Learn how to write to Industry Standard

So you’ve finished writing your screenplay and you’re anxious to send it out to producers, agents, managers, screenplay competitions and fellowships. Before you make that trip to the post office (and expose yourself to possible disappointment), ask yourself this question, “Is my great story written to Industry Standard?”

Screenwriting to Industry Standard

What does Industry Standard mean?

Industry Standard is the benchmark set by the film industry wherein a screenplay must meet certain specs to be considered acceptable.

A few things for you to consider

No one knows just how many screenplays submitted by aspiring writers each year never make it past the lowest reader in the producer’s office or even the clerk in the mail room. Data suggests that number is surely in the tens of thousands.

According to the Writer’s Guild of America, 55,000 pieces of literary material are registered annually, 30,000 of which are screenplays.

What is the most common reason for the failure to advance up the ladder? These screenplays were not written to Industry Standard.

Let’s say you built a race car instead of a screenplay. Not just “any” race car, but the fastest, best-handling, best-designed race car in the world. Now you’re ready to enter it in NASCAR, where you expect to win the acclaim your car so richly deserves. But if you failed to follow the rules and guidelines (the Industry Standard required by the racing commission) your amazing race car will never get on the track, let alone into the race.

This sad fact is true in the world of screenwriting as well. If your script doesn’t meet Industry Standard, it will not get read by the people at the bottom, let alone the top. After the first 3-10 pages, it will be tossed on the “pass” pile, doomed to the recycle bin without a producer even knowing you’d submitted anything. Sounds tragic, doesn’t it?

Your time and efforts are valuable, so is your dream

The movie business is constantly in flux, adapting to fit an ever-changing audience. With the growth of the Internet, screenwriting has become even more competitive. More and more people enter the race daily with the dream of getting discovered and getting their stories produced.

You have your dream, too. So you spend time and energy (not to mention hard-earned dollars) on classes, books and software. But are you still ignoring obvious elements your script must possess to be recognized?

All the top film schools (AFI, UCLA, USC, NYU, Columbia, UT Austin, SFSU, Cal Arts, North Carolina), books, and websites teach how to write your story into a screenplay. They may focus on the art of developing interesting characters, bullet-proof structure, a plot that twists and turns, and action that jumps off the page, but sadly, most of the schools and books don’t spend enough (or any) time in the area of formatting to the Industry Standard.

Today, state-of-the-art screenwriting software programs (Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter) can outline your screenplay, format your script, help develop characters and even storyboard your project. However, it’s still up to you, the screenwriter, to know and follow the rules that ensure your screenplay is written to Industry Standard. Why take the chance of dooming your great story to oblivion?

Learn how to make the reader your ally in success

You are judged by your screenplay. A script not written to Industry Standard immediately brands the screenwriter an amateur in the eyes of the all-important reader.

You’re asking that first reader on the ladder to success to go out on a limb. You want that person to pass up lunch to finish your script and recommend it for further investment of time, money and enthusiasm. Many of these folks do this on top of a regular day job. They read so many bad scripts that they’re aching to read a good story (in the right format) so they can finally say, Yes!

You want that reader to endorse your dream. Why not meet the reader half-way with a script that’s not an immediate turn-off because of common deficiencies you could easily avoid? If only you knew how…