How to Get Started on a Screenplay
Pro Tip: Start with a logline
When you think “I need a crazy, brilliant idea” too hard, it usually never comes. You could come across a creative block, you could be sitting in your apartment for weeks on end wondering where great ideas come from, and second-guess yourself on whether you even know how to write a screenplay.
Okay, okay… it might not be that dramatic. But coming across good ideas is hard. So many concepts have already made it to the big screen, ranging from basic love stories to complex sci-fi conspiracy theories. What can you think of that is completely unique?
The best way to move forward is simple: Live it up! The more interesting your life is, the more likely you’ll find cool stuff to write about. When you go out late at night, keep your eyes and ears open for stuff around you, do you see a group of loud women dressed in veils celebrating a bachelorette party? A lonely man on the street having a smoke and looking up to the moon?
Be curious and open to new experiences. Research what sparks your interests and gain the knowledge you need for a creative storyline. Everyone starts somewhere. It could be your neighborhood squabble, a fantasy about your pet cat being able to speak or that weird experience you had during your first date in high school.
Once you’ve found a general theme you want to explore, ask yourself a few questions:
1. Am I Passionate About This?
If you are going ahead with a screenplay revolving around a specific idea, you are committing to it. You are investing your time, money and energy into something that you must drive to the finish line and must take full responsibility for.
The first person you need to convince to carry this forward, is yourself. If you are even a little bit unsure and are not ready to handle the negativity that will inevitably come your way, maybe you need to find a different idea.
Just because the screenplay title page looks impressive to you- the name, the logline, doesn’t mean it works for you in the long run.
Think about what the story is, and why you should tell it. Are you the right person to do this? Is this relevant enough that you yourself believe it, and that others will give you the space to tell this story? A personal connection always helps when you’re choosing a topic- it will keep the motivation going when the going gets tough. This will add on to your unique voice, your aesthetic in the industry.
2. Who Is the Audience?
Being passionate about your idea is great, believing in yourself is even better. But in order to get by, you need to find out if there is even an audience for this film. Is this a topic that excites them, that isn’t already available in the market?
Think about who would choose to watch your film and analyze how you could market it. If you have an acquaintance who fits that demographic, pitch the idea to them and see what they think. You could also consult with members of your writers’ group or family to be your script readers. Consider doing some searches to see what has been done on this topic before, news articles, blogs, videos, etc. How are people responding?
3. Why Now?
Now that you’ve decided that you are passionate about this topic and you have a set audience in mind, think about where you are currently. Why should your story be told now?
Does it talk about a social issue or cause that will create awareness in the public? Is it relatable to the audience who is facing issues such as climate change, political instability, war, disease, rapid technological change?
Why does this story matter, really?
It can be a daunting question. But you need to know whether you have something to say, a unique voice, to add into the mix.
4. Who Is in The Film?
We all have our favorite lovable characters on the screen- Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, literally everything from Brooklyn nine-nine, Joey from FRIENDS, etc. etc. Having a connection with the characters helps us relate to the storyline and the problems the protagonists face.
When you design your character’s world and what the story is, think about who your characters are, what they represent and how they change over the course of the film.
Are they interesting? Do they affect the lives of the other characters?
It’s not just enough to have strong screenplay dialogue, your characters need to have some depth.
Developing your characters’ storylines helps in executing and developing a kick-ass storyline. You don’t need all the answers right now, you just need to know the basics of your characters and watch them change over time.
5. Can It Be a Film?
Film is a way of showcasing your art- a visual medium. It’s important to note that while some stories are more compelling through text in books or sound in podcasts, your story needs to be elevated in film.
Why would you audience want to see your film on a large screen? What will you add visually that requires a large screen viewing? 3D? special effects? The whole experience?
This can help in learning how to sell your screenplay- presenting it as a project and an experience rather than just a script.
If you are passionate about an idea that is relevant to you, your audience and to the world, has strong characters and a great visual appeal, you have got yourself a great idea.
This is a whole process and many ideas get thrown into the garbage, you may have to wait a while before you come across something mind-blowing.
But think about it: All it takes is one brilliant idea to change your career and get you on the map!