Monday, September 14, 2009

Writing Your Screenplay Without Expensive Software by Susan Hart

If the idea for a screenplay has been eating away at you for a while, but you lack the money to buy an expensive software program for your computer -- do not despair. Nothing more is needed than a simple word processing program (or you can use a more complex one if you have it).

First, your screenplay has to be formatted correctly and setting that up to start with is easy. Don't forget to save the project every time you work on it, and store it where you can find it again on your computer! While all screenplays must be in Courier or Courier New 12 point type, you can always set your computer screen to "view" in a zoom mode, especially if you use reading glasses, like I do. This will not affect your type size -- just how you see it on the screen. Writing screenplays has always been done in that typeface because then producers and others looking at your screenplay, and hopefully buying it for their next great blockbuster, know that the one minute per page rule applies. Margins for screenplays are one inch all around, except for the left margin, which should be one and a half inches. This is to allow for the three holes on the left sides and brass fasteners (top and bottom only) if you need to print and send out copies. That way the text is not trapped within that left margin.

Using macros for both character names and dialog boxes is a real time saver -- if your word processing software has it. If too complicated or you don't have it, use tabs. Most tab stops are already preset for five spaces. If not, program yours for that (look under help in the menu on how to do it). Usually, character names are about 4-5 tab stops in (centered on the page), and dialog boxes start about three tabs stops in. Dialog must be even on the left margin and should be (within reason) not aligned on the right. Dialog should take up the center third of the width of usable space on your page. On the subject of dialog -- keep your parentheticals brief and to the minimum. Parentheticals are the directions placed under a character's name such as (smiling). Too many of those and reading the screenplay becomes annoying. Most emotions (or emoting) are left to the actors and the director.

Directions for the people in your story are best kept brief also. Two or three sentences in a paragraph are all that is needed. Most of the action is, again, put into the film by the actors and director. Never describe a hidden emotion. The only thing that should be written down in a screenplay is dialog, and necessary action that is seen or hear d on the screen. What good would be: He was cringing inside because someone laughed at him? That could best be described as: He stopped in his tracks and began to sweat, then straightened up. Always show rather than tell in a screenplay. This takes more work but is much better writing for this medium. And while we are on this subject, a pet peeve of mine when reading screenplays (and it made me cringe) is "we see so and so go over to the well". Be lean in your description -- say "so and so went over to the well".

One last note on spacing and capitalization, when you are writing your screenplay: There is one line space between the end of dialog and action text and one line space between each block of action text, plus a line space between scene headings and the start of either dialog or action text. The only time that two line spaces are used is after the last text and before the next scene heading. So, with tabs and macros if you have the capability, you can turn out a perfectly formatted screenplay without expensive screenplay writing software.

Susan Hart is a world traveled former literary agent. If you need help with your writing project visit her site for more information.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Screenwriting - 5 Ways to Bring Your Script to Life Without Selling it to a Producer by Melody Jackson

One of the challenges of being a screenwriter is that fulfilling your goal is an all-or-nothing proposition. An actor can get small parts and work and see themselves on TV and in a movie, even if they never become a star. But as a screenwriter, your script either gets produced or it doesn't. You won't see a couple of scenes from your script in the movie theater - your only chance there is the whole thing or nothing.

With that said, here's the good news You have options. Even though there's no guarantee that you will make any money from doing these things, you actually CAN experience the creative satisfaction of seeing your work come to life. Having this experience will not only make you proud of yourself and inspire you, but will also help you develop your craft. Here are five ways to have your screenplay come to life without a producer buying it.

These will work for you whether you are in Los Angeles or you're in The Midwest or anywhere, you may just need to adapt the ideas a bit. And if you have already had some of your work produced in the past, you might adapt these ideas to help you shoot a trailer presentation of your movie to show to potential producers or investors.

Here are five ways to have your screenplay come to life without a producer buying it.

1. Take a film and video production course at a local film school or community college and shoot your own scenes.
As a screenwriter, you will benefit from understanding as much as possible about film production. Take a class to learn about production and to get yourself inspired about your writing. For your production project, use the scenes you've written.

2. Hold a table reading at your home, a small theatre, or at a community location, even invite an audience.
A "reading" is an event in which you actually cast actors to read your screenplay aloud so you can hear it come to life. You should also record it so you can review it later.

Holding a reading will help you see what works and what doesn't work as well as be very exciting to hear it acted out. You might also invite an audience so you can see what parts they have a noticeable reaction to or fall asleep on. If you've never done a table reading, I guarantee you will be surprised.

3. Find other area filmmakers and work together to shoot a demo/trailer of your script.
Because of the great accessibility of video equipment and editing software, more and more writers and producers are shooting presentations of their scripts. You could make a trailer to use to present your script to investors - although it must be very good production quality if you do that. It will also be very exciting to see even a few minutes of your story come to life.

No matter where you are in the U.S., it is very likely that someone near you is also interested in working in the film industry. You can start your own short film production company to start out. You can also check on Craig's List or post there that you're seeking other filmmakers to collaborate with. And sites like Meet Up try to connect you with other like-interested people.

4. Contact your state's film commission to find all the resources that you can about where other filmmakers are.
A great resource for connecting with professionals is your State Film Commission. Call to find out what resources they can offer you or tell you about. You can find out what productions are coming to your state and also potentially meet other filmmakers you could collaborate with.

5. Contact an acting school or acting class near you and see if you can provide scenes for them. Then go watch.
If you're feeling a bit lazy in the production arena and don't want to go to a lot of trouble, you could just contact a local acting school and tell them you have scenes you would like to provide for their classes. On-camera acting schools love to work with new material (of course, it should be pretty good). And if you go watch, you get a chance to hear your work come to life with next to no effort.

The main point of this article is that, along the way in your writing, you can and should enjoy some reward for your effort by seeing it come to life in some fashion. Although your long-term goal is to sell your script and see it on the screen in a cinema, don't discount the benefit of throwing yourself a little bone and seeing a few scenes come to life.

You might be surprised by how gratifying it is to see the characters you created suddenly alive in real people portraying them - even if only for a few scenes.

Melody Jackson, Ph.D., has critiqued over 2000 screenplays in depth and was rated a Top 5 Script Consultant in the country by Creative Screenwriting Magazine. Go to for more information on marketing to Hollywood. If you are ready to jump-start your career, increase your confidence, and have more fun pursuing Hollywood success, get "Plugged In" at Also get your FREE REPORT on "The Top 20 Literary Agents In Hollywood," along with the FREE REPORT "Endless Professional Screenwriting Work."