Lesson One - Writing the Screenplay

What is involved in Writing a Screenplay

Writing the Short Film Screenplay is a lot easier than you think.  It will takes about ten hours over a couple of weeks and you will have your short Film Script 

Creating a High Quality Story is  the First Step in Making a Film. 

Story is the reason people go to the movies.  They go because they want to escape the world they are currently in and get taken on the journey with empathetic or heroic characters.

It is so important that the Film Maker has a  story to tell.  On each one of our 4 Month Film Courses, the script is worked on in detail using our Story Creation Process.  

This process creates a compelling story.  Till the story is created and locked down, no-one is allowed to write the screenplay. The story must be fully fleshed out and created. 

This is a mistake that many people make when they are learning film making.  They spend very little time on the story and rush a screenplay that is average.  Their focus is production and they rush headstrong into the shoot, with a weak story and script.  This is a huge mistake.

Story is the soul and foundation of the film.  If it is wobbly, the whole film collapses into mediocrity or at worst, a stinker.

It pays dramatically to create a great story and one always needs to know how. One of the big issues with many films, is that they seem more like a Talk Fest. Audiences want a story to move. 

It is, after all, a  movie and there needs to be a journey with a roller coaster story with events that totally engage the audience. Create a great story with high stakes that engrosses your audience with heroic or flawed characters and you will have the audience’s attention. 

Story is the bedrock of the final film, so make sure you work on the creation of the story to the best of your ability.

In very simplistic terms, a character should have a strong high stakes objective that is exceptionally difficult to achieve. 

With many challenges and difficulties and always the unexpected, the hero goes on the journey. 

Against impossible odds the hero either wins outright at the end or something better or more bitter sweet happens.


Essential Tip: Read Professional Screenplays of Successful Movies

Every Producer and Director and budding writer should partake in this exercise. All you have to do is google “Free Screenplays” and a myriad of sites will come up in that search. You will be able to pick and choose which screenplay to read. These screenplays will be the originals that the actors and directors used to make the film. 

A great idea is to read the screenplays of movies you have loved. Also read screenplays for movies that you have heard are great and you have not seen. Read one a week and see your screenplay prowess dramatically improve.

 The Story Creation Process 

Step One  Create the Story, event by event, scene by scene in a Story Plan. 

As always it is great to place a time limit on Story Invention.  Here is a guideline for deadlines for your Story Creation 

  • Short Film 10 minutes or less –  A Week. Do not write a word of the screenplay till you have spent this time on the story creation.
  • Feature Film 90 – 100 minutes – One Month minimum  to a maximum of  Two Months   Do not write a word of the screenplay till you have spent this time on the story creation

Feature Film Stories take time to create due to the complexity of a 100 minute screen story (100 Pages).  Rushing to writing the screenplay is counter-productive. It is far better to take your time and really think about your story.

After spending one week working on your 10 minute short story or two months working on your feature film story, you should know every story event and most of your scenes backwards and have locked down the complete story logic and journey and arc. 

At this point, you will be ready for he next step,

Step Two: Writing the Screenplay.  This next step will be much quicker if you have worked on your story in detail.

Checklist before you start to write your screenplay. 

  1. You have totally worked out your story, step by step, scene by scene.  You have all the main dramatic scenes checked
  2. The Story has being checked and double checked for Story Logic.
  3. You know your characters better than you know your best friends. This is very important. On our flagship Sydney and Melbourne 4  Month film course, we have a Character Profiling exercise that fleshes out your character. We also have a series of exercises that guarantee you create a compelling story 
  4. You have worked out the story arc and the unexpected happens in your story events.

Spending time to plan a story is essential and should compose 80% of creating the screenplay. Story Creation is the very core of every film and if you work at it before you write the screenplay, the writing of the screenplay will be a breeze. You will know intuitively, when the story is ready for the screenplay first draft.

After you have prepared the Story, you are  now ready to finally write a screenplay. It is important to set a time and write for that length of time. When I write a screenplay or a post for that matter, I will set a timer.

I  write for 25 Minutes initially with a 5 Minute Break. If I am flowing I will continue on without the five minute Break. Do This for Two Hours.

When I was writing Absolute Freedom, a two hour film , I wrote for two hours in the morning. Often I was so into the writing I would extend a further two hours till midday and then I would have to tear myself apart from writing the screenplay to go on to other filmmaking business.

I wrote Absolute Freedom in 23 days  over a month  Weekends I took off.  That was a 110 page screenplay.

However I had spent two months planing the story and I knew the story exceptionally well before I started writing the first draft of the screenplay. I used the same process with the multi-award winning Tabernacle 101 movie. I spent six weeks preparing the Story and I wrote Tabernacle 101 First Draft in a Month. I rewrote the 2nd draft in about two weeks.

Write the first draft with the heart and just go for it. Do not correct or perfect as you write. There will be plenty of time later on, to do so when you write the next draft. Keep moving forward.

Some writers like to say I will write 3 pages per day. If I am on a roll, I want to keep writing and I might write 10 pages in a single sitting. I prefer a time limit. Which ever one works best for you, you should choose. That is Time Limit Two Hours or 3 Pages Per Day as a  minimum. 

It is important to limit distractions and cut yourself off from everyone in that writing period. This is so you can go deep and leave yourself open to flow and inspiration. You will get ideas and other great story events as you write. Go with these as they can often be brilliant.

You do not have to stick religiously to your story plan. You can change items of your story plan as you write your screenplay. This is the creative process at work. 

You will know you are writing well when the screenplay writes itself and you feel almost like a spectator. When the time flies, when you are writing the screenplay, you will know that you are writing well.  When an hour feels like ten minutes you are in the zone.

Some writers feel that time drags on eternally. An hour feels like a day and it is a stressful arduous process. This is the sign you do not know your story and characters and it might be time to go back to the drawing board and work out your story and characters in more detail.

It is  very important to format your screenplay properly with an effective screenplay software such as Final Draft.

No actor and no producer and no director or financier will read a poorly formatted screenplay with typos and mistakes. Make sure that you format your screenplay correctly.

It should only take two – three days to write the first draft of a 10 minute screenplay for a short film or a month to write a 100 page screenplay. Set Deadlines at the start.

Deadlines are so important in effectively creating your screenplay and for that matter making a Film.

A screenplay completed is a wonderful feeling and if you have spent time on your Story Creation process the next part – The First Rewrite will be relatively easy.

Take a day or two break and then re-read your screenplay. How does it feel on this read? Hopefully good. Now the time has come to work on the next draft.

  • Draft One; Write from the heart.
  • Draft Two – The Rewrite –  Write from the head

The Rewrite: Draft Two 

Read page by page and critically read every scene. Check the story structure of each scene. Is it moving the story forward or is it deepening the story? Is it too long. Is the dialogue sharp and natural?

Work on the scene. Prune the dialogue and work and hone the draft. You will only learn from experience of writing screenplays. The pruning process and writing from the head draft takes me personally about two weeks on a feature film screenplay.

This process will involve going over and over the screenplay until I am completely happy with the finished polished film screenplay. From start (Story Creation) to finish (polished draft), it takes me 3.5 months to complete. This means, I have a draft of the screenplay I am happy with and want to send out to financiers and actors and crew.

On our  Sydney Four Month Flagship Film Course , we show people how format effectively and stress the importance of doing so. We also show them the Free Screenplay softwares that are Free, saving you $300. Our Film Course saves thousands of Dollars on production overall. 

The above is a  summary of how story works.  
If you need to learn the Story Creation Process in detail with great teachers and an a group of fellow students , check out  our Flagship Melbourne Four Month Film Course 

Quentin Tells You How

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