fbpx

Want to learn how to write for Netflix? Join Story Expert John Truby for his FREE webinar May 25th

Day
Hour
Minute
Second

Why Every Screenplay Submission Is a Business Proposition

Okay so, I like to use cheeseburgers as metaphors a lot so stick with me on this and try not to get peckish. Let’s say you own a portfolio of fast-food restaurants in a major city. You’re doing well for yourself have managed to open a new one every couple of years and you’ve got a few bases covered. You’ve got a taco place, a burger joint, a pizza parlor, and even a sushi bar.

What ties all these places together is each was started with less than a million dollars in investment and they all turned a profit within eighteen months of opening. You may not exactly be Ray Croc, Colonel Sanders, or even Guy Fieri but you’ve got a reputation for delivering and a little empire to call your own.

You get an email one day from an excited individual who has a new restaurant idea they want you to look at. The subject line reads “Johnny Rockets meets Madam Tussauds” and promises a concept that will blow your socks off. You set up a meeting and in walks a bright-eyed individual almost tripping over themselves to tell you why you should build this restaurant and pay them a hefty consultancy fee for their time conceptualizing it.

They ask you to picture a classic 50’s diner serving classic American food but, as the king of flavor town would say “here’s the “kicker”, it fills half the ground floor of the biggest hotel in town and is packed with period nostalgia from waxworks of James Dean and similar era rebels to a full collection of mint condition hot rods and collectible items from the legends of rock and roll. It’s grand, really grand, and they’ve even carefully put together a playlist of hits to listen to while they paint this picture.

It’s a hell of an idea and it’s hard not to get pulled in, after all, you spent your formative years dragging your Plymouth Duster down Main Street pretending you were in American Graffiti and would love to turn the clock back. You ask about food since you know that’s the real reason people will be there.

They boast that this joint will serve the biggest portions people have ever seen yet make McDonald’s look expensive. Looking at the menu, you see how they plan to make that happen by cutting the number of items down to just cheeseburgers, fries, and vanilla milkshakes. “In-n-Out Burger can get away with it!” they joke as if that’s a satisfying explanation.

You raise the point that the majority of fast-food consumers in the city are students in the 15–25 year old demographic and many of those are vegan, so what about meat-free burgers, dairy-free milkshakes, and fries not doused in beef dripping? They scoff at the thought and grumble about the younger people’s “attitude”.

On that topic, you question the appeal of a mid-century themed restaurant to the iPhone generation as a whole, especially when the proposed location would be a twenty-minute trek across town from the local university. Maybe something more contemporary would be a better pull such as a selfie area with waxworks of the Kardasians, some Japanese style tuner cars, and collectibles related to gaming culture.

“Sure” they reply now somewhat despondent “but I wouldn’t eat there”.

You shake hands, wrap the meeting up, and run the numbers. It’s way out of your usual investment range. You’re not even sure if your regular investors have that kind of money. You look at the recipes for the proposed menu and see that the burgers are made cost-effective by being bulked out with rusk to the point they taste like cardboard.

The car collection, which you’ve been told is a dealbreaker, demands a genuine Shelby GT500, and the rock and roll nostalgia is heavily focused on Elvis, going into excruciating detail as to what would be on show while brushing over the topics such as the kitchen facilities and seating layout.

As for a marketing plan, there is no marketing plan, unless you count the line of text claiming word of mouth will make it go viral until the food critics fall in love with the place. It becomes increasingly obvious that they have no experience in the restaurant business and little to no education in it either. Their knowledge seems entirely gained by occasionally going out to eat. To conclude, their proposal is for nasty food in an expensive setting which is out of touch with today’s consumer and disregards the day-to-day realities of keeping a restaurant running.

You email them with an explanation as to why you’re passing and won’t be giving them a six-figure cheque.

“Maybe if it was smaller and more of a gourmet experience”,

you suggest not wanting to close the door forever but you never get a reply. The only time you hear of the concept again is at the next chamber of commerce meeting, where three other restaurant owners and a car dealer reveal they’ve been presented with the same pitch. It turns out the eager amateur emailed everyone in the chamber’s directory and are still out there trying to make their dream come true with the added bitterness they now believe Planet Hollywood stole their idea.

RIPPLE DISSOLVE TO: OUR REALITY

It sounds ridiculous but that’s how to script submissions can feel when they’re read through by a producer. Not only are they completely outside the industry member’s scope in terms of budget, but they are also a poor execution of a tired concept that ignores the current climate of the marketplace. They are not a viable proposition when it comes to doing business and, like it or not, businesses generally want to make a profit.

That’s a hard truth I had to accept in the build-up to Christmas this past winter. It was one of the darkest nights of my screenwriting life. My screenplay “For Your Dreams”, a Thelma & Louise meets True Romance type affair, was on the verge of selling. I couldn’t have been more excited. Then, at the eleventh hour, I got the call.

The producer had consulted their brain trust and the drug mule element of the screenplay was a big problem on top of the issue of it being a dirt movie, to begin with. The investor rightfully needed a home run, not something too edgy. Knowing that softening the script would be like taking the eggs out of the omelet, I pulled the sale and lay awake all night in a fit of despair. Don’t feel too bad for me though. I got an assignment out of it and turned in something a little similar with far more mainstream appeal. Silver linings and all that jazz.

However, as a fan of writing low-budget pulpy material, I did have to come to terms with the fact my entire spec portfolio, which I’ve been putting together over the past eight years, may have little commercial value because of its nature. That stings. I’ve got directors who tell me they would cut off vital parts of their anatomy to shoot scenes I’ve written but feel their sales agent would spit in their eye if they handed over a film that feels like a cult video classic from the early nineties.

“Write what you want to see,”

they tell you but my trusty Grindhouse messenger bag and binge sessions on Tubi give away just what kind of movies I like to watch, ones that rarely make any money in this day and age and appeal to forty-year-old men who rarely leave their home.

But it does highlight something important and, that experience combined with helping co-produce feature films has radically changed my view and my approach to marketing screenplays. We need to respect the demands of the marketplace and the needs of the industry members we approach. As someone who spent twenty years of his life in marketing, it’s almost funny it took me so long to realize this, but then plumber’s taps always leak, right?

Talking of marketing, there’s this model developed by PR Smith in the nineties known as SOSTAC, an acronym to help remember six essential parts of the marketing process; Situation, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Actions, and Control.

What makes it powerful is it’s something that’s constantly looping and thus organic in nature. The world is always changing and not only to do with a need to be constantly reassessing our situation, but we also need to be adjusting our course as we move forward. This is how we need to think as screenwriters dreaming of selling specs.

So, why do so many of us present the people who can potentially change our lives with a proposition which is so unsuitable and unworkable and, given that all the craft skills in the world aren’t going to fix the problem, what can we do about it?

Well, business is a topic that rarely comes up in any detail within screenwriting communities. Hell even networking, which is pretty much essential to success, barely gets discussed in any depth. We keep ourselves in the dark because these conversations are scary and, compounding the issue further, very few people can talk about them with experience.

As a result, we resort to a scattergun approach of simply hoping to get read by anyone and homogenize producers and executives in the process. It’s a methodology only once removed from spamming and part of the reason why so many products keep their doors closed to those without representation.

What we can do is to try and think like producers, as ugly as that may sound. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to snort back mountains of cocaine, scream into a mobile phone, or buy a Porsche (sorry, still thinking about True Romance) to get into that mindset. Here are some questions a producer is going to be asking themselves when they read your submission;

Can I actually make this?

Is it even logistically feasible for me to try and turn these words into reality? Sure, we can make changes if we buy the screenplay but has this writer penned something so far away from what I usually make that it would be a leap too far.

Does the screenplay rely heavily on huge action scenes, elaborate effects, or props and locations I’d be terrified of damaging?

Would I need to build sets because they get destroyed in scenes? Does the screenplay expect actors to do things I could never afford insurance for?

How big is the market for this?

Does this target everyone within a niche or try to appeal to the mainstream?

Is it within a genre I know does poorly (looking at you, drama) or a crossover genre that does even more poorly (rolling my eyes at you, western-horror)?

What’s the global appeal like?

Does this screenplay contain content that kills off valuable regions in terms of potential sales?

Is there too much swearing and violence for TV broadcast?

Is the age group it would appeal to a demographic I know how to get in front of?

Will the script attract talent?

Is the prose so compelling people can’t put the screenplay down?

Is there a main character so well developed that known talent is going to want to play them?

What about the antagonist?

What about the supporting roles?

Are there minor characters with a big presence that would suit valuable day players?

Do the scenes give actors something to challenge themselves with and dialogue they will want to be known for saying?

Is that director or cinematographer I always wanted to work with going to jump at the chance to join the project?

How will it gain an audience?

Is the concept something that’s easy to communicate and highly appealing?

Is this something I’d have to run through the festivals in the hope of soliciting critical acclaim?

Is the story so good and the journey so entertaining that people will tell their friends after they’ve seen it?

Is it so radical it will generate cult appeal over time?

Is it an adaption or remake of a property where a pre-existing audience can be leveraged? Does the screenplay contain content that is profound because it’s particularly timely?

Will it make any money?

Given all of the above, what’s the budget and the total potential market value?

Is this a $10m minimum budget production for something likely to only sell for $10k on a streaming platform?

Can it be easily rewritten to change those numbers? Even if the market value outweighs the investment, is it within the remit of my usual financing sources?

Would a PR firm need to be employed to help validate the film on the artistic side of the market? Is there potential there to build a franchise in the future?

What would be the competition?

NOW THATS A TASTY BURGER

The break-in screenwriting scene often makes everything about formatting and rules but this pales into insignificance against craft and business acumen. Far more scripts are being rejected by people who can get movies made because they simply don’t see a route to profit than being rejected for adverbs and bold slug-lines. Do we need the experience of Kevin Feige or Kathleen Kennedy to move forward? Absolutely not.

We just need to step outside of our bubble, understand the world of commercial filmmaking a little more, and apply more consideration to who we are approaching with our blueprints.

Hopefully, I’ve made a convincing enough argument that we should keep this all in mind as spec writers and adjust our strategies as best as we see fit. It might be that we actually want to double-down on our niche but with a reduced potential budget while making sure we approach the right producers with something we know they can make.

It might be that we want to take our smaller feeling concepts and make them feel much bigger and more mainstream to maximize the global appeal and put them within the realm of the big studios and top-level producers.

It may be that we want to focus on excellent craft and artistic values knowing that for-profit products outside of the art funding world will most likely be a dead end. Or, it might be a combination of the above with different screenplays tackling different potential opportunities.

Long story short, think about every cheeseburger you ever ate, how much they differed in terms of flavor intensity, nutrition, cost, speed of production, quality of ingredients, and creativeness and how those differences, good or bad, aligned them to your needs as a customer at the time.

That’s what really matters. Not creating in a vacuum, hitting everyone with a scattergun, and hoping for the best but instead identifying what people need and delivering a solution they should find irresistible.

Written by CJ Walley – Screenwriter & Founder of Script Revolution
www.scriptrevolution.com

Screenplay Format Demystified: How to Format a Screenplay

screenplay format

So you have written a story that you know is really good, but you are having trouble understanding what a proper screenplay format looks like. Why is it really necessary to format your screenplay? If you are going to be a working screenwriter you need to know how to format a screenplay properly.

Formatting helps to give credibility. A screenplay format allows the reader to be able to easily follow your story. It allows strips off long, flowery prose that novels usually have and makes the story a fast read. For examples of great scripts, download all of…

…and start reading the masters.

Writing a screenplay is different than writing prose because of all the technical formatting required. No need to freak out – the formatting is fairly straightforward once you’ve been taught! Some writers even prefer the screenplay format since it allows them to focus on the true essence of the story they’re telling without all the flowery details.

My professors in film school, who are all experienced screenwriters, emphasize how vital it is to get the formatting down. Industry insiders and readers are very unlikely to keep reading your screenplay, not skim but read if they notice a ton of formatting mistakes right upfront.

What Constitutes a Screenplay?

Basically, a screenplay consists of a 90- to 120-page document typed in Courier 12pt font and printed out on 8 ½ “ X 11” bright white paper, three-hole-punched. The reason Courier is used has to do with a timing issue. One correctly formatted script page typed in Courier translates to roughly 1 minute of screen time.

This is why the page count should be between 90 and 120 pages since the average film is 90 to 120 minutes in length. Comedies tend to be shorter, so these screenplays are closer to 90 pages, which would equal a 1½-hour film, while Dramas are a bit longer, more like 2 hours so 120 pages would be appropriate.

Screenplays can be completely original, based on an actual event or on a previously written book, newspaper article or stage play. A screenplay acts as the blueprint for the movie it will eventually become.

Everyone on the set, including the director, producer, actors and the set designer all bring the screenwriter’s vision to life using their unique talents. Since creating a film is a collaborative effort, it is vital that the screenwriter know each professional’s role and this should be reflected in the script.

For example, the screenwriter must keep in mind that a movie is a visual medium first and foremost. The screenwriter must paint a picture of what’s going on in the story, rather than simply tell the story.

A brief 2-page inner synopsis may work for a novel, but for a script, it’s the kiss of death. The fundamental nature of screenwriting is visually showing the evolution of a story on the screen, and something as basic as the expression on an actor’s face can convey pivotal moments in the story. Let’s now take a look at the structure of a screenplay.

Too Fade In & Fade Out…or Not

A screenplay always starts with “FADE IN,” and this is aligned on the left. And at the end, you “FADE OUT,” which is also aligned on the left, after which you type “THE END,” which is aligned in the center, underlined and usually with no period.

NOTE: Many screenwriters today don’t type the “FADE IN” at the start of their script, claiming there is no need for it.

However, one successful screenwriter I spoke to said that he’s actually been thanked by a number of studio execs and readers for including the FADE IN, saying that writing his screenplays correctly with the traditional formatting indicates a level of professionalism.

Fading in and out are the conventional bookends to any script with FADE IN acting as the precursor to the story being told. Leaving FADE IN out isn’t a cardinal sin, but like all rules, you need to know why it’s there before you decide to break it.

Scene Headings

Also known as slug lines, scene headings are used to show the camera placement, specific location, and the time. Look at this example:

EXT.WHITE HOUSE – DAY.

This is what a scene heading looks like. The camera placement is usually abbreviated to INT (interior) or EXT (exterior), followed by the location which is separated from the time using a hyphen. You may then press enter once or twice before the next element.

Purpose of a Slugline

A slugline is there to indicate a changing location. There can be more than one slugline in a scene if one or more characters change locations.

INT. and EXT. are used for “Interior” and “Exterior,” indicating whether the scene is inside or outside.

Next comes your LOCATION. Use specificity when describing your location. “DIVE BAR” draws a much better picture than just “BAR” and “HIGH-END EXCLUSIVE HOTEL” says a whole lot more than simply “HOTEL.”

DAY or NIGHT is next. There is no need to elaborate with “DAWN,” “MORNING,” “DUSK,” or “TWILIGHT” because there are plenty of other ways to describe that, like mentioning that the sun is setting in the distance in an action line while continuing the DAY tag. This makes it easier for production, plus it’s not as distracting.

If things are happening in several different rooms, you can portray it like this:

and then cut to INT. CANDY STORE – RESTROOM – DAY to show a worker smuggling a bunch of candy bars through a tiny window above the sink to his cohort waiting on the outside.

Using “CONTINUOUS”

In screenplays, you’ll frequently come across something like this:

Do you see the “CONTINUOUS” following the second logline? This is to indicate the audience is following Jan and Gus running into the kitchen to see for themselves the paranormal activity going on. You write “CONTINUOUS” when your scene is taking place in two different locations at the same time.

Introducing Your Characters

When a scriptwriter is introducing a character, type their full name in caps, their age in parenthesis, and then a brief description of no more than three lines, but if it’s the protagonist you’re introducing, you can use four lines.It is totally up to you whether you want to pinpoint a character’s age (20s vs. 29). If you were writing about the main character, you would probably want to mention their exact age, since 20 is far different than 29.

On the other hand, if it’s a character that flows in and out of just one scene, it’s fine to write the 20s if you’re using more detail in your description like “young trophy wife” instead of simply “wife.”

Basic Format for Writing Dialogue & Parentheticals

The character’s name goes in all caps, followed by their response. Screenwriters can write their first and last name, the first name only, or a nickname. I prefer writing just my characters’ first names, except perhaps when a character goes by something else. Choose what you think best suits your character.

Parentheticals are a one-word description of that character’s intonation. They are usually just one adjective, but adverbs can be used too. In most of the scripts I’ve read, they use just a one-word adjective.

Parentheticals should only be used when you must tell the reader how the character is saying their line. Use sparingly! These are only for clarity. Parentheticals are a form of “telling” and a screenplay is supposed to be “showing” how the character speaks, not telling.

Use (V.O.) to indicate voiceovers. Use (O.S.) when your character is off-screen but they’re still speaking.

Use (CONT’D) when you want to show the same character speaking twice in a row, but their lines are separated by one or two action lines. (CONT’D) shows they don’t stop speaking.

This is very helpful to actors when they’re reading your script during table reads. (CONT’Ds) can also be used when breaking up monologues with one or more active lines.

Action

This is basically a narrative description of the scene. When describing the action, be sure to only include the sights and sound that will be heard or seen by the audience.

A character’s name should be capitalized the first time the character is introduced to the screen. Names of characters who have no dialogue in the scene need not be capitalized. For example:

MARY, American lawyer, middle-aged, and drunk, Staggers in.

The sights and sounds that will be heard by the audience should also be capitalized (eg. ROAR, SCREAM).

Dialogue

This is an essential part of your screenplay because it is where characters are expressed. The dialogue is made up of three parts: The character name, parenthetical, and the speech of the character. The parenthetical conveys the manner in which the character presents their speech. For example:

MARY
(in a slurred voice)
Can I get another drink, honey?

Transitions

A transition tells the editing crew how quickly they should move to the next scene. Transitions are right justified on a script. Examples are CUT TO, SMASH TO, DISSOLVE TO, etc.

Subheaders

Subheaders are used to time jump or move in time within the same location. A subheader is usually after an action line and is capitalized.

Montage

A montage is a series of scenes strung together, often indicating memories of a person or place. To set a montage enter “BEGIN MONTAGE” at the start of the scenes you want to string together and “END MONTAGE” at the finish.

Chyron

These are texts that appear on a screen. To add a chyron, start an action line under a screen heading with the text “CHYRON”. For example:

OVER BLACK
CHYRON: 2:30 PM.

What to Type in All Caps

ALL your sound effects (BANG, CRASH, SCREAM, SMASH, POP).

ALL your characters’ names when you introduce them the first time.

You might capitalize on vital props that might return later (she puts the KNIFE in her purse) so the reader won’t miss it.

You might also want to capitalize on huge, life-altering plot twists to make sure the reader pays close attention and understands the enormity of this event. For example, “he POINTS THE GUN AND FIRES, KILLING YVONNE.”

If you happened to read the “LOST Pilot,” every second action line is in all caps during the plane crash at the start. This is a risk that some would agree with and others would not. My advice is to use all caps if you must, but only in moderation. You can use them to emphasize huge events.

These are the elements you’ll need for a screenplay format. Now that you have understood how to format a screenplay, why not go ahead and finish that script? Good luck and happy writing.

Here are a few more videos to help you with your screenplay format.

How to Workshop Your Screenplay

Have you ever workshopped a screenplay? A question many of us have when we start out. When I created the online course, The Million Dollar Business of Screenwriting with August Rush screenwriter Paul Castro I was blown away by many of the techniques Paul explained. How to workshop your screenplay really caught my ear. This little-done exercise really takes your writing to another level. Workshopping a screenplay is a crucial part of the screenwriting process.

By listening to your words spoken out loud by friends or even better actors, you really get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Just because it reads well doesn’t mean it’ll work in a film.

Check out Paul Castro discussing his technique of how to workshop your screenplay.

Creating Unforgettable Characters

Legendary script consultant Michael Hauge (writer of Writing Screenplays That Sell)  discusses how to create unforgettable characters. For Hauge, character development is the pull between the strong desire to remain in the identity and the need, brought about by the events of the story, to live in essence.

Michael’s advice on figuring out a character’s inner conflict came down to asking myself these four questions:

What is your hero’s wound?

The hero has a wound or source of pain from his past that he has suppressed but has never really dealt with.

What is your hero’s belief?

Out of the hero’s wound comes a (usually mistaken) belief such as: I’m worthless (Will in Goodwill Hunting), I won’t survive without a rich man to take care of me (Rose in Titanic), if I show people my true self, I will be rejected (Shrek in Shrek) or, if I live as my true self, I will die (Ennis in Brokeback Mountain).

What is your hero’s identity?

The hero’s identity is the false self that they present to the world in order to protect themselves from re-experiencing the wound.

What is your hero’s essence?

The hero’s essence is what’s left if the identity is dropped, the hero’s true self.

In the video below he covers:

  • FEAR: the power of the wound
  • IDENTITY: The Hero’s emotional armor
  • ESSENCE
  • INNER CONFLICT
  • The ARC of transformation

In this video, Michael Hauge goes over the six stages of a character. Covering:

  • Uniting the Two Journeys
  • Structuring the Inner Journey
  • The 6 Stages of Transformation
  • Defining your own Hero’s Journey
  • Living your Essence

These videos are from his best selling online course: Story and Screenwriting Blueprint – The Hero’s Two Journeys.

In more than 4½ hours of lecture, discussion, and Q&A, Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read; and Christopher Vogler, story analyst and author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers, unite to reveal the essential principles of plot structure, character arc, myth, and transformation.

How to Create a Bulletproof Screenplay Structure

Screenplay Structure is something that every agent, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive, public speaker, marketer, and storyteller talks about, to the point that it can seem complicated, intricate, mysterious and hard to master. So legendary script consultant Michael Hauge (writer of Writing Screenplays That Sell) wanted to give you a starting point for properly structuring your novel, screenplay or presentation without overwhelming you with rules and details and jargon.

Why You Need to Understand Structure First

In the video below he covers:

  • Outer Journey vs. Inner Journey
  • Putting the visible story first
  • The biggest mistake in developing the Inner Journey

Key Elements of Story

In the video below he covers:

  • The primary goal of all great stories
  • Conflict: the source of Emotion
  • The Three Key Elements of Any Story
  • The Hero’s Two Journeys
  • The four primary goals for the heroes of most Hollywood movies

How To Write A Scene in a Screenplay

In comparing Casablanca with other great movies, it is clear they aren’t of the same mettle. You’d find yourself mesmerized by the free-flowing and double-layered nature of the dialogue that boredom will not be an option. The interplay of words and actions is often riveting and complementing in such a way that you will believe it is the greatest script ever written.

The sharp dialogues, great characterization, and fantastic music were tools used to great effect in each scene. This is why Casablanca can be regarded as the gold standard in writing a scene.

Using Robert McKee‘s ‘Guidelines for Scene Analysis,’ let’s examine how scenes were written in Casablanca. He provides a succinct template for how a scene should be written.

McKee posits that what makes a great scene is not just the dialogue or visuals but the subtext and underlying structure of the scene. By this, he portends that both the text and subtext go a long way in writing a great scene, but it is the actions and feelings of the characters that make a scene great.

Superimposing these guidelines on the mid-act climax scene, you will see the elements used in writing this scene so perfectly. They serve as a representative for other great scenes in the movie.

In writing a great scene, the conflict and the opening value are central. In the previously mentioned scene of Casablanca, the conflict is reviving or not, the estranged love between Rick and Ilsa while the opening value is love.

Going further, the beats, which are the action and reaction sequence along with the behavior of characters both on the textual and subtextual levels are real tools to writing a great scene. The beats, more importantly on the subtextual level, tend to show the conflicts and often truer intentions and feelings of the characters beyond what the textual dialogue portrays.

A deeper understanding of the motifs and inferences of the embellished words, gestures and actions of the characters also contributes to writing a great scene. Analyzing each of the eleven (11) beats in this scene, it is clear that the screen master used this writing technique to great effect.

Through the witty conversations attached to a perfect depiction of subtextual elements, we see a rapid progression from the opening value to the closing value. It is subsequently used to unravel the first conflict and bring it to resolution.

This goes to show that in writing a great scene, a lot of attention has to be paid to scene structure and the subtext which is sure to produce the kind of master-crafted scenes seen in Casablanca. It’s never just about the dialogues.

Logline: Why They’re So Darn Important

logline, how to write a logline

A Logline: You’ve just finished writing your script and a friend puts you in touch with a film producer looking for her next project. During your conversation with the producer, she asks you,

“What’s the logline?”

Your insides melt because even though you may know what a logline is, you never bothered to create one after writing the script — and even more importantly before writing it. Has this happened to you? Well, it happened to me in a similar manner when I began as a screenwriter.

In my previous article (Lessons Learned From Winning A Screenwriting Competition) I briefly mentioned the value of a logline. In this article, I’ll go into what they are, how to generate them, and how they can help your script before you even write it.

A logline is a one-sentence (sometimes two) description of what your script is about. The ideal logline contains within the sentence who the protagonist is (“are” if dealing with a duo or team); the major conflict that changes the protagonist’s state from ordinary to extraordinary; the antagonist or antagonistic force; what the protagonist must do to overcome and achieve his / her (or a team) goal; and the stakes involved to achieve that goal.

The following is an example of a logline for Mad Max: Fury Road:

When a burnt out loner of a post-apocalyptic wasteland escapes from a tyrannical warlord and his marauding clan, he must work together with a defecting member of the clan and the warlord’s wives to find sanctuary in a chase to the death.

In the sentence we establish who the protagonist is — burnt out loner (Max). What the conflict is and what he needs to do to overcome it — he must escape. Who the antagonist is — the tyrannical warlord and his marauding clan (Immortan Joe and the War Boys). The protagonist’s goal — find sanctuary. What are the stakes — a chase to the death.

That’s essentially the concept of the movie in one sentence. But if you look closely you’ll notice that within that logline is the suggestion of a character arc: a burnt-out loner… must work together with a defecting clan member (Imperator Furiosa) and the warlord’s wives (The Five Wives). Within one sentence, we establish the main plot of the story and the hero’s inner journey!

So why is a logline so important?

Firstly, it’s important from the standpoint of writing your own script. Creating a logline for your story before you write your script will keep you on track. It reminds you of the story you are setting out to write, and once it’s written acts as a litmus test to see if, in fact, that is the story you ended up telling rather than treading off-road down another unrelated story path.

The second reason why it’s important is that if you were to pitch your story to that film producer or movie exec in an elevator, within the breadth of a sentence, you clearly and concisely grab his or her attention with one masterstroke.

To construct a logline I typically start with the word “when” in a subordinate clause. “When” suggests the first turning point (major conflict) that takes you from Act 1 into Act 2. In the independent clause that follows you include an action verb (work, fight, run, etc) which describes what the protagonist needs to proactively do against some opposing force to achieve the goal of the main plot.

It even works if your script is a character-driven story like the film Black Swan:

When a dancer gets the coveted lead part in the ballet production of Swan Lake, she must fight to retain her sanity or lose herself forever.

How you can tell that this is a logline for a character-driven story is that the protagonist’s goal isn’t an outward achievement such as completing the opening night performance (which is in the story; however, not the main emphasis), but an internalized battle for her to determine what is real and what is just a mad hallucination.

If you have written a script without the aid of a logline, it’s never too late to come up with one. You just might find it will help if and when you do that rewrite.


David R. Flores is a writer and artist (@sicmonkie) based in Los Angeles. He is the creator of the comic book series Dead Future King published by Alterna Comics and Golden Apple Books. Website: www.davidrflores.com

The Ultimate Guide to Screenplay Competitions

Screenplay Competitions

Back in 1998, when I went to list the BlueCat Screenplay Competition as a new screenplay contest on the Internet, I was surprised to see there were already well over a hundred contests already in existence. This was 20 years ago! I can’t tell you how many have come and gone since then, but there are a bunch more now.

Screenplay contests do not have a good reputation. Why?

Because they’re a rip off!

Well, that’s not an accurate generalization, but like everything in the film and television industry, some experiences are more valuable than others. Writers do derive a legitimate benefit from entering screenplay contests, and some do not.

With so many screenplay contests, fellowships, labs, festivals, grants and competitions out there, what should a writer look for? What separates the best from the rest? Is there a single reason why you should enter your script?

Here are some things you might consider when choosing a screenplay contest:

Who are the judges?

Do you know who’s in charge of evaluating the scripts? What are their qualifications? Are they writers themselves? Who reads the scripts? Who hires the readers? Can you Google the administrators of the contest?

It’s important for a contest to be transparent. They might have a giant cash reward, but if you don’t know who runs the contest, what does that say about the competition?

What if they cite industry representatives involved in the judging of the scripts—do you know what their role is? Do they read all the submissions? Or only the top ten?

Does your script get read completely?

When you enter a contest, do you have proof they read your entire script? Is that important to you? It might not be. You might be comfortable with a contest reading the first 30 pages and then making a decision. Again, they might have the track record to back up their adjudication system. Yet reading your script until the end would be a fair expectation when submitting to a contest.

Does the contest have a history of finding writers that go on to have careers?

You can rely on contests with a record of previous winners going on to become professional writers. Taking a second look might reveal some of the alumni highlights could be seen as being more impressive than others. Study the careers of the previous winners. Are they now professional writers? Have you seen the work of the alumni yourself? Evaluate the track record of their “success stories.” And if they don’t have a track record, ask yourself why you’re entering screenplay contests.

How many contests do they run? How long have they been around?

There are a lot of first-year contests that are very exciting to submit for. And competitions that have been around for decades might not be what you’re looking for. But in general, new contests have not been tested, and the older ones have. Keep your mind open for the exceptions.

Does the contest run multiple times a year? Different niche contests? It’s fun to enter a genre contest, for example. Yet, how effective can they be in adjudicating all these contests? Who’s to say they can’t run all of them professionally. But the larger and established competitions run once a year. They do not have an 8-12 month submission period for a reason. What’s the reason?

What do people say?

Check for reviews on social media and message boards. Ask members of forums and writing groups for their experience in entering contests. Don’t take the first bad comment about competition and decide not to enter. A writer might be upset they didn’t advance in the contest or feel personally hurt over feedback they received. Do the research you would if you were checking out a new restaurant or school.

Be sure to see if the contests kept to their deadlines. Use Google to see if they have extended their deadlines in the past, or took a while to announce the results after they said they would. Why would a contest extend their deadlines or delay announcing their results? Is that in the interests of screenwriters?

Look for regional contests

Here’s a tip: look for contests held in your state by the local film offices. Or the chamber of commerce in your city might be having a screenplay contest. These contests are usually judged by industry folks that grew up there. Plus you won’t be competing against a lot of other scripts. Always enter any and all local writing opportunities.

What do you win?

Some competitions offer cash prizes, feedback and/or access to the industry. Review the prizes carefully. When they say $100,000, is that cash? Or value? Sometimes when you throw in a photo editing software that’s worth $3000, suddenly the actual cash they are providing as a prize is much less. What companies do they promise a relationship with? Go on IMDB and see who the managers represent. Always vet the prizes of the competition.

How much do they cost?

With so many contests out there, you would have to have a nice size budget to enter them all. Review how much each submission costs you. When you enter early, what’s the discount? Some competitions charge extra for additional services like feedback.

After reviewing these guidelines, you probably have a better idea of whether you want to enter a contest. Yet there’s one more very important thing to consider, something often overlooked.

How do they support writers when they’re not marketing and soliciting entry fees?

This is probably the best way to evaluate a writing competition. The mission of every contest is to help writers. Do they? If you have to pay for a chance to have them help you, and it’s worth it, fine. What else are they doing? Do they provide content that helps you as a writer? Some contests hold conferences and panels, write blogs and shoot videos, all in an effort to develop writers. Is it free? If not, why? Check your list and see what the screenwriting competition is doing for writers beyond a sales job and a “SUBMIT NOW” link. This is the best way to see the heart and mind behind the contest and how it will serve you best.

In the end, screenwriting competitions are not for everyone, yet they play an important role in discovering and developing talent, benefitting the writers themselves and the industry at large. And ultimately, the audience, which is what writing for film and television is for.

And always remember: writing today is the best way to win, and when you write, you’ve already won.

Gordy Hoffman is the Founder and Judge of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. His screenplay Love Liza won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Winning Screenwriting Competitions: Lessons Learned

Years ago when I received word that my screenplay, Control; Alt; Delete, had won not one but two screenwriting competitions, I believed that all the hard work, years of struggle, self-doubt, and rejection had culminated to a glowing achievement that would forever wash away the specter of failure: I had climbed the mountain to see my shining new horizon as a working screenwriter.

And it was marvelous.

Things just seemed to be going my way: I got an agent, a manager, and a well-known producer who was going to make my script into a feature. I had meetings with big production companies with studio deals, pitched projects to major producers, was courted with screenwriting assignments – it was my time to shine.

And then it unraveled.

Not suddenly… no. It was more like an incremental closing of a window that you thought was wedged open by accolades of your winning script. One thing happens, and then another, and another.

In and of itself, not one was a devastating setback, but collectively they amounted to an avalanche of overwhelming loss. My agent left the industry, my manager ceased being a manager, and the producer moved on… so did those screenwriting assignments.

In the end, I was back to where I started from, a scribe in name only with little to show for but a glimpse at what could have been.

Was I crushed? You bet. I questioned everything I did; every decision made. What could I have done better? Was I too cavalier? Was I too dedicated? Did I try too hard; could I have tried harder? Was this window of opportunity squandered forever?

Well, was it?

It’s not an easy question to answer. I do believe that those changes have come and gone like that girl you didn’t kiss when you should have: that magic moment will never be replicated.

However, I did learn a lot from the experience – the stuff you don’t learn in film school – call it the film school of hard knocks. And with that, I would like to share some of those lessons learned.

Are You REALLY a Screenwriter?

For years I asked myself the question, am I a screenwriter? You would think it’s an easy question to answer. Living in Los Angeles I’ve rubbed shoulders with those who could answer “yes” to that question within the span of a heartbeat; however, for me the moniker held so much emotional baggage that to answer it with a resounding yes was virtually impossible.

Partly because to call yourself a screenwriter is to give yourself a label that requires proof on several levels:

1) Have you’ve been paid to write?

2) Have you sold any scripts?

3) Do you do it full time?

4) Has anything you’ve written been professionally produced?

5) Are you currently writing something that will be optioned, purchased or produced?

6) Do you have a literary agent?

7) Do you have a literary manager?

If reading this you felt the illusion of calling yourself a screenwriter quickly dissipated by the stark reality that you answered no to most of these questions, then you’re in good company.

At one time I was able to answer yes to four of the above questions,  yet even so, I felt the unease of embracing the title because to call it a full fledged career had been as elusive as Tom Cruise winning an Academy Award™ — eventually you think it’s bound happen…eventually.

So maybe you do what I did when someone asked,

“what do you do?”

Squirm a little, furrow your brow, and say with a withered response,

“um, I… write.”

Hopefully that would be enough information, but invariably I would be expected to elaborate.

“Um… I write screenplays.”

I would then proceed to fill in some of the blanks,

“Nothing produced yet, but I’ve come close.”

So are you REALLY a screenwriter?

Well if you simply reserve the title of screenwriter to only those who are gainfully employed doing it, then yes, there’s only a few who can legitimately file their income tax return with the epithet “screenwriter.”

But, what if instead answering the above questions that focus more on the accomplishments of a successful screenwriting career, you were asked a series of different questions:

1) Do you make the time (not just find the time) to write everyday?

2) Have you completed a script? Better yet, have you completed multiple scripts?

3) Have you shared your writing with others and are accepting of constructive criticism?

4) Do you constantly seek ways to better your skills in the craft and discipline of being a screenwriter?

5) Are willing to forgo other career possibilities and weather through years of rejection,  disappointment,  and at times abject failure?

6) Do you actively search for stories to tell with a unique voice to share with the world.

7) Do write not because you choose to, but because you HAVE to?

If you answered yes to most if not all those questions, then as far as I have come to discover you embody the true essence of what a screenwriter is.

And it is only by answering yes to the later questions that you will ever be able to answer in the affirmative the former questions. So the question remains, are you really a screenwriter?

Am I? Let’s just say in my soul I am and for that reason I proclaim YES!


David R. Flores is a writer and artist (@sicmonkie) based in Los Angeles. He is the creator of the comic book series Dead Future King published by Alterna Comics and Golden Apple Books. Website: www.davidrflores.com