ON LOCATION September 10, 2016

Five Foolproof Ways to Make Your Story Shine Through

As a screenwriter, tell a great story but your material has to survive layer after layer of gatekeepers until it is finally bought and produced. The way you tackle this multi-reader system of weeding out the unwanted is by learning how to win the read. Readers are the main ‘gatekeepers’ and they work for Producers. Their job is reading scripts. Thus, in your mind, separate “the read” from the story. You may have written a great story but if it doesn’t read like a great movie, no one will see it. Make the experience of reading your script pleasurable, and you substantially increase the chances of your story getting made into a movie.

No. 1 Avoid film speak.

New writers often rely heavily on camera angles and/or phrases like, “We ZOOM IN on Bob sitting on his couch…” You really should avoid this kind of thing. You don’t want your reader thinking about cameras or audiences or anything other than what’s going on in the movie you’re trying to sell. Tell your reader what’s on the screen. Instead of “EXTREME CLOSE UP… Bob’s eyes…”

No. 2 Write with emotion and expression.

Some critics might suggest not putting facial expressions into your script, that it offends actors. That’s true for of a production script, but it’s not always of a spec script. You have to convince at least a half dozen people that your script is a great movie before an actor ever sees it. Adding in phrases like, “Betty smiles like she just won the lottery” can go a long way toward making your script an emotional read.

 No. 3 Make your narration count.

In general, between your slug line and your first line of dialogue you could have two, maybe three or four sentences. You have to make the most of them. Do more than move your characters around. Write this paragraph with metaphors and similes and use vivid, concise description. Keep your character descriptions brief and evocative. A writer once described a character as “standing there like a question mark”.

No. 4 Have an attitude.

Inserting yourself into the script with funny asides and the occasional commentary is generally a bad idea. Generally. It can, however, it might work well in just two genres. Comedy, or even horror. Remember, you’re telling a story. You can add a joke to the narration or in these two genres. But be cautious and balanced. Yes, the audience will never see it. But your goal is to make your first readers laugh. A daunting task when that audience reads for a living.

No. 5 Learn to mimic.

This is from an article written by Marshall Thornton.

Thornton has an MFA from UCLA in screenwriting and spent ten years writing spec scripts.

“Years ago, I was with one of the hot management companies. I pitched them some scripts, and we decided I’d write an “office place” romcom. I went off and spent months writing it. When I turned it in, my manger said, ‘Oh, I heard about a competing script this weekend.’ Meaning that my project was dead in the water.

She sent me the competing script, though, which I read. It was similar to my script, but not really. It was also terrible. I told my manager it would never get made into a movie and she said, “Oh no, so-and-so’s attached. The studio paid $2 million for it. It’s a go.” Well, it never got made. But it did teach me something important. The script did one thing well; the writer made the main characters sound exactly like two of the hottest actors at the time (one of whom had attached herself).

If you can make your characters sound like specific movie stars, you’ve vastly increased the chances of selling your script.”


Again, be cautious. An actor who’s ‘up’ today may be ‘down’ tomorrow.

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