I know I’ve written in the past about how I write novels (and novellas), but the process of writing a screenplay is quite a bit different, for me at least. I’ll try to break this down as simply as possible, but please ask questions in the comments if you want clarification on anything!
I’m currently working on a supernatural road trip screenplay that’s tentatively titled Not Like This. That title may change later. It’s a big departure from what I normally write, as there is no current love story in it. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of where I’m at in life or not, but it’s definitely a challenge to write something like this.
But enough about what I’m working on right now. On to my process!
In September of 2013 I attended the inaugural Stowe Story Labs, which did a LOT for my screenwriting technique (admission for the 2014 Labs is still open). One of the most useful things from strictly a screenwriting perspective was Chris Millis’s outlining/planning process (Chris was on the Labs faculty last year and will be again this year). While I’m still not great at sticking to it exactly during the rough draft process, it does give me a solid foundation on which to actually write.
So, after I had a rough idea of what the premise was, I wrote out an outline based on Chris’s outline guide. That took me a couple days. Some of it is pretty vague, but it give me certain beats I need to hit along the way.
On previous projects, I’ve gone back and forth between Celtx and Adobe Story, but in the rough draft stage, I’m not really crazy about either. This is partially because neither is great on mobile. Celtx is expensive for an iOS app (around $10 I think), and the Adobe Story iOS app doesn’t include editing capabilities. Plus, the formatting always seems wonky to me.
I like to write on my phone when I’m out and about (or in bed at night without my laptop). If I suddenly get inspiration for a scene, I will totally write out a few hundred words on my iPhone. But I hate to keep multiple running documents for a project.
So this time, I’m trying something different. I’m using the Fountain markup language and Google Docs. Fountain makes it super simple to format my screenplay regardless of the device I’m using, while Google Docs lets me access my file from anywhere.
One nice bonus is that Adobe Story will recognize very basic Fountain formatting without any real issues. If you use any of the advanced Fountain formatting options, it won’t. But the basics are all there straight from the plain text file. This is useful for checking page counts as I go in Story. That’s the one big downside to Docs: it doesn’t seem to be very accurate when it comes to font sizes and page counts. I’m using Courier New 10pt rather than the standard Courier 12pt to get my page count roughly the same as it comes out in Story.
Now, after I finish the rough draft (I’m right around 35 pages at the moment, and expect it will end up around 90-100 pages in the end), I’ll use an actual Fountain converter to create a file compatible with Adobe Story so it will recognize the few advanced formatting options I’ve included (mostly forced scene headings so far).
After everything is in Story, I can check things like pacing using Story’s advanced tools, and generate other reports. At this point I’ll print out the entire screenplay so I can do a round of edits on paper. Then, I’ll start a new Story document and retype everything in and make additional edits along the way.
And that’s basically it. With this particular script, my plan is to go straight from draft two into pre-production. The script will be locked until we actually get actors involved, at which point changes may be made to fit the characters better. Changes may also need to be made based on our budget and locations available during the actual filming.
One thing I’ve done on previous screenplays, but have avoided doing with this one is to pre-cast the script. In other words, I find actors/actresses I’d like to play the various characters, in an effort to better picture them as I write. But I haven’t done that with this one, as I want to remain open-minded when I actually cast the film.
If you have any questions about my process, ask away in the comments!