How to Write a Film Script

how to write a film scriptWriting a film script can be a complicated task if you don’t have the right tools. Just as an artist can’t produce fine art without paint, brushes, and an easel, a writer can’t create his project without his tools. These tools can vary depending on the writer. Some are comfortable with no more than just a pen and paper, others require a special software, and still others will begin with pen and paper before moving to a digital format.

If you are interested in writing a film script, you might be wondering where to start. You can take an online course on film screen writing, and try these tips and tricks to help you out.

Get Started With the Basics

If you have never written a script before, you’re going to want to start with the basics. One of the best ways to learn about scripts is to read scripts. You can usually find movie scripts online. Pick your favorite movies and just start reading. Focus on how the script is laid out and how action, dialogue, characters, and plot are set up. Keep in mind that you likely won’t be working on your script alone either. Once you have your finished work, a great number of people are going to be taking a look at it and suggesting ways to improve it – producers, directors, and actors included. If you have an idea in mind, you can immediately get to work on fleshing out the characters, plot details, and other parts of the story.

Get started writing your script right away with an online course.

Gather Your Tools

If you would prefer to start with paper and pen, just get your favorite notebook and pen, and find a place to sit down and get to work. If you prefer working in a digital format, you can use a word processor, or you can try a special software designed for script writing. When using a word processor, be sure to set up the document to the appropriate formatting. Traditionally, screenplays are written on  8 1/2″ by 11″ paper that has been 3-hole punched. You should have page numbers set up in the top right hand corner of the header, and it should be typed up using Courier font in size 12 point. The top and bottom margins should be set between half an inch to one inch. The left margin should be 1.2″ to 1.6″ while the right should be the same as the top and bottom. The left has more room to allow for the hole punching. Your script should average between 95 and 125 pages long.

If you’re interested in using a software for your script, there are several different programs out there to choose from. Celtx is one such program, and there is a free or plus edition available depending on your wants and needs from your script writing software. Celtx also offers a mobile app for iOS and Android. Learn how to use Celtx to write your script with this course.

Another program available for desktop, iPad, and iPhone is Final Draft. This program is a bit on the pricier end of the scale, but it also boasts being an Emmy award-winning software. Adobe also produces a software for script writing called Story Free, which offers different script types.

Follow the Appropriate Formatting

If you are using a script writing software, the program will automatically format your writing as you go to suit the traditional style of scripts. If you are using a word processor like Microsoft Word or another similar to it, you will need to know the formatting rules. Scene headings are written flush to the left margin, and they are written in caps. The scene heading can also be referred to as a slugline, and it is the part of the script that tells the reader where that specific scene is taking place. Action, or description, is what you use to set the stage – describing the setting and allowing you to introduce the characters. You will write in the active voice as opposed to the passive voice. You should also write in the present tense, not the past tense like a novel. Whenever introducing a speaking character for the first time, you put their name in caps.

A character’s name doesn’t always have to be an actual name. It can be a description or even an occupation. This is okay for small roles, but it is always best to try and give every character at least a first name if they have more than a line or two. When the character begins to speak, their name is printed in caps and indented 3.5″ from the left margin. Parentheticals – attitudes, verbal directions, or action directions – are indented 3″ from the left margin. Dialogue is written beneath the character’s name indented 2.5″ from the left margin. It is also usually only 30-35 spaces long instead of the full length of the page like the description. You can also use extensions beside the characters name if the character will be saying something off camera or off screen.

Write Your Script

If you prefer outlining before you write, be sure to have your outline handy when you do eventually sit down to write your draft. As you write, keep an eye out for plot holes or weak characters, and edit as needed. When you have completed your first draft, share it with different people you can trust, and ask for their honest opinions. Use their feedback to help make your story even better. Have fun with it, and find the inspiration to keep you going. Just remember that you can’t go anywhere with an unfinished script, and the worst thing that can happen is your script ends up rejected. All a rejection means is to go back and try again.

Always Remember to Format Your Title Page Too

If you plan to submit your script to a studio, you will need to format the title page appropriately. Do not have a page number on the title page. Type the title of the script in bold, centered vertically and horizontally on the page. Two lines beneath the title, you should write the words “Written by” centered beneath the title, and two lines beneath that, you should center your name and the names of any co-writers. In the lower right hand corner, you should include your contact information and your agent’s, if you have one. In the lower left hand corner, you should include some kind of copyright notification and whether you registered it with the Writers Guild of America.

If you need further help with formatting, you can take an online course on screenwriting.