Indy Film Course: Screenwriting Basics

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The world of film. It’s expensive. It’s hard to follow.  Too many technical terms and too damned much work. Until now.  This is the first of many articles on how you can become a independent film maker on a low-to-no budget and still keep your sanity.   So if you are interested in pursuing your vision to be the next Kevin Smith or George Lucas… then look no further.

The first step to filming the next blockbuster is your screenplay.  You can have all the big stars in Hollywood standing right in your kitchen, a $50,000 camera and a million dollar budget, and you won’t get shit done unless you have a script.  So what are the key elements to an award-winning screenplay?   Well, 9 out of 10 will come in 3 parts.  In this example, we will be making up a comedy about two friends headed to Florida for a weekend.


  1. The Beginning (Or Act 1) – This is where your characters are introduced, and their plight or problem begins. EXAMPLE: Jack and Carl are getting ready to take a trip to Florida for a one-time concert. They are all packed up and head to the airport. They have a flat or hit a chupacabra or something and end up being late for their flight.

  2. The Middle (Or Act 2) – This is where a series of events happen to make matters worse or better, or even both. Think of this area as your own imaginative playground where you can really give your characters hell and have fun with them, as long as you make sure your story progresses with it. EXAMPLE: Jack and Carl decide to just drive to Florida. It’s only a 16 hour drive, what could happen? Along the way, they pick up a hot little hitchhiker who Jack falls in love with, run into a crazed truck full of hillbillies, and find that the chupacabra they hit is still alive and found its way into their trunk.

  3. The Finale (Or Act 3) – This is where everything comes together. Most if not all problems are solved and there is a sudden clarity for all those involved. You know, that type of Hollywood crap that movie-goers just eat up. For the love of Spielberg, be original and put some thought into your writing. EXAMPLE: Jack and Carl make it to Florida just in time for the concert. Jack gets the girl. They evade the loony yokels. But that damned chupacabra is still lurking somewhere.


Using the proper screenplay format is important. It organizes the action, characters and dialog in the story. And if you have intentions of selling your script then you had better have it in the industry standard format or they will toss it in the trash without so much as a second glance. Rich producers are assholes like that. The first script I ever wrote was a full length feature film called “Crystal Streams”.

I put my heart and soul into that story. And every bit of it was in a plain composition book from the dollar store. I sent it in to an unnamed producer in hopes of becoming rich. He sent it back with a host of unkind words, but none to do with my story. He didn’t even read it. He only complained about the format and the fact that it was inked in a composition book. So do it right, or don’t do it at all!  Below is an example of what proper screenwriting should look like.

If you intend on making the film yourself, then good for you. Yo

u have guts and if you stick with it one day you’ll get a break. But you still need it in the proper format so it’s easy to follow and memorize for yourself and your talent. I recommend a program called Final Draft. It is easy to use, and can even guide you through learning the format quickly.

Now that you know the screenplay basics, get to writing. Keep a pencil and paper nearby at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike. When you are finished with your script, take a week off to prepare for all the rewriting and storyline refining that you are going to be doing later. And then, when you are satisfied that you have the next big thing, come back and read my next article on choosing the right camera. Until then, good luck film maker!

Don is an avid gamer, writer, screen writer,part time game maker, film director, and horror film fanatic. You can check out his book "How to Survive Zombies and Other Disasters" on Amazon.