Create your vision on Screen. Adapt your Book to a Screenplay, have it validated and pitch it out to Producers.
Welcome to your Movies Guidance and Resources Bar. Read our tips and info for completing the module below or click anywhere and proceed to the Movies Module. Here's what the Movies Module has in store do for you.
Write your Screenplay.
Have it validated and edited by a Professional screenplay writer or producer.
Create a list of Movie agents and producers and pitch your screenplay to them.
Link to our Community for more Movies Guidance and Resources
Activate your Movies Task List and Scheduler.
Log any Costs incurred to complete the module
Ask a Movies Pro for help.
"Based on the novel by......." is a particular favourite because the story already has traction. People already know of it. Just look at The Shawshank Redemption, Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz, The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and thousands and thousands more. All originally books.
Many Hollywood and other movie producers are on the lookout for new source material to turn into the next big feature film to hit the silver screen. The movie industry relies, in part, on book-to-film adaptations for its success, and movie studios are optioning the film rights to novels and memoirs at a breakneck pace.
Whether you’re a bestselling author or a novice writer more accustomed to self-publishing, there’s never been a better time to consider adapting your existing material for film and television.
1. Read screenwriting books. If you’re new to the adaptation process, there are plenty of film books that break down screenplay structure and literary adaptation.
1. Invest in industry software. Screenwriting software is a necessity before you start writing a movie script. Final Draft - https://www.finaldraft.com/ - is the industry standard, though there are free alternatives like Celtx - https://www.celtx.com/index.html - and WriterDuet - https://www.writerduet.com/?utm_campaign=bran&gclid=Cj0KCQjwreT8BRDTARIsAJLI0KIE6oO1uSQg_ru26UH7O3MPrVh5Yi8-GN2MVk8GqOlK_ad9mxmt_GAaAi9UEALw_wcB - that are perfectly sufficient.
1. Read books that have been adapted into screenplays. A great way to learn about screenplay adaptation is to read an original story that has been adapted into a motion picture. Studios look far and wide for intellectual property they can turn into films. Look for books that have been adapted for the screen in a genre that you are interested in exploring, be it thrillers or love stories.
1. Watch film adaptations. There are so many famous film adaptations to watch in order to learn more about the adaptation process. The work of famous authors like J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), J.R.R. Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings), Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights) and Stephen King (The Shining) has been adapted into countless film adaptations. Watching the film version of a book you are familiar with can give you insight into how stories can be altered and enhanced by the visual storytelling of film. Learning about the elements of film, like cinematography and lighting, can help you start to visualize how your story would play in front of a movie theater.
1. Study movie structure. A key step in learning how to turn a book into a movie is educating yourself on film structure. Generally speaking, films have more length and structural constraints than books. There are of course exceptions to this rule but it’s definitely worth learning about classic three act structure and how the key scenes in a feature film function, especially in the realm of literary adaptations.
1. Outline existing films. A great way to learn about screenwriting is to write your own outlines of existing films before you start adapting your own work. Outlining some of your favorite films can help you understand the ins and outs of film structure and visualize plots and subplots.
1. Analyze which of your original stories would make a good film. Before you start on a movie adaptation of your original work, it’s important to consider which of your works would make a good movie. A great movie can be adapted from many different sources including a short story, nonfiction book, original novel, or any number of other types of books. It’s important to analyze your original work and look for books with a clear core conflict and concise storyline to make your life easier as you start on the adaptation process.
1. Break your story up into scenes and acts. Before you start on your own film adaptation, map out your storyline and major plot points in an outline. Screenwriters often put a fair amount of time into the prewriting outline process. As a novice screenwriter, this stage of writing can help you develop your skillset and make sure you understand your screenplay structure before you sit down to write in earnest.
1. Learn about the limitations of film. Filmmaking is a visual medium that allows many techniques and storytelling devices that are not possible in books. That being said, it also has some limitations. The inferiority inherent in many books—attainable through use of first-person internal monologues from a character’s point of view—is harder to achieve in film unless you use extensive voice-over. You might also have to cut down the number of main characters in a sprawling epic or the amount of backstory you include in your film adaptation to streamline your narrative.
1. Come up with a logline. An important part of pitching a project to a production company or studio as a professional screenwriter is coming up with a descriptive and concise logline. A logline is a short description of your main character and premise that is usually only one or two sentences in length. It may seem daunting to reduce a full story to such a short summary but suffice it to say that all films, even major Hollywood blockbusters, once started as loglines pitched to producers and financiers.
1. Consider adapting existing content. If you don’t have any published original content that you think would make a good movie, consider looking for existing source material. It can be hard to get the rights to a Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller or a true story recounted in a magazine feature article—but there are plenty of public domain stories available for anyone to adapt.
A logline is like the headline you created I earlier modules. It's a one or two-line summary of your story. It needs to include your main character, their goal, the majhow to write a screenplay logline or conflict or antagonist, and possibly a twist.
Create a step-outline: A step-outline is significantly more detailed than a treatment. In a step-outline, you create a list of the scenes in your screenplay and a brief summary of what will happen in each of them. You do not need to include really short or transitional scenes (such as the protagonist driving to work) if they are not important to the plot of the story. This step-outline will be your road map to your screenplay. It will keep you from getting lost when you write and further flesh out your story. Often step-outlines will include a full scene-heading for each scene.
Index cards: Another way to help you plan out your story is to transfer your step-outline onto index cards. On each index card, you should write a scene-heading and a summary of the scene. Color-code these cards to indicate what act the scene is from, which character leads the scene, or anything else that might be helpful to you. Once you’ve finished these, you can lay them out in the order you think scenes should occur. From there, feel free to move the cards around. See if they really are in the right place in your story, or if there are any scenes that are unnecessary or missing.
Make sure you understand format and software: Although it is possible to manually format a screenplay on a regular Word document, this can be challenging. Save yourself the frustration and time by downloading screenplay software such as Final Draft or an alternative. They know how to format a screenplay so you can concentrate on how to write a screenplay. You can also refer to our article on screenplay format to help you as you begin typing up your story.
Now, all that remains in how to write a screenplay is the execution. In this section, we’ll guide you through the process of writing your screenplay using the three-act structure mentioned above.
Act I should roughly cover pages 1 to 23 for a 90-page screenplay or pages 1 to 30 for a 120-page screenplay.
First image/scene: Give some thought to the image you want to start off your story. This will be the first look the audience gets at the world you have created. It will set the tone for the rest of your story.
In a horror film, this first scene is often a grisly murder. But in a comedy, this could be a visual gag or a way to immediately start off the laughs. And in a historical drama, the first scene will put you in the middle of that time period. To help you work out what your story should open with, go and watch the openings of your favourite movies and think, “what do they tell us?“
A small spaceship fleeing a huge star destroyer – It’s going to be a sci-fi movie with lots of action!
Close-ups of Julia Roberts while a romantic song plays – a romantic-comedy!
When you go to start your screenplay, think about what sort of film you want it to be, and whether the audience will be able to get that from the opening image.
Set up your world and main character: The beginning of your story should set up what type of world your protagonist lives in and provide the audience with some information on who inhabits this world. According to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, this is called the “ordinary world.” This is the protagonist’s “norm,” their natural habitat before the events of the story change everything.
In THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the ‘ordinary world’ is the Shire. It is green, lush, and seems to be quite a quaint and comfortable life for the hobbits that live there.
Our hero, Frodo Baggins, is forced to leave when he receives the Ring and the Black Riders come looking for him. This is an event that in screenwriting lingo is called the….
Inciting Incident: The inciting incident is an event that propels your protagonist into the events of the story and disrupts their ordinary world.
In HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, this is the moment when Harry receives his letter to Hogwarts.
After this moment, Harry can no longer return to living at the Dursley house. He now knows he is special, thanks to the immortal words of Hagrid, ‘You’re a wizard, Harry’.
Resistance to calling: Often, the protagonist or hero will be unwilling to give up the comfort of their world for the unknown. They may turn away from their calling.
In a romantic comedy such as BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY, this could be the protagonist (Bridget Jones) and her future love interest (Mark Darcy) getting off to a bad start when they first meet each other.
For another example, in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Arthur Dent, the protagonist, makes it very clear that he has no interest in going anywhere because he’s afraid that construction workers will demolish his house to build a bypass.
The irony being that a Vogon Constructor Fleet are about to destroy the Earth in order to build a Hyperspace Bypass.
No turning back: At the end of the first act, something occurs that prevents the protagonist from truly rejecting his or her calling. No longer can they wait around and enjoy the comforts of their ordinary world. The hero must move forward and enter a ‘new world’ and face the challenges that will entail. This moment is also called the “lock in.” In BACK TO THE FUTURE, this moment occurs when Doc is killed. In an attempt to flee the gunman, Marty McFly accelerates up to 88mph in the converted, time-travelling DeLorean and is sent back to 1955.
Act II is the longest act and should cover pages 23-66 for a 90-page screenplay and 30-90 for a 120-page screenplay.
First half – Obstacles: In the first half of your second act, your protagonist will face many obstacles in achieving his or her goal. Some of these obstacles will be overcome, and others will serve as setbacks. The obstacles should increase in severity as the act progresses and tension builds. A clear example of this is the 2010 cult comedy SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. Scott’s obstacles are Ramona Flowers’ seven evil exes whom he must defeat but each battle becomes increasingly more difficult.R2D2-C3PO how to write a screenplay
First half – Allies: To help the hero face these challenges, he or she will be given helpers or friends. For Luke Skywalker of STAR WARS, these helpers include the robots C3P0 and R2D2, as well as smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and the mysterious Jedi-Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi. All will help him in one way or another so it is important that your protagonist’s allies all serve a purpose and aren’t merely hanging around for the sake of having extra characters.
First half – Subplots: Any side plots are introduced at the beginning of Act II. In WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, the subplot is the romance between Harry’s friend, Jess, and Sally’s friend, Marie. In films that do not centre on romance, there is often a romantic subplot such as the romance between Fran and Scott in STRICTLY BALLROOM or between Ben and Abigail in NATIONAL TREASURE.
Midpoint twist: Halfway through your second act (which is also halfway through your entire story) there is the midpoint twist, also known as the first culmination. It is often the case that at this point, the protagonist achieves the complete opposite of their goal.
In FINDING NEMO, the midpoint is when Marlin, in his search for Nemo, ignores advice from Dory, his new companion, and leads them through a group of jellyfish. This results in Dory getting badly stung which forces Marlin to realize that he needs to listen to her if he wants to be reunited with his son.
Marlin has already lost Nemo, who is really his only companion, and is desperate to find him. At this point in the film he nearly loses his new companion, Dory, thus achieving the opposite of his goal.
Second half – Raising the stakes: In the second half of Act II, the stakes are raised. The protagonist needs to achieve his/her goal at all costs. In lots of movies this is literally a life-or-death situation but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no one size fits all for how to write a screenplay. It’s what works for the genre and stakes of the story so far.
In SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, Pat and Tiffany put all their energy into learning the dance routine because Pat needs Tiffany to give his ex-wife a letter and Tiffany needs to win the competition.
The stakes are raised even further when Pat’s father bets all of his money on the outcome of the dance competition.
Second half – Lowest of the low: At the end of the second act, the audience feels that all is lost for the protagonist. This is called “the lowest of the low,” and is the embodiment of the cliché “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”
In THE FULL MONTY, this is when Gaz is arrested for stripping and loses the right to see his son. There is an exception to this “lowest of the low” rule if your story is a tragedy and will eventually end badly for your protagonist.
In this case, the end of the second act could be a high point before the fall of the hero in the third act. As an example, take a look at SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The second act ends with Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) finding Private Ryan (Matt Damon). They’ve succeeded in their mission, but the story does not finish there.
Act III should roughly cover pages 66-90 for a 90-page screenplay and pages 90 to 120 for a 120-page screenplay.
Main Climax: the climax of the story occurs in the third act. This is the epic battle that the protagonist has been gearing up for. This is quite often a literal battle, whether it be the last assault in EDGE OF TOMORROW, the title contest in WARRIOR or even the final rap-battle in 8 MILE. The protagonist might lose everything, but he or she may just achieve their ultimate goal. In CARRIE, the main climax is when the powerful teenager faces off against her mother and ends up killing them both in the process.
Final obstacles: Even after the climax, there are often still residual problems that the protagonist must solve. In PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, Captain Jack Sparrow is arrested and sentenced to death after he stops Barbossa. The final obstacle that Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan must overcome is saving their captain’s life.
Of course it doesn’t have to be quite so dramatic. It may be something as simple as having left dinner in the oven and your characters have to race back to stop it from burning the house down! However, this final obstacle is normally quite important for showing how your protagonist has changed from the beginning to the end.
Going back again to STAR WARS, the final obstacle Luke must face is the trench-run that is key to destroying the Death Star. Earlier in the film when he was trying to master the Force, Luke couldn’t let go of his own self-control.
Well, this time round Luke lets go and uses the Force to save the day. Remember, the final obstacle may be the last time that we see your characters in serious action, so make it count!
Resolution: At the end of the third act (and the end of your story), loose ends are tied up and the protagonist deals with the outcome of the climax. In the hero’s journey, this is known as “the return”. The hero returns home with his goal completed.
In THE GODFATHER, the resolution is that Michael Corleone lies to his wife, proving that he has become the man he never wanted to be, the successor to his father. Occasionally, like in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the filmmakers may deliberately leave a loose end untied.
Clarice Starling has caught Buffalo Bill but no mention has been made of Hannibal Lecter since his horrific escape.
Then in the closing scene he phones Clarice. The scene serves to remind you that Hannibal the Cannibal is now once again at large…
Congratulations, now you have written a first draft, but that’s only part of how to write a screenplay. Before you start cracking open a bottle of champagne and bragging to everyone at your high school reunion, be warned: you are far from finished.
You have completed an essential step, but this is just the beginning. Films aren’t made from first draft screenplays.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
It’s often necessary to revise and rewrite a screenplay multiple times, especially if you are a beginner screenwriter.
Take a break: While you don’t want to forget about your screenplay or lose momentum, it can be helpful to step back and take a break from your story. After being involved in your script for so long, it will be hard to see the faults in your work. It will be too easy to revel in your sense of pride and accomplishment and not see the big picture. Now is the time to finally catch up on GAME OF THRONES and spend time with the family you have been ignoring for weeks. When you do come back to your screenplay and read it again, this distance will help you see it with new eyes.
Have others read your script: Just as it was during the planning stage, sharing your work and getting feedback is essential. Have your friends and family read it, or better yet get pro script coverage for unbiased, educated feedback. They can help you figure out what works and what doesn’t, and suggest how to fix it.
Rewrite: It seems daunting and exhausting, but you will probably have to rewrite large portions, if not all, of your screenplay. Maybe you discover that your first act isn’t very strong and it’s affecting the rest of your script. Or maybe you decide to end your story differently. The rewriting process will take a while, but be patient and stay determined.
The first draft is nearly always too dialogue-heavy but you’ll find that as you rewrite, you need less and less to effectively tell the story. Scenes full of clunky exposition – i.e. telling your story through speech rather than showing through action – fade away into tight, set-pieces that drive your character forwards to their goal.
Suddenly, you’ll find yourself really back in the flow of writing and will have finished that second draft.
It’ll probably be leaner, punchier and just generally better which takes you onto the next step…
Continue this cycle of getting feedback and rewriting or revising. Don’t stop until you are truly satisfied that this is your best work. But remember, writing the screenplay is one part. Filmmaking is an ongoing process that doesn’t end until it reaches the viewers. If you sell your screenplay someday, it may be rewritten or tweaked. Directors, actors, editors, etc. will continue adding their own touches to the story. Your job is to create the foundation, and then prepare to let your story go.
How it works
If you write a screenplay that producers and their budgets feel like taking to the screen, you’ve already done better than most.
A producer will know that the story and the actors that his director will have in mind, will create a draw for the movie and they’ll be betting a lot more than their short on it.
Part of that budget is for you, the creator and rights holder to the story.
Film Makers will ask to buy the rights to your story to make a movie. This is usually about 10% of their budget for the movie.
$10 million budget.
$1 million for you.
There are also deals that reward you for box office sales in return for less money up front but when the time comes, you just say yes don’t you?
However it pans out, you’ve followed the guidance, or had a professional wrote it for you, and you now await next winter when your movie is due to come out.