Every iconic film starts with a good story, in the form of a screenplay or script. Think of a script as an outline that details every element needed to tell a story, whether the element is aural, visual, behavioral, and linguistic.
A script needs to be in outline form because it forms the basis of how the director, cast, editor, and production crew will interpret your story during filming. Because so many people are involved in filmmaking, there are many standards that a script must conform to. This ensures that all involved parties understand the script. The script’s specific format – its layout, margins, and notations, even its font size – ensure that the filmmaking process is as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
Film is a vastly collaborative medium, after all. They may consult you on how to film scenes, and you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t. You may even be asked to rewrite your entire script, with new writers brought in to help you out. These are all normal aspects of the process of filmmaking.
Having a good story
Remember, film is primarily a visual medium. Your audience doesn’t merely listen to you tell your story. They watch everything unfold onscreen, so you have to show them. Thus, you have to write a screenplay visually. Write down both what the audience will see and what they will hear. Make sure you show how your characters think; the audience doesn’t know your characters the way you do.
The art of screenplay writing largely involves writing a compelling or moving story. Just like how your favorite movie characters captivated your imagination and emotions, your characters must be memorable for your audience. You want the audience to be passionate about your characters; you want them to root for your hero or heroine and loathe the villain.
Aside from memorable, relatable characters, a good movie always has something at stake. It may be something that one of your characters wants to get, no matter the risk involved, like in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Or it may be something that all the characters want to acquire, like the small statue in The Maltese Falcon. For many movies, it’s something intangible, like how Shosanna longs for and gets revenge on the Nazis in Inglorious Basterds or how Jamal manages to reunite with Latika at the end of Slumdog Millionaire.
Whatever it is, these goals drive the characters’ quest throughout the movie. It must be powerful enough to keep your audience hanging as your story unfolds.
Of course, no movie is complete without conflict, which can be physical, emotional, or mental. The hero of your movie must work hard through obstacles to achieve his goal. After all, this is what happens in real life. Sometimes, the conflict or obstacle is common to both the hero and the villain, the ultimate goal being praiseworthy for both characters. In many movies, the main character struggle both internally and externally, with both problems being resolved once the character’s external struggle is finished.
All good stories also have a ‘hook’. In songs, the ‘hook’ is what catches the listener’s attention. In Hollywood, the hook is also sometimes called a high concept. This is the unique, overarching theme of your story, the basic idea that will appeal to the audience. Many movies have a high concept that’s a simple ‘what if’ question. What if a man falls in love and develops a relationship with a computer operating system (Her)? What if a black man gains his freedom only to be kidnapped and sold into slavery again (12 Years a Slave)?
It’s also important to determine what genre your story can be categorized under. This can make your film more appealing to Hollywood and helps it be identifiable or relatable. Is it a romantic comedy, an action-adventure film, or an old-fashioned horror movie? This will make your movie easier to describe to agents, managers, and producers, who sometimes specialize in specific genres.
Following the proper script format
Like it or not, scripts have to look a certain way. It’s best if you present your script like you’re already an insider; this gets your foot in the door, so to speak. Remember, hundreds and hundreds of scripts are submitted regularly, so anything that makes your script look unusual or strange will ensure that it will never see the process of filming. More simply put, they won’t play if you don’t know the game.
So, aside from ensuring that you have a compelling, memorable story, you must also make sure that your script adheres to commonly used formats for scripts. Whether it’s the number of pages or the font to use, make sure you stick to the standard.