Getting to Know Screenwriting

Knowing how to write a film script for a movie is different to actually doing it. How does the writer make the leap and take the first steps into screenwriting?
Screenwriting Guide for Beginners
It is a good idea to read several screenplays, notice how they are formatted, become instinctive with how they should look in order to gain a professional feel when submitting a screenplay to film agents. Free screenwriting software will take the headache from formatting the play yourself. BBC Writersroom have a wealth of free downloadable software for witers.
Screenplay Format
Firstly, it is important to know that a screenplay prior to be being revised by film producers is known as a “spec script,” and will not contain the various elements that film makers add, such as scene numbers and camera angles. When submitting a screenplay to an agent, it is therefore vital to know the difference.
Online Movie Scripts
Screenplays can be viewed online via Simply Scripts or the BBC, which keep an archive of classic dramas and films in screenplay format. Note that some might not be spec scripts and therefore will contain special elements that need not concern the scriptwriter. Films can also be viewed as hard copy on special request from the library.
A few things might be noted when encountering a screenplay for the first time.
Screenplay Structure


Ideally, a full-length screenplay for film will be around 100 pages long. One page equals approximately one minute of screen time. Anything between 90 and 110 pages is fine, but if this number is radically different, it will not bode well for the writer on submitting it to film agents.

BBC Writers Room Screenwriting Software

The format of the screenplay has to be precise. Free downloadable software is now available for screenwriters to take the headache out of spacings and margins. The BBC’s software, Scriptsmart Gold, automatically formats films for the UK and the US markets for all manner of scriptwriting from film dramas to sitcoms.

  • The screenplay should always be typed onto white A4 paper and firmly bound together.
  • The screenplay title and the writer’s contact details should be exhibited on the front page.


Action and Dialogue Writing


When formatting a screenplay with the assistance of a screenplay formatting software, one will notice various elements to the screenplay. These basically are: character cues, slug lines and action. Character cues speak for themselves. A header is provided for the character name, and the dialogue is tagged beneath.


Ideally, dialogue will be concise, implying authentic discourse, with every word moving the story along. Long reams of monologues should be avoided unless it is essential to the story or a character trait.


Descriptions of action sequences are often kept short and broken into short paragraphs. Each paragraph must move the story along.


Slug lines are simply headers providing information for the location and the time of the day for each action sequence within the screenplay.


If there is to be a series of scenes in quick succession, a montage or series of shots can be used instead of numerous slug lines.


Writing a Movie Script for Beginners


Unlike novels, the screenplay ideally exhibit lots of white page in proportion to the text. Reams of lengthy paragraphs will not look good and could put off prospective agents.


Although background research will have gone into the screenplay, it should be implied in the story rather than demonstrated. In other words, only what is shown and heard on the screen should be included in the script.


Again, unlike fiction, the screenplay cannot describe of the protagonists’ inner thoughts or background, and therefore these should not be included. The writer should remain invisible and the characters must apparently act of their own free will.


The scriptwriter should not make suggestions on what the ambient music might be or of camera angles and special effects. The screenwriter tells the story; the rest is up to the film producers.


Script Writing Software


When embarking upon screenwriting, it is a good idea to become familiar with what it looks like by obtaining them online or from the library. The beginner might also note how the screenplay is formatted when doing so. Screenwriting software is available for taking the headache out of formatting margins and spacings.
How to Write a Screenplay for Dummies

Ideally, the screenplay should be around 100 hundred pages long, give or take ten pages. Agents and film producers like to see lots of white page punctuated by short paragraphs of text and punchy dialogue. Long reams of paragraphs and monologues can be off-putting. Unlike novels, the screenplay cannot impart the inner thoughts of the protagonists. The golden rule is: only what is seen and heard on the screen should be included in the screenplay.

© Rachel Shirley