Writing an Animated Feature Film: How I Wrote the Screenplay for Snowlands, from Idea to Final Draft
Writing an Animated Feature Film
How I Wrote the Screenplay for Snowlands, from Idea to Final Draft
Over the span of about a year and a half I wrote a screenplay for an animated feature film titled Snowlands. We are currently in production of making a graphic novel version of the film, as well as trying to get the film made.
In this post I will go over my entire process of writing, rewriting, and refining the screenplay.
I will discuss how I came up with the idea for the film, how I learned to write a screenplay from scratch, methods I found to make my story better, and how I used feedback and coverage services to refine my script.
What is this post NOT about: This isn’t about the art of writing. Nothing here about story arcs, character development, or the 3-act structure.
I won’t attempt to teach screenwriting, but instead only focus on the process of producing a completed screenplay, what I learned from my first go at screenwriting, as well as where to find more information that will help you on your writing journey.
Why read this guide?
The screenplay for Snowlands placed in numerous writing competitions, including making it as a Quarterfinalist at the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, and it is listed on The Black List’s top screenplays (ranking #1 for animation).
However, I should say that I’m not a seasoned screenwriter with years of experience. This is my first finished screenplay for a feature film.
But that might also be a good reason for you to go through this guide…
If you’re on the path of writing your first screenplay as well, you might be able to get some value from reading about my experience. If you’re an experienced writer, you might learn about other methods for refining your craft.
The following is everything I recall from writing a 108 pages screenplay for the first time.
The idea for Snowlands came to me after watching an episode of Planet Earth, which featured the elusive snow leopard. In that episode, we followed a mother snow leopard and her cub as they traversed the Himalayan mountains.
The mother-daughter story of the two leopards was so moving, that I thought it could be a great theme for a film. In its original incarnation, Snowlands was meant to be just that – a mother snow leopard and her daughter in their last journey together before separating for the rest of their lives. Snow leopards are solitary creatures, and are destined to spend their lives alone, when the cub is ready to go on its own.
I thought that angle was so powerful, that it was the only part about the story that remained when the script was done. It was always going to be about a mother and daughter, going their separate ways.
That notion remained at the core of the film, but pretty much everything else I thought this film was going to be ended up differently.
The leopards mother/daughter became a leopard finding a stranded leopard cub. Then it became a leopard finding a lost wolf cub. The story then placed the wolves as the main animal group in the film, with only one leopard.
The story still revolved around the leopard and the wolf cub’s relationship. Still focusing on a mother-daughter dynamic. But it wasn’t at all what I thought the film will end up being.
And that is the first lesson I learned from writing a screenplay:
The story tells you what it needs to be. You can’t force it into what you imagined when you started writing. You have to be ok with losing characters, changing them, switching genders, turning villains into friends, and the other way around.
I wanted a film about a leopard mother and daughter walking along the snowy mountains talking about their feelings. Instead I got a wolf cub running away from her pack, joining a snow leopard loner who’s searching for answers.
The final log line of the film:
When fate brings them together, an exiled Wolf Cub and a Snow Leopard loner are thrown into a wild adventure, and must work together to free the snowy mountains from an unexpected threat.
Learning to write a film
When I started writing the film, I quickly realized I have a lot to learn if I want to write a great screenplay. I don’t have any official training in film writing, so I had to create my own learning path.
Books, screenplays and movies
I decided to create a well-rounded film writing education that relied on 3 pillars:
- Reading screenwriting books
- Reading screenplays
- Watching movies.
You’ll find the complete list of all the resources I used at the end of this post.
This system worked well for me because it allowed me to completely immerse myself in film, while accommodating my different moods or schedules.
When I had time and attention-span to read, I’d read one of the screenwriting books on my list.
When I wanted something more fun and wasn’t up for “school-work”, I’d read the script of a great movie. Ones that I watched and ones I haven’t.
When I wasn’t in the mood to read anything, I’d watch a movie in a similar genre to the film I was writing, and try to analyze the structure and character development.
One important thing to keep in mind, is that I did all that learning in parallel to writing the script. That’s important to do because you won’t be able to remember everything you learn, so it’s best to be able to implement ideas for your own project quickly while it’s still fresh in your head.
Also, it’s best to focus on screenplays and movies that are similar in tone and genre to the ones that you’re making, so you can make sure you hit important beats that are common in specific genres. Alternatively, you can explore other genres and try to find interesting ways to integrate beats from different genres into your script, to spice things up.
The important thing is to have a certain project in mind when you’re in learning mode, so that you can always relate what you learn to the work you’re doing.
But make sure to keep making progress on your script, and not use learning as a procrastination tool!
The process of writing a screenplay
It’s a common advice to get through your first draft as fast as possible, so you’ll have something to work with, and I agree. But how do you go about writing it?
Do you outline the whole story or wing it? How much of the story do you need to know before you start? Do you need to know how it ends? What about theme? Should you use index cards and post them on the walls? Beat sheets?
Let’s go over some of these concepts…
Outlines and beats
Outlines are great. It’s always easier to write when you have a map to go by. But good outlines are hard to write. You don’t always know everything that happens in your story, and when you’re a first-timer who’s never worked with outlines before, it’s even harder.
I had that problem. I wanted to start with an outline, but I got stuck pretty quickly. My solution – Outline other movies.
I picked a few movies I thought were similar to the type of movie I wanted to make. Up, Guilt Trip, Shrek, Finding Nemo, etc. I then watched them and outlined them without getting into specifics.
Instead of writing “Nemo loses his wife and all of his children except one, which leaves his scared and paranoid” I wrote “A past incident which determines Character A’s trauma.“
I used generic terms like “Character A”, “Incidents” so that I could look at the film’s structure in a pure way, and figure out its basic structure. This isn’t about copying another movie’s ideas, but getting an idea of what a successful outline looks like, so you can get a clue to building yours.
A great book to read for this stage is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Some screenwriters will scoff at this recommendation, since Snyder simplifies all movies into basic formulas, but I think this book empowers new writers and helps them see that most good films have a lot in common.
This book isn’t a shortcut, and is pretty shallow in its attitude to writing, which is why it gets a bad rap. But you build on top of that, and not simply take a formula and squeeze you movie into it, it could be a really fun first book on your screenwriting journey.
An important concept that helps you build your outline is beats.
Beats are basically general story moments, such as “Set-up” “Catalyst” “Break into act 2” or “Bad guys closing in”. When you read the breakdown of all the movies covered in the Snyder book, you see how similar the timing of these moment is in different movies.
That’s why some writers dismiss the book, as it oversimplifies screenwriting, but I suggest keeping these beats in mind as you write your outline. You will later change a bunch of it anyways, but it’s a great tool to keep you on track.
Again, this should be served as a starting point, or a guiding light to get you started. You will change most of it by the time you are done anyways.
I found that it was harder to know what to write in your outline the further I got in the story, so I didn’t get much past the halfway point in outlining before I jumped into writing. Then I went back to the outline, changed it based on what I wrote, and tried to keep outlining as much as I could before getting stuck and going back to writing the script.
Here’s an example of a few beats from an older outline of Snowlands:
- Opening image: in the wolves den. Establishing that the sheep are all gone, and the food is getting sparse. Cubs are gone. Open with the tiger story scene.
- Mom sacrifices herself. Feba is the only one not with the other cubs, due to her white hair.
- Feba gets away.
- First villain appearance: Martens get orders from Umanga. Find the white cub!
- Heroes meet: Feba meets Usha. Wants to go with her, convinces her and follows her.
As you can see, these aren’t very detailed. They’re just general scene instructions that describe the flow of events. There’s no dialogue or acting direction.
Going back and forth between writing and outlining is what worked for me, but many writers do great with outlining the entire script in detail, or not outlining at all and simply writing the film away.
The important thing is to discover what works for you and do that, instead of making yourself work in a way that’s not natural to you.
It’s crucial to keep a document that allows you to write notes and ideas, preferably in a way that you can organize it easily.
I use Scrivener for all writing except for the actual script, for which I use Final Draft. Scrivener lets you work on multiple text documents and view them on the sidebar simultaneously.
That way I can visually have access to all my different documents like character names, beats, different outlines I’m playing around with, theme ideas, title ideas, and anything else I think of that I want to put down in writing. I refer to these documents often, and always have them open while writing.
I also have a list app on my phone (I use Microsoft Todo) because I often have random ideas popping into my head at random times (often after a shower or during a dog walk) so I make sure to write them down on my Snowlands list ASAP, otherwise I quickly forget them. A lot of these ideas don’t end up in the film, but some of them were my most creative one.
Knowing your ending
Should you know how your film ends when writing? I don’t think you do.
I think it’s good to have a general idea of where you’re heading, just so you don’t get lost in the woods, but you don’t need to know the specifics of the ending. You might know parts of it, or what you want the ending to feel like (happy/sad/ambiguous), without knowing exactly what it is or how to get there.
Stephan King wrote in his excellent writing memoir On Writing that a writer’s job is to tell the truth. I try to follow that mantra. If you commit to telling the truth, then it might be hard to know exactly what happens at the end before you get there, because you might not know what happens on the way until to go through your characters’ journey.
I didn’t know which of my character would die. I didn’t know how they would win the day. The important thing to me was to make sure they have a strong want and that the stakes were high. Everything else would figure itself out.
One of the most important things to do when writing a screenplay is write consistently. Writing a screenplay is such a complicated task, that taking long breaks away from it will make it harder to keep track of the story’s flow and development.
I’ll go even further and say it would be incredibly harder to finis your script if you don’t make it a part of your daily work schedule. I understand that writing full-time doesn’t work for everyone, including myself, but try to recognize your most creative hours of the day and get at least 2 hours of uninterrupted writing. Preferably even 4-5.
For me it was always the first half of the day. I found that my creativity went down after lunch, so I tried to get as much writing as possible before than, and then work on less mind-absorbing tasks.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of work that’s left to do. Take your script one scene at a time, look only at the section you’re currently working on, and only look at the big picture once every few days, to see if you’re going in the right direction. Don’t think about it constantly, as it will drive you crazy. Decide what’s the next 10-20 minutes of your movie need to be, and work on them.
The important thing is that you are slowly but consistently, edging your way to the finish line.
When you’re done
When you actually get to the ending of your screenplay, it is really just the start. Next comes he hard part – rewriting.
Getting to the end of the screenplay for the first time is amazing. It feels good, and it’s really hard to do. But yes, I know it’s not what you wanna hear, but unfortunately rewriting is much harder and takes longer. It’s where you can turn your screenplay from ok/good to great/amazing.
I can’t over-stress this, and it is the only statement in this post I can make with absolute certainty:
It is only by rewriting over and over ago that a script can become great. There are no shortcuts. There is now way around it.
We’ll cover the process of rewriting later on in this article. For now, lets take a break and discuss some concepts and ideas that could help you improve your script.
Thoughts on what makes a good screenplay
Now that we covered the general flow of writing a screenplay, lets go over what I learned about writing, and how you can use it to make your screenplay better.
Motives and Stakes
Motives and stakes are two concepts I always try to keep in mind when working through the plot.
Many times when writers run into issues with their story, or they don’t know what happens next, it is because the motives aren’t clear enough, or the stakes aren’t high enough.
In other words – it’s not super clear what the characters want, and it’s not that big of a deal if they don’t get it, or simply stop and turn back.
When writing a mainstream movie, we have to make sure our main characters (both the protagonist and the villain) have a clear want. There is something they are trying to do. More than that, we need to make sure that if they don’t get it, their lives would be ruined. Otherwise, what stops then from turning back when things get tough?
Have you ever watched a film and thought “Why doesn’t he just do X?” or “Why does she even care if Y happens?” That happens when the motives aren’t clear and the stakes aren’t high.
We need to keep pushing our characters so that turning back gets harder and harder, and raise the stakes as we progress through the plot. If the character is in a more dangerous situation in the first half of the script than they are in the second half, where’s the rising tension? How do you keep audience interested?
An example from Snowlands
I struggled with these issues for a long time during the writing of Snowlands. It wasn’t always clear what Feba, the wolf cub, wants. In an earlier draft, the reason she ran away is due to an attack on her tribe, and watching her mom getting killed. Then she kind of found herself following Usha, the snow leopard, and it wasn’t clear what she wants now.
Why didn’t she go back to her tribe? What’s her goal now that she escaped the attack? It wasn’t working.
So I solved that issue by making her an outcast in her pack. She had white fur, which the wolves believed to be bad luck. When things got bad, the pack blamed it on Feba’s bad luck. She learned that they plan to kill her to get rid of the “curse”, so she ran away.
That solved my problem in a few ways: First, we know why she didn’t simply go back home after running away. She couldn’t return to the tribe who wanted her dead. Second, I found a strong want for her character – the need to belong. To find a place to call home. She never truly had that, always feeling like an outcast, and so she finds that home with Usha, giving us a strong motive to join her.
To refer to Stephan King’s book again, he had an excellent observation on the issue of theme. He states that you don’t need to know your theme going in, but once you discover it – ignore it at your own peril.
Neal Gaiman said something similar, stating that the point of the second draft is to make it seem like you knew what you were doing the entire time.
To synthesize both of these ideas:
As writers, we discover important things about our story as we write it, and then when we do, we should go back and push them further, removing the excess fat.
Once I discovered that my film deals with parents having to let go of their children, I could go back and try to push that idea further by including other cases and examples of parenting. Showing what happens when you don’t let go of your children, or what happens if you let go too easily, or what happens when you let go the wrong way, etc. I found a theme and went back to push it harder, and with that developed and focused my theme.
I won’t attempt to teach originality, as it’s quite a vague concept, but I can discuss a few ways to make the set pieces in your story a bit more original and interesting.
Many times in our writing we encounter a trope. A trope is a known situation that we’ve seen before in films from a similar genre. They aren’t cliche’s necessarily, as they aren’t silly or overused, but they are something the audience expects to see.
A few examples:
- The group of heroes plans their final attack on the bad guys, and we see a quick montage of all the steps they are about to take.
- A quick mission at the beginning of spy movies, introducing the hero and creating some cool action set pieces.
- The hero bursts into a long speech at the end of a rom-com, explaining how they now see things differently because of their love interest.
These tropes can easily become cliches if done wrong, but even if they are done “correctly”, they might not rise above just being “ok” or “passable”.
The thing is, whenever we get to writing a scene like that, we automatically go to writing what we except to see, or what we think the audience expects to see. The first thing that pops in our head.
One trick to creating more original scenes, is to assume that the first idea you had of how this scene should go should be discarded. Try to come up with 3-5 more ideas, dig deep, and you’ll be surprised to find some interesting twists on known tropes.
Another trick I like to use is to ask myself “have I seen something like that” / “Have I heard a line like that”? And if the answer is “yes”, I change it. Just enough to it has its own unique flavor.
Let’s say you need the hero to say to the villain “You won’t get away with this!“. But… Have you ever heard that line in a movie before? About a thousand times. So how about “Remember this moment. I want you to think about this exact moment when I have my gun against your head and pull the trigger“. Fine, it’s not a great line, but look how much more unique it sounds, and it has the same effect you were looking for.
Examples from Snowlands
Here are a few examples of how I tried to add a bit of uniqueness and originality to Snowlands.
Example 1: There was one scene where the wolf council had to take a vote on an issue. The way I initially had it was the first idea that popped to my head: The wolf leader asks the council to cast their vote, and then they all say “yes” or nod their heads, or something like that.
This is a familiar scene that we’ve seen in different movies – a character trying to change the minds of some council or congress, and they reject their idea.
To make this scene my own, I added just a few little things to make it unique:
First, in dialogue, I decided to give this ceremony its own specific language. The leader will first ask “Is this what the Council Wish for?” And after the vote is cast, he will say “A Wish has been made and the Council shall fulfill it.” This quote will come back at a later part of the film, and feel just unique enough to make it believable that this tribe has its own set of protocols.
It wasn’t just “Cast your vote!” and “Fine. I’ll do it”. It followed a very specific procedure, which showed even further that the leader is reluctant in executing the action, but has no choice because of the tribe’s rules.
Then for the vote itself, instead of having the wolves simply answer, they would howl, one after another, as a method of casting their vote. It’s not extremely original, I know, but it’s different and specific enough to the story to make it feel unique.
Example 2: There’s a scene where Feba, our wolf cub protagonist, is in captivity with a few other characters.
When she talks back to her captives, I wanted to have her “punished” somehow by the captors. My first idea was to have one of the captors hurt her, not badly, but enough to get the point across.
We’ve all seen that scene before. The bad guys capture our hero, he talks back to them, they punch him in the face, he smiles, spits blood, and keeps his attitude.
I wanted to avoid that, so instead, I had our smiling evil captor, who always speaks softly and kindly, sing this little limerick: “When we are out of line, it’s our friends who pay the fine“. During the first part of this line, our hero still has her badass “do your worst” face on. But when the surprising second part comes, revealing to her that she will, in fact, remain unharmed despite her behavior, and instead get someone innocent hurt, her face shows fear for the first time.
That was a much more effective way to create fear in the audience, as well as increasing our hate for the captors. A protagonist getting punched for talking back doesn’t do much to evoke emotion. But accidentally getting someone you care about hurt, does.
Writing dialogue is a whole world on its own, and not one I’m an expert on. I actually think my dialogue writing is rather basic. However, I did try to follow some guidelines I set for myself to give my screenplay a unique voice.
Never heard it before
The first rule I set for myself, is one I mentioned before when I wrote about originality. The rule states that if I feel like I heard a certain line in the past, I rewrite it. I always ask myself – what is a unique way I could phrase what I want that character to say? How can I phrase it in a way that the reader would feel they stumbled upon something new?
The second rules I try to follow is making sure each character sounds different. Make it so that if I take away the names in the script, you’ll still be able to tell who’s saying what.
It’s common for all characters to sound like the writer, because, well, they are all written by the same writer. So I tried to find little ways to make the major characters have their own way of talking.
Usha, the snow leopard, would be cold, direct, and short. She won’t use one more word than she needs to. She won’t have a sense of humor, she doesn’t try to pander or be cute. She is who she is. Feba, the wolf cub, on the other hand, is a child. She’s naive, sarcastic, warm, and funny.
As for the villains, I have one who’s the “Strong and silent” type, and one who’s a soft-spoken psychopath type.
Knowing these traits allowed me to have limitations in the vocabulary and phrasing of my characters. I knew what I can and cannot do. That alone is a huge help. Simply knowing that a character isn’t supposed to be funny, makes it easier for me to know how they would say something.
When the script is done, it’s a good idea to go back and go over all the lines of each character individually (some writing software has very simply ways to do that) and check that they all match, and none feel out of place. It might take you to the end of the screenplay to find the voice of a character, so go back when you’re done and make sure the earlier lines still fit.
Rules of speech
Another decision I made early on, is that the language the animals use in this film would not include any man-made references, but only natural leaning words.
What I mean by that, is that the character should talk using words and phrases that exist as if they never heard humans talk. That means I couldn’t use sayings like “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” or “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. My characters don’t know what cakes or books are, so they can’t say it.
But it gets harder. They also can’t say weeks or months or years, because they are man-made ideas. I avoided numbers higher than 10, since these animals probably couldn’t fathom such quantity.
The hardest part was not being able to use “Okay”/”OK”, since its meaning came from different human cultural origins. I could say “fine” or “great”, but not “Ok”.
That limitation helped me further form my dialogue and world building. Creating such limitations that make sense for your story is a great way to have a more unique sounding screenplay.
Don’t miss the opportunity to create a great villain. What makes a great villain, in my opinion, is one that has very understandable reasoning for their actions. So much so, that in their eyes they are the heroes. Their motives are very clear, and we can even understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, even if we don’t agree with their methods.
In my earlier drafts, my villain was more of a monster. He wouldn’t talk, he’d eat wolf cubs heads right off their bodies. He was just a madman trying to “take over the world”. That needed to change.
I re-worked the villain, after discovering my theme (parents not letting go of their children) into a grieving mother who’s trying to get her child back. She goes about it in all the wrong ways, twisted by sadness and hate, but she’s coming from a place we can understand. That made her into a much more compelling character, and improved the story greatly.
Animated films have a long history with the cute amusing sidekick. Abu, Timon and Pumba, Olaf, Mushu, and many others. They are often used as comic relief, aimed to make kids laugh (or sell some toys), but they could be more than that.
Snowlands also features a cute and amusing sidekick character, Batu, the Pallas cat, but I honestly never really thought about him that way. To me, he was a real character with a past, a want, and meaning to the story.
Batu helps push the parenting theme by attaching himself to Feba, the wolf cub, making her his guardian and parent, of sort. He reveals her caring character. We also learn about what he went through, and why he chose to follow Feba, and his unique skill helps save the day at a later part of the film.
Yes, he is funny and cute. And he does play a smaller role as the main character’s “sidekick”, but he wasn’t an after thought thrown in there to fill a predictable trope, but a needed part of the story’s puzzle, one I wouldn’t have included if I didn’t have a good reason to. Can you truly say that about Rapunzel’s Pascal?
Now that we’re ready to take our script to the next level, let’s finally talk about rewrites.
After finishing our script, we might have some thoughts about to what isn’t working in the story, so we go back to fix what we see. But what about what we don’t see? There’s only so much you can find on your own as the writer, so you’re going to need some help. That’s where getting outside feedback comes it.
We all know feedback is important. You show the script to a friend or two, they say “aww that’s great!”, you move on.
That’s not the kind of feedback I’m referring to.
I believe the best course of action, the one I found most effective, is getting a lot of paid feedback in the form of coverage.
What is Coverage?
Coverage is an industry term that refers to a short review of a screenplay, usually done by assistants, interns, or paid readers. That review is then passed on to higher ups (if it’s a positive one). It’s how studios and agents screen through the thousands of scripts they get.
They usually use a system that rates your script in one of 3 ways:
- Pass (the script isn’t good. About 95% of scripts get this rating)
- Consider (the script needs work, but I can see the potential for a great film. About 4% of scripts get this rating)
- Recommend (This script is ready for production. About 1% of scripts get this rating)
Paid coverage services do the same thing, but in a simulated environment and without the risk of burning yourself in front of an agency or studio. They write a thorough review of your script, in the same format an agency would use, often by people who do this for a living. They write about your script weaknesses, strengths, score it on multiple aspects, and give you a rating of either Pass, Consider or Recommend.
Paying for feedback?!
This might be a controversial recommendations, as these services differ greatly in quality, and some of them are expensive. Also, you don’t always know much about the qualifications of the reader.
So why do I still recommend it? Because if you submit to a bunch of different places, using multiple readers at a time, you will start to find repeated issues with your story, and know rather quickly what needs to be fixed.
I’ll tell you now that this is not going to be cheap. These services (I listed a few of my favorites in the resources section) charge anything from $67 to $200 for a coverage. But I can say without a doubt that the only way I got my script to the level of refinement it is now, is by submitting to 3-4 readers at every rewrite phase, then consolidating all the comments, fixing the issues, and repeat.
I started out getting a bunch of Passes, reading reviews that tore my script apart. I found the ones I agreed with, and slowly fixed them.
When I finally got to a point where I was getting only Considers and Recommends, and the reviews didn’t have much negative things to say, I knew I was done.
The reason this is so effective, and better than asking your friends to read it, is that these are professional, non-biased readers, who don’t care about you or your script. That’s who you want to get feedback from. Not your friend who never read a script in their lives, and who doesn’t wanna hurt your feelings.
If you have friends in the industry, professional writers, then they could be a great resource as well. I had a few of my writers friends give me feedback. But again, you can’t expect the same amount of depth from a review your friend gives you (although some might), and there’s always the issue of hurting your feelings, or hidden competition.
What were the main issues with Snowlands?
I went through 3 major rounds of rewrites (with a bunch of smaller ones in between). I saved all the different coverages I received over time, and these were the main issues the script struggled with:
Too many characters
There were too many character, some of them performing the same story functions as others. Many characters were either removed or consolidated.
This actually still remains somewhat of an issue today, but I decided I’m ok with having an above average number of characters in my story.
Characterization and motives
I mentioned it before, but in earlier drafts it wasn’t clear why the protagonists were doing what they were doing. Why is Feba following Usha, why does Usha want to help Feba, or why they accept each other so quickly.
There were no specific characterization to the main characters, and no flaws too. That was solved by adding a traumatic back story to Usha, and making Feba an outcast. I also increased the tension between them, making them more different, even disliking each other at first, and slowly building their relationship.
Who’s the protagonist?
I always saw this story as Usha’s story. The snow leopard. But since I opened with Feba, the wolf cub, readers always assumed she’s the protagonist. That created confusion when the plot suddenly leaned more heavily on Usha.
This was a hard one to fix, but I ended up accepting Feba as my protagonist, while keeping it somewhat a 2 protagonists film (like Toy Story, or Finding Nemo). I pushed Feba’s story further, and made the plot more balanced between the two.
Who is this for?! (too violent)
A repeated note I got was about the darkness and violent nature of the script. I never imagined this as a kids movie, but since it’s animated people automatically assume this is a PG film in the spirit of Lion King.
At first I fought back. But since this came back over and over again, with true professionals telling me no studio will produce something like that, I thought I should try to see if there’s something I could do.
I toned down the graphic scenes and brought it to a place that is between PG and PG13. I personally think this film will do better with a PG13 rating (similar to Star Wars or the Avengers movies), but I left room to be able to easily turn it into a PG film is needed. I’m trying to get this film made, not make some artistic statement. So if a studio says they’ll green-light it only if I make it PG, then I’ll be able to do that rather easily.
The original title of this film was Us, Leopards. That was when the story featured mostly leopards in it, and the two main character were leopard. Even so, I heard multiple people saying this is a bad title. One said he thought it was U.S Leopards (as in, leopard in the United States). Others simply didn’t like it.
I liked it a lot. Still do. But if everyone else have such an issue with something like a title, you better consider changing it. I did.
And honestly, Snowlands is so much better.
Writing and Format
My first drafts had so many format issues, it was embarrassing. After getting so much feedback on the writing itself, I learned what is ok or not ok to do when writing a screenplay.
Finishing the script
After a year and a half of writing and rewriting, eventually I had to decide it was time to stop. There’s always more you can do for your script, and there are always issues to fix, but knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to push harder.
When I was done with the writing, I sent the finished draft to get proofread (twice), and made sure it’s 100% typo-free before submitting it to competitions and agencies.
This was a daunting and scary journey. I had to write the story, practically from scratch, three times. I spent months rewriting almost full time.
But now that the screenplay is finished and in a good place, I know it’s something I can do again.
I hope this recollection of my experience was helpful, and that if you are writing a screenplay for the first time, this made finishing your script feel a bit more possible.
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- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: My favorite book about writing. While King writes from a novelist’s perspective, I still think his wisdom is invaluable and should be read by all writers of all types.
- Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need: A great beginner’s book. Familiarize yourself with the different film genres and learn about beats and outlining.
- Save the Cat Strikes Back: If you liked the first book, this second one if more of the same, plus some extras that make for a super fun read.
- The War of Art: One of my all-times favorites book. It talks about overcoming your inner resistance and becoming a professional creative. This is a must read.
- Screenplay: Writing the Picture: An all-in-one book about screenwriting that covers so many important topics in a quick digestible manner. Basic formatting, story structure, marketing, representation, networking and more. This is a great first book for aspiring screenwriters.
- Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great: This is such a fun book. It gives you 100 bite-sized common issues found in scripts, and how to get over them. It’s a great read for when you’re close to finishing your script, as it functions as a check-list of sorts, allowing you to make sure your script doesn’t suffer from a common pitfall.
Not directly about writing:
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration: Not a writing book, but a very interesting survey by one of Pixar’s founders. This book discusses how Pixar was able to remain creative and fresh, even after making a bunch of films and even merging with Disney. This is a great leadership book, as well as an insightful look at intentional creativity.
- The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company: As an animator, reading about the work of one of Disney’s most prolific CEO’s was fascinating. This book should be a great read to any aspiring filmmaker.
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: This book isn’t about writing or filmmaking, but it discusses an important aspect of writing – the ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time.
More reccomended books about writing:
- Getting it Write: An Insider’s Guide to a Screenwriting Career
- Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
- Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development
- Finish the Script!: A College Screenwriting Course in Book Form
- The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
Scripts I read while writing
- WeScreenplay: The most affordable coverage service I used. It’s a great choice for your first few coverages. You can book a bunch of readers at the same time for $69 each, and get the results within 72 hours, which is super fast.
- Script Reader Pro: This is a more expensive service, starting at $149, but you can pick your reader from a selective list of professional, with their resume and expertise written in detail. I used their service multiple times, sometimes submitting to the same reader after making changes, but I’d recommend using them when you’re in a rather solid place with your script.
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The post Writing an Animated Feature Film: How I Wrote the Screenplay for Snowlands, from Idea to Final Draft appeared first on Bloop Animation.