Screenplay and Formatting Properly

images-7How to write a professional Screenplay. 

Part 2: Checklist before you start to write your screenplay. 

  1. You have totally worked out your story, step by step. You have all the main dramatic scenes checked
  2. The Story has being checked and double checked for Story Logic.
  3. You know your characters better than you know your best friends. This is very important. On our film course we have a Character Profiling exercise that fleshes out your character.
  4. You have worked out the story arc and the unexpected happens in your story events.

As stated in the previous post, spending time to plan a story is essential and should compose 80% of creating the screenplay. Story Creation is the very core of every film and if you work at it before you write the screenplay, the writing of the screenplay will be a breeze. You and your co-creator will know intuitively, when the story is ready for the screenplay first draft.

As always it is great to place a time limit. So here is a guideline for a deadlines

  • Short Film 10 minutes or less –  A Week. Do not write a word of the screenplay till you have spent this time on the story creation.
  • Feature Film 90 – 100 minutes – Two Months. Do not write a word of the screenplay till you have spent this time on the story creation

Feature Film Stories take time to create due to the complexity of a 100 minute screen story. Rushing to writing the screenplay is counter-productive. It is far better to take your time and really think about your story. This is much easier, once you have studied Story. There are many great books out there on story and one of the best is Robert Mckees exceptionally long book called “Story”.  Also we can teach you this process on our Film Course.

images-8We always recommend that our Film Students read one professionally produced Screenplay that is now a movie. Even better if you have never seen the movie, if you read a screenplay a week, you will start to get the feel for screenplay lexicon and language and structure.

Every Producer and Director and budding writer should partake in this exercise. All you have to do is google “Free Screenplays” and a myriad of sites will come up in that search. You will be able to pick and choose which screenplay to read.

A great idea is to read the screenplays of movies you have loved. Also read screenplays for movies that you have heard are great and you have not seen. Read one a week and see your screenplay prowess dramatically improve.

Once, you are ready to now finally write a screenplay. It is important to set a time and write for that length of time. Every time I write a screenplay or a post for that matter, I will set a timer.

When I was writing Absolute Freedom, my next film production, I wrote for two hours in the morning. Often I was so into the writing I would extend a further two hours till midday and then I would have to tear myself apart from writing the screenplay to go to work.

I wrote Absolute Freedom in 23 days over 30 Days due to weekends off. That was a 110 page screenplay. However I had spent months planing the story and I knew the story exceptionally well before I started writing the first draft of the screenplay.

Write the first draft with the heart and just go for it. Do not correct or perfect as you write. There will be plenty of time later on to do so, when you write the next draft. Keep moving forward.

Some writers like to say I will write 3 pages per day. I do not like that because if I am on a roll, I want to keep writing and I might write 10 pages in a single sitting. I prefer a time limit. Which ever one works best for you.

It is important to limit distractions and cut yourself off from everyone in that writing period. This is so you can go deep and leave yourself open to flow and inspiration. You will get ideas and other great story events as you write. Go with these as they can often be brilliant. You do not have to stick religiously to your story plan.

This is a creative process and you will know you are writing well when the screenplay writes itself and you feel all most like a spectator. When the time flies when you are writing the screenplay, you will know that you are writing well.  When an hour feels like ten minutes you are in the zone.

images-9Some writers feel that time drags on eternally. An hour feels like a day and it is a stressful arduous process. This is the sign you do not know your story and characters and it might be time to go back to the drawing board and work out your story and characters in more detail.

It is  very important to format your screenplay properly with an effective screenplay software such as Final Draft or Celtx. On Day One of our film Courses, we show people how format effectively and stress the importance of doing so. No actor and no producer and no director or financier will read a poorly formatted screenplay with typos and mistakes. Make sure that you format your screenplay correctly.

It should only take two day to write the first draft of a 10 minute screenplay for a short film or a month to write a 100 page screenplay. Set these deadlines at the start. Deadlines are so important in effectively creating your screenplay.

A screenplay completed is a wonderful feeling and if you have spent time on your Story Creation process the next part will be relatively easy.

Take a day or two break and then re-read your screenplay. How does it feel on this read? Hopefully good. Now the time has come to work on the next draft.

  • Draft One; Write from the heart.
  • Draft Two Write from the head

The Rewrite: Draft Two 

Read page by page and critically read every scene. Check the story structure of each scene. Is it moving the story forward or is it deepening the story? Is it too long. Is the dialogue sharp and natural?

Work on the scene. Prune the dialogue and work and hone the draft. You will only learn from experience of writing screenplays. The pruning process and writing from the head draft takes me about two weeks on a feature film.

This process will involve going over and over the screenplay until I am completely happy with the finished polished film screenplay. From start (Story Creation) to finish (polished draft), it takes me 3.5 months to complete. This means, I have a draft of the screenplay I am happy with and want to send out to financiers and actors and crew.

If I am financing the film for a full budget I will now raise the finance. If I am making it on a Micro budget, I can start immediately to make the film as I will be using minimal cash to make the film and cash-flow the production as we shoot and make the film. Micro budge film making, whether a short film or a feature film only requires a deadline for the shoot and a commitment to make the film.

THE MAKEOVER POSTERThe 100 minute Feature Film The Makeover was made on a micro budget with noadvance money raised and cash-flowed with a minimum amounts of money.  The Film was shot over ten three day weekends over ten months. We spent 30K over the ten weekends and the film has been exceptionally successful seen by millions of people around the world on Pay TV and Online

We show you how to write your screenplay on our  film course and show you how to make a film over a  short period of time working off deadlines. Have a look at the Micro Budget Deceit a short film, made by emerging film makers  and beginners on our 4 Month Film Course.

Colm O’Murchu is an active film maker and film instructor at Australian Film Base. He is also the owner and regularly blogs about film making.

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