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prose-fiction writer writing a screenplay (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
I normally write prose-fiction and occasionally dabble in poetry, but I've never written anything for screen or stage. A friend and I are collaborating on a film which we plan on making as an indie guerilla project, assuming we can find people who will walk out to the end of the same limb with us.

I've found this which is a guide to screenplay formats, and also this which is a guide to stageplay formats. In fact, both of these links are stickied right above this thread. :D

My question follows: We'll not be submitting this script to anybody (except to the other participants in the project obviously) so we're not too bothered about formalities and format rules. But, neither of us has worked with screen/stage scripts before either. So, I'd like to know if following the Academy guidelines (as linked here and in the sticky) will be beneficial for me, providing me with the structure necessary to make the script comprehensible and smooth, or will following the guidelines bog me down with unnecessary details?

I'll be reading through the two stickies in the next couple days (just starting a new uni term so work load is pretty crazy now). I hope someone can give me advice on things I should be doing to simplify turning a raw story into a script, or things that are not worth the effort since the script will never be reviewed for acceptance/rejection. I'll probably compare most advice, suggestions and comments to what I find in the stickied links since they are, at the moment, my only point of reference for scripts.

Have any of you made an indie film? Any other advice on other aspects of the process besides the scriptwriting would also be valued. :)
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Linton Robinson

Senior Member
If you're writing a script for your own production you can do whatever you want. Write it in hebrew in red marker on somebody's panties.
But you have to structure it up SOMEHOW, right? The actors have to be able to read it.
Your sound and light and everybody has to know what's going on.

The scripts at Nicholl, etc. are guides to SPEC scripts: what people try to sell to producers. This is funny because usually you end up telling newbies DON'T write all the direction for shooting in your spec script. But I'm telling you what you are creating is a shooting script. You probably need the scene numbers, all that stuff.

Look around the net for a shooting script format.

Now, how are you going to write it? On a typewriter? Formatting it with keys is nuts: you need a format software of some kind. Google for "free templates word screenplay" If you have WinWord, that is. There are lots of templates that just load up like any other MS Word template and do your formatting for you.

Do you need to center the actor's names and everything? No. But I think you want your script to look as "right" as possible. You don't want the actors to think you are tools. You might need to impress a financer.

So go for as decent-looking a script as you can. If your money falls through, you might end up sending it out to producers. In which case you want it to be spec style and pretty perfect.

This is not the place for screenwriting, sorry. There are lots of forums that specialize in that, and in film making. Take a look at triggerstreet, zoetrope, and all the jillion others.


Senior Member
Well... it is the script and play section of a writers forum, with the subtitle of scripts, plays and movies. :) Thank you for the advice. I suppose the wise thing to do would be to follow the format fairly faithfully. It would definately benefit whoever we end up hooking up with for the rest of the production team since they would probably be expecting a similar format.


Senior Member
Ensure you have it divided into Acts and have something dramatic appear to be happening at the end of each Act and you'll do fine.

I wish you the best of luck I've tried to do this and found it incredibly hard.


Senior Member
A few things I'd suggest, since no one is really going to see this beyond cast & crew....

1) any time you use a special prop, effect, etc in the script while writing it, CAPITALIZE IT (this used to be something of a standard practice in hollywood, too, though most writers don't bother with that anymore - there are departments to do that). This makes it stand out, which, believe me, is a help when rushing to a new location / setup / whatever and behind schedule (you will be behind schedule at some point). It really sucks to drive, say, way up into the mountains, start shooting, and realize no one noticed that they were supposed to bring the critical prop. Even better, buy one of those huge sets of multicolored highlighters and highlight everything, color-coded -- one color for wardrobe, one for props, one for vehicles, etc. (In major productions there are semi-standard colors that are used for this, but it's done by a "script breakdown" department, and the writer never really sees it. On an indie shoot, it'll help a lot if you write with this in mind in the beginning, though)

2) Any time you're thinking you might want a new shot within a scene, treat it as a new scene. This will help enormously in figuring how long it will take to shoot. Every new camera / lighting setup is effectively a new scene in terms of how long it takes to prep for.

3) Storyboard shots. Even if its just crude stick figures and arrows on notecards, it helps everyone understand what's going on and what their job is.

4) A note on estimating times to shoot scenes... if this is your first project, take the amount of time you think it will take to shoot a scene, and triple it. Now double that. That's about how long it will take you ;)

5) Also, more along the lines of actual shooting, I have one word: coverage. Shoot lots. Especially if it's digital, where more minutes of footage cost almost no more than less minutes of footage. Allow at least five or six minutes of shot footage for every minute you use. More is better. Take wide shots, close shots, different angles, even bracket f-stops if you're using a camera that lets you control that. You'll be amazed how much that matters in editing, even if you think you know exactly how the shot should / will look when done.

Those are the biggest tips I can think of for now.

Oh, and two other points I can think of, totally unrelated to writing:

A) The number one reason films are denied competetive admission to film festivals? Poor sound quality. Even if no one else on your crew knows what they're doing, make sure your sound guy does.

B) Food. Seriously, I'm not kidding. A shoot can be exhausting work, and nothing saps a crew's energy like hunger. Make sure you have a variety of food, decent food, on hand at all times. On an indie shoot, where you're frequently asking the impossible of cast and crew and friends for little or even no pay, food should actually make up a significant percentage of your budget.

Dr. Malone

I have a program called Final Draft 7 that automatically formats everything you write into appropriate screen/play formats. It's supposed to be very helpful in guiding and assisting the screenwriter. Supposedly a bunch of pros use it.
I got it for free online. I think it's supposed to cost money, but the one I downloaded came with a crack to get around that.
I might be able to find the download link for you if you're interested.
PM me if you want more info...


Senior Member
I want to be careful of shifting my focus away from the work and onto the technology that makes the work simpler (I have a bad habit of doing that). Thanks for all the great advice gang! :D Perhaps as the story and script start to move along I'll post it in the Workshop section for critique.