Ted Hope recently posted an entry on his Truly Free Film blog regarding Ten Things to Do Before You Submit a Script.
It is a really good read (as are most of his blog posts)… but I think it was a more ‘artsy’ list. It contains things about character and story…. etc… Things that, at this point, if a writer feels the script is ready to submit then they probably aren’t going to shore up those leaks by keeping them in mind.
I wholeheartedly agree with the entire list. But I think these are things you need to consider when you finish a first draft, or last draft. Some are even things to consider before sitting down to start writing. They are, for the most part, more about you – the writer.
My list would be more about me – the reader. And I’m going to steal some of his thoughts…
- Cut at least another 10% out of the script. Even when you think you are finished, you can always another 10% that can come out. Don’t use Ted’s advice as an arbitrary thing. Think it through – if your script is 100 pages, 10% is 10 pages. Try and cut out ten pages. You may fall in love with your prose, but you need to distance yourself from it to an extent. Kill your babies!
- Format. If you’re serious about screenwriting, and if you’re sending me or anyone else your script you damn well better be – it should be in industry standard format. You can find older versions of Final Draft out there for cheap. Besides being extremely easy to use (bonus for the writer), it makes your script look like you at least know what you’re doing. So it won’t go to the bottom of the reading pile, or worse – right in the recycling bin. If you have one foot in the poor house, at the very least you need to set your font to Courier.
- Spelling/Grammar. This would probably be #1, but if you do not have the correct format you probably won’t get far enough for people to know you had poor spelling/grammar. RUN SPELL CHECK! Twice. Three times. The spell check on Final Draft isn’t very good, so copy and paste your script into Word, which has an excellent error correction program. You’ll be able to see all the errors that Final Draft did not pick up. Don’t copy and paste back, but just revise your Final Draft document based on this. Then, give your script to someone you trust to proofread it. Not for notes. For spelling/grammar mistakes.
- Make the world your characters inhabit truly authentic. I’m stealing this from Ted Hope, but I will be more specific. Use adjectives or specifics when dealing with places and people. Your characters shouldn’t live in a ‘Home’ in the sluglines, they should live in a ‘Dutch Colonial’. If you’re on a street – what kind of street? Deserted street? Main street? Highway? Boulevard? If you’re in a specific location, do your homework. What is the Main Street called? What is the exact name of the Highway you’re on? What is the cross streets your cops are going to bust the drug dealers? Give your smaller characters life. The waitress serving your hero eggs shouldn’t be ‘Waitress #1’, she should be ‘Frumpy Waitress’. These small details will make your script infinitely more interesting to read, and will most likely spill over into the rest of the script.
- Spacing. This applies more to the density of your prose than line spacing between sluglines (between one or two is up to you). A general rule that I like is – action/prose should be no longer than 4 lines long. If it is, challenge yourself to cut it. Or separate the action. Break it up. Maybe this way the reader will be able to follow it better.
- Your Cover – less is more. You want to be a professional, act like a professional. You do not need the copyright #, the WGA registration # and all of the info that you can possibly stuff on the cover. Keep it simple. The title, written by, the draft date and your contact info (phone and email). If it is copyrighted and registered with the WGA, great. What is putting it on your script going to do? Besides make you look like an amateur. Even if it is subconscious, it will get moved to the bottom of the stack.
- Convert to a PDF. Any computer should be able to do this. If not, there are a ton of free websites that can do it. And Final Draft makes this very easy. Do not send .fdr, .doc, .txt, .rtf – they are system/program specific, they look like crap and they can be manipulated by someone other than yourself. Only send a PDF. After you save the PDF, be sure to open it up and read through it. Make sure it is perfect (margins are all good, there isn’t a blank page at the back, etc…)
- Spend time on your logline. It should be short and sweet. Just like the script, less is more. If you just cannot crack it, go online for help. There are a ton of professional readers who also do freelance reading. Put an ad up in the ‘writing gigs’ section on craigslist. For a small price (I’d suggest $35) you can get them to do a logline and synopsis. For more they can even give you notes (some extra eyes on your script would be nice, but at the end of the day – just use them for the logline/synopsis). Then, do not be satisfied with the logline they send. Rework it until it is your own.
- Cut the script down! Yes, it is that important to list it twice. You are not an Oscar winner, yet. The person who is reading your script probably has to read at least 1 script a day. At least. It is more like 2 a day. Do the math.
- Do not be scared about people reading your script. This last one is less about the script, and more about you. The more people reading your script, the better your chances are. And if you are afraid of it being stolen, you are just looking like a paranoid amateur. I do not mean to be harsh or overly-critical, but I have had people email me their logline, it sounds interesting so I say I’ll read the script and then they want me to sign a release form and want to know more about me. First off, do your own homework. If you are contacting someone you know little about, look them up. If you can’t find anything and you are still leery – then do not send the script. I’m sure other producers/writers may have a differing opinion on this, but I think being realistic is always the best course of action. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying to not be leery about plagarism. But why on earth is an established producer going to steal your idea? Or a studio? It can pay you nothing (relatively speaking) and own it, why bother stealing it?