Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 102





Sandy Eiges

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 1 of 102
By Sandy Eiges


Copyright © 2001 by Sandy Eiges. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this

publication may be reproduced, transmitted, transcribed, stored in a retrieval system, or
translated into any human or computer language, in any form or by any means
whatsoever, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, without the
express written permission of the author. For information, address Cavegirl Productions,
321 Brooks Avenue, Venice, California 90291 or via email at
sandy@storyandscriptdevelopment.com .

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 2 of 102
By Sandy Eiges




When I told one of my writer/producer friends that I was going to write this book, I got an
enthusiastic response. He hoped that I would be able to address all of the big issues: how
to write, when to write, why to write, is there a way to write? How do I write? What does
a writer really do?

While I don’t presume to have the answers to all those questions, it is clear to me what
writers do, and why they do it. Writers imagine a whole universe, where none existed
before. The universe can be a house or a galaxy, but there is something in this universe,
some idea, some story, that you just can’t get out of your mind. That, to me, is the only
real reason to write. Of course people write because they think something might make a
good movie; or because they think they might attain fame and fortune by selling a million-
dollar screenplay. Even if you eventually do make a fortune as a screenwriter, if this is
your only reason to write, your road to success will be fraught with much frustration and
heartache, as you keep pounding on that closed Hollywood door. In fact, even if you’re

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 3 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
writing because you’re obsessed/in love with/compelled by an idea, your way will still be
fraught with frustration and heartache – but at least you’ll love what you do. Writing, like
love, like life, may be frustrating at times, but it can also be a wildly exhilarating
experience, unlike any other, and it’s not surprising that many people try their hand at it,
in some form or other.

Over the past several years I’ve received myriad inquiries from people all over the world
who have stories to tell, and who felt that their stories were suitable to the big screen. All
of them had one basic question – I’ve never written a screenplay, so what do I do now?

For those willing to take the plunge into writing a full-length screenplay, I have come up
with a guided set of exercises to help you do just that, doing what writers do everywhere –
face the blank page, and start writing. There are many inspirational books out there which
focus on the art of story telling for the screen, but which leave you high and dry as to the
process. Here, I will take you on a step by step course, on the craft of screenwriting. Okay,
this is more about style than substance – all of you psychologists out there, make of this
what you will.

While this book was written primarily for the new writer, other writers, with screenplays
under their belts but still without an option or sale, will learn professional tips and insider
secrets to help you rethink your approach to screenwriting, and make your scripts sparkle
and glow, and look like they’ve been written by a pro.

For a beginning screenwriter trying to “break in,” just as for any good safecracker, you
must first learn to use the tools of the trade. And the tools you use must be sharp, you’ve
got to have a good ear for the tumblers clicking into place, and you’ve got to possess some
measure of skill, and, like the best criminal minds, intelligence. If all else fails, you’ve got
to know how and when to use explosives. Only then will you blow a hole in that
seemingly impenetrable wall safeguarding the Hollywood dream.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 4 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Metaphors aside, this book is intended as a practical guide to writing a professional script,
from start to finish – a script that, instead of screaming “amateur,” looks and smells like it
was written by a genuine writer. A writer with an idea, a cause, a character, a situation –
in short, a PREMISE – that is so disturbing, ridiculous, compelling, hilarious, tantalizing,
frightening, that the reader cannot help but read on, to see how the HERO deals with this
wildly original and UNEXPECTED CIRCUMSTANCE, and whether or not he or she
succeeds in OVERCOMING THE OBSTACLES in his or her path.

The words in bold, capital letters are words you will run into time and time again, in
studying screenwriting. Without being too simplistic, suffice to say that without a
PREMISE and a HERO you don’t have a screenplay. Now this might seem obvious, but,
unfortunately, most new writers don’t have a clue as to what a movie premise is; and
oftentimes character and character development take a back seat to the plot. This would be
difficult enough, but, in addition, many new writers also don’t seem to have any idea of
what constitutes a beginning, a middle and an end, plot points, reversals, etc. And don’t
get me started on the subject of dialogue.

Life should be a very beautiful and elegant matter, but is often thrown out of balance by
events either of our own making, due to a character flaw, or seemingly or actually out of
our control. And so it is with the movies which touch us most deeply, where, as in real
life, someone is trying to overcome their “flaw” (or apparent inability to deal with a
situation) in order to restore balance to an (INCREASINGLY) UNTENABLE
SITUATION, through the peculiarly human act of CONSCIOUS PROBLEM-

Screenwriting, like life, requires that same level of problem solving. What is problem
solving? Problem-solving is about facing conflict head on, when a situation presents itself
in such a way as to create imbalance and discomfort (conflict), until you figure out what to
do about it, and then do it, against all odds.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 5 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
So the essence of all screenwriting is problem solving the hero’s way out of conflict
and restoring balance, whether psychological, relational, societal, or cosmic. The
results of a film hero’s actions can be futile, they can be heroic, they can be tragic, or
ridiculous, but whatever they are, they take him and us on our own journey into the heart
of conflict, and out the other side. This, to me, is the essence of screenwriting.

The same goes for you as an intrepid screenwriter, getting yourself out of this mess you
got yourself into when you had that great idea to write a screenplay. Your task mirrors
your hero’s task – pretty elegant, huh?

So what is a screenplay, exactly? Simply put, a screenplay is the written version of the
film, or a blueprint for the film, including the story line, as told through action and
dialogue, descriptions of the characters, and instructions regarding locations and lighting.
Well, I guess you could say that a Mercedes S600 Coupe with a V-12 engine is a set of
four wheels, painted steel, chrome and leather. But if you view either your screenplay or
said car as such a simple and straightforward affair, then no one is going to get too excited
about it (or dish out six figures for it either). So let’s go a little further in defining what a
screenplay, and your story, should do, namely:

Present your hero with a situation (inciting incident) which triggers a dramatic crisis
and a decision to act (Act One); his actions, while seemingly solving the problem,
lead to new conflicts which intensify the problem (hopefully not arbitrarily), and the
hero’s dilemma (Act Two); until the hero, at great odds, figures out how to resolve
the problem (Act Three).

While this is an admittedly simplistic definition, it does tell you what the overall shape of
the Hollywood screenplay should look like. In this formulation, the plot is created by your
character's actions, building dramatic tension and a compelling story line, based on your
character and his or her authentic needs and how he or she fills (or doesn’t fill) those

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 6 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
needs. We will examine the essential components of a screenplay in the pages that follow,
including a practical set of exercises and writer’s tools to help you:

• choose your story;

• clarify your premise;

• start writing a screenplay, without “opening a vein;”

• define and add depth to your characters, and sharpen their dialogue;

• format the screenplay professionally;

• pitch your story simply and effectively, whether in person or via query.

Where appropriate, there will be excerpts from my own written material, so as not to
infringe on any other writer’s copyright. The material will include query letters that got
some of Hollywood’s top players calling, asking to read my material; and treatments and
screenplays written for hire, optioned or sold. More importantly, there will also be some
workbook-like exercises, to get you started on transforming your own idea into a

Of course you could learn much of this in a good screenwriting class, if you are fortunate
enough to have classes available in your area. Not all classes are created equal, however;
I’ve had clients who teach screenwriting, and who didn’t have a clue about what
constitutes a premise, a narrative throughline, story logic, or character development. If a
class is not an option for you at this time, in any case, what this guide is going to tell you
is what you absolutely need to know about the craft of writing for the big screen, simply,
clearly, and without surrounding it with a lot of theory about the art of story telling. I
leave that for another time.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 7 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
This book is going to teach you what you need to know to get started; and, if you have
written numerous screenplays that haven’t sold, you may get some tips that will help you
sharpen your screenwriting skills.

But telling you what you need to know doesn’t guarantee a sale – you must have a movie
idea to begin with; and you have to execute that idea with skill, and intelligence. Trust me,
even the lamest movies started with a writer who had an idea s/he was excited about,
however perverted that idea became during the filmmaking process. So I repeat, following
the guidelines set out below will not guarantee a sale. My sincere apologies. Also note that
the focus here is on the big screen, and not on episodic television, which has its own rules
and a completely different format.

One request, please: while I welcome emails with questions regarding the material in this
book, please don’t send me emails correcting my grammar. I use far too many dashes, and
write as I speak, that is, in the vernacular (yes, I use words like vernacular). When I’m up
for the Booker Prize, maybe I’ll clean up my grammatical act. Meanwhile, allow me my
sentences that begin with and, but, because and maybe, and end with, well...You get the
idea. So let’s begin.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 8 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

The act of choosing your story, identifying your hero and establishing his or her character
arc and the story’s premise, is highly personal. There is no one way to get an idea – they
seem to spring, unbidden, from the great collective unconscious, or from your own dark
and troubled past, or from the blitz of information we encounter every day. You might
have an idea, or an image you just can’t get out of your head, or a dream, or something
you see while walking down the street. You might read about an event in the paper, or in a
history book, or something happens to you personally, or to someone you know. Maybe
there’s a historical figure you’ve always found fascinating, or there’s an unusual, larger-
than-life figure in your own family. As you can see, the possibilities for where ideas can
come from are endless.

No one can choose your story for you, but not all stories are screen stories. There are
ways, however, to decide whether a particular story has enough going for it to warrant the
effort it will take to turn it into a screenplay, attract millions of dollars in financing, and,
oh yeah, entertain, inform and move that all-important audience.

So before you begin the writing process, get out a pencil and paper and ask yourself the
following questions, writing down your responses. In fact, if you have several ideas, do
this same exercise with each one, and see if you can figure out which one you feel truly

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 9 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
compelled to write. Don’t skip the exercise – answering these questions honestly is the
first step in deciding whether or not to write your idea in the form of a screenplay.


Write out the gist of your story in a phrase or a sentence: “the giant squid project,” “Uncle
Buddy’s Last Hurrah,” etc. You know what you mean, and you’re not showing this to
anyone, so don’t go into detail. And even though you can probably answer these questions
in your head, don’t – you’re a writer, remember? Now answer the following questions.

1. What do I find compelling about this story? Do I feel passionate about it? What about this
story beckons to me? Be as specific as possible. It doesn’t have to be profound, but there
has to be something about this story that is going to keep you involved, passionately
involved, for the weeks, months, and sometimes years, it takes to finish the screenplay.

2. Is there a specific visual image involved? Remember, film is a visual medium. Is there a
compelling visual context for this story?

3. Is there a hero, or heroes, in an untenable situation, with unique obstacles in his path?
What is the hero’s problem to solve? Can I solve it, in a way we may never before have
seen on screen?

4. Is there at least one character I can identify with, and does this character have the
possibility of major transformation? Is the main character an everyman, grappling with
extraordinary circumstances, or an extraordinary person destined to transform the world
around him? Can I identify with the main character, and understand his motivation well
enough to write him as a deeply layered personality, as a real person with an inner life of

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 10 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
his own that informs all he does? Is there any part of this story that is really about me?
Will I be able to maintain enough distance to let the character be who he is, while getting
so deeply inside him that I can capture the character’s “voice” and make him convincing?

5. Am I capable of writing this story? Do I know enough about the world I’m writing about,
or, if not, am I up to doing the amount of research involved? Am I willing to do that
research? (If you’ve written before) Will writing this screenplay push my limits as a
writer, or does it fall into a genre I write easily? If this is uncharted territory for me, am I
ready to tackle something I’ve never done before?

6. Has this story been seen before on screen in some form, and, if it has, do I have a fresh
new take on it? What is special and unique about my version of this story?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you should be one step closer to beginning your
screenplay. If you have more than one idea, and are unsure about which project to focus
on first, answer the above questions for each project to get a feel for which project is
“calling to you” more. Then, once you’ve established which project you’re going to focus
on, you’re ready to take the next step, and write a synopsis. Sometimes, in fact, you can’t
really do the above exercise until you’ve written the synopsis. Whatever works for you.

Please note: if, after doing the above exercise, you’re still not sure whether you have a
movie premise, or which is the most compelling of your movie ideas, you can always
email me at sandy@storyandscriptdevelopment.com for a QuickPitch appointment, and
pitch your ideas to me over the phone. The service is free, and if you’re nervous about
divulging what may be a unique idea, you can fill out and send a release form before our
appointment. A release form can be found at the end of this book.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 11 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
So, now that you’ve made a decision about which project to work on, the next task is:

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 12 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Although for some of you this will be obvious, it won’t be for everyone; but I do suggest
that before you start writing your screenplay, you take two necessary steps:

1. Set aside a time and place to write, preferably every day.

Making a commitment to write is different from planning to write. Even an hour a day can
be very productive. Set aside a regular time, so that you don’t need to make this same
difficult commitment every day.

2. Put your story idea down on paper. While some of you might think this is obvious,
many novice writers (and some screenwriting “consultants”) start straight in on the
screenplay. I’m here to tell you it is very difficult to go from the idea in your head directly
to the screenplay format; and if you do, you run the danger of having a shapeless mass at
the end of your toils, which will require endless rewrites.

A more methodical approach, while time-consuming at first, will save you a lot of time
later on. And it is easier to rewrite at this stage than to rewrite an entire screenplay.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 13 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
What follows are two approaches to easing yourself into writing the script:

• the synopsis/ outline/ index card approach; and

• the synopsis/ treatment approach.

As you can see, both approaches begin with a synopsis. There are many misconceptions
out there about what constitutes a synopsis. That confusion stems from the fact that there
are two kinds of synopsis, namely, the working synopsis, and the selling synopsis. A
working synopsis is a tool to help you write your screenplay, and is between you and God,
or you and your writers group (or your script consultant). A selling synopsis is what you
write based upon the final draft of the screenplay, to be used as a marketing tool.

A working synopsis should be preliminary, including only the bare bones of your story,
including the beginning, the middle and the end. This will function as a tent pole, to help
you start putting together the major elements of character and plot. This synopsis may
look very different by the time you finish the script, at which point you should revise it to
reflect the completed screenplay. That would be your selling synopsis, which you will
need in case a producer requests the synopsis before committing to read an entire script.
Many do.

So what does a synopsis look like? It can be a paragraph or a page or two, summarizing
what the story is about, highlighting what you know about the plot at this point (what
happens). Ideally, what it’s about will also be who it’s about, although, unfortunately,
that’s not always the case. But even in “event movies” or “disaster movies” you can
ground the story firmly in character.

Let’s take a completely commercial and inconsequential movie like DANTE’S PEAK, for
example, the “other” volcano movie. But, if you look closely, the story isn’t about a
volcano, it’s about a discredited volcano expert whose predictions come true, and who has

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 14 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
to save a town from disaster (okay, so I watch too much late night cable). So yes, it’s
about a volcano; but the volcano is really a backdrop (a spectacularly visual one, with lots
of possibilities for action) for the human drama. What the story is about, then, is a man,
not the volcano, and then that becomes the premise – “discredited volcano expert saves a
town from the onslaught of an erupting volcano.” We will take a closer look at what a
premise is later on. Suffice to say that your working synopsis for this movie should
establish the character, the manner in which he’s discredited, the path open to him to
redeem himself, the major turning points, all of the major characters who will have a part
in the story, and how the character resolves a larger problem, thereby solving his personal
issues as well.

Ideally, the synopsis should be based on your main character, because his journey is
ultimately what the movie is about. This is, of course, easier said than done; often you’ll
have an idea for a story that seems to be more about the story than it is about a character.
But taking this approach will often land you in hot water, since, without a main character,
we don’t really know where the story should start and end. Writing your synopsis as a
series of events, that don’t follow the travails of any particular person, will create
problems for you later on, when you’ve written a screenplay that doesn’t seem to be about
anyone in particular. I call this the “and this happens and then that happens” premise,
which is always the kiss of death to a screenplay. Unfortunately this happens more often
than not. Here is an example of a –

BAD MOVIE PREMISE: “This tour group goes on vacation to the Bahamas, but weird
things start happening to them, and one guy drowns, and, like, the captain goes crazy, and
another one runs away with a supermodel, and then, well, a hurricane lifts their cruise ship
up and sets it back down IN THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE. After they finally get blown
out of the storm, they go home, where the supermodel learns that her little brother has
died of leukemia. She starts a foundation.”

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 15 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
I can see the development executive’s eyes glaze over, a pained smile glued to his ashen
visage. Contrary to popular opinion, studio executives aren’t idiots (well, most of them).
You may not like them, you may rail against their opinion of your precious screenplay
(based on your pitch), something you’re sure should be nominated for an Oscar. And you
can’t even get anyone to read it, much less buy it! But they are your first audience, a
highly specialized audience, trained to sniff out a great premise for a movie, that then
delivers with the kind of skilled execution that will attract funds and major talent, enthrall
an audience, and make all concerned piles of money in the process. So the last thing you
want to do is bore them to death before they’ve even read your script.

What was boring about the Bermuda Triangle premise? Why is this a bad premise? It has
action, a supermodel AND the Bermuda Triangle. What could be bad? Simply put, it
suffers from two common problems:

1. The “and then this happens, and then that happens,” premise, with situations occurring
that seemingly have nothing to do with each other; and an ending that has nothing to do
with anything that’s taken place thus far, or with the main character’s central task; and

2. The fact that it isn’t clearly about anyone, or anything, in particular. There is no point to
this scenario.

Sure, the Bermuda Triangle is cool; but what we need is to be made to care about at least
one person in the story, so that we care about what happens to them and want to see what
happens next, and how things will turn out.

Can the above premise be turned into a movie premise (and then a synopsis, an outline or
treatment, and a screenplay)? Absolutely. All of your story ideas (well, most of them),
while they may not work in the form you’ve devised, can be reworked into a screen story.
In fact, I can honestly say that I’ve never read a script that couldn’t eventually become a
screenplay, IF the writer was willing to rethink and revise as needed. And since all

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 16 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
successful screenwriters get critiques and notes from the producer/director/star/you name
it, a willingness to rethink and revise is critical to your future success. So you might as
well start now.


Using the above example of a bad movie premise, figure out how you would tell this
story, who the story is ultimately about, whether it’s a comedy, sci fi mystery, action-
adventure or thriller (unclear from the above premise), and then rewrite this premise. (A
tip: what’s not important in the story is the supermodel, clearly put in purely for eye
candy, unless she becomes not just a supermodel but a superhero (the as-yet unheard of
“Bermuda Triangle Effect”, or unless a real-life supermodel is the reason for the movie in
the first place); and while the Bermuda Triangle might be interesting, it’s going to have to
be pretty perfectly integrated into the plot, and into our hero’s task and transformation.

There are no right answers here – every writer will come up with a different take on the
story. But if you would like my reaction to your one or two sentence take on this, and
whether you’ve managed to turn this into a workable and convincing movie premise, feel
free to email me your response to this question, at sandy@storyandscriptdevelopment.com

If the Bermuda Triangle idea gets you so excited that you want to start on a script
immediately, be warned: there are lots of B.T. scripts out there – and none of them have
been made. Not that yours wouldn’t, but...

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 17 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Not all movie premises have to be brilliant, hilarious, deeply moving or earthshakingly
profound, although it helps. In fact, many are simply variations on the tried and true
(TITANIC, for example, can be seen as ROMEO AND JULIET on a sinking ship). And,
despite my earlier instruction that what we need to be made to care about at least one
person in the story, so that we care about what happens to them and want to see what
happens next, and how things will turn out, sometimes the thing we care about isn’t a
person: E.T., for example, or even Los Angeles, in VOLCANO (premise: a volcano erupts
under the La Brea Tar Pits, threatening to bury L.A. – although they do introduce a lame
story – and I do apologize for my current volcano fixation), or life on earth (a meteor
hurtling to earth may destroy life as we know it – ditto re: the lame story). Remember, the
premise is the concise version of what the story is truly about – the central idea.

Although you may have a premise in mind while writing the script, by the time you’re
ready to send your script out into the marketplace your premise should be an idea rooted
in a character. So, for example, a classic premise might be:

“Ruthless ambition sows the seeds of its own destruction.”

This is the premise for Macbeth. But if you tried to start on your synopsis from this
premise, you’d be stumped, since it doesn’t start with a particular character or situation. A
movie premise has to be more specific, i.e.:

“A Scottish lord’s ruthless ambition leads to his own destruction.”

This immediately establishes a character we can follow, in a particular setting, and the
premise then drives the story forward by making character central to the plot.

Below is an example of a much less lofty premise, from one of my screenplays. Many
books and movies use this “identity switching” premise in different ways (THE PRINCE

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 18 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
to name just a few). Don’t blink after reading it – there is an identical premise out in
theaters now, Disney’s THE PRINCESS DIARIES (based on a different novel), which
was greenlit just as I finished my script, now languishing on a deep, dark shelf.


A ROYAL PAIN is a “Clueless In A Castle” – type comedy about an American teenager,

chafing under her mother’s rules, who learns she was switched at birth – and that she’s
really the princess of Arcania, a tiny European country.

What this premise tells us is who the story is about, what it’s about (independence – what
all coming of age and teen movies are about), the possibilities for transformation, action
and comedy (American teenager must learn to become a princess; the ruled over must
become the ruler). In this case I included the “Clueless In A Castle” comment to
differentiate it from Disney’s “Pygmalion” approach in THE PRINCESS DIARIES
(“clumsy American teenager learns she’s really the princess of a tiny European country”).

So you see that even what could look like the same exact premise can veer off in very
different directions. One thing that all premises – and pitches – have in common, is that
they can be said in a phrase, a sentence, or, at most, two sentences. As I said earlier, a
premise is NEVER “there’s this guy, and then this happens, and then that happens.”
Keeping this in mind –

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 19 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Write out the premise of your story, in one, or at the most two, sentences.

Not so easy, is it? When in doubt, one way to approach this is to start out with “this is a
story about a man who...” The fewer words the better – the less explanation, the more
“high concept” (simple) an idea is, and the easier to grasp. Simple ideas are often hard to
come by, and tend to be action films, or comedies. Think INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.
fights for the earth’s freedom against an attack from outer space); TWINS – Danny
DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger; TITANIC – working-class Romeo and upper crust
Juliet, on the most devastating sea disaster in modern history; etc.

Your premise should get you started on writing your story. If you don’t have a premise to
start, never fear, you will by the time you finish. In that case, if you can’t encapsulate the
idea right away, then you can simply start writing the synopsis. Some questions to guide
you through that process are included below.

A cautionary note: one idea we see a lot of is the “two people fall in love, stay in love, buy
a house, and make love, and all of their dreams come true.” What is wrong with this
scenario? Basically, that there’s no real external conflict; that our two lovers fall in love
and stay in love, without major opposition or problems; and that there is nothing more
boring than watching two people be happy together for two hours on screen. Again,
conflict fuels drama, and should be the essence of all screen stories. In fact, without
conflict you can have no –

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 20 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

You may hear this word a lot, but don’t let it scare you. A plot point is basically a major
challenge, success or reversal, an incident that moves the story in a new direction.
Ideally there should be a major plot point midway through the first act (the inciting
incident, i.e., that moment that starts the ball rolling, when the main character takes a life-
altering turn), at the end of each act, midway through the film, and at the climax of your
story. These will correspond roughly to pages 10-15 (the inciting incident), 30 (first Act
turning point), 60 (mid-point), and 90 (second Act turning point).

I say roughly because each screenplay is different, and a major reversal may occur five to
ten pages earlier or later than indicated above. Suffice to say, however, that if you haven’t
established what this screenplay is about, who the main character is, and what direction
the story might be moving in, by page 10, most agents and executives will read no further.
Many will stop reading by page 2. Fortunately for you script readers, who usually read the
script before it gets to the agents and executives, have no choice but to read on, since part
of their job is to write a synopsis of your script. But even here, if the reader is turned off
by page 10, your script is not going to get a “consider,” much less a “recommend.”

Now back to your working synopsis. Any working synopsis should include all of the
major plot points of the story – without these, you won’t have enough information to

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 21 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
begin imagining, much less writing, the scenes to your movie. And while plot points can
change during the writing process, and you may eventually decide to take a different road
leading to your goal, you’ve got to start with what you think is the right route to begin
your journey.

Before we get started on the exercises that will help you write the synopsis to your
screenplay, let’s take a look at a synopsis of A ROYAL PAIN below, with plot points and
act breaks highlighted. Viewing this on screen, pointing your cursor at the highlighted
sections, will bring up the commentary (there is no commentary in the printout).

Since I never save my initial, sketchy, one and a half page handwritten synopses, this is
the “after screenplay” synopsis. Please note that it is far more detailed than the “before
screenplay” working synopsis needs to be; but it should give you some idea of the level of
detail you’ll need as you work out your story. I’ve included the pitch (a combination of
the premise and the synopsis) just so you can see how many different ways there are to tell
this story. Please note that this “pitch” is suitable to a query letter, or online submission.
The “premise” is what I would pitch in person, leaving out all additional detail unless
asked for more, so that the executive asks for the screenplay.

This particular screenplay, by the way, got me meetings at major companies at Paramount
and Twentieth Century Fox, including Lynda Obst Productions (Sleepless in Seattle, What
Women Want) and Deep River Productions (Dr. Doolittle, Big Momma’s House). So, you
see, your story doesn’t need to be brilliant or profound; it does need to be a good example
of your writing, consistent with the genre, with great characters, plausible but
unpredictable plot points, and, above all, well told.

Also note that this particular story is based on someone else’s novel. In this case, I
optioned the novel; if you are using someone else’s material, whether a personal story, a
news article or a published work, you must get that person’s permission, in writing. More

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 22 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
films are based on already published material than on original screenplays, so don’t shy
away from this approach – as long as you’ve cleared the legal hurdles first.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 23 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

By Sandy Eiges

Based on the novel by Ellen Conford

The pitch:

A ROYAL PAIN is a “Clueless In A Castle” – type comedy about an American teenager,

chafing under her mother’s rules, who learns she was switched at birth – and that she’s
really the princess of Arcania, a tiny European country.

ABBY, 16, chafes at the restrictions of teenage life, and thinks she’s old enough to be a
free agent. So when she learns that she was switched at birth, and is actually the princess
of a tiny European country called Arcania, her wish seems granted. POTTER, a State
Department underling, wants her to sign a deal before she goes, but royal advisor
MADAME DANTON nips that in the bud. And Danton prevents her mother from coming
to Arcania with her – outsiders are allowed into the country once a year, during the
Glockenspiel Festival. Abby is officially on her own...

...and a princess to boot. With a fabulous castle, and the gorgeous COUNT VAYIZMIR,
20, dying to meet her, she can ignore how quaint and backward Arcania seems, with its
goats and glockenspiels. She wants nothing to do with GEOFFREY, 18, the mild-
mannered reporter cum rebel leader trying to warn her all is not what it seems. Instead she
plunges into a royal life, including her dotty royal parents, and the loopy dethroned
PRINCESS DOLORES, 16. Danton is a pain, she can’t seem to find a phone, but then it’s
the night of the ball, and she finally gets to meet Vayizmir. But the minute he opens his
mouth she knows she’s in trouble – it’s not just the cubic zirconium in his tooth, or that

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 24 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
he’s so creepy he makes her skin crawl. It’s that he thinks they’re engaged to be married –
on her 16th birthday, in two weeks, at the Glockenspiel Festival.

Now she needs her parents, fast, but there are no phones anywhere in Arcania. Her new
parents are no help – Arcania is bankrupt, and needs Vayizmir’s money. She turns to
Geoffrey, and they incite the lederhosen-clad teenagers in rebellion. But instead of getting
Abby thrown out of the kingdom, the king and queen enjoy it. Nothing left but escape,
with the intrepid Geoffrey leading the way, Danton and her guards on their tail. They
make it as far as the forbidden Black Sludge Forest; but Danton captures them, throwing
Geoffrey in the dungeon and keeping Abby prisoner until the wedding.

Abby hatches a plan to get Dolores back on the throne. But she needs Geoffrey, in his
reporter guise. Dolores helps Geoffrey escape. But it’s already the day of the festival, and
Danton’s guards are patrolling the borders. Potter, and Abby’s parents, manage to sneak
in. When Geoffrey, battling Danton’s guards, doesn’t show, Abby creates a diversion –
and reunites with her parents, fleeing for the border. Just then Geoffrey arrives with his
newspaper article claiming that Abby is a fake. Danton is furious – how did they find out?
Now it’s the royals who are furious; Danton confesses her plan to get rid of Dolores,
reveal Abby as a fake and take over the kingdom.

But Abby doesn’t feel right leaving Dolores to marry Vayizmir. She corners Potter,
uncovering the real reason for his interest in Arcania – the black sludge is oil. Danton’s
been keeping them in the Middle Ages, but they have what they need to enter the modern
world, and Dolores doesn’t need to marry for money. Impressed, the royal family offers
her Danton’s job. One look at Geoffrey, and, despite her parents’ protests, Abby knows
she’s really ready to be on her own, and decides to stay in Arcania, after all.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 25 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Something you may have noticed is that, in writing the synopsis, I –


I can’t emphasize this enough – one of the dead giveaways of a new writer is that they
don’t tell the story, they tell you about the story. This is a variation on the tried-and-true
rule of all fiction writing: show, don’t tell.

The synopsis should read like a short, short story, told in the present tense. It should not
read as an explanatory statement of your intentions, or why the reader should
read/love/buy your screenplay. While no one is going to see your initial synopsis but you,
your writing group, teacher or script consultant, it’s still a good idea to get in the habit of
writing the synopsis as if you’re already telling the story; and, as I mentioned earlier, you
will need to have a more polished version of the synopsis once you’ve finished your
screenplay, to use as a marketing tool. In any case you should get use to writing in the
present tense – there is no room for the past tense in a screenplay. Get used to writing
what we can see on screen, which must be described in the present tense, even if it’s about
an event that occurred in the past.

Before you start writing your synopsis, let’s make sure that you understand what the shape
of a screen story looks like.


Rent your favorite film, in whatever genre, and identify, in writing, what the plot points
are, and when they occur (10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.). Now go out to see a film in
current release, and try to identify the plot points, without having the luxury of stopping
and rewinding the tape.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 26 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Once you are comfortable with the way plot points work within the context of a story, you
can move on to writing your own synopsis.

There are many different ways to approach this, but here’s one that works for me. This is
going to take some time, so be prepared to set aside at least an hour or two. And while this
may feel like way too much work to do, just to prepare for writing a synopsis, it will pay
off in giving you a much broader and deeper knowledge of your characters. Think of this
as a way to write a character bio.


First, answer the following questions, in writing, for your hero. Later on, with less detail,
you should answer the same questions for all of the other main characters, including your
chief antagonist (the villain). Every character in your story should have a story of his or
her own, although the hero’s story will be dominant, and his or her point of view will
shape the direction of the synopsis.


1. What exactly does your hero want? What does he think he needs (his outer need)? What is
his inner need? In TOOTSIE, for example, Dustin Hoffman thought he needed a job (his
outer need), and his acting on that starts the story off in a particular direction. But what he
really needs (his inner need) is appreciation and love.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 27 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
2. How does the hero get a chance to go where his goal can be won? If he’s a “reluctant
hero”, what makes him finally try to get what he wants? This stage is the “call to
adventure,” and critical in setting up the hero’s motivation and his limitations.

3. Does the hero move toward his goal? How? At this point he may also meet potential allies
or a mentor - forces that help him overcome fear. There may be a surface appearance here
of the hero achieving his goal.

So, for example, Luke Skywalker wants to leave his uncle’s farm, but is unwilling to defy
his uncle and go off with Obi-Wan Kenobi to save Princess Leia – until he finds his
uncle’s farm destroyed, his relatives toast. Now he is as free as he said he wanted to be –
or so it appears, until it’s clear that a larger goal looms.


4. What happens to change the hero’s goal, from his own to another, larger goal? The
intrusion of a new goal, i.e. love, or saving humanity, is the first threshold that the hero
crosses on his way to his goal.

5. What, or who, prevents him from getting what he wants? What tests and enemies will he
have to battle? Why those particular tests and enemies – how do they relate to the hero’s

6. What choice does the hero make under pressure?

At this point there should be a profound conflict between the original goal and the new
goal, the original loyalty and the displaced loyalty. We want to see the hero be a hero, and
make the seemingly selfless choice. (Of course in the end the hero will get what he
wants—he just doesn’t know that at this point).

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 28 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
7. In the second half of the second act, the hero descends into the unknown, dealing with his
fears, facing his “shadow”, or “monsters,” literal or metaphorical. In this part of the script,
usually somewhere between pages 50-80, the hero experiences a “dark night of the soul,”
where everything comes into question and he’s consumed by self-doubt, leading to –

8. The hero hits bottom by the end of the second act, when his conflicting loyalties, to the
old and new goals, drives the hero far from either. In other words, he appears to have lost.
Or, if it looks like he’s vanquished his demons and gotten what he wants, something else
happens to pull the rug out from under him.


9. Is he willing to risk death to get what he wants? The events that occur force him to make
choices that are the only choices he can make, but by which he’ll appear to lose
everything. This is the climax of your film—with no certainty of success, in fact with
certainty of failure, the hero risks everything. This is where the hero tells the truth (literal,
emotional or spiritual), and takes the consequences.

10. What does the hero win? He has to somehow win both the inner goal and outer goal.
There needs to be a visible change in our hero from the beginning of the film, in
appearance, actions, behaviors.

A great example of this is ROMANCING THE STONE, where we meet Joan Wilder in
the beginning as a shy, disheveled writer of romantic fiction, who, by the end of her
journey, turns into the kind of heroine she writes about – with a life full of lust and love
and adventure.

11. The hero brings healing to the ordinary world he lives in. Think about your theme, this is
where it becomes clear what all the storm and fury is really about.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 29 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
In short, we need to see our hero fighting all odds to achieve his goal. We need to see him
in almost every scene, if this is truly going to be his story. We need to see that, although
he may have started out with a self-serving goal, by the end he may have a larger goal for
the good of the group (or community, or loved one, or world), and by acting on this will
achieve both a personal and a new, larger goal. Yes, even in AMERICAN PIE, our
intrepid hero has an inner and outer goal, and achieves his outer goal of getting laid for the
first time, the night of the prom; and an inner goal, of going from boy to man.


Now, write your synopsis, using your hero’s story as you outlined it in your answers to the
above questions. It should be simple, and not more than one or two pages.

Simple, right? If not, and you are still having trouble writing a synopsis, here’s another,
more playful, approach.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 30 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Turn your movie idea into a fairy tale, by:

1. Beginning with “Once upon a time...”

2. Give each major character a name, in capitals, even if it’s only “The Villain,” or “The
Handsome Prince.”

3. Exaggerate the events that occur in the story.

4. Make up what people look like.

5. Make up some dialogue.

6. Use as many descriptive words as possible to describe the characters and their behavior.

7. Now get rid of the “once upon a time,” put the story in the present tense, and try to edit
the story down to 1-2 pages, at most.

By now you should have some kind of a synopsis to work with, so let’s take this one step
further. Take a close look at your synopsis, and see if it has a premise, whether the story is
told visually, whether there are sufficient possibilities for action to keep the story going
forward, whether there is a main character who drives the action forward, whether there is
a person or a situation that keeps presenting obstacles to the hero, and so on. Does your
character have at least three clearly identifiable character traits (brave, honest, innocent,
for example), of which one is his fatal flaw? The clearer you define your character to
begin with, the more compelling that character will be.

Now see if you can write what is called a log line for the script – a one-sentence summary
also known as the premise, something that, until now, you may have thought of as “the

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 31 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
idea.” Is this the same movie you thought you were writing? Does it still have the same
premise? It might not, but that’s okay. Screenplays always do seem to take on a life of
their own.

Now what do you do? You’ve got a synopsis, you may even have a log line, but you’re
still a long way from having a finished screenplay. There are those who will tell you that
you can just start writing from here – in fact, there are those who will tell you not to even
bother with a synopsis, and to just start writing, stream of consciousness style, just to get
something on paper. This is not an effective or efficient way to write a screenplay, and
will practically insure that, without knowing where you’re going and how you’re getting
there, you will have to write draft after draft, wandering in the wilderness.

But once you have a synopsis, why not start writing? Isn’t the synopsis a map? Yes, it
definitely is, in the sense that it tells you where you are going to begin and end, with
perhaps a major landmark or two along the way. But the synopsis is more like a
topographic map, and what we need here is a road map. So, in order to get that road map, I
recommend using one of two approaches, as I mentioned earlier:

• the synopsis/outline/index card/screenplay approach; or

• the synopsis/treatment/screenplay approach.

There are pros and cons to each approach, and some writers will use them all before
actually starting on the script – synopsis, outline, treatment, index cards, or synopsis,
outline, index cards, treatment. (I never said this was going to be easy). Although having
so much information already on paper makes writing the actual screenplay a much less
daunting task, using a synopsis, outline, index cards and a treatment is overkill, in my

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 32 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
The outline/index card approach is tried and true; I’ve never met a screenwriter who
didn’t use index cards at some point in their career. This approach also has the advantage
of allowing you to try out different places for the same scene; and ultimately giving you a
working outline. In doing work for hire, in either writing an original script or a rewrite or
book adaptation, many producers will want to see an outline (also called a “step outline”)
before giving you the go ahead on starting the script. Fortunately, I’ve never had a
producer who insisted on seeing an outline, since my own outlines are completely
handwritten and indecipherable to anyone but myself, written in what I can only describe
as “the writer’s trance.”


Basically, this approach entails using the synopsis to outline the major scenes in your
script. Sounds simple, right? But what does this mean, exactly? Do you have to write
headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings, using numbers, Roman numerals, and lower
case letters, ad infinitum? No, absolutely not. An outline for a screenplay is simply a list
of scenes. Referring to the story line you just developed in your synopsis, you’re going to
write down a list of all the scenes you imagine are going to make up this story, in their
proper order, describing in a sentence or two what happens in it.

What happens in the scene is not every single thing that happens; rather, distill the essence
of the scene into its major story beats. So, for example, in E.T., in the sequence where
Elliot meets his strange and wonderful new friend, the outline might say:

14. Elliot discovers an alien in his house. They make friends.

15. Elliot hides the alien “E.T.” in his closet.

Why did I number these scenes 14 and 15? Although I’m making this up, Elliot’s
discovery of E.T. is the inciting incident of this film, and most likely occurs somewhere

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 33 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
between pages 10-20. Make sure that you number each scene, in order, and don’t worry if
you can’t fully figure out every single scene in the movie. Outlines should be a flexible
tool to help you think about your story, and help you see the logical connections and
transitions between scenes. Note that boiling the scene down to its essence makes it easier
to figure out what the point of the scene is, and whether or not you’ve repeated a plot
point (or story beat) unnecessarily. Also note that each scene should advance the story,
taking our characters on the next phase of their adventure, and not simply serve as a
vehicle for the writer to ruminate, philosophize or preach. Character development should
also, ideally, take place within the context of the action, and not simply for its own sake.

So, going back to Elliot, notice that the description in the outline is not of all the activity
that takes place in the scene (“Elliot, bored and friendless, wanders aimlessly around the
house...”). And it certainly isn’t a piece of the script. It is simply a more detailed map, to
help you “crack the story,” before you start writing the script.

An outline usually consist of master scenes, anywhere from 30 to 70 scenes; but again,
this won’t be a final number. There may be many changes, and the addition of numerous
“mini” scenes, along the way. A MASTER SCENE is the largest overview of the
location, with its essential elements, rather than all of the cutaways to different things
happening in the scene. More on this when we actually start writing the screenplay, below.
In the meantime, let’s get started on writing your own outline.


Using your synopsis, write an outline of all the scenes you imagine in the movie, in order,
by listing them in numerical order, and including a phrase or sentence that describes the
essence of what the scene is about. Leave a space between scenes whenever you get stuck
– the detail will come to you later.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 34 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Index Cards

Once you’ve got a working outline that you’re happy with, you are going to put each
scene on an index card, with its number. Although the actual placement of the scene may
change, working from the outline’s numbering will help you maintain the script’s
structure, as you originally envisioned it (this too will probably change, later on).

On each card, you will list the SLUG LINE. A slug line is the one line that indicates that
we are in a new scene, and that gives instructions for location and lighting. A slug line is
also called a SCENE HEADING. An example of a slug line or scene heading would be:


EXT. is short for EXTERIOR (an exterior shot, as opposed to an interior – INT. – shot).
Next comes the description of the place itself, followed by the time of day. More on this
later, under the section on format.

For right now, let’s get back to our index cards, which we’ve numbered, and where we’ve
entered a slug line at the top of the index card. This done, you can now let your
imagination go wild, and write down all the possible detail you can already envision in
your scene, including bits of dialogue. You may have very little, you may need to use a
couple of cards. There are no rules here. But the more detail you have on the cards, the
more you will be able to segue into writing the screenplay.

When you are ready to set aside a good portion of your day, you can get started on your
index cards. This can take two hours or ten, so be forewarned.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 35 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Using your outline, take a stack of index cards, and number each one for each scene.
Write the slug line for the scene across the top of the card, followed by anything you
know about the scene – who is in it, what they say, how they look, what actually happens,
what the emotional tone of the scene is. If you feel like actually writing the scene, go

Suddenly you find yourself with a stack of index cards – in fact you may have even added
some scenes to the original outline. This is good – the longer you spend inside your screen
story, the more real it becomes, and the more fully you can imagine your movie. In fact, it
is a good idea here to take a moment (or an hour) and review the order of your scenes,
now that you have more detail. Does this order still make sense? Can you fill in some of
those missing scenes? Make your changes before you begin writing the script.

Now – voila – you are ready to start writing the screenplay, using the information from the
cards as a basis for developing each scene. In fact, the use of index cards is so ubiquitous
that many of the popular screenwriting software programs have virtual “index cards,”
which you can then export into their screenplay format. If you use real index cards, you
will have to enter the information from each of them, in order to start writing the script.


After years of using the index card approach, I’ve recently started working from a
treatment instead. What exactly is a treatment? A TREATMENT is essentially a long
synopsis, of anywhere from 5-45 pages, which tells the story in greater detail than the

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 36 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
synopsis, and may even include some bits of dialogue. Some people think that writing a
treatment creates twice as much work – you can churn out a first draft of a screenplay in
practically the same time it takes to write a treatment. On the other hand, you can work
out story problems in treatment form much more simply than you can in a screenplay,
where you tend to get bogged down in particular scenes – treatments give you a better
overview of the “shape” of the story. Additionally, many producers will make submission
of a treatment part of your overall deal, so that they can get a better sense of story
problems along the way.

If your only motivation in writing a treatment is to sell your story idea based on a
treatment instead of a whole screenplay, and while many people will tell you that you can
sell a movie idea based on a treatment, I’m here to tell you that it just ain’t so. Sure, if
you’re already a known writer, with produced films to your credit, people will read your
treatment and take it seriously, maybe even buy it. But it you think you’re going to break
in, based on a treatment, think again. A treatment is a tool, and can be a great writing
sample; but it is still only an idea for a screenplay, and doesn’t tell the development
executives that you know how to write a screenplay. Ideas are easy; screenplays are not.

That said, a sample treatment is included at the end of this book. This treatment, which I
was commissioned to write, is of a fictionalized story, based on a Civil War memoir. It is
written in my own idiosyncratic style – there are no rules for what a treatment should look
like, and it can be anywhere from five pages to fifty. What it must have, as all screen
stories must have, is a beginning, a middle and an end, and a clear indication of act breaks.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 37 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Once you’ve taken a look at the sample treatment, go back to your own synopsis. Take the
synopsis further by expanding upon the events, and filling in the detail on all of the scenes
leading up to major plot points. Include snippets of dialogue, so we get a better sense of
the characters. Don’t forget to write this as if you were telling a story, and not telling
about the story.

Congratulations! You’ve now written a treatment for your screenplay. Even if you chose
the “synopsis/outline/index cards” approach, I recommend that you try writing a treatment
at least once.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 38 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Whether you opted for index cards or the treatment approach, and it took you twenty-four
crazed and manic hours or months of painstaking research, you’ve now arrived at the
moment when you can actually start writing the screenplay. A shiver goes down your
spine, whether from terror or excitement, you’re not sure.

But you are ready. And, given all of the preparatory work you’ve already done, you’re
much further along than you think. In fact, many writers feel like they’ve finished the
screenplay when they’ve gotten this far – the story is done, and now all they need to do is
write it down. Before you do, however, you would do well to:

(1) Set aside a regular writing time, preferably every day. All the good intentions in
the world won’t get that screenplay down on paper. You would be amazed at how much
work you can get done in even an hour a day;

(2) Set aside a regular place to write. While some writers thrive on being locked in a
silent, padded cell (so no one can hear them scream, tearing their brain cells out trying to
get the scene right), others prefer to listen to music compatible with the genre they’re
writing in; while still others prefer the background hum of life, working at a café, or on a
commuter train. Figure out which approach works for you, and stick to it.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 39 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
There is no one way to approach the writing process. But it’s been my experience that
putting yourself in the same time and place every day lets the muse know where to find
you. If you don’t believe in muses, call it inspiration, or call it showing up for work.
Whatever you call it, the habit of showing up to do your work in a consistent way does
seem to trigger what one writer-producer friend calls “writer’s trance.” Like a focused
meditation, it’s almost as if your brain waves go into a different pattern, engaging with
this fictional universe you’re creating, because it expects to. It’s the closest thing to
time/space travel I know of outside of a holodeck, and can be as deliriously exciting as it
sounds. The more consistently you spend time in your fictional universe, the easier it
becomes to get back there whenever you need to. But the work doesn’t get done by itself,
or if you’re distracted, or wish you were doing something else.

So get ready to give yourself over to the process, for as long as it takes. It can take a
feverish week, for the lunatic overachiever; or a year, for the slow but sure perfectionist, a
different kind of overachiever. Again, there is no right way.

Here are some additional tips before you begin.


Your ease with screenplay format is one of the ways a reader will know whether you’re a
beginner or a working writer, so it is very important that you learn the rules of the road,
and learn them well. Think of this as learning how to drive, and internalizing the rules so
well that they become almost automatic.

In this discussion of format, I’m not just going to tell you about margins, brads and three-
hole punch paper, although those are all important. I am also going to address issues of
style, the shorthand with which screenwriters indicate what happens in a scene to the
director, producer, actor, production designer, lighting, sound, costume...well, you get the

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 40 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
idea. Although there is at least one screenwriting teacher out there who will tell you that
less is more, that isn’t always the case. Yes, you do need to get your point across in as few
words as possible. But in order to get your reader to almost “see” the movie while reading
your screenplay, you will have to become adept at using language to get your ideas across,
without becoming either too wordy, or not descriptive enough. This isn’t rocket science;
but you’d be amazed at how few new screenwriters actually use language to communicate
their ideas. This becomes especially important in character development. More on this
below. But first, let’s focus on format.

Screenplay format is structured and complex. While I will list all of the relevant margin
details, with examples, you may find it worthwhile to invest in screenwriting software.
There are several fine screenwriting software programs out there, which, unfortunately,
don’t write your screenplay for you, but do put it in acceptable industry-standard format.
The important thing about screenwriting software programs is that they will: insert the
proper margins, top, bottom, left and right, as well as for dialogue; automatically format
slug lines; give you shortcut keys for character names; insert parentheticals in the right
place; insert cut to, dissolve, montage, etc.; and generally make the act of typing your
screenplay simpler.

Most programs will also take your “index cards,” (as long as you used their index card
function) and reformat them to screenplay format. For those of you wrestling with a TV
script for a sitcom or a one-hour drama, it will format for that medium; as it will for soaps,
commercials, documentaries and plays. Yes, these all have different formats; and no, I
won’t be discussing them all. The section on style refers to screenplays for feature films
and television movies only.

Should you not want to invest in software, you will have to set the tabs for the margin
measurements (in inches) listed below. They are approximate measurements since,
although the page setup on my computer indicates certain measurements, they don’t

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 41 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
exactly match what comes out on the page, and I can’t guarantee how they will turn out on
an e-page. Buy screenwriting software, or follow the measurements below, and your page
of script will look more or less as it should. One rule of thumb is to make sure there’s lots
of “white space” – keep your script lean and mean, and make it, what is called in the
business, an “easy read.” Trust me, this is one time when being known as easy is good.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 42 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

1. Font – screenplays are written in 12-pt. Courier font. Upon occasion, should you need
to “cheat” by making it look like you’ve got 120 pages when you really have 130, you can
try to fool everyone by using Times New Roman instead of Courier. You aren’t really
fooling anyone but yourself, however; and are better off trying to cut down on all those

2. Spacing – feature length screenplays are single spaced, with double space between
scenes, between narrative paragraphs within scenes, and between narrative paragraphs and

Single space – dialogue, action (narrative)

Double space – between scenes, between dialogue by different characters, between

dialogue and action (narrative) paragraphs, between scene and camera directions such as

If this sounds confusing, take another look at the sample pages of script at the end of the

3. Margins – the approximate margins are as follows; when in doubt, leave more white
space. Screenwriting software sets the margins automatically, and even gives you an
opportunity to “cheat” slightly, if you’re trying to cut down on the number of pages in an
overly long script. All margins are in inches, intended for 8 ½” x 11” paper, the American
standard. For those using A4 paper, just make sure there’s plenty of white space. But if
you can find American stationery, please do.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 43 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Top – 1”
Bottom – 1.5” – 2”
Left – 1.5”
Right – 1”
Dialogue – Character name begins approximately 4.2” from the left margin.
Dialogue text, under the character’s name, begins approximately 3” from
the left margin, and ends approximately 2.5” from the right margin.

4. UPPER CASE – upper case is used for slug lines (also called the scene heading),
characters’ name when they are first introduced, character’s name above dialogue, camera
directions (such as CUT TO), scene transition notations, sound effects, animals. So, for


TONY, 14, trailing sullenly behind the rest of his CLASS, stops to taunt the GORILLA in
his exhibit. As Tony beats his chest, the gorilla rises up, beating his chest, and let’s out an

This gives you the basic parameters of what a scene might look like on the page. Now
let’s get into what actually goes into a scene.

5. FADE-IN, FADE-OUT – It is customary to start your screenplay with the words

FADE-IN, or FADE-IN ON: on the top left; and FADE-OUT, at the end of the
screenplay, on the bottom right. Fade-in isn’t strictly necessary, being pretty much taken
for granted. Do use fade-out, however, since it tells the reader that this is the end, and that
they’re not missing a page.

6. A SCENE in a screenplay is a new and distinct location, inclusive enough to show

everything occurring in the nearby surroundings, but not so inclusive as to make it

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 44 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
impossible to shoot with a camera – this is going to be a movie, remember? It starts with a
SLUGLINE, also called a scene heading, which indicates whether this is an interior
(INT.) or exterior (EXT.) scene, where it’s located, and the time of day

So, for example, if your scene is on a street in Cleveland in the afternoon, you wouldn’t


You would write:


If the above seems unnaturally abrupt, it is, because it’s intended to act as shorthand for:
(1) the producer, who counts the number of exterior and interior scenes, distinct locations,
and day and night shots, in order to both budget and schedule the film shoot; (2) the
location scout, for obvious reasons; (3) the director, who, in conjunction with the D.P.
(director of photography), will decide on how to shoot that particular scene; (4) the
production designer, who will, in conjunction with the director, the set designer and the
lighting technician, put together the visual components of this scene.

So the slug line is essentially a “master scene” shot, rather than a description of the detail
within the scene. What you don’t write is:



If you want to let us know what kind of neighborhood we’re in, which should only be

included if it’s important to the story, then you should include that in –

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 45 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
7. The action or narrative paragraph that follows the slugline. Example:


Sun glints off the chrome on a ’57 Chevy parked outside an abandoned building in a low-
rent district, as DETECTIVE JOHN MACY, 30s, turns his intense gaze from the
building’s many broken windows to his partner, DET. YVONNE BURKE, African-
American, late 20s.

Even this much description would be a bit flowery for some people, but it does help to
“set the scene” by establishing the feel of the neighborhood (abandoned building, low-rent
district), something about our main character (the intensity of his gaze), who else is in the
scene (a female, African-American partner – already raising the question as to whether
they are friends or foes), and one more thing of interest – the ’57 Chevy. The only reason
to mention it at all is if it’s going to play a role in the story. Otherwise, leave it out,
together with any other unnecessary description, such as the bare trees, and the late
afternoon sun. After all, who are you to decide when this film will be shot? Unless the
season is absolutely critical to the story, leave it out.

In fact, the only reason to mention any detail whatsoever, instead of just writing –

late 20s.

is more for the reader than anyone else.

While a simple but compelling story might be enough to rope in the reader, unless your
premise is truly unique, you usually have to give the reader enough information to fully
imagine the scene – but not so much detail as to mark you as an amateur. In case you
think that “the reader” is just that person who does coverage of your script for the studio,
you’re wrong – the reader is basically every single person who will eventually turn your

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 46 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
screenplay into a film, including: the reader doing coverage, the assistants at the agencies
and production companies, the development executives, producers, studio executives, the
director, the actors, etc. And just in case you think that anyone who reads scripts for a
living, has an imagination, think again – it’s your job to make them “see” the film as they
read your script.

There is a fine line between “under writing” and “over writing,” and every reader of
screenplays is finely attuned to that fine line. Some rules of thumb are:

8. Never start a scene with dialogue. We must see who and what is in the scene, and
what is happening on screen other than the dialogue. Most “underwriters” are guilty of
this approach, giving us almost no indication of what we see on the screen, other than two
(or more) people talking.

9. All narrative sections should be no longer than 3 lines. Yes, you heard me right.
While you can occasionally stray to 4 or even 5 lines, two or three is the norm. Don’t
spend 5 lines after the slugline describing the scene. Most “overwriters” are in serious
violation of this rule, trying to cram every possible detail of the scene into the description.
Sorry if this sounds cynical, but many readers skim the narrative sections, and if they see
large blocks of print, they’ll skip it all together (thereby missing much of your story).
While it appears that I’ve written 4 lines, not 3, in the above example, in screenplay
format this would wind up being 3. For the sake of argument, however, let’s say that my
four lines can be pared down. Here are a couple of different ways to do it:


Outside an abandoned building in a low-rent district, DETECTIVE JOHN MACY, 30s,

turns his intense gaze from the building’s broken windows to his partner, DET. YVONNE
BURKE, African-American, late 20s.

Or, even better:

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 47 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

An abandoned building. DETECTIVE JOHN MACY, 30s, scans its broken windows. He
turns to DET. YVONNE BURKE, African-American, 20s.

If you have a tendency to over-write, take each phrase and think about how to make it
shorter; then take your wordy first draft and try to pare it down to fit this rule. This means
that –

10. Scene length – there is no rule of thumb here, although you should try to keep scenes
short, two to four pages at the very most. Most scenes are around three pages. Each page
is equal to a minute of screen time, so five pages, equal to five whole minutes in one
location on screen, can be excruciating to watch.

For that matter, even one minute can be excruciating when all we’re doing is watching
two people talk. This is the infamous “talking heads” scenario, where not enough is
happening on screen, other than dialogue. If you find that all you have is dialogue,
perhaps you should consider writing a play, which tells its story largely through dialogue.

11. Every word counts. Once you’ve written your first draft, go over every single scene.
Then go over every single sentence and try to make your point about the action that
occurs, within the constraint of the 3-line rule. You’re a writer – you have to appear to be
in command of your craft. If not describing every color of every article of clothing every
character is wearing becomes unbearable to you, perhaps you were meant to be a novelist,
not a screenwriter.

In an action script, you should be aiming for a one-line (two lines at the most), almost
staccato use of sentences and paragraphs, to emphasize the tension and rapid pace of the
scene. In an historical epic, or romantic drama, a slightly more novelistic approach might

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 48 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
be acceptable. But here too, ‘tis better to err on the side of brevity. All of your readers will
be grateful.

12. In your slug line, acceptable lighting notation is: day, night, dawn, dusk (twilight and
sunset). Do NOT write:


Why? Because the actual hour this scene will be shot is not vital to the story, and in any
case you have nothing to say about what hour the producers schedule the shooting of this
scene. There are other problems with this slug line, as well, namely: if we’re outside,
we’re probably in front; when we meet Bidwell we’ll learn he’s a reverend; and using
“opulent” with “mansion” is redundant. Instead of the above slug line, DO write:


Simple and elegant, this slug line tells us all we need to know, and, most importantly, sets
up the location. In the narrative paragraph that will follow the slug line, you can tell us
more – like who is in the scene, and what they’re doing.

13. The first time we meet a character, and only the first time, their name should be in
capital letters, followed by their age, and ethnicity (if relevant). If this is your main
character, or a major character in the story, give us a few words which describe him in
more detail, to give us a sense of what he looks like, and how what he looks like reflects
who he is as a character. So, for example, when we meet Bidwell you might write:

REV. BIDWELL, 40s, ramrod straight with a disarming smile, steers the POLICE away
from the front door;

What does this tell us about Bidwell? That he’s a man of God, but has a disarming smile,
which could be masking something he doesn’t want you to know; and that, for some

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 49 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
reason, he doesn’t want the police in his house, and may therefore really have something
to hide. So you see, we learned a lot, in a very few words.

Here’s a description of a different Bidwell, that tells you all you need to know in even
fewer words:

REV. BIDWELL, 40s, with keen blue eyes that miss nothing...

14. As mentioned earlier, the only other things that should be in UPPER CASE are camera
directions, sound effects and animals, such as:

CLOSE ON the package in the back seat.

A SHOT rang out.

Holly lets the CAT out of the cab, into the pouring rain.

A note re: camera directions: nothing marks the amateur more than the insertion of camera
directions to the director of the film. Directors actually like to do this kind of thing, and
even get offended at being given instructions from the writer on how to shoot what they
consider to be their film. Keep your directions down to a minimum, if at all, by only
including them if they are going to make your story more readable, not less. If you’re not
sure, don’t use them at all. Avoid, at all costs, the annoying “we see” and “we hear.” Of
course we see it, it’s a movie. Similarly with “we hear.” Also avoid indicating the
placement of MUSIC CUES, or any particular piece of music, unless this is a story about
music, or unless a particular piece is absolutely vital to the story. Just tell your story, and
leave the directing to the director. This includes:

15. CUT TO: While CUT TO: was once inserted between each scene, it is now taken for
granted. It can, however, be used as a way to indicate that we’re moving from one location

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 50 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
to another, within the same scene (location). For example, in the following scene, we’re in
the barn, where Joe is standing in the hallway, talking with the men.

Joe, uneasy, looks back at Sophie and Hannah.


Hannah. Tears well up in her eyes as she watches

Shadrach’s labored breath.

We’re still in the same scene here, but are focused on Hannah and Shadrach, her
dying horse. The cut to isn’t strictly necessary, however, since I could have also
just said that tears well up in Hannah’s eyes, etc. The director would have figured
out how to shoot this. As always, when in doubt, leave it out.

The only other time to use a CUT TO: might be between sequences, when we’re
moving from scenes in one set of locations to another. Again, if you’re not sure if
it’s necessary, then it’s probably not.

16. DISSOLVE TO: Dissolves are a method of cutting between scenes, and are normally
used before a dream, flashback or fantasy sequence. This would look like:





Any other use of dissolves is the province of the director and editor, and not the writer.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 51 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
But why use the dissolve here at all? Simply indicating that a flashback is beginning and
ending is sufficient.

Instead of the above, it is also acceptable to use:

FLASHBACK TO: In a blur – a flash of fire...Shadrach’s

plumed headdress falling to the ground...flames reflected in
Nebuchadnezzar’s golden mask. Then...Shadrach’s white
hooves, smashing into a tent pole, breaking it...the lantern
hanging from the pole falling, and fire everywhere.

In this particular screenplay, flashbacks were integral to the story line. In general,
avoid them where you can, and try to keep all action in present time.

17. MONTAGE – Much like flashbacks or dream sequences, a montage sequence is

normally indicated by MONTAGE BEGINS. It then lists the numerical list of scenes,
with a brief description of what happens in the scene; and is followed by MONTAGE
ENDS. Example:


1. Hannah, trailed by Mikey and Sky, runs into the

farmyard, hurling her school bag onto the porch and
ignoring Sophie’s call from the kitchen. She heads
straight for the barn, the boys for the house.

2. Hannah and Shadrach ride as one through a field of

foxgloves, the world in bloom around them.

3. Hannah and Shadrach, frolicking in the waterfall in

Hannibal’s forest.



Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 52 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
4.The stall is immaculate, with fresh hay strewn on the
floor and the Wild & Free poster on the wall. Hannah,
now a gangly and coltish 12, grooms Shadrach tenderly,
brushing him until his coat shines. Done, she steps
back to survey the results, and smiles, Shadrach
snuffling contentedly. Fondly, she rubs his nose, and
feeds him an apple.


A montage compresses time into a manageable sequence of scenes, showing the

passage of time (here reinforced by the dissolve, and the insertion of text (SUPER means
SUPERIMPOSE; also acceptable is TITLE, or INSERT TITLE). Here’s another montage
sequence, with a shorter passage of time, and a VOICE OVER (V.O.) narrating:


1. Ed eats dinner in bed while watching TV. The clock

on the nightstand shows the passing time - six, ten,

ED (V.O.)
Truth is, life was already
a big party.

2. Ed, eyes heavy with sleep, turns over - and sees the
picture of her parents on the night table.

Except for those moments
late at night, when the
house was too quiet, and I
missed my parents something

Tears come to her eyes.

3. Ed, sparkles in her hair, walks out of the school

building. Zelda tags along, dressed just like her.
They're at the center of a group of admiring girls, all

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 53 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
with sparkles in their hair. Ed catches sight of E.T.,
riding off, and yells out.

But the rest of the time,
let’s face it. Life was

As the girls watch, astonished, she catches up to E.T.

and jumps on the handlebars of his bike. They take off.

4. Ed and E.T. sit on a ledge at the back of Pike Place

Market, facing the waterfront and watching the ferries
in the distance, laughing and talking.

They run back into the market, straight to the FISH

VENDORS. E.T. says something to one of them.

The fish vendor picks up a large sea bass and shows it

to him. E.T. nods, and the vendor aims it like a
football and throws it to another vendor, who wraps it.
Ed, astonished, bursts out laughing. The vendor holds
up a crab, and when she nods, he throws it to her. Soon
all hell breaks loose, fish flying everywhere, and Ed
and E.T. in the thick of it, having a great time.

5. Ed runs down the hallway, dressed in black leather,

with black-rimmed eyes, black lipstick, and black
nails. She runs after Faith, who takes one look at her
and speeds up, zooming into her room.

So Aunt Faith was a little
weird. Okay, a lot weird.

6. Ed stands on line outside a club with a prominent

sign for ladies' night. The MAN at the door takes one
look at her and shakes his head. Downcast, she leaves.

But once out of his sight, she scoots around the alley
and into the back door of the club. Pushing her way
through the crowd, Ed joins the party, and dances the
hours away.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 54 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
But a weird aunt was a
small price to pay for
paradise. I did what I
wanted, when I wanted. No
mother telling me what to
do. Total freedom.


As with flashbacks and dream sequences, a good rule of thumb is to minimize your
reliance on montage.

18. Dots, dashes, Morse code, and other issues of punctuation:

Many writers are fond of dashes ( – ) and ellipses (...), in the narrative, in dialogue, and
well, everywhere. But, other than out at sea, on a sinking ship, or in a foxhole under fire,
there is no place for Morse code in a screenplay. I can’t tell you how much most
producers hate the ellipsis. That said, one of Hollywood’s most famous screenwriters is
infamous for his use of the ellipsis...In fact, one development executive went on at length,
complaining to me about said famous writer’s writing style (!) and the unbearable use of
said ellipsis. She never mentioned my own over-reliance on the dash, which I am guilty of
using to impart a sense of urgency, or a continuity between scenes.

There is one notable exception to the no ellipsis rule, where you are trying to convey an
impressionistic view of events, a cinematic style, without getting too wordy. The second
flashback example, above, is a good example of this. But in general, try to avoid using
ellipses. If you are new to screenwriting, definitely avoid doing this, or any of the “fancy
stuff.” Try to tell your story in as straightforward manner as possible. As to my use of
dashes, well – I don’t recommend that you try this at home. Period.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 55 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
19. Titles – (on screen text). There are times when you want to indicate, on screen, that
the action takes place in a particular time and place. Only do this when it’s integral to the
story, and when you jump back and forth between time periods, and/or locations. In these
cases, indicate that text should appear on screen by writing either:



“Super” stands for “superimpose” (as in “superimpose title”).

20. Voice-Overs (V.O.) and Off-Screen (O.S.) dialogue – Many writers confuse these
two, but there is really a very simple difference between them. When we hear dialogue via
a narrator, even if it’s someone in the cast already, it is called a voice-over. We can even
see the character, but we hear him speaking as if he’s telling us his story. There is an
example of this above, in one of the montage sequences. Just as a reminder, here is a
portion of it again:


1. Ed eats dinner in bed while watching TV. The clock

on the nightstand shows the passing time - six, ten,

ED (V.O.)
Truth is, life was already
a big party.

The voice-over is indicated on the script by putting (V.O.) next to the character’s name.
Be warned, however – you may see it here, and I may have gotten six figures for this
script, but many people LOATHE voice overs. If at all possible, try to get your characters
talking to each other, instead of relying on a voice-over narration.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 56 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Off-Screen Dialogue (O.S.) – Similarly, when we hear someone speaking from off-
screen, write (O.S.) next to their name. They may be in the next room, throwing their two
cents into the conversation; it could be a ghost, or the voice of God. Here’s an example of
what this looks like, and the difference between the narrator (in this case Will, in voice-
over) and someone speaking off screen (in this case Josh, who isn’t in the first shot we
have of Will, but whose voice we hear, and then we see). This scene is from an
independent film I was hired to rewrite, entitled TAR. And please, ignore my camera
direction (PULL BACK). I can get away with this; you can’t.


I had a friend, I had a
lover, I had heroin. I
didn't have shit.

No, man, it's all good, I'm
here, I'm here.

PULL BACK to see Josh, bathed in the same hazy white

light, with his trademark grin. Will's eyes flicker, as
he tries to focus on Josh.

Here’s another example, of a scene where we don’t see the person who is
speaking, at first:

He turns back to the bar, signaling the bartender for

another drink. He takes a big roll of cash out of his

Buy me a drink?

He turns, flushed, to see this beautiful woman by his


Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 57 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
21. P.O.V. – This stands for “point of view,” where we see the action from a particular
character’s point of view. Since it is a camera direction, it should be used with caution, if
at all. It has no place at all in a slugline. And there is no such thing as a POV from an
inanimate object’s viewpoint – no TREE’S POV, for example. Here’s an example of the
use of POV, for a character whose point of view we would not normally see.

HAWK'S POV: The road snakes down the mountain gorge,

and on it, the kids, SINGING. They clamber down off the
road and disappear into the forest.

22. CONT’D and MORE – While some screenwriting programs put “Continued” at the
top and bottom of every page, it is isn’t strictly necessary. What is necessary, as seen in
the first V.O. example above, is the use of (CONT’D) next to the character’s name, when
he speaks again without interruption from another character. Continue using (CONT’D)
until another character speaks.

If your character’s speech is cut off at the bottom of the page, and continues onto the next
page, then indicate that there is more to the speech by writing (MORE), centered directly
under the last line of dialogue. Then, on the next page, put the character’s name in again,
over the rest of the dialogue, followed by (CONT’D). Example:

Lynch, Sloan and the forensics cop show up at the door.


EMT #1
Nah. He'll come around.

That's a relief.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 58 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Two dead, one almost dead.
We’d better talk to the
girls - one more of this
little group goes, I'll
start thinking it's
something I did.



Police! Open up!

23. Script length – scripts should be no shorter than 90 pages, and no longer than 120
pages. Each page of script is a minute of film, and while some films do go over two hours
in length, they should not start out that way. If they do, they will signal to the producer
that this is going to be a very expensive film to produce, something you don’t want them
to know before they’ve actually read the script. And believe me, the first thing every
reader does is flip to the last page, to see how many pages they’re going to have to read.
The shorter the script, the happier the reader.

If all you have are 90 pages, however, producers may see your screenplay as being a little
“thin.” And while you can never be too rich or too thin, the same can’t be said for your
screenplay. Ninety pages may be an acceptable length for a TV movie, or an animated
film, but not for a live action feature. Comedies can be shorter than dramas, anywhere
from 92 – 110 pages; epics can range up to 125 pages. Don’t worry about the length of
your first draft, however, unless you’ve written 150 pages and are still going strong.
Ninety pages is a great place to start, and subsequent drafts will almost always be longer.

24. While you can print out your first draft on any kind of paper you like, by the time you
are ready to submit it you should have it copied onto 3-hole punch paper, with a

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 59 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
cardstock cover front and back, and secured with two brads. I know, there are three
holes, so why only two brads? Believe me, these aren’t my rules. For screenwriters
outside of the U.S., please, try to find 8 ½ ”x11” paper, rather than A4, if at all possible,
unless you are planning to submit only to producers outside of the U.S. And no fancy
covers or binding – the first thing that happens to the script is that copies get made, and
the harder to take apart the more irritated everyone becomes. Your most important job
here, as with everything else about your screenplay, is to make everyone love you.

25. Title page – Every script should have a title page, indicating the name of the script,
the author, whether it’s been adapted from someone else’s work, the WGA registration
number (or at least that it’s been registered), and the contact information. Contact
information means name, address, phone number and email address, if applicable. If you
have representation, a producer, or an attorney, agent or manager, then the contact
information should be theirs, not yours.

Some people also have the title of the script copied onto the card stock cover. If you do
that, include only the title, or the title and author, and none of the rest of the title page

Some examples of properly formatted title pages can be found at the back of this book.
Please note that each title page, with all its information, should be on just one page,
however this gets reformatted when you download this book. The first example is of an
original screenplay; the second is of an adaptation.

Congratulations! You’ve finished a first draft of your script. Here are some additional tips
for your first rewrite – because, like it or not, you are going to have to rewrite.

26. Character development and characterization – Character development is one of

those sticky issues, like dialogue, that can be very difficult for some writers to grasp.
Oftentimes, new writers will give the actor directions on how to play the scene; but this is

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 60 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
not character development. I’m here to tell you not to tell the actor when to cross his knee
or scratch his head – how an actor plays a scene is between him and the director. Also
avoid putting all emotional beats in the parenthetical comments new writers use (too
often) under the characters name, in dialogue. This is not character development either ,
nor is it effective characterization.

But your instincts are right on target – in most scenes it would be helpful if you could
flesh out the characters' emotional state, and give a heightened sense of immediacy to
each scene that would add dimension to the character. You do want to let the reader know
what the character is thinking without just saying so, and make your story resonate more
urgently on an emotional level. But this has to be done without getting too wordy. So how
do you do this?

First of all, go back to your character bio, that you developed before constructing the
synopsis to your story. Does your character have at least three clearly identifiable
character traits (brave, honest, innocent, for example), of which one is his fatal flaw? The
clearer you defined your character to begin with, the more compelling that character will
be. Reread the script just for the main character, to see if he sounds and behaves in a
manner consistent with the characteristics you gave him.

Then, don't be afraid to use more active verbs in describing your character's behavior and
actions. That will already raise the level of the scene. So instead of "Jon looks," think of
all the possible ways he could be looking, i.e. observes, inspects, scrutinizes, surveys,
views, stares, scans, glances, etc. Be precise – use a thesaurus! This is part of the real
work of rewriting. It’s not simply a writing exercise – the use of more active verbs helps
the reader get into the character's head; and goes a long way to increase the reader's
identification with, and sympathy for, your character. It also gives the actor something to
work with in terms of the emotional state of your character.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 61 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
All of the great characterization in the world won’t improve the storytelling quality of
your script unless you have a clearly identifiable main character. Now that you’ve finished
the first draft, check to see if you’ve accomplished what you set out to in your synopsis. Is
your protagonist consistently the prime mover in this story? He must be if the script is to
have any measure of narrative drive. If you didn’t figure out the premise earlier, as it
relates to your main character’s emotional task, figure it out now. Write it down – you will
need this later when you pitch your story.

27. Dialogue – Although there are people who are naturals at dialogue, dialogue is often
the most difficult thing for new screenwriters to master. Often, all the characters sound
exactly alike, despite their age, sex, and personality differences. Similarly, we don’t need
to hear the entire back-story of the character in overly long speeches to other characters
who already know their story. Characters who know each other know the information;
never include information just for the sake of the audience.

Bad dialogue can be pompous, pretentious and preachy. If you have a message, it should
be buried in the story itself, as sub-text, and not simply stated. Characters should almost
never make speeches (unless it’s a summation in a courtroom drama). Any monologue
that goes on for a page is too long. Similarly, pages of dialogue alone, with nothing
happening on screen, is incredibly boring to watch. Your screenplay should be a judicious
mix of the visual and the verbal.

The verbal component of the script should not include lengthy telephone conversations,
another hallmark of the new writer. This can be very static on screen, and boring to listen
to. If a phone conversation is absolutely necessary, keep it short, and move on.

Another problem, as mentioned above, is the tendency to give directions as to the

emotional quality of the speech, by putting it into parentheses under the character name,
and before the dialogue. Again, this should be avoided; the quality of the dialogue, in the

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 62 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
context of what is happening in the story, should indicate what the tone of the speech, and
the scene, is.

Once you’ve finished a first draft of the script, reread for dialogue only; we should be
able to get the whole story, just from the dialogue. Similarly –

28. Reread for narrative only. We should also be able to get the gist of the story, just
from reading the narrative. Now is the time for some severe editing. Is this script readable,
with short, snappy but descriptive and involving action? Pare down every sentence, and
every action (narrative) paragraph. Is there something that happens on the first page that
grabs our attention? Is there something that happens by the end of the first page to make
the reader want to turn the page? If not, and that attention-grabber comes five pages later,
think about moving that event to the first page. While that may not be the way the movie
eventually deals with the same event, this is the version that will have to attract immediate
interest and excitement. Every effort should be made to engage the reader’s attention
from the start.

As you read through the script, does some of the action seem arbitrary, or does it relate
directly to the characters’ stories? Is everything that happens actually necessary? Just
because you like a scene, or want something to happen to your character, if it doesn’t
make sense within the context of the character’s task in this story, leave it out. As I said
earlier, each scene should advance the story, taking our characters on the next phase of
their adventure, and not simply serving as a vehicle for the writer to wax philosophical or
preach. Character development should also, ideally, take place within the context of the
action, and not simply for its own sake.

29. Reread the script again, focusing each time on each main character in the story,
making sure each of their stories has a beginning, a middle and an end, and that each is
resolved in a satisfying way.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 63 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Do your characters undergo a real emotional transformation during the movie? Or do you
tell us there’s a problem, and in the end you solve the problem, without letting us see the
transformational process they go through on the way? Does your main character have
some deep emotional task, and learn something, about himself or his relationships, during
the course of the story? We need to both learn what the problem is (Act One), see the
character try to solve this problem, or a problem that may be related to this problem (Act
Two), and then emerge triumphant, or die trying (Act Three).

30. Get a professional opinion on your script, before you send it to agents or
producers. You must have someone else read your script, to tell you which parts of it
they didn’t understand. Friends and family, however, are rarely good critics; and other
writers may be too tempted to “inadvertently” steal your story idea (this does happen). In
any case, unless they are script consultants or screenwriters themselves, you must get a
professional opinion before you send out your script. Be prepared for a serious critique –
remember, you hire a consultant to be brutally honest, so that you can get right back in
there and turn this into a great screenplay, and hopefully, a great movie. If you can’t
afford a full consultation, get script coverage. Coverage will let you know what kind of
impression your script makes, so that you can fix any problem areas before you send it
out. Which brings us to –

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 64 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Congratulations! You have finally finished your screenplay – but now what? Should you
try to get an agent, or go directly to production companies? How much should you tell
prospective buyers about your story, and what shouldn’t you say?

All writers struggle with these questions, and there are no easy answers. Finding an agent
can be a time-consuming and arduous task, although clearly that should be your first
priority, since agented scripts get read more quickly than what is considered “unsolicited”
material. But whether you are looking for an agent, or pitching your story to anyone who
will listen, there are several things you must do first.

1. Register your script with the Writers Guild of America. This is for your protection –
never, and I mean never, send out any unregistered material. In fact, never even show
anyone an unregistered synopsis, treatment, or screenplay. And no, I’m not being
paranoid. The registration number should appear on the script’s title page. A link to the
Guild’s website can be found on my site, at www.StoryAndScriptDevelopment.com .

2. Identify agencies willing to look at material from new writers. The best way to get
an agent is to have a development executive or producer call agents for you, but obviously

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 65 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
this is only if you have industry contacts to begin with. You can also look for an agent by
calling the agencies registered with the Writers Guild. These are listed online at
www.wga.org . A more detailed listing of agents and managers can be found in the Agents
& Managers Directory, available on my website at:

A far better technique for finding an agent, however, is to write a query letter, describing
your project and yourself, and asking if they would be interested in reading your script.
Query letter #1 is a sample query intended for agents.

3. Identify production companies willing to look at material from new writers. Today
there are many venues for pitching your script directly to production companies, whether
through “pitch marts,” (largely in the L.A. area) or through online marketplaces, where
you submit a logline and synopsis, and wait for the requests to roll in. Many other
companies are also willing to read query letters, if only you knew where to find these
companies. A comprehensive listing can be found in the Producers Directory, available at:

Query letter #2 is a sample query intended for producers.

Additional resources for locating online script promotion services can be found at:


4. Prepare a query letter. The query letter is essentially your “pitch,” for why anyone
should read your script. It should not tell the reader that they will make millions of dollars
from your screenplay, or that this is a perfect role for Julia Roberts, whether it is or not. It
should not tell the reader that you’re broke and need the money, or how much work you
did on this, or whether they will find it amusing or scary. For example, it is not effective
to say: “My uncle was a fascinating character, and I am sure you will enjoy this script;” or

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 66 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
“There hasn’t been a flying elephant story since Dumbo, and I think you’ll find this
hilarious.” Only the reader gets to determine what they think of your screenplay, and
they’ll only know that after they read the script.

Think of the query letter as being like a trailer – your only job in writing the letter is to get
the agent or executive to read the script, just like the only point to a trailer is to get you to
want to see the movie. This means that you need to tantalize them, giving just enough
information to make it sound like something they might want to read, without telling them
the whole story. If you do tell them the whole story, then they will feel like they’ve
already read the script. And unless the story, and your writing, is so remarkably unique
and riveting, they will pass on the project before they’ve even had a chance to read it.

The same goes for verbal “pitching,” by the way. In the past couple of years, a number of
“pitch conferences” have sprung up in Los Angeles, giving new and experienced writers a
chance to meet development executives directly, to pitch their material. Not all writers are
good at telling their stories verbally, however; and most new writers make the fatal error
of telling too much of the story, or worse, don’t know what the premise of their script
really is. You, however, are not that writer, having developed your screenplay using the
exercises in this book.

So this is the time to go back to the beginning of the book, and figure out what your
premise is, and develop a LOGLINE that encapsulates your story. For these purposes,
both the query and the verbal pitch, the logline and the premise are essentially the same.

With these in hand, you can start your letter, which should be in standard business letter
format, with a friendly opening paragraph. If this is a drama, you might want to include
what this is about on a thematic level as well. This should be followed by a brief
paragraph that describes what your story is about, without going into great detail, but
hitting the major plot points. Add a paragraph about yourself, if you have a film

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 67 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
background, or if you’re uniquely qualified to write this script (you’re a medical doctor,
and this is based on your experience, for example). Unless you have produced credits, or
other scripts in development with bona fide production companies, it is not a good idea to
mention that you have ten more screenplays in your closet, if they’re not interested in this
one. Sample, actual query letters are attached.

To recap:


1. Business format only – plain paper, with the date on the top left, and the agent’s or
executive’s name, company name, and address, directly underneath, followed by a Dear
Mr. or Dear Ms.(name, comma or colon).

2. Either an opening sentence should be an attention-grabber, or a friendly “I’ve just

completed an original screenplay entitled (TITLE) that I would like to submit to you for
your consideration Do not tell them it’s your first screenplay. If there are large themes to
this piece, then include a sentence as to what they are.

3. Follow the opening with a short paragraph that tells them what your story is about.
Remember, your story isn’t about “and then this happens and then that happens.” Stay
focused, telling them what the genre is, who the main characters are, and what the major
conflict (obstacle) is; but don’t give away the ending. Remember, you want them to read
the script for more information.

4. If you have a film background, or a background that makes you uniquely qualified to
write this screenplay, then include a sentence or two about that.

5. End with a simple “Looking forward to hearing from you soon,” or “I look forward to
hearing from you soon.” Followed by: Sincerely, your signature, with name and phone
number typed underneath.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 68 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
That’s it! Armed with your streamlined query, you can now pitch your script with
confidence, whether in writing, in person or by telephone. In person, don’t go into the
whole story unless, after hearing the brief version of the story, the executive asks to hear

If submitting a written query, sit back and wait approximately a month for a response –
and while you’re waiting, start on your next script. And, as one friend puts it, wish for

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 69 of 102
By Sandy Eiges



Dear Mr.,

I have just completed a treatment for a screenplay entitled (Title), that I would like to
submit to you for your consideration.

(Title) focuses on the moral ambiguity of war, and is a powerful story about enemies who
become allies, and of love that is doomed by the vagaries of a bitter war. It examines the
conflict between loyalty and self-interest, honor and deceit, set against the backdrop of a
pivotal but little-known event in the Civil War. This is a true story.

Looking forward to discussing this project with you, with a view towards possible
representation. I can be reached at (310) 396-5476.


Sandy Eiges


Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 70 of 102
By Sandy Eiges


Company Name

Dear Ms.,

I have just adapted a best-selling children’s book, entitled A ROYAL PAIN, which I
would like to submit for your consideration.

A ROYAL PAIN is a “Clueless In A Castle” – type comedy about an American teenager

who learns she was switched at birth – and that she’s really the princess of Arcania, a tiny
European country. Once the mix-up is discovered she’s off to begin life as a princess –
every girl’s dream, until she finds out that the country is broke, its teenagers in revolt, and
she’s about to be married off on her sixteenth birthday to a major creep, in order to
replenish the state’s coffers. Add to that a royal advisor determined to control her every
move, and one pissed-off ex-princess – and all of a sudden princesshood doesn’t look like
everything it’s cracked up to be.

I won the K.A.S.A. Screenwriting Award for my original screenplay SAVING FAITH,
now in development with Kingman Films; and have adapted another children’s novel,
BOW DOWN SHADRACH, in development with Irish Dreamtime.

Looking forward to discussing this project with you.

All the best,

Sandy Eiges

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 71 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

1. Registering your script with the WGA is necessary, but not sufficient, and not a legal
protection. You can further protect your work by copyrighting it. You will need Form PA
from the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559. You can also
order it by phone, at (202) 707-3000.

2. Many agents, managers and production companies will insist that you sign a release
form before they will read your script. Here's what a release form looks like – if what
you're signing looks substantially different, in terms of producer rights over your material,
you should consult an entertainment attorney.

(See sample release form, attached)

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 72 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Story & Script Development
321 Brooks Avenue
Venice, CA 90291
Tel: (310) 396-5476
Fax: (209) 315-5397


Dear Story & Script Development,

1. I, _____________________, am submitting to you herewith the following material (hereinafter

referred to as 'said material'):

FORM OF MATERIAL (e.g. screenplay, treatment, novel, play, movie, etc):__________________
NUMBER OF PAGES or LENGTH OF MOVIE: ________________________________________
WGA REGISTRATION NO. (If any): ________________________________________________
COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION (If any):______________________________________________

2. I represent and warrant that I am the sole owner and author of said material, that I have the
exclusive right and authority to submit and/or convey the same to you upon the terms and
conditions stated herein. I agree to indemnify you and your employees from any and all claims,
losses or liabilities (including reasonable attorney's fees) that may be asserted against you or any
of your employees or incurred by you or your employees at any time in connection with said
material, or any use thereof, in connection with any breach or alleged breach of the foregoing
representations and warranties.

3. I agree that any part of said material which does not in itself constitute protectable literary
property may be used by you or any of your employees without any liability to me, and that nothing
in this agreement nor the fact of my submission of said material to you shall be deemed to place
you in any different position than any member of the public with respect to such material.

4. I understand that you receive numerous unsolicited submissions and that you have access to
and/or may create or have created literary material, formats, stories, and the like, and that many
such submissions received by you are similar or identical in theme, idea, plot or other respect to
those developed by you or your employees or otherwise available to you. I agree that I will not be
entitled to any compensation because of the use by you of any such similar or identical material.

5. I understand that you have adopted the policy, with respect to the unsolicited submission of
material, of refusing to accept, consider or evaluate unsolicited material unless the person
submitting such material has signed an agreement in a form substantially the same as this
agreement. I specifically acknowledge that you would refuse to accept, consider, or otherwise
evaluate my material in the absence of my acceptance of each and all of the provisions hereof. I
shall retain all rights to submit this or similar material to persons other than you. I understand that

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 73 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
no confidential relationship is established by my submitting said material to you hereunder or by
reason of this agreement between us.

7. In the event of any dispute concerning any alleged use of said material (e.g. whether you have
used legally protectable portions thereof), or any other dispute arising out of or in connection with
said material or with reference to this agreement, its validity, construction, performance
nonperformance, operation, breach, continuance or termination such dispute shall be submitted to
arbitration. Each party hereby waives any and all rights and benefits which he or it might
otherwise have or be entitled to under the laws of California to litigate any such dispute in court, it
being the intention of the parties to arbitrate, according to the provisions hereof, all such disputes.
The arbitration shall be conducted in the County of Los Angeles, State of California and except as
herein expressly provided otherwise, the arbitration shall be a person experienced and
knowledgeable in the entertainment industry. The arbitrators' decision. shall be controlled by the
terms of this agreement, and I agree that the amount of any award shall be an amount which is
comparable to the compensation normally paid by you for similar material or an amount equal to
the fair market value thereof as of the date of this agreement, which is greater.

8. I have retained at least one copy of said material, and I hereby release you of and from
any and all liability for loss of or damage to, the copies of said material submitted to you

9. I enter into this agreement with the express understanding that you agree to read and
evaluate said material in express reliance upon this agreement and my covenants,
representations, and warranties contained herein, and that in absence of such an agreement, you
would not read or evaluate said material.

10. Except as otherwise provided in this agreement, I hereby release you from any and all
claims, demands, losses, liabilities, of every kind whatsoever (including reasonable attorneys'
fees) that may arise in relation to the said material or by reason of any claim now or hereafter
made by me that you have used or appropriated the said material except for fraud or willful injury
on your part.

11. I hereby state that I have read and understood this agreement and that no oral
representation of any kind have been made to me, and that this agreement states our entire
understanding with reference to the subject matter hereof.

12. If more than one party signs this agreement as submitter, then reference to "I" and "me"
throughout this agreement shall apply to each such party, jointly and severally, and each agrees to
be liable, jointly and severally, for all obligations under this Agreement.

13. This agreement shall be governed by the laws of the State of California applicable to
agreements executed and to be fully performed therein.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 74 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Very truly yours,

______________________ ______________________
Signature Signature

______________________ ______________________
Print Name Print Name

Date: ___________________ Date: __________________

Received by:

Sandy Eiges
Story & Script Development

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 75 of 102
By Sandy Eiges



A lone figure roller blades to the statue. CLOSE ON

MIRANDA MALONE, 29 going on 19, with a wild
sweetness about her, and just as wild a head of
tousled red hair. She waits for the red light to
change, eyes dimmed with worry, growing to –


Alarm, when she sees, through the window from the

corridor into the room, MADDY MALONE, 60, with
Miranda's face, her red hair tinged with gray. A
PRIEST makes the sign of the cross over her, and

Miranda, pale and scared, hurries inside.


No response. Now Miranda is really alarmed. Maddy's

eyes flutter open. Miranda breathes a sigh of

How are you feeling?

Maddy's eyes narrow, as she focuses on – Miranda's

big, pregnant belly. She speaks with a brogue.

What do you think? My
pregnant daughter isn't
married. Jason should
marry you.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 76 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
I told you, it's not
going to happen.

It's the curse...the
curse of the Malone

Maddy turns away, getting a faraway look in her




Leprechaun yard art and shamrocks everywhere.

What are you talking

A PRIEST presides over the wedding as MOLLY MALONE,

29, a dead ringer for Miranda, whispers in her tall,
dark handsome FIANCÉ's ear, patting her belly.

Your grandmother Molly
Malone was twenty-nine
and pregnant, just like
you, when her fiancé
jilted her at the altar.

Molly's smile fades as he takes one look at her

belly, horrified, and backs away – and then makes a
run for it.

She should have prayed
to St. Monica, the
patron saint of

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 77 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Molly stares after him, heartbroken, as he
disappears in the distance. Her belly gets bigger
and bigger.

But she heaped curses on
her instead.

Molly moons St. Monica. St. Monica gives her the


And St. Monica cursed
her back.

Molly, now carrying a BABY, pushes her cart,


Cockles, and mussels,
alive, alive–oh.

Oh for God's sake.

Molly ages into a 60-YEAR OLD WOMAN.

The Malone curse – if
you don't get married by
your thirtieth birthday,
you never will.

Be reasonable! I'll be
thirty in a week.

A pregnant young Maddy blows out birthday candles,

as, behind her, clutching her heart, Molly drops
down dead.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 78 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
And I will drop dead if
you're not married by
your thirtieth birthday.
And the same thing will
happen to you and your
daughter. That's the
rest of the curse.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 79 of 102
By Sandy Eiges



GOODMAN, 30s, hurries his UNIT OF ARMY ENGINEERS through the
fighting to repair the bent and twisted metal of the train tracks. CLOSE ON the
glint of metal, as Goodman batters his piece of track into a straight and shining
path, his pistol on the ground beside him. As other soldiers load row upon row
of plain wooden caskets into the empty waiting cars, the battle inches closer. A
Confederate soldier moves in, firing. Goodman edges away. But, as the man
beside him falls dead, Goodman discovers that he is unprotected, and far from
his gun. With the instincts of a practiced soldier, he takes the gun off the dead
man beside him and shoots his enemy dead. And as the blood seeps through
the man’s shirt -


- it seems to cover the letter being read by MARY GOODMAN, 30, worn with
worry, standing alone under a lone elm tree on a windswept prairie hillside
above a modest homestead.

My beloved Mary,
Today I killed a man…



SMITH, 30, orders his men to repeatedly hang and lower a man. They beat his
TEENAGE SON to within an inch of his life, as his mother looks on in horror,
all to learn the whereabouts of their other son, fighting with Anderson’s

I believed that the Civil War had
only two sides: pro-slavery and anti-

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 80 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

A dilapidated building, where dozens of young girls huddle, frightened. Capt.

Smith brings in three more – the Anderson girls.

But on the Kansas-Missouri border
the Union fought a different war –
destroying anyone who had ever
sided with the Confederacy, soldier
and civilian alike.

Ewing orders Smith and his men to saw the girders in the basement of the
building. They watch with sadistic satisfaction as the building caves in. As the
beams fall the Anderson girls try to escape, but the building collapses on top of
them – many are killed and maimed that day, including the Anderson girls.

Horrified, a guerrilla scout witnesses the incident and the arrogance of the
Union soldiers, and rides hard to the guerrilla camp. When he reports the fate
of the Anderson girls, their brother, WILLIAM T. “BLOODY BILL”
ANDERSON, 22, his piercing blue eyes now tinged with madness, screams a
bloody cry for revenge.

Faced with the destruction of their
homes and the loss of their families,
young men flocked to join a growing
army of guerrilla fighters.

Anderson’s army swells to SIX HUNDRED, BOYS OF 16-18. With their

infamous black flag and double-fisted marksmanship, they ride down and
charge Union troops, retaliating for every Yankee attack against innocent

The mad gleam in Anderson’s eye gives way to a wild ferocity in the heat of
battle. He unloads bullet after bullet, and brutally scalps his victims, as he cries
out his sisters’ names. The others scream the rebel yell, which continues under

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 81 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

There are shouts of jubilation, as the city goes up in flames. Union cavalry
parades through the wreckage that was Atlanta, declaring victory.

Goodman learns that he and his 26 men will finally be allowed to go home on
furlough. The men celebrate, jubilant, as he hurries back to his tent to write
Mary with the news. Goodman’s excitement at the prospect of going home is
marred only by reports of guerrillas in the area they’ll be passing through. His
men are disturbed by the necessity of turning in their weapons. Goodman lays
his own gun down, and insists his men do the same. “If I can’t take a gun so I
can go home to my wife, so be it.” Despite grumbling, the men throw down
their weapons.

When the Union took Atlanta,
everyone thought this bloody war
was finally at an end.

At the depot the soldiers forget their woes, as the excitement of going home
takes hold. Goodman turns his back on Atlanta, facing resolutely forward as
the train departs, the gleaming tracks disappearing into the horizon.

But one of its darkest days was yet to
come -

CLOSE ON the sign at a railroad station of a small Missouri town.

In Centralia.


Centralia, nestled in the gently rolling prairie, boasts almost 100 inhabitants, its
crowning glory the large new railroad depot for the North Missouri Line.

The town’s citizens converge on the depot, debating which flag to fly - there’ll
be hell to pay if Smith sees the Confederate flag, and if Anderson sees a Union
flag. A vote is taken, and it’s a tie, as divided as the town’s loyalties.

SARAH HOOPER, 20, hurries to join the debate. Her authority deriving from
her position as the young owner of the general store, she speaks with a gravity

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 82 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
that belies her youth and beauty. “We’ve managed to avoid confrontation this
long. Maybe we shouldn’t fly any flag at all. Either one puts us at risk for

ANDERSON’S BAND. With his men riding hard behind him, Anderson
intercepts a mail train. Their horses keep pace alongside as the men leap onto
the moving train. Shooting wildly, they rob the passengers and loot the mail
car carrying money.

CENTRALIA. No flag flies at the depot, when Capt. Smith and his troops ride
into town. He notices the empty flagpole and accuses the town of being
Confederate sympathizers. Before the situation can escalate, Sarah hurries out,
carrying a Union flag and mustering all of her considerable charm. “We will
proudly fly the Union flag, sir, knowing you are in the area to protect us from
those terrible guerrillas.” Smith reassures her that she has nothing to fear -
Major Johnston is tracking Anderson, and Smith is planning an attack. As
Smith and his troops leave, the Union flag flying, her smile is replaced by a
troubled frown. When they’re gone, she takes down the flag herself.


Goodman’s train pulls into the station, where the men are delayed because the
trains are running late. The true reason for the delay soon emerges, however, as
the men head for a nearby saloon, where all talk is of the guerrilla attacks on
Federal trains. Goodman notices one of his men, Palmer, strike up a
conversation with the bartender, and then slip outside. He follows, observing
the exchange of cash for a Colt .45.

The next morning Goodman talks to the stationmaster about rumors of trouble,
but is reassured that there are Union troops in the area. He boards his men on
the Northern Missouri Line – except for Palmer, until he gets rid of his gun.
Palmer, snarling, pulls the gun on Goodman: “you’re setting us up to be killed,
Goodman.” Goodman doesn’t back down: “If you have such a hankering to
fight, I hear there are Union troops in the area. You are welcome to join them,
instead of going home to your wife and family.” As the train whistle blows,
Palmer, cursing, hands over his gun and gets on board. Goodman gives the
guns to the CONDUCTOR for safekeeping, as the train pulls out.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 83 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Anderson leads a troop of 30 well-armed guerrillas into town. He cuts a

dashing figure on his black steed, with his shining black hair and dark blue
coat – until you see the scalps hanging from his saddle.

Seeing no Confederate flag flying he gives his men license to ransack the
town. Centralia’s citizens hurry inside, locking their doors. The railroad clerk
receives a telegram notifying him of the train carrying Union soldiers.
Frantically, he taps out a telegram to the next town over, warning them to stop
the train from proceeding to Centralia. But, as he’s halfway through his
message, Anderson bursts into the depot. A moment later the clerk is slumped
over the telegraph machine, a bullet in his forehead.


Hurtling through the countryside, the train nears the next town. A signal man
frantically waves for the train to stop, and the stationmaster hands the
conductor the half-written telegram, warning him it’s not safe to go on. Inside
the train, Goodman listens to his men speak of their hopes and dreams, and
their excitement at going home, and doesn’t see the conductor argue with the
stationmaster, throwing the telegram on the ground.


The guerrillas are wreaking havoc, breaking into the stores and stealing
whatever they find, while the townspeople hide behind locked doors. Inside the
depot, Anderson reads the message about the train carrying the furloughed
Yankees, and, with his disarming grin, confronts the Sheriff: “Tell me, Sheriff,
why would this unfortunate young man warn the Yankees of our presence, if
you are not Union sympathizers?” Sarah bursts into the depot, insisting they
are sympathetic to the guerrilla’s cause, demanding that they leave the town
alone. Furious, Anderson insists that she should know better, that they have to
identify which side they’re on, they have to fly the flag. Even the Sheriff
notices the chemistry between them as Sarah tries to argue with Anderson, who
is determined to teach the townspeople a lesson.

When Anderson leaves the depot to round up his men, the Sheriff questions
Sarah’s recklessness in confronting the guerrillas. He is determined to organize
the men in town to fight. Sarah tries to stop him, to no avail. She hurries across
the street to the safety of the Eldorado Hotel, as the Sheriff rounds up a ragtag
group of men, sending a boy off for help. The guerrillas capture them, holding

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 84 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
them hostage outside the depot while Anderson orders his men to throw
railroad ties across the tracks and set them on fire.

DEAD SILENCE descends on the town, as everyone waits for the train to


The train picks up an alarming speed, and Goodman goes to speak with the
conductor; he tells Goodman that the guerrillas are in Centralia, but he’s
running the train right through without stopping. Goodman argues for them to
go back, he won’t endanger the lives of his men. The conductor warns
Goodman not to interfere, punctuating it with the pistol he received from
Goodman’s own hand. Goodman tries reasoning with him, to get the gun. By
the time he does, however, they are just outside Centralia. They can see the fire
burning on the tracks, and even the conductor realizes they must go back. But
there’s a gravel train following behind them, and they have no choice but to
slow down.

Goodman runs back to his men, warning them of what lies ahead, arguing for
calm. And then it’s too late, as the guerrillas, whooping and hollering and with
guns drawn, board the slowing train.

They burst through the door of the passenger car, shouting: “Surrender! And
you shall be treated as prisoners of war!” Palmer replies: “We can only
surrender, as we are totally unarmed.” He spits in Goodman’s direction, as the
guerrillas swarm onto the train and search the men for weapons. Much to their
surprise, they find none.

Waving guns, they move the soldiers out. Goodman, tries to march his men out
in an orderly fashion, under Anderson’s watchful eye. The men are faced with
a line of guerrillas brandishing guns, and are forced to strip. Alarmed,
Goodman confronts Anderson, insisting that he abide by the terms of their
surrender as prisoners of war.

Anderson is amused. “That is unfortunate, isn’t it. We take no prisoners, sir.”

Goodman pleads for mercy – his men are engineers, not fighters. He goes on,
objecting to Anderson’s dishonorable actions. At this Anderson becomes
furious, raving about the concept of Union honor – after all, didn’t Union
soldiers kill their wives and sisters and destroy their homes? He kills so that
others may live – just as any soldier. Wouldn’t Goodman do the same for his

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 85 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
I looked around at the rabid faces of
Anderson’s men, and of my men, so
lately full of hope – and I prayed that
Mary would forgive me for what I
must do.

Goodman steps forward, willing to die for his men, and looks Anderson in the
eye. “Let my men go.” His men yell out, as Anderson orders Goodman pulled
out of the line.

Awaiting execution, Goodman asks only that they get word to his wife Mary,
begging her forgiveness. Anderson is visibly disturbed as Goodman hands him
his tintype of Mary. Anguished, Sarah steps out onto the hotel balcony, but is
helpless to intervene.

SILENCE. The townspeople do nothing – there is nothing they can do.

Goodman closes his eyes and whispers a prayer. His men look on in silent
horror, some of them choking back tears, as Anderson shouts the order: “Fire!”
The guerrillas open fire - on the line of defenseless soldiers.

With the sound of gunfire Goodman’s eyes fly open – and he watches in horror
as the guerrillas mow his men down, a bullet precisely in the center of each
soldier’s forehead. Man after man falls to the ground, dead, Sarah’s scream
and Goodman’s bloodcurdling cry lost in the wild rebel yells. Palmer almost
escapes to the station, but is caught and killed. As the guerrillas set fire to the
depot, Goodman desperately looks around for a gun. But he’s too late.
Anderson orders Goodman tied onto a mule, as the guerrillas ride out of town.



A messenger brings news of the Centralia massacre, intended for Capt. Smith.
It is intercepted by MAJOR A.V.E. JOHNSTON, 20’s, an inexperienced new
officer at the head of new recruits. He’s been assigned the task of tracking
Anderson’s movements, and is excited at the prospect of doing battle with the
guerrillas – especially when he learns that there are only thirty of them.
Although he’s reminded that he has orders not to engage them in battle,
leaving that to Capt. Smith, he is determined to prove himself. He

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 86 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
commandeers whatever old work horses are left in town, and sets out for
Centralia with 125 men, armed with heavy Enfield muskets.


Drunk with blood and whiskey, the guerrillas ride into their camp, hidden in
the backwoods on the creek at Singleton’s farm, 3 miles outside of town. A
hundred men are already in the camp. Among the men is the teenage boy
whose father was hung and lowered by Capt. Smith and his men – it’s JESSE
JAMES, 16, now fighting with Anderson and his brother FRANK JAMES, 20.
More men arrive as the day wears on.

SINGLETON and his wife and daughters bring food out to the men, showing
no fear of the guerrilla fighters; and Anderson treats them with a courtesy
Goodman would not have thought possible of such a brutal killer. Tied to a tree
at some distance from the others, his young guards treat him very differently,
taunting him about his chances of survival. They wonder why Anderson wants
to keep the Yankee alive, but none of these boys would dare question or cross
their leader.

Goodman is wary as he watches Anderson approach. Anderson sends the

guards to join the others, as he faces Goodman’s anguished cry: “You must be
mad, sir, to do what you have done!” Anderson replies: “You are responsible
for all this death, Union soldier, not I.” Goodman is stunned. Tormented with
guilt over the death of his men, he has no reply.


The townspeople slowly emerge from their homes and stores. The depot is
ablaze, the street covered with debris. The few passengers from the train
huddle together across from the depot, in a state of shock, staring at the
carnage of dead bodies in front of the depot. The Sheriff takes control,
rounding up men to put out the fire and bury the dead.

As the townspeople clear the streets Major Johnston and his men ride into
town. Johnston orders twenty-five of his men to help dig a mass grave and
restore order, while the rest ride off with him to find Anderson. Sarah, seeing
how young and inexperienced the soldiers are, pleads with Johnston not to go.
But Johnston declares he will “bring Anderson’s head back on my bayonet,”
planning to ride after Anderson at sun-up the next day. Sarah hurries away
from the scene of carnage. Behind her store, she loads sacks of feed onto a
cart, and rides out of town.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 87 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Goodman is still tied and guarded, apart from the others. In the flickering
firelight he sees a woman arrive, alone, but can’t see who it is. Frank James
can see clearly – it’s Sarah. “Now she looks like a woman who’s about to
declare the need for a talk. Remember that look, Jesse, and when you see it,
ride like the wind.”

Sarah heads straight for Anderson, furious. “I need to talk to you!” She stomps
past him into the trees. Anderson, smiling, follows. But he stops smiling when
she starts hitting at him, still filled with the image of those dying men, gunned
down like dogs. “They were unarmed, defenseless men, Bill!” Anderson is
unmoved. “My sisters were defenseless, and so was your father.” Sarah
collapses in tears, tired of the fighting and killing.

He reveals his plans to cross the Missouri River, to safety; the land is
swarming with Yankees, and they must leave. He wants her to go with him and
she wants to go, but won’t until he gives up his gun. Anderson replies: “When
the war is over.” But Sarah knows the war will never be over for him. He pulls
her close, tenderly, and whispers his dreams of a home and a family. She
smiles with regret, knowing in her heart that this will never be. She tells him of
Johnston’s pursuit, and his vow to have Anderson’s head.

Before she leaves Anderson tells her that if she changes her mind about
coming with him, he will wait for her on the back road to Harker’s Farm, three
days hence. And they can cross the Missouri to safety, together. He pulls her
into a long and passionate kiss, filled with all the longing and tenderness he’s
never been able to show to anyone else. Her eyes fill with tears, as she looks
on him one last time before she leaves.


Goodman, struggling to untie himself in the darkness. He draws his guard into
talking to him, wondering how a lady could be with such a man. He listens,
disturbed, as the guard tells him about Anderson’s sisters, and how they died;
and about Sarah and how her family was burned out by Smith’s troops, and her
father killed; and about all of the others, whose families suffered the same
treatment at the hands of Union soldiers.

Anderson notices the guard and Goodman talking, and the guard offering
Goodman food, but says nothing. He orders some men out to escort Sarah part

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 88 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
of the way back, and alert the other guerrillas in the area about Johnston’s
planned attack.

As night falls, the guerrilla camp settles into a fitful sleep. His hands now
untied, Goodman inches towards a gun lying beside his guard. He grabs it,
backing slowly away from his captors, and slips into the trees, waiting to see if
anyone notices his disappearance. All is quiet, he turns to flee – but steps into
the barrel of Anderson’s gun. Mockingly, Anderson relieves him of the gun:
“You are not a fighting man, Sgt. Goodman, by your own admission. What
possible use would you have for a gun?”

The next morning they head out of camp, Goodman tied onto a horse, with two
new guards.


As Anderson leads the column of men through the woods, they are joined by
HUNDREDS OF MEN. By the time they reach a plumb thicket that forms a
cul-de-sac at the bottom of a hill, Anderson’s full army is ready for battle.

Goodman watches, helpless, as Anderson orders his men to draw Johnston into
the cul-de-sac. When his scouts whistle a warning, the guerrillas hide
themselves in the trees, with only a handful left as bait to draw Johnston’s fire.

It’s so quiet Goodman can hear the buzzing of a fly as Johnston leads his men
over the crest of the hill. Uncertain, and seeing only a dozen guerrillas,
dismounted, Johnston orders his men to dismount, playing by the rules of
engagement. Dismayed, it’s all too clear to Goodman that Anderson is
orchestrating an ambush. All of a sudden Goodman feels the point of a knife at
his throat. Anderson: “Just in case you had some heroic idea of warning them,

But they are both stupefied as they watch Johnston have every fourth soldier
take the horses and wait behind the line of infantry, in battle formation.
Anderson: “The fools are gonna fight us on foot!” Goodman pleads for their
lives: “They’re only boys!” Anderson replies: “Take a look around you,
Sergeant Goodman…they’re all boys.”

As the guerrillas ride into the thicket, Johnston orders his men after them. But
when Anderson’s men come out of the woods to sandwich Johnston’s men on
each side, Johnston is caught off guard. Deeply pained, Goodman can see that
the guerrillas have already won the battle.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 89 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Satisfied, Anderson turns to Goodman: “I ask you, Sgt. Goodman, would you
join them, or fight me in their stead?” Bitterly, Goodman replies: “I would
fight for my freedom, not to play your game with men’s lives.” Anderson
laughs, satisfied with Goodman’s reply: “And so you should fight for freedom,
Sergeant, and so you should.” And then, screaming the rebel yell, he leads the
charge against Johnston, as more of his men come out of the trees and over the
hillside, surrounding the Union soldiers.

The soldiers position themselves to fire. Unpracticed, they struggle with their
heavy rifles, and only manage to get off one volley. Even for that they’re too
far away; seeing their imminent defeat, the soldiers holding the horses attempt
to flee. But it’s no use, another band of guerrillas comes out of the trees,
screaming the rebel yell, and gunning them down. Only one soldier manages to

Jesse rides after Johnston, shooting him straight between the eyes. To
Goodman’s disgust, one of his guards boasts that Jesse has just killed his first
man. The rest of the guerrillas quickly surround the surviving soldiers.
Anderson orders them to surrender, with promises of humane treatment.
Goodman closes his eyes, sick with the knowledge of the fate that awaits them.

The soldiers throw down their weapons, raising their hands in surrender.
Without mercy, the guerrillas open fire, killing them all. But this is nothing
compared to what follows. Goodman watches with growing horror as the
guerrillas, led by Anderson and crazed with bloodlust, scalp and dismember
the Union soldiers.

Even Jesse turns green as Anderson, screaming incoherently, cuts off

Johnston’s head and tosses it to his men, as if he is playing some macabre
game of ball, before he takes it back and impales it on a bayonet.

Shivering despite the heat, Goodman whispers a prayer, as Anderson orders

some of his men to Centralia, to finish up Johnston’s men.


In Centralia the marauding rebels make short work of the Union soldiers, and
post Johnston’s head for all to see.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 90 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

The one escaped soldier rides hard into Gen. Ewing’s headquarters, reporting
to Capt. Smith. Smith, grim, orders his troops to Centralia.


Knowing that the killing of Johnston’s unit won’t go unavenged, Anderson

orders his army to split up into smaller bands, with plans to meet at Harker’s in
two days. Goodman, still tied, rides with Anderson’s band. As the guerrillas
ride through the Missouri woods, to a pre-arranged campsite –



As he leads soldiers in Federal blue in a rampage across Missouri, burning out

crops and homesteads and towns, killing all the men they find, leaving women
and children homeless.


Anderson leads the guerrilla attack on a mail train in transit. As they loot the
cargo, and carry off stacks of paper money, Goodman, under guard, can do

Goodman can’t help but notice the scalps that hang from Anderson's saddle.
Despairing of his own uncertain future, he wonders if his own scalp will soon
hang there as well.

The only chance I saw for escape
was death.


Capt. Smith and his soldiers ride into town, brought up short by Johnston’s
head, rotting in the sun. Smith interrogates the Sheriff; from the description
provided by the escaped soldier, it’s clear that Johnston walked into a trap. The
question is - how did Anderson know about Johnston? “Is there an informer in
your midst?” The Sheriff denies it, but glances uneasily at Sarah – she was the
only other one who heard Johnston’s promise to put Anderson’s head on his

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 91 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Goodman is astonished to see Anderson greeted as a hero, and his men

welcomed, everywhere they go. People slip out of their homes to press food
upon the saddle-weary men. At burned-out homesteads, Anderson parcels out
some of the money they looted from the Federal trains to burned-out
homesteaders, using the rest to buy ammunition.


The guerrillas, moving slow and silent, down a dirt path in the backwoods.
Goodman’s guard has relaxed his vigilant watch over the prisoner. But the
scanty woods provide little cover, and little chance for escape.

Up ahead, on the distant prairie, they see the orange glow of a burning
homestead, and, as a man, they turn toward the flames. Goodman wonders at
them riding out in the open. A moment later he sees another side to Anderson,
when they come upon a burned-out homestead, a woman and a baby nearby,
her husband hanging from a nearby tree. Anderson himself wraps the shivering
woman in a blanket, as he listens to her story. Through her sobs the woman
tells of the brutality they suffered; Goodman is horrified to witness first-hand
the atrocities committed by Union soldiers. Anderson orders Jesse to take the
woman to safety, and her husband buried.

Anderson stares into the flames, a dark fury boiling close to the surface. He
rides back to Goodman, great bitterness in his voice. “Welcome to the Civil
War, Sergeant Goodman – the war that is anything but civil.” As he turns to go
Goodman yells after him. “I would not do what these soldiers have done! I
would not kill innocent people!” Anderson responds, “That has yet to be seen,”
as he leads his men back into the woods.


That night, while the soldiers sleep, Jesse slips through the Union sentries to
bring the mother and baby to Sarah. By the time she gets back from taking
them to the doctor, Jesse is gone.

The next morning Capt. Smith sends messengers to all troops in southern
Missouri, setting up a coordinated ambush for Anderson and his men.
Anguished, Sarah makes her decision. As soon as the soldiers ride out of town,
she saddles up her horse and rides out alone, packing only her two pistols. She
doesn’t see the Sheriff watching her leave.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 92 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

With his scraggly hair and mismatched clothes, Goodman has come to look
like one of the guerrillas. As they break camp, he takes advantage of the chaos
and slips a gun into his saddle blanket.

When Jesse rejoins them Anderson asks about the mother and baby; Jesse
volunteers that he left them with Sarah, since there were Union soldiers
everywhere. When Anderson asks if Sarah mentioned whether she’d be going
with them, Goodman knows that something is afoot. He asks if they’re leaving
the area, but gets no answer; he doesn’t press when he sees Anderson’s
murderous look at Jesse’s reply – no, Sarah didn’t say she’d be joining them.

As the rest of the guerrilla bands come back together, converging on Harker’s
back road, Goodman finally sees his chance for escape. His guard, involved in
the excitement of the planned river crossing, doesn’t notice as he slips further
and further to the rear of the column.

As he watches the guerrillas disappear into the distance, he can scarcely

believe that he is finally a free man. He takes a deep breath before daring to
flee, riding hard across the open prairie, and savoring his freedom in the quiet
daytime sun. But the quiet is broken, suddenly, when he sees -

SARAH, riding furiously towards Harker’s back road. He also sees something
she doesn’t – Capt. Smith’s troops coming up over the ridge, close behind.
They have followed her to Anderson.

Goodman wheels his horse to ride after Sarah, yelling a warning. But Union
soldiers are already thundering past her. She heads for cover in the line of
trees, unseen by Anderson’s men. They do see Goodman, closer to the Union
troops than he is to them.

A shell explodes in the trees near Anderson. He yells for his men to break
rank: “Ride for your lives!” as Capt. Smith and his troops advance into the

Amongst the exploding shells the guerrillas struggle to control their horses.
The smoke and exploding debris create a cloud of smoke, providing cover,
allowing Anderson’s men to regroup.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 93 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
Goodman, caught in the middle, can’t find Sarah. He does see Capt. Smith’s
men – and knows, despite their Union uniforms, he is not one of them. The
Federals keep coming, relentless, as two other troops join Smith.

Goodman sees the guerrillas through the smoke, returning fire. Union soldiers
fall dead, but more keep coming. Then, incredibly, the tide seems to turn.

The shelling stops long enough for the smoke to clear. In the momentary
clearing Sarah sees an opening in the line of Union soldiers – and Anderson
sees a figure he knows all too well – Sarah, riding hard.

Goodman sees her at that same moment. Anderson rides like a madman in her
direction, screaming for her to go back. Goodman, closer, tries to get to her
first. He sees what Sarah doesn’t - Capt. Smith, coming up behind her. He yells
for her to fall to the ground, as, without hesitation, he fires six rounds into
Smith. But it’s too late – Smith shoots bullet after bullet into Sarah, killing her,
before falling off his horse, dead. The other guerrillas take off after the
retreating soldiers: “Kill those bastards!”

Tears streaming, Goodman gently picks up Sarah. Through the fallen and the
wounded he carries her to Anderson. Filled with a silent fury and a terrible
deep grief, Anderson takes Sarah’s body from Goodman, and carries her off
into the now silent woods.



As day turns to dusk, the men begin to bury their dead. Goodman goes in
search of Anderson, mad with grief over Sarah’s body.

Goodman steps up, taking a shovel from one of the men. The metal of the
shovel glints in the dying rays of the sun, as Goodman digs fiercely into the
harsh ground. “I hear you were once a preacher, sir, before this infernal war,”
he says to Thomas Todd, who, embarrassed, comes forward. They all remove
their hats, as Todd leads them in prayer.

Anderson lays Sarah to rest. Before they shovel the dirt over her body, he takes
a band of gold off of her finger – her wedding ring. Sarah was his wife.

Later, Anderson rides past Goodman, acknowledging him as the fighter he’s
become, in the same words Goodman once used to him: “You must be mad,

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 94 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
sir, to do what you have done!” In this one terrible moment, they understand
each other perfectly.


That night Anderson diverts the guerrillas away from Harker’s, stopping at the
farmhouse of a Confederate sympathizer to make arrangements with the owner
for skiffs to cross the river at Rocheport, the next day. To Goodman’s surprise
Anderson insists they leave him outside, alone and unguarded, to watch the

Inside the house Anderson, disturbed, observes Goodman currying the horses.
When the men come out they’re surprised to see that Goodman is still there.
But that doesn’t stop their suspicions, they’re after blood, and he is not one of


All the guerrilla bands arrive at the rendezvous point, and Goodman overhears
the guerrillas’ plans to cross the Missouri River at Rocheport the next day.
Local citizens, grateful for their assistance, arrive with food and whiskey, and
the evening turns into a celebration and a feast. But Goodman, sitting off by
himself away from the campfire, is not part of the celebrations or their plans;
he can hear the drunken curses of his name. Although he escaped once, it
doesn’t look like he’ll make it out of there alive.

Anderson appears in the darkness, saying that the men will calm down if he
swears an oath of loyalty, before they cross the river. And Goodman finally
snaps, with the rage born of his helpless captivity.

Let me tell you something, you son
of a bitch. I may not be like those
killers who call themselves Union
soldiers, but I’m not crossing no
river with the likes of you, I sure as
hell am not one of you, and I will
never forget what you did to my
men. So unless you’re going to kill

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 95 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
me now, the only place I’m going is

Anderson smiles his crazy grin, laced with a profound sadness. “I’ve never
thought I’d say this to a Union soldier, but you have proved to be an honorable
man, Sgt. Goodman.” He takes off his coat and hands it to Goodman. “I want
you to take this and go. I won’t be able to protect you for much longer.”
Goodman is confused, but takes it, and puts it on. He feels something in the
pocket; reaching inside, he pulls out his tintype of Mary.

When he looks up, Anderson is gone. As the guerrillas look in Goodman’s

direction, he slips away in the darkness; in Anderson’s coat, he’s
indistinguishable from Anderson.


As the sun rises over the horizon, Anderson stands on a cliff overlooking the
Missouri. In his hand is Sarah’s wedding ring. Tears well up in his eyes as he
hurls it into the river. It catches the first rays of the sun, before sinking into the
muddy water below.


The Missouri countryside is crawling with Union troops. Goodman is

questioned as to any sight of Anderson’s guerrillas; there’s a price on his head
following the murder of Capt. Smith and a good portion of his men. Goodman
shakes his head with regret: “I surely cannot help you, sir.”


Amidst the chaos of men boarding skiffs and trying to coax recalcitrant horses
across, Anderson and his men cross the river to safety.


A solitary elm tree on a hill of tall prairie grass. The autumn breeze blows
golden leaves onto the blanket of leaves below, as Mary Goodman reads a
much-worn letter, staring, worried, down the empty dirt road as it disappears
into the horizon.

A figure appears in the distance. Union Sgt. Thomas M. Goodman is home.

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 96 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Anderson leads a small band of his men, guerrilla flag flying, down a narrow
backwoods road. He rounds a bend in the road – and before him stands a line
of Union soldiers, guns drawn. As the commanding officer yells “Fire!”
soldiers charge from the woods, closing the guerrillas in on both sides.
Guerrillas fall dead and wounded, but Anderson rides through. “Ride for your
life, Jesse!” he yells, as he charges the Union line head on, yelling the rebel
yell. Jesse escapes in the melee, unscathed, as the men around him are shot and

As Anderson rides, hellbound, he’s hit in the back of his head, falling
backward off his horse. William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson is dead.


GOODMAN and MARY, with two small children, cross a river as they head
West in a covered wagon.

I believe now that he spared my life
so that I would tell his story. Yes, he
was a terrible and bloodthirsty fiend,
and for this he has made his place in
Hell. But who would act otherwise,
when all he holds dear is so harshly
taken. He fought, after all, for
freedom. We all fought for that noble
cause, in that brutal war. But let no
one forget the terrible price we paid,
that fateful day -

A set of gleaming train tracks, leading into the horizon. As we follow them we
can hear the ghost echo of trains rolling and guns firing and men screaming –
until we arrive, in silence, at a weathered old stone marker, commemorating
the Centralia massacre.

In Centralia.


Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 97 of 102
By Sandy Eiges
(Please note: this is only one way to write a treatment. Remember a treatment can also
be five to seven pages, a far better length, by the way, if you are trying to sell a project
from a treatment. This length, on the other hand, gives enough detail to start writing
the script from, essentially functioning as a scene outline)

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 98 of 102
By Sandy Eiges

Bow Down Shadrach


Sandy Eiges

Based on the novel by Joy Cowley

© All rights reserved

Kiwi Film Productions Contact:
Irish Dreamtime
2550 Broadway, Suite 500
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 449-3411

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 99 of 102
By Sandy Eiges



Sandy Eiges

WGAw Reg.No. 829805 Contact:

Phone number
Email address

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 100 of
By Sandy Eiges

A final word for those of you who are new writers and are feeling a little overwhelmed
just about now – take heart, all good things are learned in the doing. Think about this
new world of screenwriting as learning a new language. Learning a language takes
practice, and full immersion in a foreign tongue. But with enough practice, at some
point the new language will feel like second nature to you.

If screenwriting is already second nature to you, but you’re frustrated by the difficulty
of “breaking in” to Hollywood, well, welcome to the club. Is there a magic formula?
No. But just because you haven’t sold a script yet doesn’t mean you won’t. Don’t
question your talent. Instead, rededicate yourself to the process of becoming a better
writer. Anyone can write – real writers rewrite. Over and over again. Keep your
commitment to yourself and your story, figure out what you really need help with to
make your script better, and go out and get that help. If you expect to write something
once and never have to go in and really work on it, chances are you’re not going to sell
that script. If you are open to feedback, be it from a writers group, a class, or a script
consultant, then use that feedback to become a better writer, and to make your script
shine. You will learn alot, and you will be rewarded for all that work. But don’t forget

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 101 of
By Sandy Eiges
that writing is really about having something to say, and a story to tell; savor the
process, and your personal joy in writing. Be in your story. That’s your real reward.

I hope you found this book helpful. If you have any questions about the art and craft of
screenwriting, or any part of this book, please feel free to contact me at:
sandy@storyandscriptdevelopment.com .

Best wishes,
Sandy Eiges


Sandy Eiges is an internationally known screenwriter, story analyst and script doctor,
with major experience in identifying and solving story problems. She has worked with
many writers and producers, including Twentieth Century Fox, Samuel Goldwyn
Films, TNT and the New Zealand Film Commission, among others. She has also
served as a judge for the CableAce Awards; and was the winner of the 1998 K.A.S.A.
Screenwriting Award for SAVING FAITH, a family comedy, subsequently purchased
by, and in development with, Kingman Films and Cavegirl Productions. She currently
has a family drama entitled BOW DOWN SHADRACH, in development with Irish
Dreamtime, Pierce Brosnan’s company; and TAR, an independent film in
development with Lyra Films. She is available for script consultations, rewrites and
adaptations, and can be found online at http://www.StoryAndScriptDevelopment.com
. Her email address is: sandy@storyandscriptdevelopment.com .

Hollywood Script Writing: How To Birth Your Idea Into A Bankable Screenplay Page 102 of
By Sandy Eiges

Похожие интересы