First Impressions

Hollywood studio executives and readers often thumb through your screenplay before reading it. Here are a few tips on how to score big points at first glance.

After months of work, you've finally finished your screenplay and it's awesome. But before you send off your work to Hollywood, remember that first impressions are lasting ones. We'll assume that your script is already a properly formatted, creative masterpiece; that it's neatly packaged, registered with the WGA and ready to read. Now here are a few more tips to help make that first, swift impression a striking one.

Titles. Most people agree that you can't judge a script by its title; the quality of the entire work still matters most. Some say that shorter titles are better but we've all seen great movies with long titles. At least make sure your title is original and has something to do with the story. Imagine it on a movie poster or being announced on television. Does it sound good when you say it or is it awkward? Definitely avoid offensive words in the title - it's an easy way to scare off wary readers.

Page Count. Readers and executives often flip to the last page to check the length of your script. Page count is a good indication of the finished film's running time. The industry standard is one script page per minute of screen time. As a first timer, it's a good idea to keep your script between 90 and 120 pages, even better, below 110.

Page Density. Even properly formatted screenplays can look too dense at a glance, more like a novel than a screenplay. Sometimes it means that the writer has under-developed the dialogue and over-described the visuals. Make sure to utilize both dialogue and images in telling your story. If the story is "action heavy", break up long descriptions into smaller, digestible chunks rather than lengthy paragraphs. As a rule of thumb, if a description goes beyond four or five lines, it should be broken or shortened. Of course, there are always exceptions.

The First Page. Now the reader cracks open your script and peeks at the first page. What they're looking for is an image that grabs them, a scene that pulls them into your story. It could be a unique image or an ordinary image shown in a unique way. The description here should be exceptionally clever. More than any other place in your script, this is where you can be colorful and poetic yet still concise. Begin in the middle of something dramatic, a battle or a heated argument, for instance. Or introduce us to an unusual character or exotic location where the story begins. This is the opening to your movie, not just your script: make it memorable.

Now that you've created a good first impression, the reader is more willing to put their faith in your storytelling abilities and, most importantly, enjoy the reading.

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