Writing Studio Quality Movie Scripts

Michael Farris from Script.a.wish shares his wisdom on getting your script to the top of the reader’s  pile. Industry folk regularly receive over 100 scripts a week which are expected to be read.  They receive over 100 email queries per day, so they’re looking for reasons to reject your script and reduce their workload. Statistically, most scripts are sub par.

Here are some tips to help your script be more industry friendly:


Maintain abundant white space. Don’t “overink” your page and slow down the read.

Keep the action to under three lines. If there is heavy description, break up the paragraphs or pepper it with dialogue.

Spec scripts are like poems; short sentences, tense but visual. Elicit maximum emotion with the fewest number of words eg. a ghost town, a thriving metropolis, an ancient city, a hipster bar.

Write about what you can see or hear on the screen. Internal emotion makes for visually unstimulating cinema. Use evocative, dynamic, visual and interesting verbs eg. instead of “walks” try stomps, darts, flits, slides, shuffles, ambles. Use verbs in present tense. Think of them as word pictures.

Have the character do something in each scene. Film is an action medium, hence the term motion picture. If they need to deliver exposition or back story get them skydiving, dancing, running, on a ferris wheel or swimming.

Set up as much as possible in the minimum time aka “a rapid setup”. eg. Wall Street. Ruthless suits jostle as they race into packed elevators to start the day with a fresh pot of coffee and a call sheet. They pound a number into their telephones.

Create and maintain a mood with your word choices. eg. She melts when he kisses her.

Even one line of action can change the scene.


Sometimes the mantra of show don’t tell won’t work. Use snappy back and forth dialogue.

Use subtext. The meaning, feeling and intention behind the words being said. Reveal subtext through actions and tone.

Examine the flow of real life dialogue; broken sentences, interruptions, incorrect grammar, changing subject matter, catchphrases.

Add tonal shifts to dialogue.

Avoid obvious and on the nose dialogue.

Control the flow of plot advancement and exposition in dialogue. Add a touch of mystery as you build to the climax. It keeps the reader engaged.

Ensure dialogues are not really monologues or speeches.

Silence is golden and can convey so much. eg. The doctor returns to the waiting room full of eager faces. His stern face beads with sweat. Tears and hugs of sadness fill the room.

Not a single word of dialogue, yet a poignant, emotional scene of a doctor delivering bad news to the patient’s loved ones.

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