So you have an idea for a film.

May 8th, 2010 by Ron
The Script Blogger

The trouble is people in the film industry rarely buy an idea and certainly not from somebody they don’t know.

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They may buy a screenplay but only if it is well written, correctly formatted and presented  and contains an entertaining, exciting premise, the likes of which have not be seen before.w

New and wannabe writers often think scripts are an easy way to make money and enter the film business.

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Somewhere in the dark recesses of their brain they have a glimmer of an idea for a film, but before they can realize their dream they face a major problem; going from Head to Paper and taking the idea from a concept to a working document, known as a screenplay.

In the safe haven of your mind you can imagine anything you want, including great success for your film idea, top stars queuing up to play the roles, a major director jumping with excitement at the prospect of directing it and a producer finding pots of gold to make it.

Yep! You can imagine anything you like.

But before you get totally carried away in your world of Make-Believe, you have to get that idea out of your head and written down on to paper.

In a way that others can visualize the conception, enjoy the emotional ride and want to be part of the project.

They will have to be astounded by the dialogue, engaged by the characters, impressed with the premise, pleased with the structure, happy with the formatting and amazed by the magic.

WHAT!

Hold on. What’s this structure thing, or formatting requirements, visualization, emotional ride, what dialogue and where’s the magic come from?

Oh!

Didn’t anybody tell you, films are part of a collective business, full of other creative, informed, intelligent individuals, who expect high standards from the others they work with.

And like any other business in any other industry, it is cloaked in mystique, jargon, expectancy and mistrust.

But unlike any other industry, it is bombarded with applications from amateurs and wannabes who think they can do the job, without training, experience, back-ground knowledge, contacts and worse of all, skill.

I mean, would you apply to be a brain surgeon without training, an airline pilot without learning to fly or a deep-sea diver, when you can’t swim.

Maybe in that world of Make-Believe.

Hang on!

Film is the world of Make-Believe, so it could happen. Of course it could. On film.

Now here’s the rub. For it to happen on film, in a world of Make-Believe, someone somewhere has to write it in a structured form so others can visualize the concept as they follow the emotional ride, made believable with the dialogue, the believable characters and all brought together by the writer’s magic.

Unlike any other form of writing, a script is a plan to be executed by others. It is probably the most demanding form of writing because it is where creativity interfaces with business in a way, no other type of writing does.

So, no matter how good your idea is, unless you can write it in a way others can convert your words to a visual presentation, your idea will join the ranks of the, ‘if only’.

Understanding what makes a film exciting, believable and entertaining gives a writer an insight into what is necessary in a script, not how to do it.

But it’s a good place for any budding writer to start. Everyone has favorite movies. Question yourself, why are they your favorites.

Is it:

The action, the characters, the jokes, the dialogue, the scenery, the drama, the music, was it the lead actor, or the story?

Hopefully you noticed I left ‘The Story’ to last. It’s because everything else listed is part of the story and unless told well, the story is lost.

What ever your idea is, it will only work as a film if it is structured to accommodate all the components necessary and as the writer that means getting them down on paper.

To give your idea a chance, the first step is to take your idea and make it, mould it and shape it into a STORY.

For a story to work it has to have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Often referred to as THE THREE ACT STRUCTURE.

Act One is the set up: This establishes the setting and the situation. For any good story to work it has to be about something, which in reality is about somebody.

That somebody is the main character and sometimes characters. In the first act you should outline their goals, the task, the objective and the start of their journey to come.

What ever it is, in the first act you introduce the main character/s and what it is they are expected to achieve by the end of THEIR story.

Normally to make it interesting the writer introduces a conflict. The reason their journey is not straight forward.

If it was, what would be the story?

Stories are about people reaching a different place from where they started.

That can be an end of a journey, but more often as not, it is about a person becoming a different person by the end of their story.

I hope you noticed I changed it from being YOUR story to THEIR story. Once you begin your script it should be about someone other than you, unless it’s your autobiography.

Act Two takes the main story and complicates it with additional stories. Known as the SUB PLOTS. They can be introduced in Act One, but are definitely developed and expanded in Act Two.

As is the profile of the main character/s and the obstacles that may prevent them from completing their journey.

This is where depth and meaning of the story becomes layered.

At about half way through Act Two, a place some referred to as the “Point of no Return”, normally an event occurs that changes the direction of the story, or ensures your main character becomes committed to completing their journey.

Act Three is the conclusion, the winding up and the tidying up. Achieved by a Climax which results in a resolution. It brings the Sub Plots to a point of recognition and conclusion as well as the MAIN PLOT.

Everything is clear, unless it’s a point you want left unclear. But to achieve that it won’t be your first script.

Finally, Act Three allows the audience to be satisfied with the outcome that your main character/s have successfully completed their journey and it is clear they and you have reached THE END.

Many new writers make the mistake of writing their script before they have fully considered the story.

Would you leave home, jump in the car and drive a 120 miles without knowing where you are going? Starting a script without full consideration of the journey  is just that. 120 pages, without a map, any directions and a destination.

A treatment or outline is a working tool to help the writer consider the story, based on their idea before starting the script. It should be the map, which guides the writer when writing their script.

So a writer must plan the journey. When you first think up an idea think of the ending. Then the journey in between and who is coming on the journey with your main character.

All stories are basically about people in situations that they have to deal with; it is the beginning of the beginning. Who is the story about?

Somewhere in the creative process of taking an idea from paper to screen other people have to visualize your vision. Actors have to understand the characters and be attracted to the role presented in the script.

They have to want to play the part. If your script is destined for a big budget production almost certainly the actor will want to know the character’s back story, even to the point of the character’s history that is not part of the script.

They will need to feel comfortable with the dialogue and that the voice on paper fits the voice that will be on screen. So along with the treatment it is a good idea to write character profiles.

In committing your idea to paper that you hope to present to professionals in an industry that you know little about you have other hurdles to clear.

Formatting a script to the industry expectancy is just one of them. So many times beginners ask questions which indicate they haven’t bothered to read any books or researched the standards expected.

Consider a script as an architects plan for a house. Architects study for years before they get someone to build a building based on their drawing. Why would a builder invest or raise millions to build a building based on a freehand sketch presented unprofessionally.

A script is the same; it is a plan for a film that someone has to raise money on to take the concept from paper to film. Therefore it is not unreasonable to expect the writer to present their work in a professional manner.

If you are serious about being a scriptwriter research the way scripts are presented. That doesn’t mean asking questions on any of the numerous Internet boards, it means reading about the craft, studying the nuances and researching the market place.

Oh yes, the market place, another hurdle.

To enter this industry your work needs to have marketability and YOU have to find a market for your work.

You won’t get an agent, a manager or a representative when you begin. That comes when you have had some success with your work created by your own efforts.

Successful writers have gone through this process; don’t think YOU can do it any other way. Don’t have any illusions except what you write in your script.

Be prepared for years of hard work, stacks of rejections, hours of writing and re-writing and the likelihood of failure. If you are prepared to go through that then start writing your script, but don’t give up your day job.

2 responses to “So you have an idea for a film.”

  1. MJ Scribe says:

    Ron,

    That was a really good article. Suffice it to say, I started my script from scratch. I wasn’t even sure about what a screenplay really is. So I started researching. Alot. And, alot more. Granted, I can’t say my first script is good enough, even yet. But I can say this article is a fully explained, must-read for anyone who’s about to start the journey. I wish I’d found this site sooner. I’m bookmarking it if anyone asks me about writing…

    Take care

  2. Butch J says:

    Thanks Ron,

    I will use your guide as I go through my script and try to cut out anything that doesn’t move the story forward.

    I wrote act three first, because I knew how the story was going to end, Then I wrote act one – actually four or five act ones, and picked the one that introduced the protag, and made the reader want to read/see act two.

    I already outlined a dozen or so scenes for act two that I wanted to include in the main story. Unfortunately, when I printed out acts one and three, I got close to the 100 page mark.

    I reduced act one by five pages – and still does what I want it to do.

    I will use your guidelines to do the same with act three.

    I have about half of the scenes for act two written, they come out between 12 and 15 pages.

    If you remember our exchanges in IDP, my script is a docu/drama based on my experience on the river boats in VietNam.

    I hope your health is holding up. A recent MRI showed that all of the discs in my lower back are bulging – no wonder I can only sit at the computer for short periods at a time.

    It’s only taken me eight years to get this far. Maybe I will get to fade out this year.

    Take care
    Butch