic beauty it makes up in functionality, with hundreds of thousands of scripts all categorized by name and genre. Bookmark this.

Simply Scripts: Another great database of free scripts, but its real usefulness lies in its collation of screenwriting contests and fairly comprehensive glossary of industry terms.

Screenwriting Software: If you’re puzzled at the array of software on the market to help you craft your script, here’s our rundown of the best. We separated the wheat from the chaff in both the paid and free categories, so check it out.

screenwriting masters degree

 

At university level, modules in screenwriting are becoming more and more popular, however if you want to truly specialize you’re probably best off opting for an screenwriting masters degree once you’ve finished your bachelor’s. Time spent completing an MFA degree at screenwriting school will pay dividends further down the line, and one of the big plus points to studying screenwriting in a formal setting is the contacts you will make with your peers and with people already working in the industry.

Writing is more often than not a solitary way of working so it’s best to forge partnerships and contacts when you can.

screenwriting advice

 

Finally, there’s no better way to get to grips with how scripts work than to watch as many films as possible. However, don’t watch so many that you end up doing nothing but watch movies. It’s important to maintain a balance of watching TV and films and actually writing your own scripts.

If you’ve already read Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat you’ll be aware of his beat sheet, vital points that you need to hit at certain moments in your film. If you don’t think these rules apply to you, sit down with the beat sheet and watch movies in the genre you want to write in. You’ll soon see how Blake’s very nearly always right. And once you’ve gotten to grips with this, your writing should start to flow. In addition, don’t just watch movies. We can’t understate the importance of reading scripts, which is essential for getting the hang of formatting, flow, and structural best practices.

Good luck, and godspeed in your journey to becoming one of this generation’s screenwriting masters!

Paid And Free Scriptwriting Software Reviews: What Are The Choices?

Typewriter with computer mouse and screen

Offering scripts on the back of crumpled napkins only happens on TV, but if you want to sell your script, properly formatted writing will show your professionalism to a prospective producer is paramount.

Whether you’re chained to a desktop or working from the road, you’ll need a program that allows you to update your script and write the next scene if you have a spare few minutes.

Industry Standard

Final Draft is the industry standard and it’s a great piece of scriptwriting software, but it’ll set you back $199 if you buy it in the US. This is the program that screenwriting colleges as well as the Hollywood kings and queens use, so it’s the one you should use if you can afford it.

A screenshot of Final Draft software

Movie Magic Screenwriter ($169) and Movie Outline ($199) have become more popular in the past couple of years. They include more options than Final Draft for the preparation stage when you are making decisions about scene content before you begin writing the actual scenes.

If you’re an Apple fan, then your desktop will probably want to be running Montage($50), although a version of Final Draft is available as well. There are also apps for both Montage and Final Draft available for your iPad or iPhone if you want to write on the move.

Free Software

If you choose to write online, then there are lots of options but Celtx and Plotbot are a good starting point. They’re free to use and will suit those who love to store their work in the cloud instead of on a hard drive. A big plus point for Celtx is that it offers a very intuitive storyboarding feature.

Screenshot of Celtx's storyboarding feature

You should try each of these for a couple of days to see which suits your needs. Every user has an opinion on which is best, but there’s no clear winner yet. The advantage of these programs is you can test them without breaking the bank. If you buy one of the paid options listed above, you are likely to stay with that software rather than dip into your wallet again.

Plotbot-screen1

It always takes times to learn the ins and outs of software that will save you hours and effort later. Putting in the work early by actually writing something that you might be able to sell is a great way to find your way around these programs.

What About Word?

Half the planet is committed to using Microsoft Word to write their masterpiece and Word fans have one advantage: templates. These are available on Microsoft’s own template site or via a simple Google search.

The templates allow you to write your screenplay with industry standard formatting, but make sure you choose the right format. The UK and the US markets use different size pages, and if you change from TV to writing for the big screen, you’ll need a different design. Turning it into a stage play? Yet another layout will be required.

Extra Features

There are a couple of extra features that might help you make the final decision. A PDF export function lets you send a small file to the reader and gives you some protection against those who just want to plagiarize your script or post it online. Tech experts will be able to get around the PDF format easily enough, but it will stop most people from bothering to steal your work.

Copyright symbol

You should also look for an ‘export to others’ feature. This will allow you to collaborate with a colleague at a different location. With Celtx and Final Draft you can mix and match so you don’t all have to use the same piece of software.

A handy feature is the ability to revise your drafts by using different colors. This is an industry standard feature which can save hours of deliberation or arguments.

Some programs have a one-click option to allow you to register your script online, direct from your software. This isn’t wholly necessary, but it can serve as extra proof that the work is yours if a copyright issue rears its head further down the line.