How can I get my hands on the screenplays to movies I like (that aren’t mega-blockbusters)?
There are a few good sources online, such as Script-O-Rama, which can point you to other places to check out. Most of these sites have scripts you can download for free – which is technically a violation of copyright, but is largely overlooked. These sites do lean more towards blockbuster or science-fiction movies, however, so if you’re looking for OUT OF AFRICA, you may be Out of Luck.
If you happen to be visiting Los Angeles, you can visit the Margaret Herrick Library on La Cienega. It’s run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people), and has an amazing screenplay collection. You’ll have to read the scripts on-premises, however, and the whole place has disquieting feel to it, like an occult bookstore run by the Swiss.
For award-winning or indie-favorite movies, it’s worth trying Amazon or one of the other on-line bookstores to see if the script has been published. Often, you’ll find that even if the book version hasn’t come out in the U.S., it has in the U.K.
Finally, if you’re considering working in Hollywood, you should know that all the agencies and most producers have pretty extensive script libraries, so an added bonus of an internship is the chance to read a bunch of great material. USC’s film school has a great script library, but you have to be a student there.
Incidentally, whatever script you do get your hands on, make sure you know exactly what kind of script you’re reading. Generally, you’ll find three types: the original spec script, which is what the writer wrote before it was produced; the final continuity script, which reflects all the changes made during production; and a transcript, which is simply a write-up of the movie, often made by an overzealous fan.
Of the three types, the spec script is generally the most useful for a writer to read, because it best reflects the intention and craft of the original screenwriter. The final continuity script – which you can recognize because it has scene numbers in the margins and odd breaks halfway down the page – is often something of a Frankenstein monster, with hastily written descriptions by the script supervisor of what the actors actually did in a scene, or lines they improvised. And a transcript is more or less useless except as a quick reference, or a typing exercise.