How to Write a Movie Script
How to Write a Movie Script

If you love writing and you love movies, you might be interested in writing a script that, with a little luck, could end up making it to the big screen someday. Writing a movie script, or screenplay, is considerably different than writing a novel. The phases involved in writing a movie script include preparation, brainstorming, outlining, writing a treatment, writing the first draft and revising the script.

Prepare to Write a Movie Script

A little bit of planning goes a long way. Before you try on your script-writing shoes, take time to set the stage for success by doing some homework on different movie genres, like comedies, dramas, thrillers, fantasies and romances. Even if you're a fan of several genres, choose only one to focus on for your script. Your favorite genre is probably a good place to start. Once you have selected a genre, research it until you become an expert. Watch movies in your chosen genre and read a variety of screenplays to get a feel for what is required. After you have achieved expert status on your chosen genre, consider purchasing a screenwriting book, which typically guides readers through the art, craft and business of writing for the big screen. Another useful resource you should consider acquiring is screenwriting software. While many screenwriting programs, like Final Draft, can be pricey, there are some free options, such as Celtx or Writer Duet.

Brainstorm Ideas for a Movie Script

Once you have done your fair share of homework on both your chosen genre and the scriptwriting process, it's time to mold the elements of your original storyline. Create a computer document where you can store ideas for your movie script. The characters are the heart of the story, so have a clear idea of who your story will be about and what they are like. Give your characters something to struggle for or with. What kinds of problems does your hero face? What obstacles does he need to overcome in order to achieve what he really wants? Characters and their conflicts bring your story to life, so think of an exciting incident or something dramatic that happens in the story to drive the hero into action.

Brainstorm ideas for what will happen during the climax of your story, the point that all of the events in the story lead up to. The climax is the high point of action that occurs just before things start to settle down as the story nears its resolution. Maybe there is an epic battle or the romantic hero makes a final plea for the heart of his beloved. Consider during the brainstorming process how your story will end. How will the hero's problems be resolved? How will he overcome the obstacles that littered his path toward achieving what he desires most? Share your movie concept with friends, family members and even strangers. Seek feedback on your ideas from as many people as possible to help you determine if you have a good story or if it needs more work.

Create a Logline

As the ideas for your movie script story come to life, create a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story. While loglines are primarily used as marketing tools that help you pitch the script to studio executives, they also help you focus your writing on the most important parts of your story. A quality logline includes a protagonist, an antagonist and a goal or primary objective. An example logline for "The Godfather" might include something like: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

Outline the Movie Script

Outlining the script is a great way to visualize your story and identify gaps or problems. Create a list of scenes and briefly summarize what happens in each. Avoid including minor scenes, such as short scenes in which the characters are moving from one place to another. Focus only on scenes that move the plot forward. Transfer the scene list to index cards for organizational purposes. For each scene, create a separate index card that includes a heading and a summary of what happens. Once you have all of the scenes on index cards, lay them out or pin them up in the order that makes the most sense. Read through the scenes to determine if the order of events works or if you need to shift some scenes around for better flow. You should also look for any scenes that might be missing or remove scenes that seem unnecessary and fail to move the plot forward.

Write a Movie Script Treatment

Write a script treatment, which is used primarily for marketing purposes. But like a logline, the treatment can also help you remain focused on the most important elements of the story. A treatment is a two- to five-page summary that divides the story into three acts. Write the treatment to read like a short story told in the present tense and highlight the most important parts. Include these elements:

  • film title
  • writer’s name and contact information
  • logline
  • introduction to major characters
  • brief answers to the who, what, when, where and why of the story
  • act one summarized in one to three paragraphs
  • act two summarized in two to six paragraphs
  • act three summarized on one to three paragraphs

Write the Movie Script

Once you have completed the preparation, brainstorming, outlining and treatment for your movie script, it's time to actually write a full first draft. Most movie scripts range in length from 90 to 120 pages or about one page per minute of screen time. Do not edit as you write. Avoid overthinking and simply write as quickly as you can to get your ideas down on paper. Write visually. Use verbs to describe only what can be seen or heard on the screen and avoid giving unnecessary details in your descriptions of scenes. Focus on the external by moving the plot forward using actions. Limit dialogue to three lines or less and make sure that your characters sound and behave like unique individuals.

Revising a Movie Script

Congratulations on writing your first draft of a movie script! Before doing anything with it, take a few days off from looking at the script so you clear your head in preparation for the revision process. Read the script once all the way through without editing anything. Feel free to take notes, but do not change anything. After reading it all the way through, write a new draft of your script making changes as needed. You may need to make some structural changes, fill in any holes in the plot, deepen your characters or remove characters that don't directly move the plot forward. You may even need to rewrite some scenes from scratch. Focus on polishing the story and enhancing the dialogue. Once the final draft is ready, proactively seek feedback from studio executives. Keep in mind that if you sell your script, it will likely undergo additional revisions before it makes it to the big screen.