Recently I was asked by my friend and fellow screenwriter to critique a short movie he had written. I agreed, but with slight hesitation. Why the hesitation you asked? I am not THAT screenwriter. At least that screenwriter in the traditional sense. I don’t always follow the rules. I don’t enter screenwriting contests and the ones I have entered have never been a blip on anyone’s radar. I usually have a lot of typos and sometimes struggle to keep the rules in order. Like when to use a FADE OUT or DISSOLVE or when not to use CUT TO after scenes. Or my favorite – how to properly write a montage scene and the difference between montage and a Mise en scene.

So, when someone asks me to critique their screenplay, I struggle.

To date I have written around 15 features and written and created several digital series, so I do know a little something, even if it’s only writing a bad script. I don’t do a lot of rewrites unless I intend to film them. There are a few things I hold to when writing screenplays.

Figure out your THEME.

In Blog #003 “What are Movie Themes?” I go in-depth discussing the importance of themes. Essentially, theme is a film’s dominant thought and unifying idea. It’s the thumbprint of film. It’s unique even if it’s been done in previous films. It will still be unique because it will be your spin on the idea. It is important to know what this is because all films are about things. Those things matter if you intend for your film to have some sustenance.

Syd Field’s Best selling screenwriting book.

Write a LOGLINE.

What is a logline? It is a one sentence that contains what, who, when, and why in every film. I can say I have never started any film or script without one. I am working on a script called The Visit that I intend to shoot late summer of 2022.

Here is the logline:

“A recently widowed neat freak entertains his free-spirited aspiring actor sister when her flight gets cancelled in Los Angles for the weekend.”

Loglines keeps the writer honest. It also communicates what your film is about without spending minutes explain every plot twist and inciting incident. Writing a logline forces you to conceptualize what your story is about in its totality, in one concise stroke.

Understand Basic Screenplay FORMAT.

I am not a screenplay snob. I am far from it. I don’t derive any pleasure from knowing all the minute intricacies of screenwriting. However, screenwriters should know the bare minimum.

What are slug lines, transitions, and action lines and how are they used in the screenplay?  What is the basic breakdown of a 3-act structured screenplay?

Screenwriting is a craft. This means it’s an activity involving skill. You get skilled by doing. There are hundreds of books, online seminars, and classes that broach this subject. In 2022 there is no reason for an ill formatted screenplay, yet they exist.

Aaron Sorkin, Writer: The West Wing, Money Ball, The Social Network, Steve Jobs and A Few Good Men.

Too much DIALOGUE.

A Director of Photographer friend of mine named John Gardiner once said to me, “most first-time screenplays have way too much dialogue.” I never forgot this. He was correct. When I looked back on some of my earlier screenplays, and I had pages and pages of useless repetitive sentences of characters saying the same thing in different ways. My early screenplays sucked by the way. He suggested doing an edit pass after the first draft and cutting the dialogue by fifty percent. This is a practice I do to this day and am still amazed at the number of repetitive sentences I write. Screenwriting is about word efficiency and economy. You simply don’t need the fluff that would be in a novel.

READ other Screenplays.

Make a habit of reading screenplays. This is the quickest way to find out what’s wrong with your script. You see how Paul Haggis wrote his academy award winning movie, Crash. You can get a few lessons from Spike Lee by reading Do the Right Thing and see how Shane Black writes such vivid descriptions in Lethal Weapon. My point is read screenplays often. And don’t just read great screenplays, read some not-so-great ones too.

As always be inspired be encouraged and be collaborative.

Saki Bomb

Screenwriting Books:

The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier

Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert Mckee

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder

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