Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters
If an agent or prodco requests your script then be warned: in 99% of cases you're only going to have a very small window to impress them. Many agents and prodco readers admit they bin scripts within 2-5 pages if they're not impressed.
These are busy people - they don't have time to waste. Many have hundreds of scripts in their inboxes. They're going to pick the ones whose concepts or loglines they like, but those lucky screenwriters will only have a few pages to impress them. If you don't, your script will likely be jettisoned.
Yes it's harsh but honestly ask yourself: would you not do the same in their position - hundreds of scripts in your inbox, more arriving every day, and mounting pressing deadlines. Many would do the same as them, some (likely a minority) would do the right thing.
Unfortunately with many non-pro screenplays you can tell within the first page or two, even the first paragraph or two whether the writer has solid screenwriting ability. We have seen many a script with typos or poor grammar on the first page (even in the first paragraph) - never a good sign. Other early bad signs we see are a first page filled with verbose unimportant prose as if the writer is penning a novel.
If the reader has requested your script based on a recommendation, you'll likely have a lot more time to impress them. Hopefully they will even finish the script before rendering their judgement.
Pro screenwriters with established records, will have their scripts read from start to Fade Out.
For spec scripts received from non-pro writers, judgements will be rendered much quicker.
Is this fair? No. But it is the reality of the industry.
Write a great script.
Ensure it has a particularly outstanding first ten pages. If you can't for whatever reason then at least make them very engaging.
Having a lackluster and uninspiring first ten pages is a fundamental mistake that many novice screenwriters make. You might get away with it at the Nicholl (or Austin) if your overall script is brilliant because their readers have to read your entire script.
That's not the case with agency or prodco readers unless they have been engaged to provide coverage on your script. It's also not the case with the bulk of other screenwriting contests out there (The Nicholl and Austin being the rare gems) - too many contest readers are paid poorly and many will abandon scripts that don't impress them within the first 10 to 15 pages.
The above is even more important for action or Sci-Fi spec screenplays. Try to write so that within the first or second scene, the script GRABS the reader's attention - they can't help but turn the page, they're DESPERATE to find out what happens next.
The pros known this technique well: have a read of Olympus Has Fallen, Salt, I Am Robot, the Bourne or Matrix trilogies, Heat or any other great action or Sci-Fi script.
Here's a good example from Erin Brockovich by Susannah Grant, page two:
EXT. DR. JAFFE'S OFFICE / SO. CALIFORNIA SUBURB - MAIN DRAG - DAY
A side street. No pedestrians, just parked cars.
Erin is finishing a cigarette. Her face has fallen -- the enthusiasm and spirit she showed in the interview are now replaced by a desperate type of concern. She takes a final puff, puts the cigarette out and walks to her car.
A PARKING TICKET flaps under the wiper of an old Hyundai.
Even when she talks dirty, there's a heartland goodness to her voice. Like Kansas corn fields swaying in the breeze.
As she grabs the ticket from the windshield, her sunglasses accidentally CLATTER to the ground.
When she picks them up, a fingernail snags on the pavement.
God damn it.
She tends to the nail as she opens her car door and gets in.
WIDER ON THE STREET
The Hyundai starts it up, signals. Then, just as it pulls slowly out into the street, a JAGUAR barrels around the corner, accelerating out of the turn, and SLAMS into the side of Erin's car, sending it CAREENING into the median. It SMASHES into a foot-thick lightpost. And stops.
Due to production work we have suspended our coverage service for now.