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Scriptwriting, films, screenplays, movies, plays

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How Write Movie Scripts and Writing for Films, and even Plays
by Maria Z.

How many times have you watched a film and thought to yourself, “I wish the characters would talk less. It’s so boring; even I could write a better script.”?

Well, you can, but beware – it isn’t as easy a task as it may seem. Other than coming up with the foundation of the main three elements (plot, setting, characters), you will need to think up a way to convey your theme or message through the scenes you string together. Even the sequencing of scenes can, in itself, be quite a challenge.

There are only two basic rules of movie and film scripts:

1/ Good will triumph over Evil
2/ True love conquers all

If you forget this, no-one will ever be interested in your script – so you will have to go to the Arts Council to get a grant, find someone who needs to get rid of some tax dollars, or make it on a digital camera and put it on YouTube.

Remember even David Lynch’s Eraserhead has a happy ending – and a great soundtrack too.

Accept that the Director and more likely the Producers will hack your script to pieces and rearrange to make it more commercial. See the film The Player,a satirical film directed by Robert Altman from a novel and screenplay by Michael Tolkin.

Plays and playwriting

Plays at the theatre have a small but fanatical audience. Even Irving Welsh‘s various dystopias have made the stage. Apply the same rules but remember they all are on the same stage. And might have to change costumes so keep it practical.

Improvisation

This can add an exciting element in rehearsals or even live, usually in comedy theatre.

But don’t forget the other basic rule:

If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.

Where To Start

• Read existing scripts.

Read the scripts of movies you like. This not only makes the reading that much more enjoyable, but also lets you learn your way around a script and its intricacies in a way you would not be patient enough to do with a script of a movie you dislike.

• Familiarize yourself with the format.

The format of a movie script is very simple and quite standard anywhere in the world. Just remember these basics:

o Have your title on the first page in uppercase.
o Number the scenes and include setting descriptions at the start of every new scene.
o Have the speaking character’s name in uppercase.
o Add simultaneous actions of each character next to their name in parentheses (GILLIAN (Takes out a gun)).
o Try to keep one character’s dialogue to one page. Ending it in the same page just makes it easier for everyone’s reference.
o Number the pages of the script!

• Know the jargon.

o Prepare yourself with useful camera jargon (boom, pan, track; ‘camera finds’, ‘hold’, ‘POV’, etc.)
o Know the terminologies for audio and visual effects (SFX, V.O. – voice-over).

• Define your writing purpose.

If it’s to raise awareness of something or to encourage or discourage something, make sure you successfully weave the message into the story.

• Define your genre.

Study scripts of popular movies in the same genre you choose to do (eg.- horror- The Sixth Sense, comedy action – Get Smart, drama – Girl, Interrupted, etc.)

Settings

• What is your story about?

What is the first, most suitable place setting that you imagine when you think of the introduction to this story?

• In what period is the story taking place?

Pick a time-setting and while you’re at it, think of how you will use the concept of ‘time’ as a whole in the story. When do you want to use flashbacks or flash-forward scenes?

Characters

• What is the significance of each character?
• Are they identifiable by their speech (speech impediments, a distinct accent, etc.) or actions (Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction brushed his teeth 46 times every morning), their physical features or their personalities?
• Are they impressionable enough for the audience to connect with them on an emotional level?
• Are all their traits consistent throughout the many scenes?
• Make sure the dialogues sound natural and aren’t too long-winded. Don’t make it sound like they’re giving a lecture unless they actually are.
Plot
• Don’t get lost in your own plot.
It’s easier to get caught up in plot-making in screenplay rather than novel-writing because you tend to visualise it much more and expect it to appear just as clear in words. This might result in a confusing plot and a messy script.
• Does the plot advance at an acceptable speed? Does it retain a sense of logic (at least, logic in relation to the rest of the story – defying logic seems the norm for sci-fi and fantasy films)?
• The elements of plot should be suitable for the genre and the target audience.

See Screenwriting information >

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