by Steph Greegor (@stephgreegor)
Well, congratulations! You’ve written a screenplay and you’ve started submitting it to competitions and agents, hoping for the big win or signing bonus.
But, wait… all you keep getting are “We pass” letters with little explanation, no explanation, or maybe no letter at all. Just the loudest silence you’ve ever heard with no reason why agents aren’t knocking down your door.
Assuming your story is the greatest story ever told, what’s the reason? As a script reader, I can’t give you the exact reason why, given that the film industry is one of the most subjective in the world. But I can tell you, you can improve your chances by cleaning up these technical errors I see over and over and over again by beginning screenwriters.
By making your screenplay an impressive technical document, as well as a beautifully told story, you’ll present yourself as a professional who knows how to be both creative and grammatically correct, starting with these four technical clean-ups.
1. Pay careful attention to grammar and punctuation.
Just because writing is a creative endeavor doesn’t give you a pass on grammar and punctuation in your screenplay, which is both a creative and technical document. I’m only going to tell you this once and I expect you to do it—USE SPELLCHECK. And then have someone proofread it for you. If you write “dam” when it should have been “damn” it will be noticed. Also, know the difference between “your” and “you’re,” as well as “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” No extra spaces. No random periods. And watch out for copy and paste errors.
2. Don’t tell the director what to do.
Do not write camera directions. There are rare exceptions, but they are very rare. No “wide angle” or “push in” or four paragraphs describing HOW the movie should be filmed. The director will make all those decisions in conjunction with the cinematographer. Your job is to SHOW the director what’s on screen — what the drama and subtext and action are — without using any of that filmmaking language. It’s an incredibly tough challenge at times, but it’s the job we signed up for.
3. Cut down those action sequences.
Action sequences should be limited to four lines max per paragraph. An entire page of action is too much. When a reader looks at your script, they will look at how much white space there is. If every page is a big block of black ink, you need to do some serious trimming.
Good luck and keep refining your technique so your beautiful story shines through!
Steph Greegor is an award-winning journalist and prize-winning screenwriter based in Columbus, OH. She was recently brought on as faculty to teach Intro to Screenwriting at the McConnell Arts Center in Columbus and is currently producing and directing her short film, OLSKY. You can learn more about Steph at her website, www.stephgreegor.com.