Basics of the Big Screen & Where to Get Started

Basics of the Big Screen & Where to Get Started

Pop Culture

May 25, 2020

Every year, hundreds of movies and TV shows are released. But, how does Hollywood do it? How does a movie come together? Where is the handbook to making it all work?

Where Every Production Starts

Much like all other inventions, productions start with an idea. Somebody got struck by the imagination stick and they discover this world that is different than ours.

Ideas can come from anywhere, including the writer seeing a problem they want to shine some light on, or just waking up at 2 a.m. with the idea of a lifetime!

But without a plan of action, ideas become useless. So how does one take an idea, and turn it into the next big thing? That's easy. The answer is in the script.

The Script

A good script is the backbone of any good production. This is the first place where things can go right, or where things can go incredibly wrong. The script is what sells. When pitching your idea, you need to have an official query and a complete, if not near complete, script.

Once a project is in production, the script becomes a holy relic. That seems a bit extreme, you say. Well, to that- you would be wrong.

The script has all the information in it to keep as true to the author's original vision as possible. Allow me to break this down for you.

How to Write a script

There is a very specific format to follow while writing a script. Formatting is by far one of the most important things ever!

Title Page Format

(This is an example of a basic title page formatting, from the cover of one of my scripts)

The title page, as well as the script, should be written in courier font.

You always start with a title, then follows your "by" line, followed by the author(s)' name. This is what you'll see in all spec scripts. Shooting scripts will look a little different. The title page for shooting scripts will include copyright and contact information, along with some other things.

It's becoming more popular for title pages to have a logo with the title on it as opposed to the title being written out.

Body Format

(This is the first page following the title page. This page will always start out with "TEASER" or "COLD OPEN", and is used to introduce you to the storyline the acts will contain.)

(*You don't have to put the character's last name, it's an optional choice of preference)

Scripts are always written in courier font. This comes from scripts originally being written on type-writers.

Every scene starts with a slugline. This states if the scene takes place in an interior (INT.) or an exterior (EXT.), the name of the location, followed by the time of day ( - DAY or - NIGHT). So the scene above takes place inside Emberley's bedroom, at night.

This is followed by action. The immediate action is Emberley sitting on her bed in the dark.

After the action, you typically see a character followed by their dialogue, but there are cases where you'll see something else. In this case, there is an INSERT there, an insert is where you see the object instead of what you were previously looking at. Meaning, now we see Emberley's computer screen, instead of Emberley looking at her computer screen.

BACK TO SCENE indicates that the INSERT, FLASHBACK, or whatever you've put there that breaks that scene up has ended, and we're back to what we were seeing before.

When both Emberley and Tyler are introduced, you see their names written in capital letters, the reason for this to keep track of characters with speaking line/important characters during pre-production and production.

Finally, we see Emberley making a statement, followed by another statement. These two lines of dialogue were broken up, so you see EMBERLEY (CONT'D) which means Emberley continues speaking.

The most important part of scripts is to always write them in present tense. While books and other things can be written in past or future tense, scripts should always be written with the intent to be watched. We always see things as they are happening. In this example, we see Emberley is sitting instead of Emberley sat or Emberley will sit.

Spec vs. Shooting Script

Although these two forms tell the same story, it is important to have both types. While although untimely being the same, their importances come in their differences.

This video provides additional information. It is great for anyone interested in the industry!


The spec, [short for spectating/spectator] script is the version you were reading. It has all your speaking lines, your actions, and overall reads like a story. It's clean, simple, and to the point.


This is where you have your transitions, inserts, and shots written in. The purpose of this is to communicate to the director and production crew what your vision for this scene to look like is. Overall, this will appear much like the spec script, but it will include things like

The Sell

Once a script is finished, it's time to try and find a production studio to give it a shot. At this point, you may think that since the script has been written, the writing is done. Once again, that's incorrect.

Now's where the real work starts. You've fallen in love with this world of your creation, now it's time to convince others it's worth a shot.

Please understand that there are many ways to sell a script, this is just the most common way to sell a script.

Getting a Literary Manager

Most often, people are going to look for either a literary manager or a literary agent. It's mostly recommended to find a manager because these are the people who are going to read your work, network for you, and find a place where your script will blossom. An agent is a person who does legal actions.

In other words, your manager is your guardian angel, your agent is the person who helps you sign the contract. Agents are also incredibly hard to get. They've been referred to as the Catch 22 of the industry since it's believed you have to sell the script to get an agent, but you need the agent to sell the script. Whatever you choose, start with the query.

Official Query

An official query includes a query letter, a sample of your script, relevant personal achievements, as well as contact information. The key to queries is to keep it short, simple, and on topic. Also, make sure the letter is about your script and not you. Remember what you're selling.

The most important thing about the query is the logline of your show or movie. This is a detailed, one-sentence summary to peak interest in your concept. It's been said that scripts can be tossed aside while never being looked at due to bad loglines.

The Three Stages


While the entire scriptwriting process can be considered pre-production, this stage is really about casting, hiring staff and crew, budgeting, scheduling, scouting and permitting shooting locations, getting costumes and props in order, etc. For actors/actresses, this stage includes learning about and internalizing their character, as well as practices.

Pre-production is getting the foundation put in place so that you can get to the fun part.


Welcome to what I call the fun part. Production is exactly what it sounds like. This is the stage where the show or movie is being filmed.

The camera is rolling, the characters are alive. And while this is all fun, it's also a lot of hard work.

Production includes hours worth of filming, sometimes doing the same scene time and time again to get it just right.

To help keep track of where you're at during production, clapper boards (pictured above) are used. These include the title of the production, the scene, the number of times you've shot the scene (aka "take"), the name of the director, the name of the camera operator, the day and time you're filming, as well as some other general information about the scene.

Clappers are used instead of slates because they are also meant to sync video to audio. This is important for post-production. The post-production crew uses the footage of the clapper boards to make sure that the video and audio of a take are in sync with one another.


Post-production is most often considered to be editing. Editing happens in post-production, but it isn't all it is. During post-production, oftentimes referred to as post, this is where all the footage is taken and condensed into the best mix of takes, which then forms the story that shows up on our screens.

Along with this, coloration is fixed and sometimes filters are added. This is also the stage where music is added to the product. Finally, the finished product is rendered (saved to a file).

This stage is where Superman flies across the sky, where Daenerys births her baby dragons. Post-production is where all the magic from production comes together.

Onto the Big Screen

The next step is the one we all know well. It's time for the production to hit the screen! Grab your popcorn and enjoy! 🎥🍿

...well, enjoy the ones you see, that is. Every year, there are hundreds of projects that never make it through all of the stages, so they never see the screen.

You can also comment if you would like to talk about the industry. This is where I'm working to go and would be happy to help others there too. Connections are by far the most important part of this industry, and it's never to early to start networking!

Getting Started

If you are interested in filmmaking, there are many places where you can start. Keep in mind that this is an industry that is going to take time, persistence, effort, and luck to break into. Also, if you are a person who wants to be involved with a production, there are many different roles you can fill, both on and off camera.

If you are interested in writing a screenplay for yourself, then there are some tips you should know when you're about to get started. As you already know, start with an idea. Once you have the idea for your screenplay, it's time to start writing. Although writing processes differ from writer to writer, as we've already discussed, formatting is everything.


Celtx is an online, free to use, scriptwriting software. This allows you to do everything from storyboarding, scriptwriting, to the budgeting of your project once it's in production. Unfortunately, many of these features are only free for 7 days.

Tips & Tricks for using Celtx-

The first 7 days of Celtx (pronounced Keltix, not Seltix), you have full access to the website.

During this time, you have the ability to make 3 projects. No matter if you want to write movies or tv shows, create all 3 projects, and set them to the max amount of episodes. This way if you're doing a television program, you have room for your episodes, and if you're interested in movies, you have 13 x 3 different movies you can write.

If you have more than 1 episode selected, you can later, after the trial, add more scripts to your project, but not more episodes. This just means you can add a script without adding the breakdown, budgeting, exchange, and other features.

This is the best way to write as many scripts as possible. The amount of scripts you can add to the project is unlimited. But, you can only have 13 episodes.


Better formatting, easy to navigate, sleek design, excellent help for formatting (legitimately does all the work, you just have to click a button and type words)


Limited access in terms of production usage, can't fully use the "Exchange" feature (only affects you if you want to share your script with other users of this feature)


I have to admit, I still pretty new to StudioBinder, but I have been using it long enough to know my way around. StudioBinder also has a free and a more extensive paid version. The main difference between Celtx and StudioBinder is StudioBinder allows you access to the full website for forever, but only for 1 project.


Full access to the tools forever


You only get that access to 1 project, the detail in formating for the script isn't as great.


What I personally have been doing is writing the script under the free Celtx Subscriptions, then copy & pasting them into StudioBinder to do the breakdown. Breakdown, all though meant to be a feature for production, it does work well for writing when you need to see where your characters are and what they are interacting with.

The sign up for both Celtx and StudioBinder are very easy. They both have tours and additional video guides to show you around the website.


If anyone is interested in entering the industry or is just generally interested in it and would like to know more, there is an entire Crash Course series on it. Along with that, the internet is full of helpful places to go, all it takes is a search. Honestly, Google will become your best friend, if not google then Yahoo, or Bing, or whichever search engine you use.

Alicia Renee
50k+ pageviews

Alicia Renee is a College Sophomore who wants to create in any way she can. She's highly active in the political and social justice community. Alicia likes to spend her time learning, writing, sewing, crafting, editing (photos, videos, essays, anything), and being around the people she loves. She is Majoring in Television Arts and declared a Minor in Women & Gender Studies.