I studied screenwriting through the one-year program at New York Film Academy. However, you don’t have to go to school in order to write a screenplay. You DO need the following:
—A story idea that can be sustained for 90 minutes.
—A basic understanding of how to format a screenplay. (You don’t need Final Draft, but you do need to know where to set the tabs for Word for character names, dialogue, action lines, etc.)
—A basic understanding of plot and story structure. (For instance, by the end of Act I, around page 20, we should know who the protagonist is and what his goal is. Halfway through Act II, exactly in the middle of the script, there should be an event that flips the script or changes things dramatically. The end of Act II should propel us into Act III. Act III is usually only about 15 pages or so. It’s the main showdown between the protagonist and antagonist. After the climax, try to wrap things up quickly by showing what has changed.)
Study a few of your favorite films. Analyze how they’re put together. Read as many screenplays as you can get your hand on. (It’s always smart to read whatever genre/format you’re writing in. Whether it’s poetry, short stories, novels, sci-fi, fantasy, noir, etc.) There are lots of free screenplay sites on the internet, so you have no excuse. Gaining knowledge and exposure before you start will make the writing process easier and the revision process as well.
Remember to keep it visual! Never reveal information through dialogue if you can do it with action instead. Don’t have a character ask what time it is. Just cut to the clock on the wall. We all love writing dialogue, but action and story are just as important.
Be persistent and don’t give up. In the end, persistence trumps talent.
Set deadlines for yourself and give each deadline consequences. What are you going to make yourself do if you don’t reach this deadline? Exercise for an hour and a half? Donate money to a cause you hate? If you can set up a writing group, that’s even better. You can keep each other accountable in addition to workshopping your screenplays.