Things to accomplish in your life: climb Mount Kilimanjaro, nail twins, win a fist fight, and write a screenplay. The classic guy list, right? Well, you’re in luck because we can help with one of those things. Writing your first screenplay. And if you sell the bastard, you’ll be able to afford to buy hooker twins, pay someone to carry you to the top of Kilimanjaro, and slip a homeless man a hundy to take a dive during your fist fight. But first, you have to write your masterpiece and sell it to the highest bidder. Come on, if Ben Affleck can do it…
Decide on a Story: Your screenplay should probably have something we like to call a story. At least that’s our opinion. If you consider yourself a funnyman — check that, if others consider you a funnyman — perhaps your story should be a comedy. If not, you’ve got a bunch of other options for the story/genre. Drama, thriller, western, sci-fi, erotica, and family. But don’t try to mix family and erotica. It doesn’t sell. Trust us. Once you decide what genre you will be navigating, you can then start to formulate a story. Yeah. Characters, plot twists, and nude scenes.
Bonus Tip: A story about trolls. They’re an under served demographic in film. At least the films we watch.
Learn Formatting: Screenplays have a unique format that can be a bit tricky for a first timer. We’ve heard many a novice complain after reading a script that they have no idea what ‘b.g.’ or ‘AD LIB’ means. Get yourself a formatting book and read it over-and-over again. Or use a new invention called the internet and research formatting. Also, definitely read as many scripts as you can — especially in the genre you have chosen — which will show you the recent formatting changes and scripts that are more successful than yours.
Bonus Tip: Single space after periods. Saves space and makes you feel all rebellious for breaking your English teacher’s rules.
Outline: Some professional screenwriters don’t lay out a ‘blueprint’ before they write…otherwise known as an ‘outline’. Well, they are clearly idiots because outlines can get you on course before you even get on the course. The best outline will be bullet point-style and contain at least a couple of sentences detailing what is in every scene. Once you get into the meat of the writing, you will use the outline as a guide to slide into that very scene.
Bonus Tip: Flow charts. We’re believers.
Set a Schedule: A page a day could be the pace that works for you. Or writing every weekend for two hours. Whilst drunk, of course. The most important thing is to set a reachable goal/schedule so you can actually get the thing written. We know there are programs out there that claim you can write your script in 21 days. Maybe you can, but don’t try and set any records. Haste makes…who cares, just don’t rush it.
Bonus Tip: Work in a drinking game. What schedule is complete without it?
Have a Zany Person: No matter what genre you choose to violate, every screenplay benefits from having a kooky character. You know the type: a zany dude/chick who also doles out sage advice to the main characters. This person is usually the best friend or next-door neighbor. Take an extra look at those characters in your script and beef them up with an extra helping of crazy. They will usually be the one with a crippling addiction and an acerbic sense of humor. But oh, the wisdom they possess. Oh, the wisdom.
Bonus Tip: Give them an off-kilter name. Something like Bocephus.
Get Feedback: Someone has to tell you that you suck. Send the script to at least ten friends and ask them to be brutally honest. Expect some of them to respond with the usual ‘this is great!’ b.s. But when you get that one friend who is truly honest, pay attention. That is the feedback you want. Your first reaction might be to defend your precious script and what you intended it to be, but step back and look at it from their perspective. They might just be right. Yeah, they are right.
Bonus Tip: Guys named Jim have no taste. We learned that from experience.
Rewrite: Damn it all, this is turning out to be a full time job, huh? Suck it up, because rewriting is one of the most important steps in writing your screenplay. You absolutely have to step away from your work for a few weeks, collect your feedback, and think about how you royally f’ed the thing up. Then come back to it and rock it. Definitely, don’t be afraid to ditch your favorite scenes — otherwise known as killing your babies — because that’s what writing a script it all about. If you love the scene with the crazy guy that your main character encounters, but it doesn’t drive the story…that must go. Sorry.
Bonus Tip: Drink a lot during rewriting.
Submit: You wrote the script for people to read, love, green light and make into an Oscar-winner. The only way this will happen is if you get it to the right people who can make this happen. There are numerous contests you can get it to and some very solid on-line sources that have proven successful. After dropping your piece on-line, start submitting it to agencies and management companies. Do a massive search on-line and make sure to fill out the release forms (essentially allowing them to steal your idea).
Bonus Tip: When you get their form rejection letter, use it as toilet paper.