How to Write a Script on a Subject of Your Choice
The Script Writer
The blueprint for audio/visual medium is called a script, and script writing is the art of the spoken language. A script presents every auditory and visual element to tell a story. Scripts can be written for various platforms such as – radio program, TV program, play, movie and documentary. These varieties of scripts demand different kinds of treatment and approach.
Basically, there are two types of scripts:
- For the radio that is auditory medium
- For the TV/film that is audio/video medium
Script writers should have a very good sense of what normal speech sounds like, for instance:
- Using active voice
- Short and simple sentences, most of the time incomplete sentences
- Use of contractions (I’m going, instead of I am going)
- Informal words (loo/toilet instead of lavatory)
- Even slangs and colloquial language is OK in script
- Avoid Dickensian type of literary language
A script writer should be very economical while writing dialogues. He/she must avoid jargon and verbiage. Dialogues in the script should reveal the character, and move the story forward. A script writer must be aware of dialects (a doctor will always refer indigestion as gastroenteritis). A script writer must understand the language of that particular character.
How to Write a Script
A script for visual medium contains visual and auditory images. There should be no spoken words if images can express the scene. Radio script demands scene painting, which means building visuals through spoken words. The complicated characters, minute details of human relationships, small but significant real life incidents, and niceties of life are the substances of a good script. In a radio script, you have to think in terms of sound, whereas in a TV/film script, you have to think in terms of camera angle.
Script can be written on variety of themes such as:
- Science fiction
The script writer should be very concise while writing scripts. Since the script will be produced in aural or audio/video medium, he/she has to consider the time frame. As a scriptwriter, you have to think on the subject and digest the material in all its aspects before putting to paper. Imagine your potential audience to be sitting next to you and write as you would speak to them.
Some of the elements of a script are:
- Concept, gradual development of concept
- Structure, writing sounds and visuals
- Flow of dialogues
- Build-up of sequences or the storyline
- Characterization, character should be strong clear and believable to the audience
A radio or TV program and the film is a collaborative medium. The entire production team and cast will depend on the script you have written.
Radio Script Format
In a radio script all spoken words are in regular format, non-spoken words are in uppercase, descriptions for reading are in parenthesis.
Here is my radio adaptation of Les Justes by Albert Camus.
STEPAN: (HIGH PITCH) When we decide to forget about children (PAUSE) that day we'll be masters of the world. (TABLE BANGING) The revolution will triumph!
KALIAYEV: (SACARSTICALLY) make me into an assassin when I am trying to be a maker of justice?
DOOR CREAKS. ASCENDING FOOTSTEPS.
STEPAN: We are murderers. (LAUGHS) We have chosen to be murderers.
DOORA: (SURPRISED) Stephan…
KALIAYEV: (ANGRY) No. I've chosen to die so that murder will not triumph. (HIGH PITCH) I have chosen to be innocent.
SFX: CARRIAGES RUNNING, HORSES NEIGHING, PEOPLE MURMURING.
DORA: Let me shut the window. (WINDOW CREAKING) Grand Duke is going to the theater.
Most of the contents we watch on TVs these days were originally introduced on radio, for instance soap opera, commercials, plays, serials, documentaries etc. Radio script demands are different than the script for audio/video medium. Radio script can be on a talk on some personalities, commentaries on certain incidents, documentaries, plays etc. A radio script should avoid long sentences, multi-syllable and unfamiliar words. You have to think everything in terms of sound, not only the text that will be read by the actors, but also the action sound and ambience sound.
While writing radio script, you have to think about time slot. Generally, you have to write 100 words for one minute of radio program. You have to include sound elements, music interludes, background music. You have to write dialogues that will reveal the location, characters, action, and the conflict.
Sound effects, normally denoted as SFX, play vital role in radio script. Generally, two types of sound are used in a radio script.
Action sound: sound created with movement or action, for instance, footsteps, clock ticking, etc. Action sound is used to give an idea on the tone and the mood of the scene. Banging something means anger, humming means light heartedness.
Ambience sound: sound that is used to set the atmosphere and setting, for instance, sound of tire screeching, vehicle honking are used to set a road scene.
Radio scriptwriters should use sounds that help the listeners to recognize the locale.
The movie script, normally called screenplay, is between 95 and 125 pages. It may take 15 seconds to read a description, however, in a film, it may take 30 seconds to set that scene. You have to remember, film is a visual and in your screenplay you show your story to the audience.
The screenplay you have written without being commissioned and hoping to sell it is called basic script. Once the basic script finds a producer, it is developed into shooting script, or production script. In the shooting script, scenes are broken down, numbered and arranged as it will appear on the screen.
Elements of screenplays are:
- Scene Heading: Tells about the place of action
- Action: Introduces the character, sets the scene. Actions always takes place in present, so active voice is used
- Character Name
- Dialogue: Conversation between the characters, or soliloquy
- Parenthetical: Instructions for characters regarding facial expressions and dialogue delivery
- Extensions: Technical note such as Off Screen, Voice Over
- Transitions: Some of the transitions used in screenplays are cut to, dissolve, smash cut, fade out, fade in etc.
- Shot: Denotes a scene change
Basic Script Format
A screenplay can be written in many formats. Here is one of the most common formats. The script is a movie adaptation of The Guru of Love by Samrat Upadhyay
INTERIOR. MEDIUM LONG SHOT. BEDROOM. MORNING. CAMERA PANS. FOCUS ON RAMCHANDRA. MEDIUM CLOSE UP
RAMCHANDRA sitting on the floor, wrapped in blanket, coffee mug on his hand. He looks up.
FOCUS ON DOORWAY. MALATI is standing. ZOOM IN
Sir, I’m very weak in math.
CAMERA PANS LEFT. ZOOM IN RAMCHANDRA
MALATI walks. TRUCK OUT. Sits next to RAMCHANDRA. MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT
I charge five hundred rupees a month. (PAUSE) Three sessions a week, one hour each.
MALATI in BIG CLOSE UP. She has a drawn face. CAMERA PANS LEFT. RAMCHANDRA sips coffee.
Can you afford?
RAMCHANDRA pulls electric heater close.
Writing a Movie Script
Once you have an idea about what to write, follow these systematic approach.
- Central idea has to be concrete.
- Consult and collect all available audio/video and print references.
- Develop characters, think about their experiences, perspectives, knowledge, feelings, dreams, fantasies.
- Write a short summery, consult people and get feedback.
- Write the script, capture the tone of your concept, develop imaginatively the feeling, flavor, kind of presentation you want to give to your script.
- Your script must be compact and use precise language.
- You have to be aware about the time slot.
The basic script is also called submission script (Spec Script). Submission script is the storyline that gives the details of setting, atmosphere, scene, character and incident. Once the basic script is approved, shooting script is written.
Some of the elements of shooting script are:
Picture: Exact area to be covered by the camera (Long Shot, Medium Long Shot, Medium Shot, Medium Close Up, Close Up, Big Close UP etc.
Camera instruction: (Camera angle) Upward Angle, Downward Angle, Zoom In/Out, Pan (moving camera horizontally, Truck In/Out (Camera is placed on a truck or dolly which is supported by wheels, and helps camera move forward, backward)
Shot linking instructions (Also referred asOpticals) Dissolve (Or Mix), Fade, Wipe etc, generally inserted during editing, but a scriptwriter can introduce this in his/her script
Sound instructions: Synchronous sound referred as Sync Sound, Music to the background level, Music Out/In
Shooting Script Format
Morning. Bedroom. Camera pans. Focus on Ramchandra. He is sitting on the floor, wrapped in blanket. Electric heater is close to him.
Camera pans to the doorway. Malati in focus, she is wriggling toes. Close up. Malati looks into the camera. Zoom out. Ramchandra in focus. Medium close up.
Ramchandra: Come in.
Maliti walks. Truck out. Malati sits. Camera pans from Malati to Ramchandra. Malati in Close up.
Malati: Sir, I’m weak in math.
Malati and Ramchandra in foreground. Ramchandra pulls heater close, looks straight to Malati.
Ramchandra: I charge five hundred rupees a month. (Pause) Three sessions a week, one hour each.
Malati in Big close up. Darkened face. Looks on the floor. Camera pans to Ramchandra. He heats his hands on the heater and rubs his palm gently.
Ramchandra: Can you afford?
Selling a Screenplay
A screenplay is not a literary work, so it is must for a screenplay to find a producer. After writing a screenplay, for a relative novice like you, agent will not come looking around, you have to market your screenplay. Marketing should be done only when the screenplay is ready.
Don’t be desperate and hand your screenplay to Tom, Dick and Harry of the movie industry. Now that you have this great script, write a great pitch and memorize it. If you get a chance, pitch your screenplay to the right person. If you have friends in the movie industry, that’s fine, however, don’t try to manipulate them to buy or market your script. What you can do is get them read your screenplay and ask for feedback. Consider their opinion, make necessary changes.
Write a query letter with logline (one line description) and synopsis (one page description) of your screenplay, and send to the producers. Don’t expect the top producers to buy your screenplay. Most of the people will not read unsolicited screenplays. But be wise and send a query letter first. Screenwriting conferences, workshops and film festivals will be ideal places to locate people who will be interested in your screenplay. You can also attend and volunteer in the film festivals. Screenplay contests can be a great point to begin your screenplay writing career. If you find a buyer, congratulations, but be ready to rework on your script, if they want you to.
In the mean time, you can check Script Sales which contains important addresses for selling your screenplay.
Have you won any kinds of writing contests?
Screenplay contests could be a wonderful platform for showcasing your talent. However, you must be aware that most of the prestigious screenplay contests charge entry fees, which can be up to $65. You can also find free screenplay contests. If you win any of these screenplay contests chances are that you will be able to find a producer for your screenplay.
Movie Poet is one of the best places to enter for free screenplay contests. There are many free screenplay contests available on Movie Poet, such as five page screenplay contest, feature length screenplay contest and short film contest.
MovieBytes don’t charge anything for their screenplay contest if you submit via snail mail, however, if you enter online, you will have to pay nominal fee of $5. The first prize includes $250 in cash, and submission to 5 studios/producers/agents. The site also lists many other screenplay contests.
One of the prestigious screenplay contests is Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. It is a paid contest, however, up to $35,000 is awarded annually for the finalists. This screenplay contest is open to new script writers.
Blue Cat Screenplay competition is another wonderful screenplay contest for the new script writers. With every submission, the judges will also send you script analysis. It is a paid contest, but they will be awarding up to $20,000 in cash prize.
Page Awards is a paid screenplay contest. It pays $25,000 in cash as the grand prize. The competition is open, you can enter now. Before you enter, make sure you read their rules.
Free Scriptwriting Software
If you are looking for free scriptwriting software, Adobe Story Free, is the best. Adobe Story Free has wonderful tools, customizable templates, and industry standard formatting. It allows you side by side comparison to see the consistency in the script, and export and import your scripts in various formats. You can get Adobe Story Free by using your Adobe ID.
There are many scriptwriting software available. Here is the review of some of the scriptwriting softwarebased on my experience, and discussion I had with my filmmaker friends.
Final Draft is easy to use and has writing and rewriting features. It allows the script to be exported in many formats. Final Draft has wonderful templates such as screenplay template, TV drama template, TV sitcom template, stage play template, and comic book and graphic novel template. It has few drawbacks such as there is no true story and character build up tools. And it is expensive.
Montage is low-priced screenwriting software, but works well. Formatting tools are wonderful, it contains auto-fill function, pagination, outline view, dictionary and thesaurus, color coding etc. It has poor export and import format options. It has story development tools but does not contain script breakdown tools, page lock option and reports.
Movie Outline is moderately priced. It contains multiple export format such as plain text, rich text format, PDF, and HTML. You can choose from numbers of templates such as screenplay, TV drama, TV sitcom, stage play etc. It has wonderful story development features, but comparatively hard to navigate.