SCREENWRITING: WHERE TO START?

So you’re thinking about starting screenwriting and wondering how to dive in?

There’s lots of good information out there on the web or you can get a book like The Screenwriters Bible which is a bit of a one-stop-shop for everything you need. Every answer is a Google away. There’s also this site which is sort of a FAQ of every question that might come up:

https://screenwriting.io/

But I still get a lot of folks asking me the question…where do I start?

Well, let me save ya a Google.

Here ya go…in order…

1. Get software. Software does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to formatting your scripts. If you’re going to write a script — you MUST have screenwriting software. There’s free-version software like CELTX or WRITERS DUET or a few others. Or if you have $$ buy Final Draft or MovieMagic. The free stuff is totally cool to start. If you don’t want to think about it — just go try CELTX or WRITERS DUET. The free versions limit how many scripts you can save but you can work around it by saving a copy to your hard drive and starting anew in the cloud.

2. Read up on the basics in books and websites — SCREENWRITERS BIBLE is the best book for format…but there are TONS of free websites that blog about the basics and it’s not that hard so just reading up the basics and diving in with software should be enough to get you 90% there.

Here are some websites:

The first is a quick read, and gives a high-level overview:

The second is very detailed…probably as good as any book…a little old but nothing’s really changed in screenwriting format.

Honestly, there are tons of great websites out there for this. So just do some Googling. Studiobinder.com and screencraft.com and tons of other ones.

3. As you write…read screenplays keep them open in tabs. If you’re writing an action scene — look up a script with an action script…Be sure to find modern scripts (last few years). Preferably ones written by screenwriters who are not directors and if you can find them — original ones that sold on spec (spec==original scripts people write to sell as opposed to ‘jobs/assignments’). Here are some:

If you wanna get hot specs…one of the best places is to sign up for a subscription here:

4. Craft Books and Podcasts and Videos — Beyond the simple ‘rules’ of the form — you’ll wanna learn about Craft. Here are some of my favorites books/videos/podcasts:

The Save The Cat books are easy reads that give the basics of outlining/breaking your story. I recommend the Save The Cat Writes a Novel book for screenwriters too. It’s basically the same thing but with about a decade of extra thought and evolution added to the mix.

https://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Save+The+Cat&qid=1592581202&sr=8-1

MY SCREENPLAY CAN BEAT-UP YOUR SCREENPLAY is another easy to read book that does even a deeper hand-hold of writing a script.

The biggest podcast in screenwriting…pretty much essential listening:

If you’re a TV writer in the making…these are two podcasts to check out:

I’m a big fan of William Martell’s E-Books. They’re cheap and broken into topics. You can approach them like a min-Screenwriting major to do at home. He does a thorough job of every topic…

Terry Rossio — screenwriter of many great movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek and Zorro — has a site with tons of very in-depth articles on craft. They’re different than others you’ll see. He’s got unique insights I haven’t found elsewhere. And they’re free!

http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/welcome.html

And I do a podcast with 2 buddies that breaks down movies from a screenwriting POV. It tends to be a sampling of all craft topics and sort of serves as a ‘Book Club’(well, movie club) for screenwriters. It’s called Writers/Blockbusters.

Check it out here:

Here’s two YouTube channels I love:

D4Darius — he has a lot of fun and informative videos about screenwriting and filmmaking in general. If you’re more video-oriented these are a great place to start.

Lessons From A Screenplay — One of the most well-produced and thoughtful video series out there on screenwriting. Might be a little ‘upper level’ but always insightful. Check it out:

And another great video to watch…this is a one and a half-hour video on ‘great endings’…but the secret is to deliver a great ending everything needs to lead up to it…it feels upper level but it’s also the type of thing you could start with and use as your spiritual guru:

https://vimeo.com/238637906

LAST NOTE

Honestly, you’re better off learning the craft by writing outlines and pitches and getting feedback than diving into full-on scriptwriting. There’s a ton to learn in the ‘outline world’ about structure and storytelling. Nobody does it that way. Everyone dives in and makes a mess of it and learns what they need as they go. Usually, 2–3 scripts in…people slow down and start to do it the right way. But I’ve never met anyone who was able to skip over those first 2–3 awful screenplay attempts. So pace yourself. And don’t hold off. Just dive in and learn while you write and read. You’ll have practical experience to reference against theory and you’ll also have a place to apply what you’re learning.

My quick advice — early on go for quantity. Don’t get stuck on any one thing too long. Mix in a short-script, write your second script BEFORE you rewrite your first script. Try not to just give up after page 50. Finish it. Then give up. It’s good to be willing to abandon something that’s not working…but it’s more important to be a person who finishes what you start. It’s a skill you need to learn — and in your early screenwriting journey — finishing is the first hurdle. Finishing separates you from the pack. Even if your screenplay stinks, you’ll grow more from finishing the stinky thing…don’t be the person who quits after a few pages. And don’t be the person who spends years on the first thing they write. Finish. Move on. Come back later. You’ll have perspective later. But right now, you have to build the writing machine.

So go…dive in…good luck.

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Jamie Nash is the screenwriter of several films. He writes about pop-culture, writing, and being a dad of a cool kid with Autism. Follow him — @Jamie_Nash

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Jamie Nash

Jamie Nash

Jamie Nash is the screenwriter of several films. He writes about pop-culture, writing, and being a dad of a cool kid with Autism. Follow him — @Jamie_Nash

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