Screenwriting: 5 Tips For New Screenwriters

Screenwriting is a tricky art. Long before I started producing my own movies, I worked for a development company. Part of my job was reading screenplays.

screenplay writing

Jason Brubaker Writes

At first, I thought reading screenplays was an AWESOME job.

I have to admit. I felt pretty cool leaving the NYC office each night with three to five screenplays in my bag. On the subway, I would pull out a screenplay and start reading.

My goal was to find material that would eventually become the next Sundance award winner. I lived to find something awesome. Something that would garner me a promotion and clout with the producer. Something great!

But what I read was terribly disheartening.

I read hundreds of screenplays. Some were from new screenwriters. Some were from veteran screenwriters. Some were from screenwriters who (I could only imagine) didn’t know English.

And without fail, what I found was a bunch of discombobulated stories with weak plots and unrefined characters.

I felt sick.

Most of submitted screenwriting was garbage.

(I really wish I was kidding here.)

I’m not trying to sound all high and mighty either.

I tried. I really did!

At first, I read EVERY screenplay, cover to cover. I wanted to give the writer the benefit. They worked hard. So I kept reading. I was convinced that the bad story I presently read would improve. I just needed to keep going. . . I just needed to keep reading.

But I was wrong…

The stories never improved.

After some weeks of reading CRAP screenplays, I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I started slacking. And worse, I really didn’t care.

If the screenplay didn’t grab me in the first 10 to 15 pages, I quickly thumbed through the rest of the script.

After that, my next task was to complete coverage reports for the producer. The goal of a coverage report is to either recommend or pass on the screenplay. Most of the screenplay coverage reports I wrote ended up being some variation on the following:

This writer shows some promise. But this screenplay lacks the necessary plot and character arc to grab interest. The characters all sound similar. Additionally, this story requires expensive sets, locations, seasonal conditions, animals and children. As a consequence, this screenplay necessitates a complete rewrite in order to proceed. My recommendation is to PASS at this time.

I don’t know if this sounds harsh or not. But it is a screenwriting reality.

Most producers will never read any unknown screenplay. Instead, most producers will have an assistant to do the horrible job of reading awful screenplays from terrible screenwriters.

The assistant protects the producer from reading crap screenplays.

And speaking as a former assistant, I can honestly say that many screenwriters should avoid submitting unrefined work in the first place.

But this rarely happens.

Screenwriting Is The Heavy Lifting

All of this being said, you know that great screenwriting is essential for a great movie.

There is no way around this. It is the law of narrative filmmaking.

Your screenplay is the blueprint for your movie.

And if you are a talented up-and-coming filmmaker, you probably noticed this.

The truth is, many produced movies are far from great.

Have you ever asked this question?

…How did THAT movie ever get made?

Good screenwriting question.

Somehow bad screenplays STILL get made.

And  I think there is a reason crappy screenplays get made into crappy movies.

There really is no ONE answer.

And not to digress too far, but here is my theory on how mediocre writing becomes successful screenwriting:

Fact: Most screenplays are complete crap.

Opportunity: If your screenplay is even marginally better, It will SEEM like it’s TONS better than it actually is.

(Reread that again if you need to.)

So based on this premise, the unknown assistant RUNS to the producer to share his great fortune.

“I found screenwriting GOLD. Let’s make a movie!!!”

But the reality is, the screenplay is not gold.

The screenplay is good, but it is not great.

But compared to crap, it seems AWESOME.

This is because years of reading crappy screenplays have knocked the standards pretty low.

And regardless, the bottom line is this… You probably think you can do better.

The good news is, you’re probably right!

During my time reading screenplays, I was able to see first-hand how much garbage is floating around. If you have ANY talent as a writer, your material may get noticed.

This should be good news for the screenwriting profession!

Here is a quick video on screenwriting. It may help you:

Big obvious lesson here?

Write or acquire a GREAT screenplay!

Screenwriting for Filmmakers

I am assuming you want to actually write or acquire a screenplay so you can make your movie. So I am NOT going to provide too much advice on how to “sell” your screenplay.

That being said, whether you plan on producing your own material or selling it, there are still a few factors applicable to your end-goal. The first thing you have to do is get your hands on a great script. If you’re the writer-director type of filmmaker, then starting with a blank screen may feel intimating.

If this is difficult for you, you might consider finding a writing partner and then sharing a story credit.

Or you will just have to sit there until the ideas fill the screen.

To help you out, here is the down and dirty screenwriting lesson for today:

Screenwriting: 5 Tips For New Screenwriters

1.   Get some screenplay software. Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter are the industry standard. Or you could do a Google search for “free screenwriting software.”

2.   Once you have the software, consider writing a feature script on the cheap. Think in terms of limited locations, with limited actors, with a short schedule that you can eventually shoot with limited equipment on HDSLR.

3.   Consider making your story edgy. Drama is hard to market. Horror and thriller and action is universal.

4.  The story should be fun with a STRONG, marketable CONCEPT. People should remember your idea.

5.   The name of the game is FUN. If you can’t have fun, you’re doing something wrong.

Putting the final polish on a screenplay is an amazing accomplishment. But just make sure you’ve created your best work. As they say, you only get one chance to make a good first impression – That same thinking applies to screenwriting.

screenwriting_guideYou only get one chance to grab the attention of a potential actor or department head who may or may not decide to help you with your project. You might get some benefit from this screenwriting resource (It’s my own) – The Indie Producer’s Guide To Writing Screenplays That Sell

 

Filmmaking Tools You Can Use Today

If you’re a member of the Filmmaking Stuff newsletter as well as our Facebook group you probably know that we try very hard to answer every moviemaking question you send. Now, granted sometimes we get busy.

So, I wanted to provide you with a list of useful, no-fluff filmmaking tools. (Disclosure: Where possible, I included affiliate links. If you don’t want to buy anything I’m selling that’s totally cool.)

With that said, if I were once again putting together my first feature, this is a loose road map of the filmmaking tools I would utilize to make it happen.

How to Make Your Movie Now!

Before you get started, set up a profile with my friends at Movie Set – I consider this site to be the glue that binds. Well beyond your typical social networking site, this service will help you create community around your movie the whole way from script to screen to your movie marketplace.

Your Script – The First Draft:

This seems obvious. But without a screenplay, it is very difficult to make a movie. Yes, I know some of you are interested in making an “experimental” movie. If that’s you, then ignore the following screenwriting tools. But if you would like to write a screenplay, here are some filmmaking tools that I recommend:

  1. Final Draft – This is industry standard screenwriting software. You can also get Movie Magic Screenwriter. But I never used it. And if money is tight, you can get FREE screenwriting software here: Celtix
  2. The Independent Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scripts That Sell, by Jason Brubaker – Yes, this is THE screenwriting Action Pack that I created. In it, you get a decade of experience, a workbook and MP3 Audio, so you can listen to it anywhere. Call it screenwriting from a producer’s perspective.

BreakDown Your Script

Ok. After you finish your screenplay, you will want to break it down. What is a script breakdown? Basically, you take everything in your script (wardrobe, stunts, locations, characters, props Et AL. . . ) And you put these elements into a schedule. Since this is your “initial breakdown,” you will use this information to determine the ball park budget of your movie. Here are the filmmaking tools I recommend:

  1. Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Course. Peter has been in this game a long, long time. He will show you the fundamentals of script breakdown. These lessons will help you see your movie from a totally different, producer perspective.
  2. There is industry software to help you break down, schedule and budget your movie. One is called Movie Magic Scheduling and Movie Magic Budgeting. If money is tight, you can also grab a copy of Gorilla. These software tools are great because you can put them on your laptop and use them in remote places, even if you don’t have an internet connection!

Get Movie Money

Once your screenplay is broken down, scheduled and budgeted – the next step in the process is getting the money. To do this, you will need to create a movie business plan. After you have your business plan, you’ll want to contact a lawyer to draw up some paperwork and help you establish a corporate entity. And after that, you’ll go out and get your movie money. Here are some great filmmaking tools:

  1. Your Film Business Plan. For this, I recommend a website called Film Proposals. They have created a great business plan kit, which will provide you with a step-by-step approach to all the business stuff you would rather not bother with. Get Your Movie Business Plan Here.
  2. When it comes to entertainment attorneys, one of most accomplished is Gordon Firemark. He runs a website and has very informative podcasts, full of valuable legal tips – And if you need some work beyond that, including legal releases for your movie, Gordon can help. You can check out his site by clicking here. Get on his mailing list. . .
  3. Getting a business plan and putting your legal ducks in a row is only part of the process, the next aspect is getting money for your movie. I recommend “How To Make Rich Friends and Finance Your Movie” by Jason Brubaker. OK. Once again, this another one of my Action Packs. As usual, this is no-fluff. Different from all the other BS out there, you will discover how to seek out and make friends with rich people, even if you don’t know rich people. (Yet) – Access The Independent’s Guide To Financing Your Movie by clicking here.
  4. I can’t forget my friends at Indie GoGo. This site will allow you to set up a profile, promote your movie project, set a financial goal and find folks to sponsor various aspects of your movie. And if you actually raise 100% of your goal, the company will throw in a bonus percentage. To GoGo, Click Here.

Going Into Production

Once you raise the money, get your cast, crew and equipment, locations and craft service, the next step is going into production. In this stage, you’ll find out if all of your planning holds up. This is going to be both adventurous and grueling. But an awesome time you’re sure NEVER to forget.  Here are several filmmaking resources that I recommend:

  1. Rick Schmidt’s Extreme DV. He has a great workshop in the Bay Area where you actually complete a feature film. He is also the writer of one of the most empowering filmmaking books I’ve ever read. To check out the book, click here. To learn more about Rick Schmidt’s filmmaking workshop, follow this link.
  2. Rebel Without A Crew. This is another personal favorite. Perhaps it’s a little dated, but if you can ignore the ancient filmmaking technology mentioned in the book, you will finish your read with a new found appreciation for how difficult the filmmaking process used to be. No more excuses! Get the book here and Make Your Movie Now!
  3. If you’re looking for a longer workshop, I recommend the New York Film Academy as well as the Maine Media Workshops.

Post Production

After you produce your movie, you’ll want to edit it. This is the phase they call post production. And it really is the final rewrite of your movie. In the past, your post production expenses were crazy expensive. But like most things in filmmaking, technology makes your post experience awesomely affordable. Here are some tools:

  1. A decade ago, all the talk and buzz in the world revolved around Avid. Now you’re like Avid who? Seriously. If you have a Mac, get yourself a copy of Final Cut Pro. It’s all but industry standard. It’s powerful and affordable. Enough said.
  2. If you don’t have a Mac, find a friend who does. Re-read the previous step. And if you don’t know how to edit, find a friend who does.

Market and Sell Your Movie

I’m not going to tell you how to find a sales agent or how to make a 3 picture deal. Partially because that stuff is rare. And partly because those deals are old school anyway. I mean, who wants to hire a 3rd party when you can build a following and cash your own checks. I love this arena. I call it Digital Self Distribution. Here is how you market and sell your movie:The Indie Producers Guide To Digital Self Distribution

  1. Create a trailer that actually aims to sell the movie without giving the entire story away. They call this a teaser trailer. Make sure it includes a back link to your website. Once you have the trailer, put the sucka on YouTube and all the other video streaming sites you can think of.
  2. Get a domain name and website hosting. To do this, set up an account with a filmmaker friendly company. I prefer BlueHost. And yes, they pay me to say that. When you set up the site, I prefer to use the name movie in the URL.
  3. Once you have your website hosting, hire a web designer to create a website for you. (Actually, you should have built a website prior to production. But I know your mind was probably focused on actually making the movie. So it’s OK.) If you burnt all your money actually making the movie, then check out this website called http://www.fiverr.com – On this site, you’ll probably find a dozen people who will create an awesome website for a whopping $5 dollars. Seriously. I’ve used it and actually got some great work!
  4. Once you have your trailer and your website, you need to make sure you set up a Facebook page as well as other ways to grab visitor information. This is because most visitors will not buy your movie in their first visit. Having a YouTube page, a Facebook page and a newsletter will allow you to build a relationship with your visitors. If they don’t buy today, maybe they will buy tomorrow.
  5. Get your movie selling online. There are so many outlets for this. But one of the best that I’ve found is the very independent filmmaker friendly site called Distribber. You can learn more about distribber by clicking here. Please tell em’ I sent you.
  6. 5.5. And I almost forgot. Jason Brubaker (that’s me) has another product. It’s called The Independent Producer’s Guide to Digital Self Distribution. You can find out more information by clicking here.

Well that pretty much sums up the movie making process. Hopefully these filmmaking resources will be beneficial to your filmmaking process.

Free Screenwriting Software

Cleo Trumbo, wife of novelist Dalton Trumbo, s...

Image via Wikipedia

Lets face it, sometimes all this filmmaking stuff can get a little expensive… Especially filmmaking software.

So in the event you do not own professional screenwriting software like Final Draft, you’re in luck. Mindstar Productions currently offers a screenwriting software program called Cinergy Script Editor (CSE).

The best part? It’s free!

I tried it and the program appears to be fully functional, with no expiration date. And while I still prefer Final Draft, CSE may be just the ticket if you’re looking to write professional screenplays without paying the professional price. Here are some links:

1. Final Draft (PAY)
2. Cinergy Script Editor (CSE) (FREE).

Happy writing!