Chapter 3 Pitching Your Story
To make a film, you first have to find an interesting screenplay. This is a professionally formatted script that conforms to industry guidelines. Or at the very least, a compelling story idea. You may be wondering where screenplays are sourced. Well, they can come from anywhere. You can either put out a request for screenplays in the industry or write your own. There are many interesting articles that you can find in the newspaper or online. You also have funny stories in magazines and fascinating biographies that could be used to create screenplays.
This chapter will teach you how to structure your screenplay and create characters your audience will love. It is also easy to obtain stories and the rights to published books if this is the path you choose. You will also learn how to pitch your story ideas and get them to potential investors or studio executives in order to have your story turned into a fascinating film.
3.1 Finding the Perfect Screenplay
It’s not difficult to find a screenplay, but it is hard to find a good one. You will find talented writers with great scripts that are just waiting to be turned into great films if you take the time to look. You can also adapt a story from a book to make it a screenplay.
A realistic story is one that you can shoot for your first movie as a beginner filmmaker. Avoid choosing material that is too ambitious. Avoid special effects. They will make your story more expensive and distract the viewer from the characters and locations.
Do you have an idea for a TV series or movie, but you don’t know how to make it happen? You can hire a screenwriter! Here are some points to consider.
3.1.1 Arrange all your information
Be sure to organize your thoughts before you begin looking for potential screenwriters. You must decide how much control and influence you wish to exercise over the story and its characters. When working with a writer, be clear about your expectations. You may have an idea for a story but need someone to write it. Make sure you communicate your ideas clearly.
You might find it helpful to record everything you think of in a brief document, such as a synopsis or treatment. Before you start writing one, make sure to check out our guide on how to create a film treatment below.
It is also a good time to settle on a theme, tone, and genre. This will help the screenwriter to get started. It is also a good time to decide on the level of violence, swearing, and other potentially censorable content you wish to include in your screenplay.
StudioBinder’s screenwriting program is available for you to try your hand at creating a screenplay (https://www.studiobinder.com). It doesn’t need to be difficult, and it is free to start.
3.1.2 Find screenwriters
You can hire a screenwriter in two ways: either you can search for screenwriters yourself or let them find you.
You can start by checking your connections and looking into the local film industry. If you’re in an area that is a major production hub like Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, etc, there are likely to be a few screenwriters there. To meet new creatives, you can attend mixers and networking events.
Screenwriters can be contacted via social media or film websites such as Stage 32 (https://www.stage32.com). They may indicate that they are looking for writing gigs.
You can also post a job and allow writers to approach you. This is the preferred method. There are many places where you can advertise a screenwriting job. You can start with the following film production websites:
- The ISA (International Screenwriting Organization), a growing community of screenwriters worldwide working to propel their careers through access to comprehensive screenwriting https://www.networkisa.org.
- The Mandy Network, a platform for the cast, crew, and creative professionals https://www.mandy.com/.
- ProductionHUB is a global network of local crew and vendors that serves the film and video production industry https://www.productionhub.com.
You can also explore freelancing sites like
- Freelancer (https://www.freelancer.com),
- Upwork (https://www.upwork.com), or
- Fiverr (https://www.fiverr.com). While there are many talented screenwriters on these platforms, not all applicants will be worthy of their time. So make sure you vet each applicant.
What should you include in your job description?
The job posting should outline the film format (feature, TV, or short), and include the genre as well as some information about the basic premise. If you have a logline, it is a great idea to add one. Take a look at our tips below on how to write the perfect logline.
Include your budget range and specific pay for the final product in your listing. Your pay should be comparable to typical screenwriter salaries.
Be sure to mention a deadline for the script in your posting. It is helpful to include any credentials you may have as a producer or director.
Do not offer deferred payment only. Some screenwriting jobs offer no upfront payment but envisage deferred payment once the script has been sold or the film starts making money. Your screenwriter’s work is important and you should compensate them as soon as possible.
3.1.3 Evaluate the applicants and select a shortlist for interview
Screenwriters are often asked for their resumes and/or past writing experience when applying to write for your project. It is also standard for them to include a simple cover letter that introduces themself and their writing style or working preferences/availability.
If possible, you can ask potential writers for links to their IMDb profiles and clips of their writing.
A writing sample is the best way to determine if a writer will be a good fit for your project. You can either specify the length or genre of the sample that you want or leave it up to your writer. They normally provide two or three writing samples on request.
Now you should be ready to make a shortlist of those applicants who seem to be the right fit for your film.
3.1.4 Interview your candidates
Interview your top candidates. It can be done by phone, Teams, Zoom, Skype, text, or email. Here are some tips to interview writers.
You and the writer must be on the same page. Make sure expectations are clearly set. At this stage, it is crucial that both you and your writer have the same story idea. It is important to communicate clearly and discuss all the important information about the creative process.
If you feel that the interview went well and the writer is a good fit for the project, then you can hire the candidate.
3.1.5. Finish the gameplan
It is more important to have a written contract than a verbal one when you hire a writer. This is not only for your benefit but also for the writer. It is common for screenwriters to sign an NDA if they are concerned about the story details being leaked beyond this relationship.
Before you assign the writer to complete their task, you have to establish a timeline and set deadlines. Also include check-in dates. These check-ins can be scheduled based on time, or at specific page count milestones.
To make sure your writer is working as you expect, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the progress and check the first 10-20 pages. It’s easier to make stylistic changes earlier in the writing process than it is later. StudioBinder’s file-sharing software allows you and your writer to securely and conveniently share files with each other when it is time for periodic check-ins.
Screenwriting services are often paid on a milestone basis, similar to script check-ins. Discuss with the writer how to best handle payments. It is common to transfer a portion of an agreed-upon payment at specific page counts.
Here’s an example of a payment schedule:
First Payment Milestone – Finished Script Treatment (a 10- to 20-page outline for the screenplay),
Second Payment Milestone – First 50 pages,
Third Payment Milestone – First 100 pages,
Fourth Payment Milestone – The first draft completed,
Fifth Payment Milestone – The Final Draft Completed.
Now that you have all the information and documentation, it is time to send your screenwriter off to do his job. Hopefully, they will return with the writing you love.
3.2 Writing Your Own Screenplay
You don’t have to look for the perfect screenplay. Why not write your own?
Sure you can communicate with people verbally and can relate stories and incidents to others. If you are able to do this, you can try to put your thoughts on paper. Are you able to collaborate with friends on a script? Perhaps they are good at dialogue and you are good at description and ideas.
To get script ideas, start by looking through newspapers and the Internet. Or think about topics that are of interest to you that you would like to see on the big screen. You want to keep the reader reading the story because they are eager to find out what happens next.
Be familiar with the basic elements of a good screenplay structure before you begin writing. Also, decide whether you are ready to tackle a full-length screenplay. Or if you prefer to do a shorter treatment. (See Chapter 2 for more information on media categories). No matter how long your screenplay is, the same story principles apply to structuring your screenplay.
Note: A spec script (or a speculative screenplay) is one that has been written by a writer without being requested to be produced. It is usually a story that the writer is passionate about.
3.2.1 What is a script?
You might be curious about what a script is if this is your first attempt at creating film magic. It can be your own story. It can also be based upon a true story or an article written by someone else, such as a novel, theatre production or newspaper article.
The film script outlines all parts (audio, visual, behavior, and dialogue) that are required to tell a story visually, whether it’s on-screen or in a film. The process is usually collaborative and involves countless revisions and rewrites. It also requires the cooperation of directors, producers, and actors. It will usually start with the hard work of one person, in this instance you.
Budding scriptwriters must include both the audio and visual parts of a story because TV and films are audiovisual mediums. Your job is to convert sounds and pictures into words. You must show the audience what is happening, not just tell them. This will ensure that your film is a success and you can take it to Hollywood.
3.2.2 Review some scripts
Reading great scripts is the first step in screenwriting. Read as many as possible. Reading scripts in the same genre as your script is a good idea. This will help you to get an understanding of the subject. You can search for “10 best drama scripts” and start your drama writing from there. Many scripts can be found online for free.
3.2.3 Check out some scriptwriting books
You can also benefit from books on the art of writing scripts. There are many books out there. We’ve listed some to help you get started.
3.2.4 Watch and analyze your favorite films
Rewatching your favorite movies and figuring out why they appeal to you is a quick way to get into the scriptwriting zone. Note down the reasons you like certain scenes or bits of dialogue. Analyze why you are drawn to certain characters. If you’ve run out of ideas on films to watch, just search for the ‘best drama films of all time’ lists and start watching them.
3.2.5 Write your script logline (a brief summary)
After watching so many cinematic masterpieces, you’re probably pretty excited about writing the script. However, you have a bit more work before you can dive into writing the script.
You must first write a ‘logline’. It has nothing to do with the trees. It’s instead a brief summary of your story, usually, one sentence, that describes your protagonist (your hero, main character), his/her goal, your antagonist (the villain), and their rivalry. The logline should outline the main idea and general theme of your story. This is your chance to explain what the story is about, in what style, and what feeling it creates for viewers.
Producers will look at the logline and decide if they want to see the entire script.
3.2.6 Write a treatment (a.k.a. longer summary)
Now it’s time for you to start writing your treatment. This is a longer summary, which includes the title of your script, your logline, a list of your main characters, as well as a brief synopsis. It is useful to have a treatment to show producers. They might use it to decide if they are willing to spend time reading the entire script. Your contact information and name should be included in your treatment.
The synopsis should provide a clear picture of the story and include important events and plot twists. It has to introduce the characters and convey the overall mood of the story. Everyone who reads it (hopefully a producer) should feel enough to be able to identify with the characters and desire to see what happens.
This stage is where you can look at the entire story and see how it will read when it is finished. There will be parts that work and parts that need some improvement.
3.27 Evolve your characters
What is the main question of your story? What is the story about? Character evolution is about taking your characters on a journey of transformation so they can answer the main question. When you are starting to flesh out your characters, it might be helpful to use a character profile worksheet (available online for free). Whatever your characters may be, it doesn’t matter who they are. What matters is that your audience wants them to get to know and empathize with them.
3.2.8 Write a plot
You should now have a clear understanding of the story. Next, you need to break down the story into smaller pieces and incite incidents. This is what some call a “beat sheet”. This can be done in many different ways. Some people use digital tools like Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/document), Notion (https://www.notion.so), or Trello (https://trello.com).
It is important to divide your plot into scenes and then bulk out each scene by adding details such as story beats (events or characters that occur).
Although it is tempting to jump right into the writing of the script, it is a good idea to spend some time drawing out the plot first. You’ll save time later by adding more details. Remember that tension drives story development – build it and then release it. To triumph over conflict, your hero will go through a transformation.
3.2.9 Learn the script basics
It’s important to understand the basics before you begin writing the first draft of your script. Your script should be a document that is printed in Courier 12 pt font, on white three-hole-punched paper of 8.5″x11″ in size and 90-120 pages long. The whole document should be single-spaced.
Font lovers might be hesitant to use Courier instead of their favorite Futura or Comic Sans. It’s not an option. Courier’s popularity in the film industry is not just stylistic, but also functional. A 12 pt Courier script page is approximately one minute of film.
This is why an average screenplay should have between 90-120 pages. However, it is worth noting that the page count can vary a lot by genre. Comedy is usually shorter at 90 pages or 1.5 hours, while dramas are longer at 120 pages or 2 hours.
3.2.10 Follow the industry standards
It’s important to be able to correctly set up your script. It should have 1″ margins at the top, bottom, and right. 1.5 inches is the left margin. This allows you to bind your script using brads and still gives the page a balanced feel in terms of how much text it contains.
The words “FADE IN” should be the first item on your first page.
The first page is not numbered.
Other page numbers are located in the upper right corner, 0.5 inches from the top of each page, flush with the margin.
However, you don’t need to be familiar with the industry standard for margins and indents when using script formatting programs.
One of the most popular software provided by StudioBinder.com will help you properly format your script. Because it is cloud-based, you will be able to access your work from anywhere in the world.