FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS  

Some of the most common queries
received by The London Script Consultancy.


Q: What’s the difference between an outline and a treatment?
In order to sell your story you will need to be able to deliver it in a number of formats. No executive will read your script without being given an indication of what it is about. They are likely to be on a tight time schedule so you need to be able to intrigue them in as short a time as possible. These are the different formats a writer will use to present their story.

A PREMISE is an idea for a story; the set-up or situation, with little or no story implied, such as “A man is the star of a TV show but doesn’t know it”. Rarely written down to be presented, a premise is more likely to be part of your ’30 second elevator pitch’ during a chance meeting with a top film executive. The aim is to give them just enough to engage their imagination but leave them wanting more. If you manage this you are half way to selling your script.

A LOGLINE is slightly fuller. Written in one or two lines, it should convey the central situation, usually the main character, a sense of tone, and an idea of where the story leads. An example might be “Burbank Truman doesn't realize that his quaint hometown is a giant studio set run by a TV producer, that folks living there are Hollywood actors, that even his wife is a contract player. Gradually, Truman gets wise.”

A SYNOPSIS is a one page summation your story. Most producers will expect this to be attached to your script when you send it in to them. A STORY OUTLINE is sometimes used interchangeably with synopsis but, in fact, they're almost always a bit longer, about 2-3 pages, with more detail, more emphasis on character, tone, and theme, and not solely plot-driven. Go to our resources page and download an example of an outline. Read more on writing outlines at: http://cgi.writersguild.force9.co.uk/Film/index.php?ArtID=39

A TREATMENT is usually 7-10 pages and is the document you will often have to submit to funding bodies such as The UK Film Council. It contains a full exploration of a story covering character, plot, setting and theme and may contain character descriptions, a synopsis, or statements on theme and tone. A treatment should clarify the intent of the writer and attempt to convey the movie going experience through to the story's end. The main benefit of a treatment is to allow you to skip a draft and fix story problems without having to execute them in detailed screenplay form. Read more on writing treatments at: http://cgi.writersguild.force9.co.uk/Film/index.php?ArtID=40


Q. Do I need an agent?
Getting an agent is a big step on the ladder to becoming a professional writer. Many film executives do not read unsolicited scripts and some competitions (such as the UK Film Council’s 25 Words or Less) only accept work from writers with agents. However, an agent can never be as proactive at selling your script as you since most have to divide their time between a number of writers and they will take up to 15% of your writers’ fee.

Many new writers become anxious about the need to get an agent, believing incorrectly that if they get an agent their work problems will be over. In reality, it tends to work the other way around - get a deal first then getting an agent will be easy.

To find an agent, get hold of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or contact the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. Alternatively, if you would like to be represented by The London Script Consultancy’s agency Shotgun, send a sample of your work with a covering email to talent@londonscriptconsultancy.com.


Q. How much do writers earn?
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has negotiated minimum rates for screenwriters. The last Writers’ Guild agreement stipulates that for films with a budget over £2m, the fee should amount to a minimum of £23,200, going up to £31,200 once the advance on TV and video rights has been paid. For production budgets between £750,000 and £2m, the minimum fee is £14,000, going up to £19,000 with the advance payment on TV and video. The Writers’ Guild is currently in the process of renegotiating this agreement and expect these figures to increase by 35%. For more information go to www.writersguild.org.uk.

Of course, successful feature film writers usually get much more than this. Figures on www.scriptsales.com indicate that writers who sell scripts in Hollywood receive six-figure fees. The highest fee paid for a commissioned script was $2 million paid by Carolco Pictures to Oscar winning Rain Man scriptwriter Ronald Bass for an adaptation of T.M. Wright's supernatural thriller Manhattan Ghost Story in 1990.


Q. How long should a film be?
Short films tend to fall into two brackets – ones of around 2-3 minutes in length and ones of around 10 minutes. Some film makers produce shorts longer than this, but the vast majority of funding panels, festivals, and broadcasters are unwilling to take films over 10 minutes. Make sure that the length is appropriate for the end platform.

Feature films tend to be around 100-120 minutes in length, comedies are shorter than dramas and UK scripts are often shorter than US ones. Assuming correct formatting has been used, each page of your screenplay should be equivalent to an average of one minute screen time.


Q. What is the correct format for screenplays?
It is essential that you format your screenplay according to the industry standard otherwise producers will not take you seriously. The most important rules are that it must be written in 12 point courier typeface, A4 paper with approx. 1 1/2" margins, text justified from the left with specific tabs for the different elements and appropriate line spacing. For a detailed explanation go to are Downloads section .

The best way to ensure your screenplay adheres to the proper format is to use software such as Final Draft or Screenwriter 2000. These can cost up to £200 but a free equivalent called Script Smart for use in MS Word is available from the BBC website at www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart.


Q. How do I protect my work?
Copyright is the subject of ongoing debate. Do not be too concerned about people stealing your work; any producer is more likely to get you to write it or at least pay you for the idea rather than risk an expensive and embarrassing law suit. Better to risk theft than prevent yourself from developing your ideas, which you can only do through interaction with the industry.

It is very hard to copyright an idea but you can copyright a formulation of words, it is not possible to copyright titles, but they can be trademarked. The advantages to registration with the Patent Office – www.patent.gov.uk/copy/ - are that it establishes a public record, and in an infringement lawsuit, it will allow you to sue for statutory damages and legal fees. The cheapest way to prove that something is yours is to have it written down and have witnesses who can testify that you wrote it. Make sure you indicate to anyone you speak to about your screenplay that you are talking ‘in confidence’ and even send them an email beforehand to make this clear.

If you become a member of the Writers’ Guild of America (automatic membership through the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain), you are entitled to use their free copyrighting facility. There are also registration facilities through acknowledged bodies such as PACT (www.pact.co.uk) and the MPAA (www.mpaa.org/home.htm), on which one can register intended use of a title.


Q. Do I need to consider budget?
It is the producer’s job to work out how special effects and other costly elements can be done, so don’t let it hinder the creative process of writing. Saying that, budget provides a good indication of how the film will be positioned in the market. As a writer, you must be aware of the relationship between your script and your audience.

Films that only sell in the UK are not able to justify budgets of over £4m since the U.K. only amounts to 3% of the world revenue and cannot generate enough box office. In addition, it is not enough to market a film simply as low budget; they require strongly identifiable genres such as horror, comedy or thriller. To have a ‘High budget’ script produced ($20 million plus) requires involvement with the US Film Industry, which will make certain demands on the script from the outset.


Q. How do I sell my work?
Producers are constantly on the lookout for good scripts. It is essential that your script is up to the necessary standard and correctly formatted. In addition, you should have a synopsis, treatment, and log line readily available. It is never advised to send unsolicited scripts; either secure an agent or start developing a relationship with production companies. Always call beforehand to warn them you are sending something in and make sure you have done your research into the kind of scripts they are looking for. When sending a scriptto a producer, you will need a query letter. For an example see www.scriptsales.com/Query.html.

Remember, selling your script is easier once you have a polished product. With very few great scripts around, if you focus on quality, your screenplay will sell itself.


Q. Can screenwriting be learnt?
The London Script Consultancy challenges the idea that talent is "innate". We believe that successful screenwriting comes from commitment, correct coaching and application. We have seen hundreds of writers improve exponentially after receiving consistent support, training, and feedback. Go to Courses for information about screenwriting tuition or go to our What We Do page for further information about our free weekly Writers’ Group.


Q. What use is a script report?
Getting a script report is the best way to discover whether your script is ready to go out to production companies, illuminating the areas that aren't working and how improvements can be made.

Whilst friends and family can give invaluable support, you should always get professional, unbiased feedback on your work. In Hollywood, script doctoring and mentoring is an essential part of the development process. Executives understand that every improvement made on the page will save thousands down the line. Go to our Consultancy page for more information on how to submit a script for analysis.


Q. How do I get paid for writing?
Writing a screenplay can entail investing up to two years of your time with no income. However, it is possible to apply for funding to support yourself through this period or even get a job as a paid writer.

Although screen
writing competitions usually require a finished script, there are a number of schemes run by public bodies providing funding for development for which you may only be required to send an outline or a treatment. Take a look at our Funding Organizations section for more information.

The other route is to write for TV. Broadcasters are constantly on the lookout for new talent. For more information go to the BBC's web site www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom. Here you can enter writing competitions (see www.bbc.co.uk/talent) and find out about commissioning requirements for writers of drama and comedy. Soap operas are recognized routes into writing for TV. Both ‘Doctors’ and ‘Hollyoaks’ accept scripts from new writers; contact the BBC and Mersey TV directly for information on vacancies. Another route is to get a job as a script editor on a series such as EastEnders. This will give you a great experience and the possibility of eventually writing for the series.

In addition, many successful writers started off writing for radio. Radio 4 broadcasts new plays daily and is always looking for new ideas. For more information go to www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom.

 
 
 
 
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