Screenwriting is writing for film and television. Screenwriting can begin as an individual project but at some point will become a collaborative effort where the writer interacts with a producer, director, editor, other writers, and actors. In this process, you will discover that your script is not sacrosanct, that others involved in the project will want to have their say on what works and what doesn’t and that flexibility is essential if you are going to survive script meetings.
Screenwriting can be a very difficult field to break into without extensive training, considerable practical experience, a great deal of luck, and hard work and persistence. A number of universities offer full-time courses in screenwriting, while organisations such as the Australian Film, Television and Radio School offer courses in screenwriting to get your knowledge and skills up to a professional standard. Writing NSW also runs courses for developing screenwriters.
Different genres of screenwriting include feature film, telemovie, miniseries, serial, documentary, docudrama, animation, short film and multimedia. Watch as many examples of your chosen genre as you can to familiarise yourself with its scope and limitations, taking note of the techniques used by writers to convey their story and to present their characters.
Where do I begin?
Screen Australia, the national film and television funding body, has a number of useful resources for the budding screenwriter. The Screen Australia website covers everything from writing your script to getting funding and selling your screenplay.
Getting a script produced
Television and film producers require fully professional scripts. Do not forward a script that is poorly developed or badly laid out, or one that has little regard for commercial realities. If you are new to the industry, keep the production budget of your film in mind while writing. It is very unlikely a producer will take a chance on a script by an unknown writer that is full of million-dollar action sequences in difficult locations. Pay close attention to films by first-time writers and directors as well as low-budget films to see what can and can’t be achieved inexpensively.
Try to get hold of as many film and television scripts as you can for analysis and, if possible, view the finished product to see how the script is interpreted in the medium. Pay attention to these scripts’ layouts to get a sense of industry standard, or use a screenwriting program like Final Draft, which will correctly format your screenplay. Refer to Screen Australia’s Script Tools for recommended industry standards.
How long is my screenplay?
Using industry-standard layout, one page of screenplay translates to roughly one minute on screen. This is why using the correct layout for a screenplay is so important. Remember that a film script by a new or unknown screenwriter is unlikely to be accepted by a producer if it is more than one hundred pages.
Presenting your screenplay
In the process of developing a work for the screen, writers must produce the following documents, often many drafts of each:
- Synopsis: a one-page description of your work, which can be used to approach potentially interested parties such as producers or directors.
- Treatment: a more detailed proposal of about a dozen pages, which includes a description of the action in narrative form and is written with the visual medium in mind. A treatment may also include supporting material such as market information and is used by producers or directors to raise financial interest in the project. One page of treatment should translate to roughly ten pages of script.
- Script: written in professional screenplay format, this provides the producer, director, technicians and actors with a complete version of your work exactly as it is to be performed.
Selling your script
The Australian Writers’ Guild recommends that you get advice from an industry lawyer before signing any contract or agreement. The Australian Writers’ Guild is the national professional association for writers for the stage and screen. The Guild provides script registration, assessment, standard rates of pay and information for new scriptwriters. See their website for more information.
For an overview of the issues to consider and helpful advice on pitching and selling your script, go to the Screen Australia website.
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