A script (or screenplay) is the recipe for a filmed piece. What a play is for theatre, a script is for the screen, but as opposed to plays, it has much stricter rules. And as much as we at TLC hate rules, there’s a good reason why scripts have them.
The filmed arts is an inflexible and restrictive business, which for the most part has high budgets that need to be monitored and controlled carefully. This means that knowing exactly what the script requires is vital. The most important element that has become a standard is that a page of a script is measured at an average of one minute.
Yes, I know… not every page is going to be one minute. If you're writing quick fire dialogue, it will be less than a minute, and if you’re writing really long actions, it will of course be a lot longer (I can only imagine how many pages the 40-minute car chase in the Matrix II was.) But, the way the industry has standardised formatting, means that on average: 1 page = 1 minute of film (by the way, in case you’re wondering, the general average for plays is 1.5 minutes per page).
But that’s great. It can be helpful, particularly if you're trying to send your script to the industry. If you want to write a feature film – you should expect to write about 90-120 pages.
In order to get to this time-measurement-averagy-thingy that I was talking about, it’s important to keep to the right formatting guidelines. There are literally hundreds of online formatting guides to scripts, so I won’t add another one (just do a quick search), but the main thing to remember is that each scene starts with location and time (important to know whether it’s going to be filmed inside or outside, during the day or at night), have the right font (Courier 12), and I would also suggest to look for different terms you might need, such as different ways of describing the time of the scene, or the transition between scenes (although many suggest to limit those to the first and final transitions of the film only), etc. Again, there are enough online guides with glossaries to help you with this.
There are other areas where the industry is less flexible… with the filmed arts still being a relatively young artform, breaking of conventions is much harder to achieve, as it’s expensive to take artistic risks. This doesn’t mean it can’t happen (and indeed, happens to much delight), but if you really want to get something made, and not pay for it yourself, you should probably at least be aware of the classic structures – there are 3-act structures, 5-act structures, non-linear structures, circular structures and more (again, you know where to find resources), they almost always include a protagonist who wants something, an antagonist who stops them, an inner need, a flaw, a final test and a resolution.
But… and this is the important bit… as we said at the start of this blog… we at TLC hate rules (apart for the rules of our challenges, obviously) – so make the most of Scriptly Writing to experiment with the form, experiment with the structure, do things that are wrong, ridiculous, stupid or simply heretical – we can’t wait to see what you come up with.