Many people have picked up a pen, and wondered what it's like to "make it" as a screenwriter. Only hundreds have ever gotten their screenplays on the big screen and garnered acclaim for them.
In this article, I am going to dispel some of the myths of scriptwriting, explain to you what it actually is and help you to understand how to begin writing one.
Myth: If they can do it, I can do it.
If you think anyone can write a good screenplay, someone's told you wrong. It is a difficult business. You think you see some horribly written movie out there and think you can do better?
Think of the fact that those are professional screenplays written by people in the business for 20 years or so. And think of the ones they had to have rejected. Some people are writers and some people have ideas. You have to separate yourself from either group and make sure you know which one you are.
Myth: The director shouldn't have let him say that in the movie.
Although directors do have lots of control about what happens in the film on set, they do not decide the story. Directors do not write their own screenplays usually.
At this very moment, there are thousands of screenplays in the hands of peons at production companies around the globes, some in the hands of studio executives and some in the hands directors. But mostly directors are hired after the screenplay has been written.
Myth: Once I write my screenplay and everyone sees it, it will break Hollywood wide open!
There are only three ways that a screenplay gets to the big screen:
- A professional screenwriter will write a screenplay of his/her own volition and ask for it to be optioned.
- A director (i.e. Woody Allen) will write their own screenplay and take it to a studio or producer to try to get it produced.
- A producer or a studio executive will come up with an idea and contract a writer to write it.
If you think that any old slag can just drop off their screenplay to be seen at the studio, let me tell you from experience, you'll get your unsolicited tale sent right back to you without representation.
Myth: I'm gonna go straight to George Lucas and get in his face with my screenplay!
You need an agent before sending your screenplay off to anyone. As above, you will note that you cannot drop off your screenplay without representation. Unless you're represented or know someone in the business, your screenplay won't see the light of day for legal reasons.
Myth: I was a good writer in high school and I even wrote for the paper in college.
Now that I'm writing for this magazine and I'm great at short stories, screenplays should be a piece of cake!
Screenplays are not a piece of cake.
For most people it is one of the hardest things to write along with stageplays. These plays are not things that people simply read. They have to act them out in public.
They have to be able in each scene to give the characters more and more depth. Screenplays are not like any other written for of work. It's the difference between a short story and a poem or a magazine article and novel.
You need to use a screenwriting program to accomplish writing a screenplay. You have to know the difference between action, dialogue and transitions. You must learn the basics of writing a screenplay, what works and what doesn't. Then after years of practice, you may come up with a good idea or write something decent. Don't intend to hit the ball of the park on the first try.
Myth: My life would make a great screenplay!
You're so wrong. If you're not already famous, then you're probably like the rest of us. It is true that true life makes for interesting "reality" television but in screenplays, it needs to be a little more dramatic and cinematic. Even in films about real-life people like JFK or Malcom X, there have to be cinematic moments.
Those films aren't made entirely of the things we specifically know about the real life people. There are large chunks of the films that relate to things we've never heard those people saying or doing. This builds the character in the film but it doesn't necessarily mean that the content is authentic.
If you're writing a screenplay about yourself, make it more interesting that just your actual events. You'll have to add dramatic pauses, a rock solid character, and scenery that is interesting.
Myth: It shouldn't take long to write my screenplay. Yeah!
It will take a long time.
Some screenplays can take ten years to finish. It's not because the writers are slow. It's because writing a good screenplay is, again, difficult.
For an hour and a half film, you will need at least 90 pages. Sometimes the screenplay is longer than normal and it has to be revised. If you are ready to give your screenplay off to someone, you have a first draft in your hand.
Myth: My screenplay is perfect!
You've handed your first draft off. When they tell you to rewrite it (and they will), you will begin your second draft. When they ask you again, you'll start on your third. Before it gets approved, you could go through 20 drafts or so.
Probably more. Welcome to the wonderful world of pre-production.
Screenplays get rewritten and rewritten up until the last day of the actual production. New pages are given out every day of a production when something has changed in the screenplay.
NO ONE'S screenplay is perfect.
A few geniuses come close but even those geniuses have some things laying on the cutting room floor to this day.