I just finished reading The Perfect Screenplay: Writing It and Selling It by Katherine Atwell Herbert (Allworth Press, 2005).
After getting over my initial resistance to the title (“Perfect Screenplay”? What’s that?) I was able to find several useful suggestions in the book. The tips can help all writers, not just those writing screenplays:
1. Screenplays have a premise and a theme. The premise explains what the main character has to do. The theme is what the film is really about (the lesson learned). For example, in the Million Dollar Baby movie, the premise is that a young woman, estranged from her family and lacking any resources, seeks self-respect and a career, so takes up professional boxing. The movie’s themes are there’s a price to pay for your dreams and an artificially sustained life is no life at all.
2. A phone pitch about a screenplay should include a punchy two-liner about the project. (Try writing a two-liner about your writing project, whatever it is).
3. Some film companies hire readers to analyze submitted scripts. Here are some of the elements readers look at: premise, story line, characterization, structure and dialogue. (Keep those elements in mind when you’re assessing your own writing).