How to write a synopsis for a film

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Writing a synopsis for a film is the bane of every screenwriter’s existence. After writing an entire screenplay, why would you want (or need) to distill everything down to a one page document? It can be difficult to boil all the details of a feature screenplay into one measly page, and not everyone knows how to write a synopsis for a film. Unfortunately, it’s an essential skill that screenwriters need to master. If you’re pitching a screenplay to producers or investors, they are usually going to want to see a synopsis before they proceed with the project.

What is a film synopsis?

A film synopsis, also known as a “one-pager,” is a document that distills an entire screenplay into a single page. It is a summary of the major plot points, character arcs, and basic premise/world of the film. It is used as a marketing tool, a method by which the screenwriter can convince the reader to take a look at the entire screenplay or completed film. 

How to write a synopsis for a screenplay or film

  • Get the format right. Start with a header and logline. Your header should include your name, the name of your script, and your contact information. You should also include your logline before the first paragraph of the synopsis. 
  • Summarize the screenplay. Write in third person, past tense, with a single spaced, 12 point font. Going scene by scene, summarize each scene in one sentence. Try to match your movie’s tone; if it’s a comedy, it should be clear that it’s funny, and if it’s a horror, there should be a sense of tension. One paragraph per act is a good rule of thumb, but not strictly necessary.
  • Don’t forget to spoil the ending. I know, it feels so unnatural, but producers and investors want to know ALL the details before they commit more of their time. They need to know that you can stick the landing, and that means spoiling the ending!
  • Remember that this is a business document, like a creative one. While you should work hard on this document and should demonstrate that you’re a good writer, this is not the time for metaphors or purple prose. Be direct and to the point. Don’t feel like you need to show off your screenwriting chops; concise is the name of the game.
  • Start cutting. Once you have a sentence for each scene, look to see where you can combine things or delete them altogether. Be ruthless, and cut anything that does not describe a significant plot point or moment of character development. If you do this and your synopsis is still longer than one page, then you need to cut more.You may find that you need to cut entire B plots. This can feel bad, because it can feel like you are not accurately summarizing your script, but producers and other executives know that it’s impossible for a film synopsis to capture every single detail of a screenplay.

That’s all you need to know to write a synopsis for a film. Good luck and happy writing!

Need help getting started with your screenplay? Check out my digital outlining workbook, which I designed to help you outline your entire screenplay in a day. If you need more screenwriting tips, take a look at our blog, which is full of tips and tricks to help you get started!

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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