5 Front-End Tasks to Complete Before You Start Your Screenplay
What should screenwriters consider doing before starting their screenplay?
When you first begin your screenwriting journey, you tend to jump into the fire quickly out of excitement and anticipation.
- You get that idea in your head and want to play it out.
- You have that exciting opening scene or sequence visualized.
- You can see the broad strokes of the story and think you're ready to begin.
But as you get older and wiser in your screenwriting career, with a few scripts under your belt, you realize that the more front-end work you do before typing FADE IN can mean the difference between an average script and an excellent one that turns heads in the industry.
Front-end work is vital to the success of both a screenplay and its writer.
With that in mind, here we suggest five front-end tasks that you undertake before you type FADE IN and start writing that script.
Research Your Concept, World, and Subject
Research is a critical factor in developing a compelling cinematic story, whether it's studying the world your fictional character will inhabit or learning everything you can about the real-life figure or event you'll be featuring within your script.
And it goes beyond the story, world, and facts.
When you have a concept for a screenplay, one of the most underutilized actions is researching that concept to make sure that there's nothing else out there like it.
We live in a collective world where we are all inspired, intrigued, and informed by the same things. There's bound to be a lot of cross-over. One of the worst and most common things that happen to novice screenwriters who don't research their concept first is them getting through an entire script and discovering that Hollywood has already greenlit or produced one, if not multiple, films or TV series with the same nearly-exact concept they just finished spending months writing.
So once you have that idea in your head, jump on Google and start seeing if any other projects like it have been made or are in the works. And if something is similar, perhaps you can find a way to make yours different — if not better.
Find the Perfect Title
Now it's time to give your project some identity. A new screenplay is like your baby. You need to nurture it, feed it, and let it grow. And that process starts by naming it.
Some will say that the screenplay title doesn't matter because it's likely going to be changed down the line anyway. There is some truth to that. If your script gets into industry hands, the title could (and probably would) go through any number of variations based on marketing and creative input from many individuals.
However, the title is a weapon in your literary and cinematic arsenal that you use to draw attention to your work. A great title can raise the eyebrow of that industry executive. And it's exciting to find that fantastic title. It offers instant energy and excitement.
That is why you should find that perfect title for your script first. It gives instant identity to what you are trying to do with your cinematic story. It fuels your investment in the project as well.
So take the time to find that perfect title for your script before you type FADE IN.
Create the Perfect Logline
"Wait, don't you do this after you write the script when you start to market it?"
Absolutely not. We strongly suggest developing and writing a logline before you type FADE IN and start writing that screenplay. Why?
When writing a screenplay, you want to work out from the core concept and story to additional plot points, character arcs, twists, turns, reveals, supporting characters, etc. You never want to work from the outside to the in.
The logline is the core concept of your script. If you don't have that core idea laid out in simple logline form to begin with, you're going to get lost during the writing process.
A great logline captures the spirit of your script.
Look at this logline as an example:
When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer must hunt the beast down before it kills again.
This logline captures the heart of the story — and it features the protagonist, his allies and enemies, and the conflict he is up against.
That's the soul of the movie Jaws.
When you know your logline, you know:
- Where to start
- Where it's set
- What the central conflict is
- Who or what the threat is
And it's just easier to work from there.
Yes, your logline can change during the writing process. You may discover better characters to feature and more conflict to through at them.
But, again, you want to give your concept some identity. You've found the perfect title. Now it's time to see the personality of your script blossom by presenting the core concept, core conflict, and core protagonist(s).
And then the logline works as a compass for you. If you're getting too far away from the concept you started with, the logline can show you the way back.
Story and Character Development
You don't want to do too much development and break down your story and character arcs from point A to Z and everything in between. But you also don't want to just go and wing it as you write.
Story and character development are essential front-end work. All professionals do it. Why wouldn't you want to implement that?
Different pro screenwriters do more or less. But all of them do something.
- Beat Sheets
And know that once you start getting paid writing assignments, you need to know how to do those three things because they'll be asked of you.
An outline, beat sheet, or synopsis allows the writer to construct a general list of sequential scenes and moments in the order that they will be written within a screenplay. They essentially act as early development blueprints for how you plan to assemble the scenes within your screenplay. Once again, they work as a compass for you during the actual writing process.
These writing tools help to give you an overview of the story beats and moments before applying them to the screenplay format of locations, scene description, and dialogue. Using this overview, you can make creative and editorial choices before you take the time to write those scenes and moments in their cinematic entirety.
For example, if you find within that outline or beat sheet that certain scenes are redundant, repetitive, or unnecessary, you can save the time of having to move, adjust, or delete those written scenes after you've already taken the time to write them.
This front-end work helps you structure your story. And since screenplays require specific structure to be applied (as opposed to a novel, which offers more freedom), doing this front-end work will help you mold your concept, story, and characters into cinematic narratives.
Visualize Everything Before You Type a Single Word
Before writing that script, take at least a month to do the front-end visualization work.
Writing isn't always typing. Visualize the movie. Daydream. Watch movies and TV shows that are similar in tone, genre, and atmosphere. Feed your brain. Grow that seed of a concept.
Visualization is a crucial part of the process. How can you possibly communicate and describe a visual through prose without first seeing it in your creative mind's eye first?
So take comfort in knowing that you don't have to be scribbling on a piece of paper or frantically typing words onto your laptop to "technically" be writing.
You can just as well be staring out the window, lost in thought, as you feed the baby, prepare lunch for your middle schoolers, or wait for that work report to print.
That long work commute can be your magic time to dream up your story, characters, and narrative. When you work out, go for a walk or run, or go for a bike ride, you can be writing in your head, creating worlds and characters that inhabit those worlds.
- Visualizing is writing.
- Try to see upwards of 75% of your script in your head before you type anything.
- At the very least, see the broad strokes of your movie in movie trailer form.
Once you've done your research, found the perfect title, created the perfect logline to work from, done the front-end story/character development work, and visualized your story to see much of it through your mind's eye first, you're ready to type FADE IN and start writing that script.
Best of luck!
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, the feature thriller Hunter's Creed starring Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O'Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico, as well as produced and upcoming Lifetime suspense thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies