11 May 2021
How to Begin Writing a Movie Script: Easy Guide for Beginners
For most movie lovers, the idea of creating your own film from scratch may seem a big dream. However, if you want to make movies, you have to break the process down into steps and firstly learn how to begin writing a movie script.
Before props, locations, and special effects, the movie script is the backbone of every good film. It creates the direction that filming will take and helps you get the essential ideas out on paper and work through scenes before they are shot. Crucially, a movie script also helps you visualize the end product, consider the budget and operational constraints, and spot where the story maybe doesn't add up. In this article, you'll learn how to produce a movie script that leads to a wonderful first film.
How to begin writing a movie script
There are a few elements of screenwriting that need to be considered before you even start writing. You need to find inspiration, get the best ideas that fit what you want to achieve and outline your story in the first few steps.
Many movie producers and scriptwriters will have a few key idols that they've drawn inspiration from. This can be great Hollywood-level stars, or your film teachers, or an indie film genius not many others have heard of. Get your inspiration by watching lots of movies in the genre you're interested in writing in.
When you're trying to figure out how to make a short movie script, you might feel like there are no stories to start with. However, you don't need something extraordinary to get you started. You can look for story inspiration in the news, in history, in local events, or by looking in the public domain.
Create a logline
A logline serves the same purpose that a first rough outline does for writing an essay. Think of it as a springboard for your movie, a quick summary that clarifies exactly what you want your movie to be about. You can get away with just a short sentence as long as you mention the main characters, their driving force, and the antagonists and their goals, too.
In the old-school movie era, loglines used to be printed on the spine of the screenplay. This should give you an idea of how short it has to be.
Write a treatment
The treatment is your next step: this is a longer 2-5 page summary of the story, including the title and the logline, as well as a list of your main characters. This is when your script will start coming to life and you'll begin to visualize the movie taking shape.
Create a beat sheet
This is a trick from film school: if you're stuck putting together your movie script, try using a beat sheet instead. This is a list of the main plot points, emotional moments, or key "beats" that define the story. Have a look at this template to give you an idea of what goes into a beat sheet.
Writing your script
Once you have whittled down the key ideas, characters, and plot twists of your story, it's time to actually flesh it out and put all the scenes together. This is the core element of writing a script.
Create a story map
An outline or story map is more visual than a bulky script. Start off with a story map to see how scenes move from one to the other, where there could be repetitions or redundancies, and how the story unfolds in your future movie.
Some writers use project planning software at this point, or just spreadsheets or process maps, to lay out the action and see how it unfolds. You can also make use of a whiteboard with plain old post-it notes if that works for you.
Write your first draft
The hardest part of learning how to begin writing a movie script is the actual writing! Most screenwriters will admit to being paralyzed by the white sheet in front of them, even after conquering all the preparatory steps above. However, getting the first draft done is key to writing a script. Once it's down on paper, you can add and delete scenes, make adjustments, and correct any parts you don't like once you've read it over.
Additionally, having a first draft allows you to gather feedback from others. It's a great idea to have at least one other pair of eyes reviewing your writing and challenging your thinking. And remember: the first few pages of a screenplay are the most important if you're planning to send your script to producers to pick up. Most producers are simply inundated with scripts, so they won't want to read until the end of yours to make sure there's a gem they have missed. So, if you get someone to review your script and they're in a hurry, make sure they read at least the first ten pages.
Pay attention to formatting
Especially in environments like Hollywood, there is a set format for movie scripts. Being in the right style will make your script more easily accepted and keep the attention of producers for longer. So, to make sure your script gets read, check out the formatting recommendations and consider investing in some dedicated scriptwriting software such as Final Draft.
Final steps for a professional movie script
Once your first draft is done, you need to let it sit and allow yourself a bit of time to clear your head before re-reading the script and making any adjustments. It's also a great idea to leave your story ending until these final steps, once you have taken a step back from the story and come back with a fresh perspective.
How to end a movie script
When thinking about how to produce a movie script, endings are extremely important. Imagine people walking out of the cinema after watching your movie: what feeling will they walk away with? Those final few scenes tie it all together and form a lasting impression on your audience.
To write a great ending, refer back to your beat sheet and your initial brainstorming. What do you want your characters to end up as? How has the story evolved and does your initial ending still make sense or does it need to change? Do you want to leave your story open-ended so you could possibly create a sequel?
Consider all these questions to create a perfect ending.
Re-read and create the final draft
Whether you're learning how to make a short movie script or a full-on feature film script, having a bit of space away from the working draft and returning to it to re-read and polish it before handing it in will pay dividends.
When editing your script, ask yourself if it's truly entertaining your audience, rather than what the producers want to read. By staying focused on the viewers, you'll already have created a script that producers will want to take on.
Once you've polished your final version, it will be time to turn in your script and hope it gets picked up for a feature production. The rest is history, as they say! Hopefully, this guide will have shown you how to begin writing a movie script which will bring you the right level of interest and get it produced for the big screen. Good luck!