You have just returned from the depths of your imagination, clutching a story you believe could become a Hollywood blockbuster. Your mind races with images of your film’s poster adorning every street corner, and you have started planning your Oscars acceptance speech. But hold your horses for just a moment because you are forgetting one significant hurdle: you do not have a screenplay on paper, at least not yet.
Most three-act feature film scripts span 80-120 pages, with each page representing approximately one minute’s screen time. At first glance, 80-120 pages seem manageable, that is until you sit down at your laptop and start tapping away. You are beaten after three pages, hitting the dreaded writer’s block like a head-on smash on the freeway. That, my friend, is because you have failed to prepare, and as Benjamin Franklin famously said, those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail.
Create an Outline and Roadmap For Your Script
Having a stellar story is one thing, but it is pointless if you do not know how to tell it. Creating an outline will guide you through your story’s progression. It does not matter if you are writing a review for the best sportsbook online or a three-hour biopic; having an outline will let you know where you are and the direction you are heading.
It pays to put plenty of detail into your outline because an outline packed with detail, including your planned dialogue exchanges, helps make the writing process much easier.
Keep The Story Progressing
A typical feature film consists of three distinct acts. Act One serves to introduce the viewer to the characters and the world in which the movie is set. It is in Act One that something happens that grabs the viewer’s attention, leaves them wanting more, and the act that sets the characters on their journey.
Act Two tends to be the bulk of the script, where your characters face many confrontations as the action builds up to a crescendo. Act Three sees you resolve the story; your character either fails or completes their goals. Renowned screenwriter and director Bill Wilder famously said, “if you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”
Do not become bogged down with revealing a character’s backstory in minute detail. The action should keep moving forwards. Not only does the script flow better, but it also ensures you stay in the range of 120 pages.
Show, Don’t Tell
Always remember that you are writing a screenplay for a film, not a full-length novel. Where book authors describe their character’s actions in fine detail, movie-goers get to see the characters you create, so there is no point wasting precious script space and time with unnecessary dialogue.
For example, why have a character state they are a multi-millionaire when you can show this through their lavish lifestyle, or instead of a character announcing to another that they are a police officer, show the audience them in police uniform, their badge on the fireplace, or similar.
Having characters spout meaningless, unnecessary dialogue makes matters boring quickly.
Be Prepared To Make Cuts, Lots of Them
You want your screenplay to be between 80-120 pages, although the sweet spot is 105-110 for most movies. Your first draft will exceed these norms and require you to scrap some of your content. Be honest when you are reading through your screenplay. Was the section you read necessary? Does it add to the audience’s experience? You should flush it away if you answer no to either of those questions. The sooner you cut out, the sooner you get to the good stuff, and the faster you get to the end of your screenplay.