So you want to make a movie, but you don’t know how to write a screenplay. Don’t worry, it’s not always necessary. The screenplay format can be restrictive as much as it is freeing.
If you already have a concept for your film, with a finished script or not, you can submit your one-sentence pitch to our funding opportunities for a chance to get up to $10,000 and other prizes
To better understand why you may or may not need to obsess over screenplay format, let’s first go over the advantages and disadvantages of doing everything by the book.
First, Some Advantages and Disadvantages
The screenwriting format does have advantages. The screenplay font, Courier New, keeps everything looking neat and uniform. The screenplay title page is a long tradition in screenwriting and offers a clean looking introduction to your story.
Screenwriting software can help make writing your screenplay easier and there are plenty of free screenwriting software options. Looking at sample screenplays and screenplay examples can help inspire your ideas and creativity.
It’s not realistic to assume that you’ll write the Pulp Fiction screenplay on your first try but sometimes you don’t need a screenplay to make a great film.
Sometimes just a screenplay outline or a screenplay treatment is enough of an idea to get working on the production. A treatment is a summary of your story, your characters, their arcs, and which themes you want to address. This plus a tight shooting schedule can be all you need to make a great film.
Plenty of great films have been born without a pre-planned script. Including Sunset Boulevard, Jaws, and Ironman.
If you’re producing your own project, maybe you don’t have to write down your ideas into a screenplay software and type out the whole script. Especially, if it’s just you and small crew, trying to follow a script to the letter might hinder your project instead of helping it.
If you’ve worked with your cast and crew before and they trust your direction maybe taking a screenwriting course isn’t necessary for your project. It’s so great to have a crew and cast that you can trust and that has faith in you. This trust is crucial on set because it allows you to take more risks with the story and it allows your crew to feel like they are in good hands. Additionally, sometimes having a script on set can hinder experimentation and improvisation among actors.
Why It Might Not Matter
There are plenty of times when a screenplay format example is a good indicator of a good film but if your project is focused on improv, a screenplay is not going to help your project. Recently, comedians Ben Schwarz and Thomas Middleditch put out three improvised specials on Netflix. In this case, the director and producers of this special were not completing online screenwriting courses before this project, instead, they understood that by the nature of the project, a script is not necessary.
If your project is experimental, again, a fully formatted script might not matter. The most important aspect of experimental film is the idea or concept, once that has been established, production can begin and screenplay competitions or screenplay contests are not usually useful for such projects. Many times during experimental work, changing or adapted is necessary for the art being made. With a fully formatted screenplay, this is harder to achieve.
Working on Your Pitch for Funding
An important aspect of preproduction is securing funding. Sometimes you might think you need your fully formed script before you can start looking for funding but that’s not true. Sometimes you’re just looking to validate your pitch concept before embarking on a fully-fledged screenplay.
In the idea and pitching stage, you often don’t need to worry about screenplay formatting just yet. Just focus on the meat of your story, what it’s really about, and how you’ll produce it. Here at The Film Fund, we structure our funding opportunities around the one-sentence pitch. Head over to our contests webpage to check out the details, and submit your pitch.
Additionally, not all projects are narrative stories. If your shoot is mostly product shots and non-narrative agency shoots because you’re an ad agency screenplay format is not your concern. Agencies are not concerned with how to end a screenplay, or how to get a screenwriting agent.
Instead, they are focusing on how to sell products and reach audiences. Screenplay formatting does not lend itself to achieving these goals.
Lastly, if your project is a documentary it is hard to know what kind of footage you are going to capture before you begin shooting. With that in mind writing up a script in screenplay format beforehand is impractical. There are often not screenwriting competitions for documentaries for this reason. Documentaries are usually pieced together in editing as the director uses the footage to put together the story they want to tell.
There are several benefits to the screenplay format, and it has a time and a place with narrative stories but sometimes it doesn’t matter. If screenwriting is your route there are several places that take screenplay submissions and even more screenwriting fellowships out there.
But sometimes projects can be really liberated without a script. It’s important to know what kind of project you want to pursue and which filmmaking tools will be the most useful to you. Remember, there is no one set way to make a film.