Who Are You Writing Your Screenplay For?

 

Hopefully your first answer is for yourself.  Because you have something to say.  You have a message, or a point of view you want to share.  Or you thought of something funny and a good joke needs to be shared.   But besides yourself, who are you writing for?  Are you writing for science fiction fans?  Mystery fans?  Fantasy fans?  Romance fans?  Young adults?  These are all popular genres with their own audiences.  I, myself am currently writing for science fiction fans, specifically the steampunk sub genere.

But the truth is, before your screenplay gets produced, it has to be bought by a studio or production company.   And before that happens, it is going to be read by a lot of people.  The first of which is a script reader.  A reader is a person who is either an employee of a production company, or is an independent contractor hired by the company to read through the onslaught of scripts that come into a studio every month.  I was a reader for a very short time while I was going to USC Cinema/Television.

Aside from have some kind if background in screenwriting, a reader could be anybody.  They may have an interest in you genere, they may not.  Probably not.  What they are is a person trying to make a living.  If they are an independent contractor, they are getting paid by the script.  They may walk in on Monday, be given ten scripts to read, and have to have their scripts coverages (synopses with critiques) in by Friday.  They are not someone who can buy your script.  They can only give the opinion of yes, no or maybe.  And a “Yes” will only get your screenplay to the next level where it will be scrutinized even closer.

This is who you are writing your script for.

And this is why there is a certain format you must follow in order to look professional and guidelines you must follow in order just to get your script read.  Professionalism is the first thing they look for.  If you just look like you’re not taking your art seriously, they won’t take you seriously.  You won’t even make it into the “To be read” pile.  For legal reasons, most studios won’t even look at an unsolicited  work  that doesn’t come through an agent.  So now you have to get through the agent’s readers before you can get to the studio’s readers.   You have to follow standard script format.  People in the business know what to expect from this format.  If you don’t follow the format, your work may be confusing.  The last thing you want to do is confuse your reader.  If they get lost, you story is history.  Fortunately, a program like Final Draft can take care of this for you.  It’s quick to learn and you probably won’t even use one tenth of the functions it has.

Even if you follow the right format, there are still other mistakes you can make.  For example, spelling and punctuation.  A misspelling or two won’t kill you.  But too many shows a lack of professionalism.  Length is another concern.  Reading a script is work.  And a really big script looks like a lot of work.  Given a choice, a reader will probably go for something thinner.  This is something I struggle with.  The rule of thumb is a page per minute.  Mine tend to go 140 or even 149.  This is where rewrites come in.

Flipping through the script, pages that are heavy in scene description also look like a lot of work.  Keep your scene descriptions short.   Describe only what is necessary.  Too much description also slows down the pace of the story.  Keep it moving.  This is the one big difference between writing a novel and a screenplay.  Say as much as you can in as few words.

If you can do all these things right, the one best thing you can do to get your story read is to have a compelling story.   You have to catch the reader no matter what particular genere they like.  Remember, a good story will transcend its target audience.