A key part of our philosophy, as we review your submissions.
Reading lots of industry scripts gives you the tools you need to improve your own screenwriting – that’s the value of screenreading. It’s been a key feature of our philosophy over our decades supporting writers to fulfil their industry potential, and is no less important now as the industry emerges from the WGA strike and its impacts on writers and producers. Here’s an Insights article that encapsulates our philosophy that reading high volumes of scripts is crucial to making it possible to either write or edit them successfully. We’ve lived these values for decades: see if you agree!
Read to Write: Screenwriting by Example
by Matt Rose, WriteMovies Analyst
Theoretically, almost anyone could spend 5-10 minutes with an “elements of a screenplay” diagram like the one at https://slugline.co/basics, and churn out 90 pages of something with a beginning, middle, and end. “I’ve seen plenty of movies, how hard could it be?”
Sure, that’s as good a start as any if you’re just dipping a toe in the writerly waters of the film and TV industry, and any page-generation is of course a feat to be proud of. Though, doesn’t it sound strange to attempt to make a movie without ever having seen a movie? So, think about attempting to write a screenplay without reading screenplays.
No matter how big a film buff you may be or how read-up you are on “How To” screenwriting articles, if you want to be a screenwriter, you first need to become a screenreader.
Screenwriter reader? … You get it. The point is, with every screenplay you read, good or bad, you’ll develop your taste for what works and what doesn’t work. Of course you can dissect story structure from watching produced films or series, though you’ll miss out on vital on-the-page aspects that got the script made to begin with.
If you’re new to script-reading, start with the scripts of your favorite films or by your screenwriting idols.
Read a script all the way through, then try some of the below exercises:
• As you read, try to picture a scene holistically, even beyond what’s on the page. Try to “watch” the movie in your imagination. How might the actors deliver these lines or perform these actions, and what about the written script made you think that? What did the description make you “see”: a close-up, a wide angle, shot/reverse-shot? How efficient is the scene set?
• Watch and read a scene simultaneously (or, more accurately, with quick starts and stops). How did it translate? How did the tone of the writing affect its execution? Were you surprised at what was or wasn’t specified on the page (costume, setting, décor)?
• Watch a scene and then try to write it yourself in screenplay format. Then, compare your version with the actual script. While you may have objectively written the “same scene” in that they cover the same plot points, in what subjective, stylistic ways do they differ? Were your action verbs different, and how might word choice impact execution/performances? Did you capture the script’s “attitude” towards its characters? In your opinion, what makes either their or your version more compelling on paper?
By reading with an active mind for what works and what doesn’t, you’ll begin to develop your “taste,” which will ultimately amalgamate into your own personal style, and eventually—along with your unique perspective and lived experience—your “voice” as a writer. Once you feel you have some sense of what makes a great script great, further narrow down your tastes by reading scripts for movies that failed, either in your personal or the general critical opinion. In developing taste, exclusions can be as important as inclusions. Consider what didn’t work, and how it could be improved.
Branch out from extremes into gray areas. Reading scripts for movies that make you unpassionately say, “Eh, not the worst, but could’ve been better,” is a useful tool in developing your inner constructive-critic. Also try to get your hands on unproduced scripts or amateur screenwriting with intriguing premises. With a grasp on what makes screenwriting pop or flop, think of what changes might’ve made for a better read.
Even a long-active writer benefits from getting outside of themselves and assessing someone else’s work. Think about the trope of the narrative foil: sometimes we’re not able to notice our own feats or shortcomings until we see their exaggeration or their opposite in another. Maintaining an active readership, you may be surprised to find that something you loved or hated in one script—from plot twist to dialogue to tone—unlocks a new way of looking at your own rewrite that’s had you stumped.
For all screenwriters, it’s important to start or continue reading scripts. There are many resources for finding full screenplays to read online, including:
• Script Slug – a vast, searchable database of screenplays
• Simply Scripts – a plethora of scripts with a toolbar of useful categories like “Unproduced Scripts” and “Oscar Scripts”
• TV Writing – mostly for US and UK television pilots
• Indie Film Hustle – compiled list of Oscar-contender screenplays for the 2022-2023 season
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