Don't Follow 'Out of Sight' Screenwriter Scott Frank's Rules. They're Not For You.

As aspiring screenwriters, we tend to look for tips, tricks, or shortcuts to improve our screenwriting, but inevitably we have to do the hard work of writing the story. Moreover, we want our unique voices to pop off the page, engaging and surprising our readers, and someone else's rules for screenwriting (beyond the basics of story structure and screenplay format) may mute our unique voices. So, with this in mind, screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Lookout) shared his rules for screenwriting during his recent BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture. Note: these rules only pertain to Scott Frank, not to you.

You can listen Scott Frank's BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture below (or read a transcript):

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If you listen to Frank's BAFTA lecture, you will quickly learn that he has nothing to teach you about screenwriting - at least, he doesn't think he does. Remember, these are Scott Frank's rules, not your rules. These rules may not apply to you. In fact, these rules most likely don't apply to you, so don't apply them. Instead, perhaps these rules will shed some light on what your own rules for screenwriting are.

Now, without further ado, Scott Frank's rules for screenwriting courtesy of the BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture series (again, they don't pertain to you):

1. "It's OK to write something for the money, it's OK to write something just because you want to."

Frank explains that his favorite screenplay of all that he has written is Out of Sight. He also originally took the job to write Out of Sight so his three children who were all sharing one bedroom could move into a bigger house. He had no idea that the process of writing that screenplay for hire would be the best screenwriting journey of his career.

On the flip side, writers should write the stories that they want to tell without worrying so much about the market's preconceived notions. Frank expands on this idea:

The writing process is hard enough without the added burden of having to locate your movie ahead of time in some arbitrary historical context. So please go ahead and write your robot movie; or the superhero movie. Or whatever movie you want to. Just don't write it because you think I or anyone else is waiting for you to do it.

2. "Never begin a screenplay with set design."

Frank summarizes this rule the best when he remarks, "I want story! I want to get hooked! Or, at the very least, interested. And no one has ever hooked me with a description of furniture."

3. "Invariably, the second draft will be worse than the first draft."

See, this is why these rules aren't for you, they are for Scott Frank. Your second draft may be infinitely better than your first draft - especially if your first draft was a pile of pages (you thought I was gonna say something scatological, didn't you and your filthy mind?). For Frank, however, this is never the case because he is always try to please everyone who has given him notes and cram all of those notes into the second draft. When that second draft obviously doesn't work, he creates his draft.

For me, one of the most important yet most difficult parts of the writing process is receiving and interpreting notes on my screenplays. Some notes are good, some notes are bad, and some notes simply make no sense. As writers, it is our job to determine which notes to incorporate into the next draft of the screenplay and how to make the screenplay better as a result. It certainly doesn't always happen this way, but that's still our job. Or it would be our job if we got paid for it.

4. "Whenever possible, be the dumbest guy in the room."

I'll let Scott Frank own this one entirely. Listen to the lecture for his reasoning, though. Then you can decide if you were in a room alone with Scott Frank whether or not you could outdumb him.

5. "The process is everything."

Frank explains in his lecture that working with people who challenge our writing in good ways makes the process better, and a better process leads to a better screenplay. As aspiring screenwriters, I think one of our difficulties can be finding people who understand telling stories in the form of a screenplay who can challenge our writing in good ways. If you find one of those people, consider yourself lucky and invest in that relationship.

6. "Always be reading something."

This sounds obvious, but Frank doesn't mean reading screenplays. He means reading stories -- any stories -- that excite and motivate you. We all want to get better at storytelling via words on the page. Sure, screenwriting is a unique, economical style of writing, but reading good stories outside of the screenplay format will certainly inform and enlighten a screenwriter who is open to discovering new ways to engage the audience on the page.

Now we know you aren't going to apply these rules to your own screenwriting, so why not share some of your own rules for screenwriting in the Comments. Nobody will use them. Just you.

Link: BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture - Scott Frank

Your Comment


The conceptual tone of this article was dumb and awkward "We know you arn't gonna apply them" Why not? How do you know? Some of his stuff is fairly non traditional but is common enough expressions that one doesn't need disclaimers. 1, 2 and 6 are fairly common things most would agree with.

Here are my rules

1. Start with notes, let your minds eye vision and fragments of the perfect story
already existing in your mind to slowly unravel into a structure

2. Don't skip the treatment stage-Know your story

3. Have your story down to well you can perform your script

4. Make the final draft that knockout performance that receives a standing ovation

November 15, 2012 at 10:24AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The tone was evidently a tongue-in-cheek joke that relates to the tone of the lecture... Thanks for the post, worth listening to the whole podcast for the context.

November 18, 2012 at 8:41PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Thanks for the post guys! Glad that people are finding these lectures useful.

If you liked Scott's screenwriting lecture check out the other ones from this year's series: Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential), Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) - they're all free on iTunes and on BAFTA's SoundCloud page. Feedback very welcome, of course :)

Thanks - John from BAFTA, London

November 15, 2012 at 10:35AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Thanks to BAFTA, John, for posting these Screenwriting Lectures for the rest of us to hear. Most appreciated.

For those of you looking for the rest of the current BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture series at iTunes or on BAFTA's SoundCloud page that John mentions, here are the links:


November 15, 2012 at 12:18PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Christopher Boone

I don't get it

November 15, 2012 at 2:09PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Not for nothing, I thought that the article did what I believe it was suppose to do. MAKE YOU THINK. By the comments, I can see that it did fulfill it's mission. Lets face it, writing is creating and there is a certain joy to creating and we should all splurge and revel in it.

December 27, 2012 at 5:26AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Rick G