How To Write a Screenplay: Free Screenwriting Seminar in 10 Weeks (1)
Screenwriting is hard. But to become a filmmaker, you need to learn script writing to master storytelling. We'll give you free lessons.
Many people come to No Film School because they want to get information about cameras, gear, and screenwriting. We’re aware that the luxury of attending film school is not available to most of the world, so we do our best to keep you all up to date on what’s out there and how you can shoot and create with your utmost potential when filmmaking.
But what’s at the root of all filmmaking?
Storytelling and Screenwriting.
And before you can start telling the story on the screen, you need to tell it on the page. For that, you have to be (or to hire) a screenwriter.
So over the next ten weeks, I’m going to give a free screenwriting seminar. Yes, it's 100% free. The mission here is to make sure filmmakers all over the world have access to an online screenwriting course that's reliable, informative, and inspirational. You're going to learn ALL the fundamentals of screenwriting; we'll coach you through ten-page sprints, and answer your questions about how your story can move forward in the comments section below each week.
We’re going to release one lesson every Friday.
If we’re going to finish this screenplay, we should get started right away. If you have things to do, and want to find out what to do this week, scroll down to the TL;DR portion.
So let’s dive in!
Wait. I hear a question already. Is it...
Why Should I Listen To You about How To Write a Screenplay?
This is the internet. The first thing you’re going to do is Google “Jason Hellerman” and realize that I’m not an A-list screenwriter. Then you’ll probably find the only movie I have listed online, Shovel Buddies, and see that it’s only a 5/10 on IMDB.
If that makes you think these posts are worthless, then I encourage you to go out there and seek out any of the extremely expensive screenwriting seminars. I hear they’re fun.
I’m not going to sell you a book. I’m not going to ask you to pay for this service.
And I’m not going to pretend I’m some genius or guru.
What I am is a D-list working writer in Hollywood. I had a script on the Black List. I’ve sold pitches and even a treatment. I do comedy punch-ups, dialogue passes, give professional notes, and I even handle a ton of commercials and some live television.
I have my Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from Boston University. So I’m certified to teach and have taught some courses, on the collegiate level.
This blog is about to save you 50k a year. You’re welcome.
Trust me; I have student loans, they’re crushing.
Here’s the real deal: I’m not going to bullshit you.
I’m going to tell you my experience, occasionally reference people much further ahead than myself, and if I don’t know the answer to your question I’m going to direct you to someone that does, or just Google it until I think I do have the answer.
Oh...and while you’re all taking the next ten weeks to write a script.
I’m gonna do that too.
We’ll be in the trenches together.
I can’t wait to read the comments: nasty ones and all.
So stop stalling, and let’s get writing.
How to Write A Screenplay in 10 weeks...
I just brewed a pot of coffee and ate a cheese danish. I’m sitting in my favorite chair. I have a scented candle lit; clean laundry. Are you ready to go?
No so fast.
Before you start writing, I hope you’ve consulted our Eight Best Screenwriting Software post and have an adequate way to get your ideas onto the page. To be a screenwriter, you need to master the screenplay format. Check out this No Film School article on screenplay formatting to master how different screenplay elements should look on the page.
If you picked screenwriting software with an outlining or treatment feature, you’re in luck. Because before we dive into our pages, I want to talk about prewriting.
Online Screenwriting Course Lesson 1: Prewriting
In general, prewriting is all the work you do before you sit down to write your screenplay. It can be outlines, treatments, notecards, or even drawings.
Look, we all love to procrastinate. There’s an essential fear when it comes to staring at the blank page. I have it. You have it.
So before we dive into all that, I want to prewrite. Your prewriting will become part of your process, so you want to tailor it to what works best for you.
Here’s what works best for me:
First things first. I have to write a logline.
Online Screenwriting Course Lesson 2: Loglines
A logline is a one to two sentence summary of a film or tv show. It should wholly encapsulate the main drive of the plot, and also include the tone if possible.
We've covered learning how to write a logline before.
In an unprecedented move, here’s the logline of the screenplay I’ll be writing along with you guys. It’s an original idea. Please don’t steal it.
The Left Outs: After their high school bully decides to run for Senate, a group of people perennially left out of parties form a friendship and vow to get revenge on their tormentor.
The logline needs to be evocative of the tone. Hopefully, you can tell this one is a comedy. So how is your logline helping you?
After I’m done the logline, I explore the idea in a treatment.
Online Screenwriting Course Lesson 3: Writing a Screenplay Treatment
We have an entire article on how to write a screenplay treatment so that I won’t belabor the point here. But a huge part of my process is writing a treatment, and I suggest you do it too.
While I don’t want to post the treatment for The Left Outs, I’ll tell you that it’s 15 pages, single-spaced, and I used the screenplay treatment template available in the article I linked.
I don’t like to sit and write without knowing where I’m going. A treatment eases that stress and allows me to fix story beats or add nuance on the screenplay page, without thinking too hard about what needs to happen next in the story.
If you’re having trouble finding the beats in your screenplay, try using our Story Map.
Unraveling The Map - Do you have an opening scene that defines the movie?
The Launch Point - Where are we, and who are we with?
The First Leg - What’s a normal day look like in this world?
Change Course - What sets our characters off on their journey from normalcy?
The Foot of the Mountain - Okay, we’re going on this journey together
Climbing The Side - It starts hard, but you get used to the problems as you go
Through The Cave - Do you have a B story? Set that story off on its own now too.
Reassess the Problem - You’re at the middle. Is there another way to get it done?
Try and Fail - Things begin to fall apart; can they handle it?
The Fall - The worst thing happens, something so bad you don’t think you can get up.
The Hidden Clue - What do your characters discover about themselves/the problem that they never saw before?
Race To the Finish - They’re up and running no matter what.
The Treasure Chest - Did they get what they came for?
Where We Go From Here - Show us the world in a new light, hint what’s next.
Once you have your logline and treatment, it’s time to open that software and get to writing.
Free Screenwriting Seminar Page Goals: 1-10.
Sitting down and writing a feature-length screenplay can seem like a daunting task, but if you take it in increments, it can seem a lot easier.
I like to print out my treatment and have it next to my laptop.
Okay. We’re here.
So what do people expect from pages 1-10 in a screenplay?
Let’s be real; we learned from an Acquisitions Executive that most people know if they like a screenplay within the first few pages. So you have to nail these.
Generally, you want to introduce your characters, their central conflicts and show us the world.
If you look at movies like Se7en, the opening of the movie sets up the cops. We learn who they are, their dispositions, and we even get some case details.
Same thing with Superbad. We get the guys, their friendship, the tone, and the fact that they won’t be together in college next year.
How about we check a drama out?
The opening of No Country For Old Men starts with a question. Who is this man out in the back of a police car? What did he do? And what’s that air tank?
You want your opening pages to grip the reader. Get them emotionally involved, laughing, or just absorb them in the world. If you can execute that, you’ll be able to carry them along for the rest of the script.
I try to make my opening scene emblematic of the entire story.
One adage I like to employ is “arrive late, leave early.”
I don’t need to see these characters when they wake up; I like all my opening scenes to start on some sort of conflict that can show who these characters are, and where we will go with them on their journey.
If you open on conflict, you already have the reader engaged.
After you’re done with the opening scene, I try to use the rest of the opening ten pages to establish the world.
This works on a Lord of the Rings level, but it also works on a Stand By Me level. When I’m talking about the world, I don’t mean a land far, far, away.
I just want to set up what can happen here.
In Lord of the Rings we know there’s magic, and in Stand By Me, we know we’re in the real world. Comedies can have some elbow room.
Home Alone is in the real world, but given Kevin’s antics, we know this is a heightened sense of reality.
Just like Up! Asks you to believe that a house could fly. It plants that possibility in the first ten pages by showing us how those kids live their lives. Be it balloons that travel through windows, or just a house surrounded by skyscrapers.
Use your first ten pages to tell people about the world, characters, and tone.
This is your foundation. The whole story needs to build from here.
Summing Up Week One of our Free Screenwriting Seminar on How to Write a Screenplay
Writing is blue-collar manual labor. It’s digging a hole. It’s like blasting rock. Over the next ten weeks, you’re going to write and rewrite your idea. You’re going to bang your head on the desk, wall, shower door, and pretty much any hard surface in your home.
You’re going to curse. Curse me. Curse the page. Curse Hollywood.
It will hurt. It will drive you nuts.
So if you don’t love it, don’t do it.
I’m a writer not because there’s nothing else I could do; I’m a writer because this is the only thing I want to do. And for now, that pays the bills. Maybe it doesn’t pay yours, but if you love it (and you have a roof over your head), you should do it too!
I’m here for all the complaints, the frustrations, and to brainstorm.
So get to work on pages 1-10. Next week we will tackle 11-20, and go over some ways to rewrite as you continue also to push forward.
As always, leave a comment if you want to chat.
TL;DR of this Free Screenwriting Seminar: Wk. 1
Week One Screenwriting Goals:
Week One Music Listen to While Screenwriting: