Here at Script Gods I, your Humble Narrative, write every post with the firm understand that I don’t have all the answers. Want to invite disaster? Stand in front of a freshman class at Columbia College and pretend to have knowledge of something you don’t. Only takes one hand rising, and a voice behind it—“Ah, Mr. Peditto, that’s not actually true.”—credibility and class respect gone, blink of an eye. So, I never pretend to have all the answers. If I did, I’d be gone, lost on a southern Costa Rican beach right now.
All that is prologue to tell you that I’d like to give you at least a basic resource guide today, for the folks who are truly just getting started in screenwriting. You can Google most of these yourself, but I thought a few of my favorite resources compiled into one list might help.
So, starting at the top… you want to write a screenplay, yes? You’ll need software.
Let’s start with Final Draft.
Final Draft 9, by any analysis, is the industry standard. A great majority of professional writers use this program. There’s also an Ipad ap. Cost: $250. I won’t shill for Final Draft. I still use Final Draft 6 which allows me to read other FD 6 docs but not Final Draft 8 docs. Pure Microsoft strategy, you want to read FD 9, pay for the upgrade, to which I say f*&^ y)(! Fortunately everyone sends PDF’s now (when’s the last time you penetrated a hard copy with two “brads” and shipped it out? Despite the gouging, if you can afford it, use Final Draft.
Most Columbia College kids can’t afford it. The broke-ass industry standard is Celtx. It resembles Final Draft and is eminently functional. Aside from a few glitches (“orphans”—Character name with no dialogue) appear at the bottom of some pages, something Final Draft software doesn’t allow. Minor inconveniences for the $0 buck price.
Another good pay option software is from Movie Magic.
I’ve recently heard some good things about this program from Adobe.
I won’t pretend to have read the thousands of screenwriting books out there. Can I tell you…you do need to, either. Don’t mortgage the house on screenwriting books, it’s simply not necessary (this coming from a guy with a book out there and another–Surviving Outside Hollywood–in the works). Let me give you four books and two websites to put on your list. Start with the websites:
Simply Scripts and Drew’s Script-O-Rama both have their charms. I started on Drew’s. It’s fascinating to read five different versions of Alien 3, everything from a First Draft to a William Gibson draft to one by David Twohy. You can see the history and development of each project in living, breathing terms. Ever run A movie while scrolling through the screenplay? I know, totally geeky thing, but it’s an education. From First Draft to Shooting scripts, most of your favorite movies are on Drew’s.
Simply Scripts has a huge archive too. Tons of movies scripts plus a bunch of unproduced scripts. What’s astounding, though, is the section on OSCAR SCRIPTS. Click that link and you’ll find every Academy Award screenplay for the last decade. Also, a link for Oscar movies going back to—shit you not—1933’s It Happened One Night. Astounding, and free.
Want to get better as a screenwriter? Film school is optional. Reading screenplays is not. That’s mandatory dues in your journey to learn the craft of a writer. Read screenplays, ok?
Of the four books I’d recommend, the Hollywood Creative Directory is the one you want when the script is done and you’re sending out to L.A. production companies. Sure, you can hit up IMDBpro for a free trial account for some of this info, but I’d say this is a worthwhile investment if you’re going the Old School route. Research who is selling movies in your genre, get the contact list and target them with a cold query (you’ll probably want to send a cold query to the bottom person on the list, not the CEO). They also have a Screenwriting-centric book, as well as others sub-categorized.
Format guides are all over the internet, maybe you can glean enough from these for free. If not, I like the compilation found at The Screenwriter’s Bible, a nice compendium by Dave Trottier.
Blake Snyder passed away in 2009. He left behind him one of the most influential books in the business, Save The Cat. His mission has seen been picked up by others and is quite the growth industry, as you can see here.
Probably the greatest book on structure I’ve ever read, The 21st Century Screenplay makes Syd Field’s Screenplay look like a comic book. If you’re considering non-linear structure for your next movie, this book is unparalleled.
A list of influential screenwriting books can be found here. Who’s giving me odds? Two years or less, the book I’m scratching out now will be on this list.
Plenty of Writer’s Groups online, but not plenty of worthwhile ones. Never, ever put up non-copyright pages on a writer’s forum. If it’s any good, it’s as good as gone. These forums are anonymous, why would you trust people you don’t know with your words?
That said, for straight information, some of these links and message boards are excellent. Let’s start with the website you want to go to for all things screenwriting contest: http://www.moviebytes.com/index.cfm
Moviebytes.com has an excellent breakdown of the most influential screenwriting contests, the deadlines for those contests, and general message boards. And yeah, Fred Mensch who runs the site, had the smarts to put up a column by your oh so humble narrator.
Kevin Spacey is pretty fucking cool. He started Trigger Street long ago. God knows if he still has any involvement. This site has an excellent message board discussing industry trends, in addition to a very active labs area where you review people’s scripts, then upload yours for review. If your rating is high enough it will get posted to the site for “industry insiders” to check out. Other sites like Inktip and Blacklist promise similar services but I’m not shilling for them. Kevin Spacy, House Of Cards, rulz!
COPYRIGHT & REGISTRATION
Not being a lawyer I’m not going to pretend to tell you the difference between copyrighting your script and registering your script with the Writer’s Guild. A handy-dandy chart on the major differences can be found here:
I know plenty of writers who do both, copyright and register it. I know of no one who ever tried the famous Poor Man’s Copyright, where you mail a hardcopy of the script to yourself and the Postal mark on the package becomes your copyright. To save $35 bucks? Seriously, don’t even think about it. You just spent 3-6-9 months on this script, take the time to do it right. I’d copyright first. Then, if you want the extra protection, register it as well. The websites are here, and here.
Hope this helped.