The world is flooded with a marketplace of books and blogs promising you they have the formula to pen the the perfect screenplay. Everyone from Sidney Lumet to the guy who wrote “Blank Check” has written a book promising to get you ahead. And while I may not have the resumé to my name, I feel with these easy steps, you can quickly be well on your way to successfully hammering out the foundations for an attention-grabbing film that will sell!
1. Have a writing partner. Long-term, this is not the answer for everyone. But when you’re just starting out, having someone to bounce ideas off of in real-time reduces clutter and consolidates the stronger ideas. Find someone with similar interests, goals, and, ideally, a friendship compatibility. Writing a screenplay can be a long and grueling process, and you want someone you can share time with.
2. Plan. Plan. Plan. An outline is mandatory. This is a scene-by-scene breakdown that gives the most concise mapping of your story’s progression. Without it, it’s easy to find yourself running long or short once it comes time to punch up an actual script. Pay EXTRA attention to the second act, where most writers struggle with the meat of the story.
3. Set goals. An outline should be no more than a week or two of the process once you have a strong grasp on the process. Once you get into the bulk of the script, and have learned the basic formatting of a screenplay, you should be able to put out a couple strong pages in a single day.
4. Set a schedule. You and your writing partner need to be on the same page, and that means staying in the habit. If, say, he keeps calling you to say he has a doctor’s appointment, or is visiting his aunt in Palm Springs, he might be blowing you off. Don’t take this kind of shit.
5. Reconsider your writing partner. There can be a lot at stake with bringing a writing partner on board who helps develop early ideas. If you ever sell, they may want a stake in the proceeds, even if they leave the project early. So, if they’re not working equitably with you, make the move if you think it necessary to go out on your own.
6. Restructure. With your partner gone, you’ll need to make sure you have a secondary outline that doesn’t incorporate his original contributions. Leaving in his material, or his components of the story could leave you in a tenuous position should you sell. Fuck him, he was dead weight, anyway.
7. Reconcile with your writing partner. Look, no one’s perfect. Right? Just set some hard dates and make sure they’re agreed to. No harm, no foul. Just a few days lost here and there.
8. Stop losing days “here and there.” This shit needs to get done, okay? No, there’s technically no “deadline,” but you’re 28 years old for fuck’s sake, and 240 sq. ft. of living is a guaranteed pathway to long-term bachelorhood.
9. Once you have his attention, get to work. Sit down and focus this time. No, we’re not watching goddamn “Hot Fuzz” for “research” again, asshole. Okay, fine, but just the part at the end where they shoot up the whole town.
10. Marathon the entire series run of ‘Mad Men.’ You’re probably writing a feature, and it probably isn’t set in a 60s ad agency, but just convince yourself that you’re trying to get a strong grasp on “good writing,” and you’ll feel okay about it. Maybe even scribble like, 2 or 3 bullet points per season to feel better about yourself.
11. Review your work as you go. You want to be able to take stock of how your past material is fitting with your current material as you go. Don’t get bogged down too much in rewrites before you finish a draft, but you should at least…WHAT? What the fuck? We have 17 pages done in 6 months?!
12. Dedicate an entire weekend to the project. We’re gonna knock out, like, 25 pages this weekend, minimum. Maybe close out the 2nd act, okay? Just get here around 4pm on Friday after your shift, and we’ll bang this sucker out.
13. Get in a heated debate over an entirely trivial matter. You know that cashier in the 3rd act that’s in there for like a page, that you wanted to name after your ex because she’s such a goddamn whore? Don’t let Eric your writing partner rename her ‘Chelsea’ or some shit. That name had meaning, even if it was an inside joke.
14. Forcefully, but not angrily, make the case that that bitch Jessica still be named as such. There’s no need to be violent about it, so just put down the ceramic ‘Dwight’ bobblehead doll. When he walks out of the bathroom, don’t beat him over the fucking head wi…oh God. Oh, God that was satisfying. Chelsea!? What the fuck kind of name is Chelsea?
15. Oh Jesus. Oh, Jesus no. I just…I just hit him twice. It wasn’t even that hard, I swear. It was like, just a ‘thump.’ Eric? Eric, get the fuck up!
16. Okay, okay. He’s on the tile. Keep him off the carpet.
17. What did they do on that episode of Forensic Files? No, goddammit, not the one with the wife poisoning her husband with antifreeze. The fucking blood spatter one!
18. Bleach. And hefty bags. I know you usually buy the off-brand bleach and the shitty bags for your under-the-sink trash can, but this is not the time to skimp out on the minor costs, okay? $25 now, or 25-to-life later.
19. Hiding spot and an alibi. I don’t know where the hell you live, so you’re on your own. Me? Angeles National Forest. 1,024 square miles of wooded sprawl, just minutes away. Plenty of seclusion to dig for a few hours. Alibi? I’ve been banging out my screenplay since 7am down at my local coffee shop. Why do you ask, are you a fuckin’ cop or something?
20. Peace. Peace at last. And all of a sudden, I have the most ridiculous idea for a screenplay. Based on a true story, even. But leave that part out.