What’s the difference between an outline and a treatment?
In order to
sell your story you will need to be able to deliver it in a number of
formats. No executive will read your script without being given an indication
of what it is about. They are likely to be on a tight time schedule so
you need to be able to intrigue them in as short a time as possible. These
are the different formats a writer will use to present their story.
A PREMISE is
an idea for a story; the set-up or situation, with little or no story
implied, such as “A man is the star of a TV show but doesn’t
know it”. Rarely written down to be presented, a premise is more
likely to be part of your ’30 second elevator pitch’ during
a chance meeting with a top film executive. The aim is to give them just
enough to engage their imagination but leave them wanting more. If you
manage this you are half way to selling your script.
LOGLINE is slightly fuller. Written in one or two lines, it should
convey the central situation, usually the main character, a sense of tone,
and an idea of where the story leads. An example might be “Burbank
Truman doesn't realize that his quaint hometown is a giant studio set
run by a TV producer, that folks living there are Hollywood actors, that
even his wife is a contract player. Gradually, Truman gets wise.”
is a one page summation your story. Most producers will expect this to
be attached to your script when you send it in to them. A
STORY OUTLINE is sometimes used interchangeably with synopsis but,
in fact, they're almost always a bit longer, about 2-3 pages, with more
detail, more emphasis on character, tone, and theme, and not solely plot-driven.
Go to our resources page and download an example of an outline. Read more
on writing outlines at: http://cgi.writersguild.force9.co.uk/Film/index.php?ArtID=39
is usually 7-10 pages and is the document you will often have to submit
to funding bodies such as The UK Film Council. It contains a full exploration
of a story covering character, plot, setting and theme and may contain
character descriptions, a synopsis, or statements on theme and tone. A
treatment should clarify the intent of the writer and attempt to convey
the movie going experience through to the story's end. The main benefit
of a treatment is to allow you to skip a draft and fix story problems
without having to execute them in detailed screenplay form. Read more
on writing treatments at: http://cgi.writersguild.force9.co.uk/Film/index.php?ArtID=40
Do I need an agent?
Getting an agent is a big step on the ladder to becoming a professional
writer. Many film executives do not read unsolicited scripts and some
competitions (such as the UK Film Council’s 25 Words or Less) only
accept work from writers with agents. However, an agent can never be as
proactive at selling your script as you since most have to divide their
time between a number of writers and they will take up to 15%
of your writers’ fee.
Many new writers
become anxious about the need to get an agent, believing incorrectly that
if they get an agent their work problems will be over. In reality, it
tends to work the other way around - get a deal first then getting an
agent will be easy.
find an agent, get hold of The Writers’ and
Artists’ Yearbook or contact the Writers’
Guild of Great Britain. Alternatively, if you would like to be
represented by The London Script Consultancy’s agency Shotgun, send
a sample of your work with a covering email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. How much
do writers earn?
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has negotiated minimum
rates for screenwriters. The last Writers’ Guild agreement stipulates
that for films with a budget over £2m, the fee should amount to
a minimum of £23,200, going up to
£31,200 once the advance on TV and
video rights has been paid. For production budgets between £750,000
and £2m, the minimum fee is £14,000,
going up to £19,000 with the advance
payment on TV and video. The Writers’ Guild is currently in the
process of renegotiating this agreement and expect these figures to increase
by 35%. For more information go to www.writersguild.org.uk.
Of course, successful feature film writers usually get much more than
this. Figures on www.scriptsales.com indicate
that writers who sell scripts in Hollywood receive six-figure fees. The
highest fee paid for a commissioned script was
$2 million paid by Carolco Pictures to Oscar winning Rain Man scriptwriter
Ronald Bass for an adaptation of T.M. Wright's supernatural thriller Manhattan
Ghost Story in 1990.
Q. How long
should a film be?
Short films tend to fall into two brackets – ones of around
2-3 minutes in length and ones of around
10 minutes. Some film makers produce shorts
longer than this, but the vast majority of funding panels, festivals,
and broadcasters are unwilling to take films over 10 minutes. Make sure
that the length is appropriate for the end platform.
Feature films tend to be around 100-120
minutes in length, comedies are shorter than dramas and UK scripts
are often shorter than US ones. Assuming correct formatting has been used,
each page of your screenplay should be equivalent to an average of one
minute screen time.
Q. What is
the correct format for screenplays?
It is essential that you format your screenplay according to
the industry standard otherwise producers will not take you seriously.
The most important rules are that it must be written in 12
point courier typeface, A4 paper with approx. 1 1/2" margins,
text justified from the left with specific tabs for the different elements
and appropriate line spacing. For a detailed explanation go to are Downloads
The best way to ensure your screenplay adheres to the proper format is
to use software such as Final Draft or Screenwriter
2000. These can cost up to £200 but a free equivalent called
Script Smart for use in MS Word is available
from the BBC website at www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart.
Q. How do
I protect my work?
Copyright is the subject of ongoing debate. Do not be too concerned
about people stealing your work; any producer is more likely to get you
to write it or at least pay you for the idea rather than risk an expensive
and embarrassing law suit. Better to risk theft than prevent yourself
from developing your ideas, which you can only do through interaction
with the industry.
It is very hard to copyright
an idea but you can copyright a formulation of words, it is not possible
to copyright titles, but they can be trademarked. The advantages to registration
with the Patent Office – www.patent.gov.uk/copy/
- are that it establishes a public record, and in an infringement
lawsuit, it will allow you to sue for statutory damages and legal fees.
The cheapest way to prove that something is yours is to have it written
down and have witnesses who can testify that you wrote it. Make sure you
indicate to anyone you speak to about your screenplay that you are talking
‘in confidence’ and even send them an email beforehand to
make this clear.
If you become a member of the
Writers’ Guild of America (automatic
membership through the Writers’ Guild of
Great Britain), you are entitled to use their free copyrighting
facility. There are also registration facilities through acknowledged
bodies such as PACT (www.pact.co.uk) and
the MPAA (www.mpaa.org/home.htm), on which
one can register intended use of a title.
Q. Do I need
to consider budget?
It is the producer’s job to work out how special effects
and other costly elements can be done, so don’t let it hinder the
creative process of writing. Saying that, budget provides a good indication
of how the film will be positioned in the market. As a writer, you must
be aware of the relationship between your script and your audience.
Films that only sell in the
UK are not able to justify budgets of over £4m
since the U.K. only amounts to 3% of the
world revenue and cannot generate enough box office. In addition, it is
not enough to market a film simply as low budget; they require strongly
identifiable genres such as horror, comedy or thriller. To have a ‘High
budget’ script produced ($20 million plus)
requires involvement with the US Film Industry, which will make certain
demands on the script from the outset.
Q. How do
I sell my work?
Producers are constantly on the lookout for good scripts. It
is essential that your script is up to the necessary standard and correctly
formatted. In addition, you should have a synopsis, treatment, and log
line readily available. It is never advised to send unsolicited scripts;
either secure an agent or start developing a relationship with production
companies. Always call beforehand to warn them you are sending something
in and make sure you have done your research into the kind of scripts
they are looking for. When sending a scriptto a producer, you will need
a query letter. For an example see www.scriptsales.com/Query.html.
Remember, selling your script is easier once you have a polished product.
With very few great scripts around, if you focus on quality, your screenplay
will sell itself.
Q. Can screenwriting
The London Script Consultancy challenges the idea that talent
is "innate". We believe that successful screenwriting comes
from commitment, correct coaching and application. We have seen hundreds
of writers improve exponentially after receiving consistent support, training,
and feedback. Go to Courses for information about screenwriting tuition
or go to our What We Do page for further
information about our free weekly Writers’
Q. What use
is a script report?
Getting a script report is the best way to discover whether
your script is ready to go out to production companies, illuminating the
areas that aren't working and how improvements can be made.
Whilst friends and family can
give invaluable support, you should always get professional, unbiased
feedback on your work. In Hollywood, script doctoring and mentoring is
an essential part of the development process. Executives understand that
every improvement made on the page will save thousands down the line.
Go to our Consultancy page for more information on how to submit a script
Q. How do
I get paid for writing?
Writing a screenplay can entail investing up to two years of
your time with no income. However, it is possible to apply for funding
to support yourself through this period or even get a job as a paid writer.
competitions usually require a finished script, there are a number of
schemes run by public bodies providing funding for development for which
you may only be required to send an outline or a treatment. Take a look
at our Funding Organizations section for
The other route is to write for TV. Broadcasters are constantly on the
lookout for new talent. For more information go to the BBC's web site
www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom. Here you can enter writing competitions
(see www.bbc.co.uk/talent) and find out
about commissioning requirements for writers of drama and comedy. Soap
operas are recognized routes into writing for TV. Both ‘Doctors’
and ‘Hollyoaks’ accept scripts from new writers; contact the
BBC and Mersey TV directly for information on vacancies. Another route
is to get a job as a script editor on a series such as EastEnders.
This will give you a great experience and the possibility of eventually
writing for the series.
In addition, many successful writers started off writing for radio. Radio
4 broadcasts new plays daily and is always looking for new ideas. For
more information go to www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom.