The Ultimate Final Draft Checklist for Screenwriters
When is your screenplay really done and ready to be unleashed upon the world of Hollywood, contests, competitions, and fellowships?
Throwing caution to the wind after you type THE END and sending out your latest draft without some checks and balances is a surefire way to rejection and failure.
It's a natural mistake that all screenwriters make at one time or another. You've labored for months writing and rewriting. You've dedicated every waking thought and extra moment of imagination to tell your cinematic story. When you're done, you want to be done.
But you're doing yourself no favors by rushing towards that pinnacle of every screenwriter's journey — The Final Draft.
With that in mind, we offer this simple and effective tool — ScreenCraft's Ultimate Final Draft Checklist — for you to use as that final system of checks and balances that can ensure that your final draft is your true final draft that is ready for script readers, development executives, managers, agents, talent, and judges.
This checklist will help you find, identify, and rectify technical glitches in your writing — typos, grammar errors, and format problems — as well as craft-related issues like overwriting, bad pacing, and inconsistencies in story, characters, and prose.
These eight acts of checks and balances will help you get that latest draft to where it needs to be to deserve the title of The Final Draft. After reading our breakdown of each check that you need to perform and mark off, you can download the checklist for free here:
FREE DOWNLOAD: SCREENCRAFT’S ULTIMATE FINAL DRAFT CHECKLIST FOR SCREENWRITERS
Before we get into the eight checks and balances, let's focus on the essential elements that you need for a true final draft. These elements will be present at the beginning of every checklist you complete for every final draft you write.
First off, you need a killer title for your screenplay.
Read ScreenCraft's How to Write Screenplay Titles That Don’t Suck!
Second, you need an amazing logline.
Read ScreenCraft's How To Write Effective Loglines!
And third, you need to know the general genre that your script falls under.
Read ScreenCraft's Do you REALLY Know What Genre Your Screenplay Is?
Having these three elements is vital to the marketing process of the final draft that you craft — as well as for the submission process you will undergo as you enter your script into contests, competitions, and fellowships.
Let's move on to the checklist.
#1 Line-by-Line Proofread
The purpose of this proofread is not to focus on experiencing the story. Instead, you are going through the draft line-by-line to check the scene description for fluidity and consistency. You'll be checking to ensure that each line of scene description communicates what is needed to be communicated with ease and cinematic flair.
In order to accomplish that, the sentences need to avoid redundancy and must have a natural flow of the words to create cinematic prose. And that prose has to avoid wooden description, instead offering the reader a sense of the emotion of the scene, the characters, and everything in between.
You will go through your scene description line-by-line and create the best prose possible to convey the visual you want the reader to envision and to give them a sense of the emotion within that visual.
In short, be succinct, precise, and clear.
#2 Homonym/Homophone Search
Two or more words having the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling — or if they are pronounced or spelled the same way but have different meanings.
They always get you. Even the most experienced screenwriters miss the most simple mistakes.
Your and You’re. New and Knew. To and Too. There, Their, and They’re. Its and It’s. Then and Than. Effect and Affect. Cache and Cachet. Break and Brake. Principle and Principal. Breath and Breathe. Rain, Reign, and Rein. By, Buy, and Bye.
The best thing you can do for that polish rewrite is to CTRL + F (search) those above words and make sure that when present, they have the proper usage.
#3 Scene Heading Consistency
Interior or Exterior. Location. Day or night.
Those are the basic elements that are present in a scene heading.
As you write your script, you'll often assign a particular scene heading using those elements to describe to the reader where and when the characters are within the story. As you continue to write, what often happens is you tend to forget the exact original scene heading for a particular location that you use more than once and you create another. The difference may be slight, but to the reader — and especially to the director and crew later on — those scene headings need to be consistent so they can properly collect their thoughts and know where they are supposed to be, visually-speaking.
You can't introduce a location as INT. BOAT - DAY and then later refer to the same location as INT. JOHN'S SPEEDBOAT - DAY.
We're looking for consistency here. So you must scroll through the latest draft you have and make sure that each and every scene heading is correct and consistent throughout.
You need to make sure that it's supposed to be DAY or NIGHT, INT or EXT, and the location is properly titled.
#4 Character Dialogue Consistency
This can be both a technical issue, as well as a solid character check.
The common practice for checking if the dialogue is good or not is covering the name of the character and trying to differentiate which character is which without seeing the name — based solely on the dialogue.
Characters need to have their own voices. And those voices need to be consistent throughout the script. If you have a character that has a lackluster vocabulary at the beginning of the script, only to suddenly use long and impressive words within their dialogue later on, it's inconsistent.
Read through the draft dialogue line by dialogue line and make sure each character’s dialogue is consistent with their character and unique in their own way.
Read ScreenCraft's The Single Secret of Writing Great Dialogue!
#5 Delete All Unnecessary Transitions and Camera Directions
Transitions and camera directions are more welcome in shooting drafts — or scripts written by auteurs that will also direct the film — than they are in the kind of final drafts that are written on spec (written under the speculation that they will be purchased and produced). If a transition or camera direction is needed to pinpoint or showcase a vital moment, visual, reveal, or story point, that’s okay. But they should be few and far between, as they often slow the pacing of the read when a script reader is asked to envision particular technical camera movements.
Read through the draft and make sure that all transitions (CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO, etc.) and camera directions (CAMERA PANS LEFT, ANGLE ON, ETC.) are deleted, leaving only those few that are truly necessary to tell the cinematic story.
#6 Delete All Scene Numbers
Some screenwriters include them because the produced scripts they've read during their screenwriting education were shooting scripts and utilized scene numbers for production purposes. Others include them because they use the numbers as a way to track and edit their scenes.
No matter what reason they may be there for in your latest draft, be sure to delete them for your final draft. They literally serve no purpose when you are merely having someone read and consider your screenplay.
#7 Less-is-More Proofread
From the perspective of the script reader — which technically will prove to be interns, assistants, studio readers, contest readers, development executives, producers, studio heads, directors, and talent — there’s a concrete reason why overwriting can be the death of a script under potential consideration.
It’s not about Hollywood being lazy or overly complacent. It’s about the experience of the read.
The read is what decides the fate of every script and every screenwriter. It’s an experience that must be taken seriously by screenwriters.
The true testament of an excellent screenwriter is to be able to convey style, atmosphere, and substance with as little description needed. The same can be said for dialogue as well.
With this crucial notion in mind, read through the draft line-by-line, not to experience the story, but instead to look for opportunities to trim scene description and dialogue sentences and paragraphs as much as possible.
Try to use short sentences and fragments whenever you can — as opposed to multiple sentences and big blocks of scene description and dialogue in the form of paragraphs.
Read ScreenCraft's Why Every Screenwriter Should Embrace “Less Is More”!
#8 Cover-to-Cover Read
When you've checked those first seven boxes, pat yourself on the back because you've done a lot of work to get closer to that final draft. Now it's time to step away for a little while. You've read through the script line-by-line for multiple purposes — you need a break.
Take at least seven days to take a vacation from the script. When you return, it's time to read your script from beginning to end in order to experience the story as a reader would.
Don't take any notes. Don't make any changes as you read. Just experience your cinematic story in all of its delight and glory. Read it as a PDF — as opposed to a screenwriting software file — to avoid the temptation of making changes. You've already done that work. You've checked off those boxes. Now it's time to just get a feel for what you've created.
After the read, make any necessary final changes and then unleash it upon the world.
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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