Stack of screenplay pages with "Top Secret Original Screenplay" written on the top illuminated under a vintage lamp

What is an Original Screenplay? The Fascinating Definition Behind This Coveted Hollywood Term

Ask any aspiring screenwriter what their ultimate career goal is, and most will reply with “selling an original screenplay to a major studio.

Original screenplays are viewed as the “holy grail” for writers trying to break into the competitive Hollywood film and TV industry. But what exactly constitutes an original screenplay, and why are they so sought-after compared to adaptations or spec scripts?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about original screenplays – from the definition of this important industry term to tips for crafting an attention-grabbing original idea that could become the next big blockbuster.

What Makes a Screenplay Original?

By definition, an original screenplay is a script written entirely on speculation by the writer, not based on any pre-existing material like a novel, play, or other source.

The key distinguishing traits of original screenplays include:

  • The story, characters, settings, dialogue, and other elements are invented entirely by the writers themselves.
  • It is not adapted from any previous work in other mediums like books, stage plays, articles, true stories, etc.
  • The central premise stems from the writer’s own imagination and ideas, not anything written by other creators.

Essentially, for a screenplay to be deemed original, the concept and execution must be new and unique – not derived from already published works. The writer starts with a blank page to conceptualize and craft the entire script only from their own creativity.

Why are Original Screenplays Important?

Original screenplays hold a special significance in the film industry for several crucial reasons:

  • They allow writers to fully tap into their creativity and deliver fresh visions not bound by prior works. This showcases the writer’s true imagination and talent.
  • Originals can launch lucrative new Hollywood franchises and blockbuster IPs. For instance, original scripts like Star Wars, E.T., Avatar, and Inception went on to become hugely successful cinematic universes.
  • Even established successful writers at the peak of their careers aspire to create original passion projects based on their own ideas.
  • For new writers especially, selling an original script provides a massive career boost and levels up their reputation.
  • Production companies are always on the hunt for the next big high-concept original idea that could turn into a profitable film or TV property.

In essence, original screenplays represent opportunities to create tremendous value through visionary new storytelling concepts. That’s why originals are so coveted in the industry – they can unlock untapped lucrative new franchises.

Elements that Comprise an Original Screenplay

While original screenplays stem from a writer’s creativity, they still must contain certain conventional elements of any spec script to be viable in the Hollywood ecosystem. Some key ingredients include:

  • Adhering to standard industry formatting and style for the script layout on the page. This includes elements like scene headings, action lines, transitions, and dialogue formatting.
  • Structuring the story and plot into a conventional three-act framework with protagonists and antagonists clearly delineated.
  • Developing a compelling high-concept premise as the genesis for the original idea – this forms the creative nucleus.
  • Crafting multidimensional characters with depth, clear motivations, and believable personalities.
  • Containing memorable, engaging dialogue that reveals character and sounds organic.
  • Setting the story in immersive environments using vivid scene descriptions.
  • Building rising action to a climactic payoff, then reaching a definitive resolution for the story.

While the premise is wholly original, the execution still adheres to established specs script norms that constitute commercially viable Hollywood fare. Writers must balance innovation with convention.

Tips for Writing an Attention-Grabbing Original Screenplay

For both aspiring and seasoned screenwriters, crafting a pitch-perfect original script is among the most challenging yet rewarding endeavors. Here are some tips for writing original screenplays that captivate:

  • Start with a killer logline boiling your concept down to a single intriguing sentence. This crystallizes your idea.
  • Outline the major story beats before writing – know your full story arc clearly. Use act breaks effectively.
  • Ensure your premise has a compelling “hook” – there should be an irresistible “must know more” factor for readers.
  • Create protagonist and antagonist characters with depth – define their motivations and goals.
  • Immerse readers in your story world through vivid scene descriptions. Make settings come alive.
  • Focus on writing razor-sharp dialogue that reveals character and subtext.
  • Infuse your writing with a distinct voice and style – let your creativity shine through.
  • Vary sentence structure, word choice, and pacing to engage the reader on the page.
  • Balance moving the story forward with atmospheric and descriptive passages.
  • Leave readers wanting more – provide satisfying resolution but also untapped potential.

The most important aspect is nailing a premise so commercially viable and creatively irresistible that your original screenplay sparks a bidding war. Back that up with top-notch storytelling craft, and you may have a hot property on your hands.

Original Screenplay vs Spec Script – What’s the Difference?

Often times, “original screenplay” and “spec script” are used interchangeably in the film industry. However, there are nuanced differences writers should understand:

  • Spec scripts denote any screenplay written on speculation for sale, but not commissioned officially – this umbrella term can apply to both original works and adaptations.
  • Original screenplays specifically signify specs screenplays written as new works by the author, not based on existing IP.
  • A spec may involve adapting material like novels or true stories into film/TV scripts on spec, whereas originals are new ideas.
  • Any original screenplay could theoretically also be shopped around as a spec, but not all specs are original creations.
  • Both originals and spec scripts aim to showcase writing talent to buyers – one showcases creativity, the other adaptation ability.

So spec script is a broader category that includes original screenplays written on speculation. Calling a script a spec doesn’t automatically mean it qualifies as an original work – adaptations of existing works can also be spec scripts shopping for buyers.

Conclusion – Originality Can Lead to Career Success

To recap, original screenplays represent the purest expression of a screenwriter’s creative vision. By definition, they encompass ideas, characters, and stories invented wholly by the writer. While good adaptation skills have value, truly original works display a writer’s talent at the highest level.

In the ruthlessly competitive entertainment industry, selling an original script can elevate a writer’s reputation and open up lucrative new opportunities.

They’re incredibly hard to craft, but high-concept original screenplays have massive financial upside for writers. That’s why originals are considered the “holy grail” for screenwriters hoping to break through in Hollywood.

Does your original idea have the bones to ignite into the next great film franchise? There’s only one way to find out – get writing! Just remember to balance your creative aspirations with the commercial conventions that will help your original screenplay sell.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered an original screenplay?

An original screenplay is written from scratch by the writer and features an entirely new story, characters, settings, dialogue, etc. It is not adapted from any existing source material.

What is considered an original script?

An original script refers to either a screenplay or teleplay that contains a new story fully created by the writer. It is not derived from any previous books, plays, films, true events etc.

What do you mean by screenplay?

A screenplay is a written script intended for film or television production. It outlines the key elements like scenes, actions, character dialogue, visual descriptions, and more. Screenplays follow a specific standard format.

How do you make an original screenplay?

  • Come up with a fresh, compelling premise or hook for your original story idea.
  • Develop unique, multidimensional characters and settings.
  • Map out the story beats and plot points. Outline the three-act structure.
  • Write vivid scene descriptions and believable dialogue.
  • Follow proper screenplay formatting conventions throughout the writing process.

What is the difference between an original script and screenplay?

There is no major difference. An original script in the context of filmmaking generally refers to an original screenplay. The terms are used interchangeably.

How much is an original screenplay worth?

The purchase price of original screenplays can vary greatly. Some sell for six or seven-figure sums while others fetch lower five-digit fees. Factors like the writer’s reputation, concept marketability, and production budgets impact prices.

What are the 3 types of scripts?

The main types of scripts in filmmaking are the screenplay, teleplay, spec script, shooting script, and scriptment. Screenplays are for films while teleplays are for TV shows.

Is Barbie an original or adapted screenplay?

Barbie starring Margot Robbie is based on the popular doll franchise, so the 2023 film is adapted from pre-existing intellectual property. The screenplay is not an original creation.

Who is the youngest person to win best original screenplay?

Ben Affleck is the youngest writer to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He was 25 when we won for Good Will Hunting in 1998.

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