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Meet the Reader

Guest Blogger: Ray Morton, author of film-related books such as A Quick Guide to Screenwritingoutlines the process of how to write a screenplay on Script Magazine.

Meet the Reader: How to Write a Screenplay in Nine (Not So) Easy Steps

One of my consulting clients – a very nice fellow who is just getting started on his very first script – asked me to outline the process of writing a screenplay for him. I was originally just going to jot down a few brief notes, but as I got into it, I found myself developing a much more extensive document, which I’ve decided to share with you – as a summation for experienced writers and as a road map for beginners. So here they are – the process of writing a screenplay, broken down into nine basic steps.

1.  Assemble Your Tools

The first step in writing anything is to gather your implements. Most screenwriters today work on a computer (with some using special screenwriting software — e.g. Final Draft – while others just use a regular word processing program), although some still prefer to write by hand and a few continue to use a typewriter.

2. Outline

The outline is the written skeleton of your story – the document in which you lay out your plot.  Many screenwriters create very detailed, formal outlines, complete with numbered and lettered headings and subheadings. Others simply make a list of the basic story points (a.k.a. “beats”) called a “step sheet” or a “beat sheet.” Some jot down each beat on an individual index card and then shuffle the cards around until they come up with a satisfactory shape for their tale.

3. Treatment

A treatment is a screen story written in prose form, with little or no dialogue. A treatment is more developed than an outline and gives you the room to flesh out the narrative and characters in greater detail, as well as use the prose to set a specific tone for the piece. Some treatments are just a few pages long; others are almost as long as a finished screenplay. James Cameron writes what he calls a “scriptment” – a long treatment that contains patches of dialogue, although not as much as in his final scripts. Inspired by the Great Terminator King of Pandora, an increasing number of writers are opting to do this as well.

Keep reading at Script Magazine for the rest of the steps!

The Quick Guide to Screenwriting is the ultimate reference manual to the art, craft, and business of writing for the movies. In a series of brief but comprehensive segments, the book covers the entire process of creating a film script, from conceiving the initial idea, to developing the story, to producing a polished and professional final draft. Covered topics include the history of screenwriting; commercial vs. “personal” writing; the three basic types of screenplays; how to brainstorm ideas; developing and structuring a story; the techniques of cinematic storytelling; screenplay style and formatting; essential tools of the screenwriting trade; the seven basic steps to writing a screenplay; important screenwriting dos and don’ts; how to get quality feedback and then use it to improve your work; and the business of screenwriting, including copyright and registration of finished material, the function of agents and managers, the Writers Guild, contracts, the development process, and how to bring your work to the attention of the industry. Written in smart, reader-friendly prose, the book is chock-full of the vital information, helpful tips, and keen advice that will help you make your script the best it can be.

Creating a Mission Statement to Guide Your Filming

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Guest Blogger: Gini Graham Scott, author of The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film (Limelight Editions)

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Just as corporations create mission statements to guide their organizations to success and individuals create their own personal mission statements to guide them in making career and other choices in their life, so you might create a mission statement to guide you as you write, produce, or direct your own low-budget short-films.

To this end, ask yourself what types of films you want to make and why.  For example, when I went through this exercise, I determined that my mission in making low-budget short films through Changemakers Productions is to complete a high-quality film through a one-day shoot with a low-budget (typically about $100-300).  Accordingly, everything I do and everything done by the cast and crew I recruit is directed towards completing this mission.

For example, all the work I do to prepare for the shoot is designed to result in a successfully completed short film — which is the mission of the organization, and the actors and crew members I recruit to participate are similarly committed and willing to work as volunteers, because they can use these films for their own portfolios to get other work; and they also enjoy participating in these one-day shoots.

So what is your own mission statement.  Keep it short and to the point – typically it should be only about 5-10 words, expressing the essence of what you hope to do as a filmmaker.  Some key questions to ask in formulating your statement include these:

–       What types of films are you making?
–       Why are you making such films? What is your goal or your purpose?
–       Who is the main audience for your work?
–       What else is important to you about what you are doing?
–       What are the main benefits of your films to others?

Then, weave your answers into this single statement of your mission.  As necessary, cut down your statement, so it is no longer than 15-20 words, and preferably 7-10 words – something you might put into a short tag line of up to 72 characters.

Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film
The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film
 is a comprehensive step-by-step overview of how to complete and promote a low-budget short film. It begins with how to write a short script, keeping in mind the goal of shooting it in one or at most two days.

It discusses how to finalize your script by getting feedback and then preparing it for production through doing a scene breakdown and possibly a storyboard. It describes how to direct the film yourself or work with a director, audition the actors and cast the short, plan for and participate in the shoot, and work with an editor to finish your film. Finally, it discusses how to get your film shown, including entering it in festivals, and concludes with an extensive list of resources and references, including books, articles, script and storyboard software, conferences, expos, festivals, and more. Available for purchase here.

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