7 First Impressions Screenwriters Need to Make

By July 19, 2019Blog, Featured

How can screenwriters make the best first impressions within Hollywood?

First impressions are everything in any industry. How you present yourself, your work, your projects, and your resume can be the difference between getting a job or losing it to someone else.

In Hollywood, first impressions are vital to the success of a screenwriter.

The film and television industry is saturated with spec scripts and screenwriters trying to break into the industry. Because of this, studios, production companies, agencies, and management companies are forced to create immediate filtration processes and approaches.

Any little “red flag” is going to affect your chances of getting that script read, being taken seriously as a writer, or getting that first paid gig.

It sounds harsh and nitpicky, but after twenty years in the industry — on both the development and screenwriting end of things —  I can attest to the fact that first impressions are so crucial for screenwriters.

With that in mind, here are seven simple yet impacting great first impressions that you can make during your screenwriting journey.

1. No Mailing Addresses on Title Pages

Back before email, yes, snail mail was all the rage. But it’s the twenty-first century, and there’s no reason to include mailing addresses on your script’s title page.

It’s an instant sign that you are a newb. And beyond that, if you don’t live in Los Angeles, it’s an immediate red flag because Hollywood prefers to work with screenwriters that can go to the meetings, meet-and-greets, and other networking opportunities.

Yes, in this day and age, you can see some success living outside of La La Land. But you need to make them fall in love with your script first, so they are willing to deal with your geographical issues.

2. No Copyright or WGA Registration Numbers on Title Pages

It’s unnecessary. There’s absolutely no reason to include those numbers on your title page or within your screenplay. Yet, this is one of the most common signs of novice screenwriters.

Are industry insiders going to automatically dismiss your script because of them? No. But if they see copyright or WGA registration numbers on the script, you’ve planted an instant seed in their head that says, “This is a newcomer.” And that label has a lot of baggage. It’s not the first impression you want to make, right?

Don’t give them even the tiniest excuse to have any sliver of a doubt before they read that first page.

Learn the best way to structure your screenplay with this free guide.

3. No Draft Date or Numbers on Title Page

Yes, you’ve read produced scripts that have the date of the draft on the script or various draft numbers. There is no reason for you to do this on your spec scripts.

If the last draft you wrote was in 2015 and you’ve marked your script as such, and it’s 2020, it’s a bad first impression to make because the script comes off as dated — with questions of “Why hasn’t this supposed awesome script been picked up by anyone in five years?” 

It’s useless clutter. Draft dates and draft numbers are used while you’re working with studios and production companies on assignment or under contract so that everything can keep track of the multiple drafts being written. If you’re writing on spec, it’s unnecessary.

Note: Your title page should only consist of the title of your script, written by, your name, and your email address (even though they likely have that anyway). If you have representation, you should include any manager, agent, or entertainment lawyer for contact purposes. Lastly, if the script has co-writers, necessary “story by” credits, or if it has been adapted from other source material, those elements should be included as well.  

Read ScreenCraft’s How to Understand Confusing Screenwriter Onscreen Credits!

4. Simple Format within Your Script

It’s tempting to be cute and stylistic with your format. It’s tempting to want to show visual flare and describe beautiful and cinematic images within your scene description. You’ve watched a lot of movies, you like camera movement, and you want to employ that within your visual story.

Don’t.

Especially in those opening 10-15 pages, keep the format as simple, clear, and concise as possible — Location Heading, Scene Description, Character Names, Dialogue. That’s it.

When you keep it simple and direct, the reading experience is much more easily applicable to our mind’s eye. We can process the visuals quickly as our brain registers that simple formula of INT or EXT, LOCATION, and DAY or NIGHT. When you start to add more formatting, our brains are forced to stop, review, interpret, and then envision before we move on. When we see that simple formula, we can scan past in a millisecond and get to the good stuff. The cinematic visuals will play easier in our mind’s eye, as opposed to having to stop with every irregular formatting element.

Imagine sitting in a screening room while watching a movie, and every time the film switches to a new location we’re forced to cut to black to read a title card — that is what it is like reading unnecessary format when the writer could just pare it down to INT. PRISON – NIGHT.

If you need to convey anything more (dusk or dawn, same, later, flashback, date, etc.), do it very sparingly.

The best screenplays are those that lack clutter in the format.

Read ScreenCraft’s Screenwriting Basics: The Keys to Writing Correct Scene Headings and Does Correct Screenplay Format REALLY Matter?

It just makes the first impression that you’re a disciplined writer.

5. Tight and Engaging Opening Pages

When you are developing opening scenes, you have to first start by assuming that the reader hasn’t read the logline and knows virtually nothing about your story. Then be sure to avoid showing too many character details, backgrounds, and set-ups — all of which should be spread out throughout the whole script. After that, you have to craft opening moments that sell the tone, atmosphere, and concept. Finally, it’s about thrusting us into that world you’ve created. Give us a taste of what to expect.

This keeps the reader invested as they read beyond the first few pages. If they’re not invested, they’ll simply scan through the pages with little to no interest. You’ve lost them already. If they are invested, they’ll pay attention to each and every line until you give them further reason not to.

Writing engaging opening moments is just the beginning of doing your job as a screenwriter — but it’s vital to the success of your screenplay.

And those opening pages offer the first critical impressions of your script and your writing.

6. Keep Query Emails Short, Sweet, and to the Point

Marketing your scripts is a necessary evil. You’re taking shots in the dark by going to IMDBPro and finding production companies that may be the best fit for your script. Query emails can be intimidating, but they don’t have to be a source of trepidation and insecurity. And they certainly shouldn’t be formatted as long letters of your intentions and how great your screenplay is.

In the end, it’s the concept that will matter. If you have a strong premise portrayed by an engaging logline, and if you market it to the right people, that’s all you need in the end. The rest is out of your control.

Don’t tell jokes. Don’t tell your life story. Just keep it simple.

Example #1

Hi Steven,

Hope the week is going well. I’ve got a pulse-pounding suspense thriller called Jaws that I think would be great for Amblin.

When a great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, marine scientist, and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

It’s The Thing From Another World meets Moby Dick.

Would love to have you take a look. Thanks much and let me know.

Best,

Johnny Screenwriter

Example #2

Hi Steven,

Hope the week is going well. Jane Screenwriter here. Your assistant Veronica and I are old high school friends. She recommended I contact you for my spec script, Jaws.

When a great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, marine scientist, and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

It’s The Thing From Another World meets Moby Dick.

Would love to have you take a look. Thanks much and let me know.

Best,

Jane

Example #3

Hi Steven,

Hope the week is going well. I’m a former studio reader for Sony and used to work under John Calley, whom I’m sure you remember.

I’ve got a pulse-pounding suspense thriller that I think would be great for Amblin.

Jaws 

When a great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, marine scientist, and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

It’s The Thing From Another World meets Moby Dick.

Would love to have you take a look. Thanks much and let me know.

Best,

Johnny Screenwriter

Note: We’re being tongue-in-cheek with using Steven Spielberg as an example. Don’t try to contact him or anyone of his stature through email. It won’t happen.

Query emails — as well as other email correspondence with industry insiders — are the first impression you’ll make with them before they read your script.

Read ScreenCraft’s Writing the Perfect Query Letter for Your Scripts!

7. Do Your Research Before Industry Meetings or Calls

If you want to make a great first impression, know everything about the industry insider that you’re going to be speaking with. Know their company. Know their credits. And know their successes.

Work that information into the conversation in subtle fashion.

Beyond that, know the industry. Read the trades (The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and Deadline). Work that information or any industry hot topics (strikes, trends, etc.) into the discussion.

If you create this type of informed impression, it eases the initial tension of the meetings for both you and the person or people that you are meeting with.

Bonus — Know Your Story

When you get into the meeting, you’re going to face a lot of questions about your story, which includes your concept, characters, genre, themes, and world.

Be ready to answer any questions. Know everything about your script. And, sure, sometimes we didn’t conjure these things. Sometimes the theme presented itself during the writing. It doesn’t matter though. Have an answer.


Keep your title pages clean, your format simple, your opening pages tight, your emails straight to the point, your industry knowledge sharp, and know your story.

These first impressions you make can be the difference between you succeeding or being forced to grind on.


Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies


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