You Need Screenwriting Basics
Someone has sent you here because, apparently, you don't know shit about screenwriting.
Why don't you get started with...
Listen to this shit:
Did you already read some screenplays? You want books now?
Read this shit first:
Read those? Now go write some shit.
Wrote some shit? Messed around with it? Now read more screenplays.
Eventually, later, read this shit:
Save The Cat - Be careful about this paint by numbers shit, this is a guide not a template.
Story by Robert McKee - Seriously, do not read this shit first, read screenplays.
Sculpting In Time - Fucking Tarkovsky, man. Watch his shit.
Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual - This actually explains how comedy works.
Hit and Run - You won't believe this shit.
Harpo Speaks! - Technically, not shit. Read up and gain mad respect for this artist.
Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece - Don't let this shit happen to you.
More than any book, if you want to be writing movies and television, you should be reading screenplays (good and bad).
Learn some shit slowly while spending way too much money:
The primary advantage of these programs is their alumni networks.
You don't need to go to film school to learn how to make movies.
If you want to learn to write movies and television, you should be reading and practicing writing. You really don't need to be in school for this. Save your money.
If you want to be a producer, go to business school and intern with entertainment companies.
Places to get your shit seen and reviewed and hopefully make some money:
The Advanced Shit:
Expect that learning to write screenplays is a long process. Don't try to contact agents and managers five minutes after you finished the first draft of your first short.
Editing and revision are a big part of the process. Connect with other emerging screenwriters and swap scripts to give each other notes. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion if something doesn't sound right in a note.
Generally, you want to have at least two or three finished peer-reviewed screenplays before you approach anyone to seek representation. Five is better.
You do not need to win a screenwriting competition to get into the industry, but it may help.
Here are some of the few screenwriting competitions that are possibly not a complete waste of time and money:
The Austin Film Festival - Attend their screenwriting conference if you can!
Placing high or even winning a screenwriting competition is not going to be a golden ticket for breaking into the film industry, but may offer you an opportunity to contact agents and managers with more than your own "I think I'm good" behind you.
The vast majority of managers and producers are NOT following the screenwriting competitions. Some do, but most likely even if you win you’ll still need to reach out and tell people your script won something.
Sometimes your script may be read by the wrong readers for your material, these things are VERY subjective. A script that doesn't place at all one year might win the next season.
Contests may also provide a brief opportunity to network with judges, sponsors, and other writers. Take advantage of it, but try to be open, not needy. This is a long road.
It’s highly unlikely you’ll be just contacted out of nowhere by the perfect manager or really anyone reputable simply because you won a contest, even a big one. You’ll still have a lot of work to do to connect with the representatives who are right for you, and you need to have more than just one solid script to show when you talk to them. See Access for more info.
"Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself." - Harlan Ellison
Just fucking pick one:
If you join UCLA's WP Now program, you can get discounts on certain screenwriting software.
Don't be asking everyone what to use, it's a personal preference. Seriously, just fucking pick one.
This is the most important thing:
Read Fucking Screenplays
There is no shortcut for this shit. You won't learn how to write screenplays if you haven't read any. Aim for 50 and then read more. All will be revealed.
You can learn a lot of shit from channeling YouTube:
Watch this shit:
Adaptation - Watch this, then watch some other Charlie Kaufman movies and read his scripts.
Wonder Boys - Note the lesson about editing and making choices: Editing is the work.
The Princess Bride - William Goldman's writing at its best.
Directed By John Ford - One of the most influential filmmakers of all time, and too often forgotten.
L.A. Story - Possibly a little too accurate.
Swimming With Sharks - Even though Spacey's been canceled, lessons to be learned here.
Hail, Caesar! - Look how Hollywood used to be.
Trumbo - It's important.
Get Shorty - A funny take on breaking into the business. Not entirely accurate.
Sunset Boulevard - Just watch it.
The Player - Just watch it.
Casablanca - Just watch it.
Singin' In The Rain - Just watch it.
Black Narcissus - Just watch it.
The Searchers - Just watch it.
Ran - Just watch it.
"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant." - Harlan Ellison
We really don't need to hear from you unless the website is broken, or we really missed something important.
Seriously, resist the urge to contact us. We put this website up so we wouldn't have to deal with shit.
"I hate being wrong, but I love it when I'm set straight." - Harlan Ellison
Disclaimer: This is not written by a lawyer, just someone with a lot of experience in these things.
Where actual money is involved, always consult a real lawyer (preferably an experienced entertainment or intellectual property attorney).
Copyright. Your. Shit.
You have an inherent right to control and profit from any original work you independently generate, but what you need in place to protect that right is serious motherfucking documentation.
In the United States, if you created a work of art, whether it's taking a photograph, doodling a sketch, or laboring out the first sentence of a screenplay, then you automatically own the copyright on that work. However, you may have trouble proving that, so read on...
If you get into a situation where someone is claiming your work as their own, you want some evidence to take with you to court. Basically, the best evidence of authorship is a registered copyright.
A registered copyright is easy to obtain. Before you show your script to strangers, or even friends and family you don't quite trust, just pay the filing fee and register what you've got.
By holding registered copyright, if you need to go to court, essentially your witness is the Library of Congress. The usefulness of being in this position cannot be overstated.
So, when in doubt, always pay the fee and get the thing.
Here's what you do:
for Register a Work select "Standard Application"
for Type of Work select "work of the performing arts"
for Titles click New and type in your title
keep hitting "Next" until you've finished checking out and have paid the registration fee
For some reason, the "Next" button is at the top of the screen, so you have to scroll back up to go to the next step each time.
Work For Hire
If you're doing "Work For Hire," the copyright may belong to your employer (based on your employment contract language). If you plan to work on side projects while employed by a studio, make sure they don't own your side hustle. Again, consult an entertainment lawyer.
Some people may tell you to register your shit with the Writers Guild of America West (WGA).
WGA registration is definitely not a substitute for federal copyright registration.
WGA registration only provides limited added protection in certain situations.
Other People's Shit
Don't rip other people's shit off.
If you want to make Citizen Kane II: Rosebud's Revenge, you need permission from the rights holders to create a derivative work.
As a new writer, you just aren't going to get those rights without weird extenuating circumstances, so basing your script on someone else's work, unless it's clearly in the public domain, is a complete waste of time and energy, and you won't be able to sell it.
"Copyright 2021, The Noob"
You can immediately write "Copyright (year), (your name or company name here)" on your title page, and you should do that. "Copyright (your name or company name here) (year)" also works.
Don't bother putting your LoC or WGA registration numbers on the script. You are the only person who needs that information until you file a lawsuit.
Figure out how the parts work.
Learn how to tell small complete stories within the bounds of the format. Learn the format by reading screenplays.
You don't have to start out by writing a whole feature. You can try writing just scenes first, then work up to a short film.
Scenes tend to exist to show that something important happened. If you don't know what at least one key thing is that your scene is supposed to be presenting, you may be doing it wrong.
Big films are usually made up of lots of little films. If you figure out how the little movies work, the big ones are easier.
"It is perfectly okay to write garbage as long as you edit brilliantly." - C. J. Cherryh
Editing is the work. You cannot get out of it. This is why people in the business say ideas aren't worth anything. The job of the writer is to hammer them out for everyone else. If you haven't done that part, you haven't done shit.
Just get it all down, then go back and fix it. And fix it. And make it better. And fix it. Go work on something else for a while. Come back, make it even better. Writing 10 to 20 drafts is not uncommon.
The more you write, the faster you'll probably get, and the less necessary rewriting should become, but everybody's different. If you're still outlining in detail at 150 scripts in, who cares? You do what works for you, as long as it sells. But, yes, it should get easier.
You can plan and outline all you want, but your characters should ultimately drive the story.
If something in the outline isn't true to who the character has become as you've fleshed them out and given them words, don't force it. Don't be afraid to go offroad, ignore the outline when it hinders the truth and voices of interesting characters. Follow the characters, that's the key to a great story.
You start with some contrivance, and you put in your characters, but if you're doing your job right they'll take on a life of their own.
You create these wonderful and interesting and complex characters who start to feel like real people with real feelings, and then you start throwing stuff like unexpected pregnancies, divorces, trees, bullets, machetes, werewolf bites, inlaws, and anvils at them, and really that's the whole job. Invent interesting people who have strong goals, then torture them with obstacles while a story unfolds. Then just write that shit down so it makes sense.
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