POSTS Pre-production Screenwriting

The Tune-Up Pass: How To Fix Your Script

Before you show the script to anyone (except your partner), you must fix the following things. It’s obvious but I’ll say it anyway: your script is the first real contact investors, agents, distributors – anyone who you want to get to – will have with you. Just as you wouldn’t show up to a business meeting in your bathrobe, you don’t want your script to look unprofessional.

Check out the name. A good name can sometimes make the difference between a “meh” and a “hey that sounds cool” response. You need to consider three things: Does the name reflect the story? Is the name catchy, or is it too unpronounceable or abstract? And, is the name too common? Found In Time was originally titled Lost and Found, which was catchy and reflected the themes of the script. But there were at least eight or nine Lost and Found films on IMDb (Internet Movie Database), not to mention Land of the Lost, and a ton of other titles that sounded similar. You don’t want your film to be confused with another one. Just ask the genius who renamed John Carter of Mars to John Carter. Which one sticks in your mind more?

Grammar and spelling mistakes. I can’t tell you how many scripts I’ve read that had large numbers of typos and errors. Some of these scripts came directly from the writers’ agents (who should have been looking out for their clients better).

Breaks in format. Using the wrong font, margins that are too wide/narrow, line spacing, incorrect page numbering – again, I’ve seen it all. The format is there for a reason (which I’ll get into below), and straying from it will only cause you grief.

Inconsistent character names. This is a big one, and it’s very hard to keep track of while you’re writing. But if you introduce John Beck in one scene as JOHN, stick with JOHN throughout – no JOHNNIE, JON, JOHN BECK, or BECK.

Inconsistent location names. If it’s INT. JOHN’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM, don’t switch to INT. LIVING ROOM later on.

Dialog switches. This is a common mistake – you accidentally gave one character’s lines to another. I do this all the time, and then my mind mentally inserts the “correct” name when I’m reading the script.

Not introducing characters in ALL CAPS. This drives me crazy. When I’m breaking down a script, seeing ALL CAPS in the description signals the introduction of a new character. If I don’t see that, I start worrying that I missed the character in another scene.

Too-similar names. If you have a SAM and a SAMANTHA, you’d better change one of them (Sam becomes Jason). Likewise for place names or objects (your audience will get confused over the difference between an ORAY gun and a RAY gun).

Endless days. If your character has worked at the office, traveled six hours to another city, has another ten scenes, and the sun hasn’t set yet – you’ve written the 30-hour day. This happens all the time, and it’s something a lot of folks won’t even notice, but whoever’s doing your budget definitely will.

Location changes without scene breaks. This drives me absolutely crazy. If your characters are in EXT. COURTYARD, and they walk into the interior of the house, that’s the end of the scene. Don’t continue their conversation without putting an INT. HOUSE scene slug in place. Even if you shoot this as one scene later on, having proper scene breaks helps you figure out how many days you really need certain locations for, what kind of gear to bring along, etc.

Too many scene breaks. You may have a phone conversation or something that might really be a montage. In this case, using INTERCUT instead of starting a new scene with each line of dialog would make for a better read.

Excerpt from Preparing for Takeoff by Arthur Vincie © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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