This is it. You’ve slaved over the same script for months now and you finally think it’s ready to submit to contests and agents. However, there’s still that inkling of doubt. With time still left, you decide to get a second opinion and submit your script for professional coverage. Rewriting whole scenes is not an option, but what small changes can you make that make a big difference? Here are four small areas to look over if you get the chance.
Spelling and Grammar
It can be jarring when you’re reading a script at the pace written and then suddenly there’s a misspelling in your way. You can’t be sure what the writer was going for and it could influence what is happening in the scene differently either way. Making sure your script reads smoothly is incredibly important.
It also helps the reader take your script seriously. If you just smash out a script and toss it to a script reader to “fix” they’re not going to be very happy and you won’t get the best coverage you could. They’ll spend so much of their time correcting little mistakes so they can understand your overall story, that when they get to analyzing characters and themes, they’ll be out of time.
Anything that breaks the flow of reading is an issue in any submission. Spelling and grammatical errors are one, formatting issues are another. If your scenes don’t have proper headlines, if dialogue isn’t where it should be, there are too many beats and parenthesis… the list goes on.
A good way to see what formatting works is to read a few scripts from movies you’ve seen. Observe how certain images are written and try to apply it to your script. Of course, these are final drafts that have gone through a tough editing process and are written usually by professionals who have done this before. This means they may take some liberties and break some rules. If you’re not sure if you can pull it off, don’t. Just make sure that when you reread your script, there are no formatting issues that may stump the reader and take them out of your story.
For feature-length films, the optimal page count is 90 – 120. For a minute a page, that’s two hours. Most contests won’t accept anything over 150 and even then, they’ll sometimes charge extra per page you go over 120 to offset the extra time readers will need to take. Paring your script down to 120 pages will literally save you money. It’s easier to cut scenes than it is to write new ones.
Contests will usually also accept screenplays as short as 80 pages. You may be thinking, short is better right? Better for budget and there’s more space to add something if need be. Not always. Sometimes a short story can be a clear sign that the story isn’t complete, that somewhere the story weakens. It’s not as bad as if it was 200 pages, but aiming for 90 – 120 with a give or take of ten pages, is usually the sign of a healthy script.
When you’re writing with a deadline nipping at your heels, you can sometimes forget to put plot points or actions in where you wanted to. This could lead to a whole lot of confusion for your writer if they are waiting for something to happen that you foreshadowed to earlier and they get to the last page and it never happens. Or if a character is described one way early on and they change inexplicably during the story. Anything that causes confusion in your reader can’t help you. They’ll try to unravel what you meant which leaves them to interpret what you may have thought was obvious.
A simple reread should guide you to these spots. Try to remember that your script reader has none of the knowledge that you do, so read slowly and purposefully. Try to see if anything might spark a question in the mind of the reader. If your reader has to Google to understand what you’re trying to get at, that’s not a good sign. Be kind to your reader and future audience and make sure that your story doesn’t have any holes.
Coverage can be anxiety-inducing. A 72-hour wait for the results of whether or not your script can make it out there in the big world. Did you do all that you could? Well, the best first step was to get coverage. It is a forgiving trial run of your script that gives you feedback to improve your work and not just a harsh rejection that you might receive from an industry agent.
Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. World building is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.