FADE THE FUCK IN:
You Need Screenwriting Basics
Someone has sent you here because, apparently, you don’t know shit about screenwriting.
Why don’t you get started in screenwriting with…
Which one first?
Seriously, to get started in screenwriting, you need to know what they actually look like. Read some scripts first.
Learn screenwriting with curse words?
Screenwriting Shit is both satire and a learning tool.
There are so many questions from very confused beginners in the massive Screenwriting group on Facebook, the author of this site decided to create “Screenwriting Shit” as an index of stock responses to basic problems.
The resources listed here are real and intended to be seriously useful to beginning screenwriters.
This site is meant to address questions like…
How do I become a screenwriter with no experience?
- Step 1: Read fucking screenplays.
- Step 2: Read books about screenwriting shit.
- Step 3: Write, edit, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Step 4: Fucking network.
Is screenwriting hard to get into?
Like, socially? No, just follow interesting screenwriters on Twitter and be genuinely social while you develop your skills. As a career? Fuck yeah, it’s hard.
Socializing with screenwriters do’s and doh’s.
- Do ask interesting questions when you can’t find the answer anywhere else (that “search first” part is very important).
- Don’t be a poser. Never pretend you’ve got connections or credentials that you can’t back up.
- Don’t ask complete strangers for giant favors like introducing you to their agents or managers.
- Never approach people saying someone they know referred you if they didn’t, they will check, and it’s a small fucking town.
- Asking someone to read your script is asking them to take 2 hours and use their professional skills for your benefit. Give that the respect it deserves. Know that they may be too busy or may forget even if they say yes. Remember, they don’t owe you anything.
- It’s better to find peers and trade notes with them for your first couple of scripts. Writers’ groups are great for this. You can find them in most major cities and online. Again, network, network, network.
- Never suggest story ideas to professional writers without their permission (it’s a huge legal liability).
- It takes time and authentic friendships to make good progress at networking, but besides reading and writing scripts it’s probably the most useful thing you can do to improve your chances of success in the field.
- Do you know how many people want to write movies and TV shows for a living? It’s way more than there are screenwriting jobs available. You’re also going to be competing with a lot of nepotism and discrimination no matter what age, ethnicity, sex, or orientation you have.
- The secret is doing the work (write, edit, repeat), plus ongoing self-improvement, effective networking, serious luck, and your ability to spot opportunities when they present themselves.
- Be wary of screenwriting contests. Most screenplay competitions aren’t worth opening their webpage, let alone an entry fee. Why? Most don’t pay their readers very well, if at all, and even if you win there is no guarantee that people in the industry will take any notice of you. Winning a contest alone is certainly not going to get you signed with a major agency. Entering a contest that worked for someone else five years ago might be quite useless now.
- A big shout out to Script Pipeline here: they’re actually pretty good at what they do with competitions and notes services, and their online arts magazine is great.
- Be kind.
Is 30 too old to be a screenwriter?
- No. Many of the best screenwriters came to it as a second or twenty-twelfth career. You’ll face age discrimination if you’re young and you’ll face age discrimination if you’re old. Writers don’t get any of it nearly as bad as actresses; what they face in terms of age discrimination in the entertainment business is just brutal.
How do you start writing a script?
- In a story, characters are either changed by moving through the world or they change the world by moving through it.
- A story world changes the character example: Jack Ryan in The Hunt For Red October. When the movie starts he can’t sleep on planes because of turbulence and his daughter wants him to bring her a teddy bear. When the movie ends he’s fast asleep on a plane sitting next to a teddy bear. What he went through in the story adjusted his tolerance for turbulence. Read the script with that in mind.
- A character changes the story world example: The Dude in The Big Lebowski. The Dude is the same person at the beginning as he is at the end, but his presence has affected the lives of the other characters in significant ways. So, yes, “the Dude abides.”
- How does that help you start writing a script? Well, you should probably decide who the character is, and what they want, and then you just start throwing all kinds of horrible crap at them until they either change or cause changes in other characters or the world around them. It’s that simple and it’s hard as hell. Go read lots and lots of screenplays to see how other people do it.
- Usually, the whole movie gets set up on the first page or in the first five pages. It’s kind of like an essay where you state the thesis in the first paragraph, provide examples to support the thesis, then state your conclusion, which is basically just restating the thesis and tying it back to the examples. Most strong narrative films are in an odd way like this somewhat symmetrical. Study them intensely, try writing one yourself, then edit, and try again.
- On the symmetry thing, individual scenes can function the same way.
- There is no point in showing a scene if something doesn’t happen in it.
- Each scene can be like a microcosm of the movie, repeating the larger theme but iterating and augmenting at the same time.
- You don’t have to start out writing a whole feature film, you can start by just writing self-contained scenes.
- You wouldn’t start out as a violinist learning to play a whole symphony, you’d learn to play a chord first, then a song, then a couple of songs. This is the same sort of thing.
- A feature film is usually just a bunch of little related movies strung together, and the more interesting they are on their own, then the more interesting the whole movie will be. Start with the basic components and work your way up.
- Another good question is, “how do you finish a screenplay?” Well, you write an outline for how the scenes will fit together, and then you just keep plugging away. Write one scene and move on to the next one. Try not to edit too much on your first pass, just get it down. Write, edit, and repeat. That’s the process.
What does a Screenwriter do?
- Are you fucking kidding me? They write screenplays. Fuck off and Google it.
How do TV and Screenwriters make money?
- You write a script, then you sell what’s called an option, which is the right for a producer to make the screenplay into a movie or series. Option agreements are complex. Consult an experienced entertainment attorney.
- Usually, you get paid maybe half when you sell the option and then half again when the movie begins principal photography (lead actors on set and cameras start rolling).
- Most writers do not get a share of the movie or show’s profits unless they’re already extremely successful, but you can still negotiate for performance bonuses in the option agreement. For example, if the movie makes $20 million at the box office you ask to get an extra $250K, if the series you wrote the pilot for starts streaming on Netflix etc. and the rights are sold for over $1M you might want to get a $50K bonus for every $1M in the deal, or other things like that, but they all have to be negotiated.
- Unless you work on a TV series, selling screenplays is more like being a farmer selling a commodity crop or a fine artist trying tun unload new paintings than having a “normal job.” The idea of a screenwriter salary is kind-of an odd notion. You make something and then you try to sell it, or you get hired and paid to make something specific like an adaptation of a book.
- Many screenwriters form companies like LLCs (limited liability companies) or private corporations, so they technically work for their own company and the company is like a vendor to film and television producers. You’ll probably want to talk to an accountant before you try to set that up, but that sort of thing can be greatly beneficial for tax purposes once you’re making serious money, because one year you may be way up and the next two you may be way down, and the way companies are taxed helps you offset the burden when those shifts happen.
- It can take years to sell a spec. script, and that’s if it sells at all. Spec. is short for speculative, meaning no one contracted you to write it, you’ve invested your time and energy into it on your own, speculating that it will have value when sold. Most beginning writers create spec. scripts because no one hires them to write assignments until they’ve proven they can write a good script on their own first.
- Everything in business tends to be about eliminating the risk of losing money, and as a new screenwriter, you’re really at the mercy of a system that has no mercy. You must prove more than just your value, you must prove your value over your risk.
- Establishing a track record of success is very important for getting well-paying jobs in the entertainment business. “You’re only as good as your last picture” may be a bit of a cliche, but lining up your next job before you finish the current one is usually the smart move. Even if you did your job perfectly and someone else messed up the execution of a movie or series you worked on, being associated with a flop can trash your career for a long time. It’s not fair, it’s just how Hollywood works. So, you want to be as “bankable” (predictably low risk) as possible when negotiating contracts, so if possible you always want your next project locked down before the current one is finished.
- How much you make depends a lot on how well you position yourself and negotiate, but once you’ve written a movie or TV show you usually have to join The Writers Guild when you get your next studio or network project, and then your base rate is set in a document called the Minimum Basic Agreement and the Schedule of Minimums. That’s the set of contracted minimum payment levels the Writers Guild has established through agreements with the studios and networks for its members. But you don’t want to be making the minimum, you always need to be making enough to live for a while without getting any work or sales.
- Don’t rush to join the Writers Guild until it’s required. Being a member has perks, but there is a hefty initiation fee, members pay thousands of dollars in annual dues, and you aren’t guaranteed work just by being a member but still owe the dues. The hustle never ends if you want to keep writing entertainment for a living.
- If you are working in independent film or for a company that isn’t a major studio or network, the Guild may not have any agreement with them and you’re on your own with no minimum pay scale. You might sell a script for $100,000 or $1,000, it really depends on the resources of the person or company you’re selling it to. It’s a good idea in any entertainment contract negotiation at any price point to work with a good Entertainment Lawyer, they know the game better than you ever will and a solid contract can save your ass in more ways than anyone can count.
How do I copyright a screenplay?
- If you’re in the USA, you pay a registration fee and upload your script to the U.S. Copyright Office’s registration site. Oh, look, detailed step-by-step screenplay copyright instructions.
How to become a screenwriter without a degree?
- Read great scripts on your own.
- You don’t need a degree to become a screenwriter, you need to know how to write great material.
- If you really want to get a degree that’s useful in the entertainment industry, study business or law and fight for great internships with the major entertainment companies to build your network.
- Take screenwriting courses on the side as electives if you feel like it, but so many screenwriting teachers have never sold a screenplay, and Media Production, Theater, and straight-up Creative Writing courses are probably going to be far more useful. You need to know how it all works and how actors will interpret what’s on the page.
Just start reading the site and the tons of resources it links out to. There is so much material collected here. Most of those questions can be answered by just reading the pages of this site. And if you don’t like to read, you probably shouldn’t try to be a professional screenwriter.
Screenwriting Shit has received a mix of critical responses, similar to what you might expect from King of The Hill characters standing at the curb drinking beer, and we really appreciate it. Would you attribute John August’s response to Hank or Dale?
Your feedback and input are welcome unless you want us to tone down the language. Sorry, that is actually load-bearing decorative sass.