Do screenwriters agree on anything? Kinda/sorta…

Screenwriters will argue almost any point.  I went to Reddit trying to get a list of things that were basically inarguable.  It took a few hours, and you can see the threads here and here.  I’m Cynicallad, if you needed to ask.

Making this list and defending it really forced me to defend and reconsider my own preconceived notions on screenwriting. I’m relieved that I’m not too stubborn to learn.

  • “Poor Man’s Copyright” doesn’t work. Even if it did, there are better/cheaper/easier ways to establish your copyright.
  • In the increasingly rare occasion that you have to print a script, you can’t go wrong by printing your script on 8.5×11, pre-hole punched copy paper, single sided, with a plain cover page. There are other acceptable ways to do this, but no one will criticize you for doing it this way. (In the US, anyway).
  • Final Draft is the industry standard for screenwriting programs. Executives are used to PDFs exported from Final Draft. It doesn’t matter what you use, but the “standard” is something that looks like it came from Final Draft. You can argue the relative merits of something that doesn’t look like it came from Final Draft, but that’s a separate issue.
  • A standard rule of thumb is that a minute of screentime = a page of screenplay. This is not really true, but it’s something to be aware of.
  • The “safe” length for a script is between 90-120 pages. While there are great scripts that are longer, that’s the ‘safe range.’
  • Appearance matters, because industry insiders are looking for an excuse to say no. It might be sad that this is so, but this is so. It’s like a really good looking person who turns down potential mates by their shoes. It might be ridiculous, but they get such an influx of suitors that they have to draw the line somewhere. (thanks in part to focomoso)
  • Your odds of selling a spec are small, only a few sell and most of those are to industry insiders. Careers are built by using your specs as writing samples to earn assignment work.
  • There is no best way to write a screenplay. Everyone does it a little differently. Eventually you find what works for you. (someone disagree with this one. I double dog dare you).
  • Write every day. It doesn’t hurt.
  • The best way to learn how scripts work is definitely to read and write. There’s some merit to books, IMO, as long as you don’t think they’re going to be a paint-by-numbers kind of thing. If you read anything, don’t just read it… analyze it, break it down. Don’t just read scripts. Study them. (credit THEoDUKE and PGRFilms)
  • Producers, managers and agents will give you notes based on a Three Act paradigm and you can still use your own method but you need to be able to speak to them in 3 Act Terms. (credit beneverhart)
  • Presentation matters. People don’t say no to scripts because they look too industry standard. It’s like housework, it’s invisible, but people notice if it’s done wrong. Even if you are writing for yourself to direct/produce, you’re going to be showing your script to other industry pros, and they know what a script is supposed to look like. If a CGI guy is asked to work on two projects for free, all things being equal, he will go with the one that looks more like a “real” script.
  • Industry insiders with cred and hits under their belt can get away with infinitely more stuff than a beginner trying to get in.
  • People love saying “there are no rules,” but that advice isn’t super helpful to people who are just starting out.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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