Screenwriting II — Week 4

October 2, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hello all,Even those of you who didn’t have your story fully worked out, did a very nice job on your pitches. I know how tough it is to present your not-yet-fully-formed ideas in front of a class. I’ve been there myself.
So congrats to all for accomplishing that.

Now the real work begins. You’ve know left your ordinary world and (by remaining in the class) have chosen to walk through the gates of the magical world. I can hear the fairies and dragons say “welcome”.
As I said in class today,  I think the hardest assignment this semester is writing a synopsis. Not only do you have to have your story worked out from the beginning to end, but it also has to be well written (using grammatically-correct sentences — check for typos too, please), entertaining, and succinct. It’s difficult to do well and requires several drafts. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Right.

Here are a few links to sample synopses and on how to write one:

House of Games,   SAMPLE-SYNOPSIS

Also, I promised to give you a link to the 1st Episode of The Writer’s Room on Sundance Channel (Breaking Bad writers).  Here it is:
http://www.sundancechannel.com/series/the-writers-room/videos/breaking-bad-the-writers-room-episode-1-season-1-full-episode

Here’s something to inspire you:http://vimeo.com/24715531#

If the above links don’t take you outside of Blackboard, copy and paste them in your browser.
YOUR HOMEWORK:

Story (McKee): Ch.2 through 8

Assignment #2: SYNOPSIS. Due October 15th, no later than 9:30am (in your respective group’s folder). The maximum length for the synopsis is TWO PAGES, SINGLE-SPACED. The IDEAL length for the synopsis is a page and a half or two pages, double-spaced (see the samples).
Do not turn in your synopsis if it’s longer than two pages.  Sure, your first, and even your second. draft can be as many pages as you think you need to lay your story out for yourself. But then you have to put on your editor’s hat, pull out the “writer’s axe and chisel” from under your desk, and  go to work. Hack your sentences down to two pages and chisel your words to a presentable state.  Pretend that you’re submitting it to a producer who will write you a check if he likes your story.  Even if you’re writing a synopsis for your eyes only, do it as if you’d be presenting it to the whole world.

 ak


Screenwriting II — Week 3

September 25, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 Hello everyone,Those of you who pitched on Monday — good job. Those who will pitch next Monday —  concentrate on the main story and your main character. The more focused your pitch is, the better feedback we can offer you.

You don’t have to know your story form the beginning to the end. But I do want you to at least have an idea how you want to end it and where you want your character to end up. The details may change; they often do. But the idea — what you want to say — should stay the same, unless you want to write a new story. As for a “new story”, if you want to CHANGE the story you thought you’d be working on, do it now. By the end of next week you’re locked into your story.

Some of you asked me if he/she could pitch several stories. It’s a good idea, in general, but there’s not enough time to that in class. So if you have several ideas, you are welcome to email them to me or post them on Blackboard in your group’s page.

Write the biography of your main character. This is not an official assignment and you don’t need to upload it to Blackboard.
But I urge you to do this exercise. It will be of great help later on. Here are some questions you may want to consider:

Character Biography.pdf

Also, we talked abut story paradigms  or models.

Here’s the paradigms for McKee (Story)

1
And here’s one for Vogler (Writer’s Journey) based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”.

2

We will talk more about the elements in Hero’s Journey later in the semester.


YOUR ASSIGNMENT FOR MONDAY

Comment on your groupmates’ pitches on Blackboard.
Here’s the list of those student who pitched on Monday:

Philip, Alba, Jamual, Daniel, John-Carlo, Patrick. Hopefully the rest of the class will pitch their stories next week.

Read VOGLER-Writer’s Journey (pp.23-49)

Read AVATAR SCREENPLAY (on Blackboard). The story follows the myth structure very closely.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying until you’re sick of it (because it’s the truth): If you want to learn how to write,
read and analyze as many screenplay as you can get your hands on. You will learn to identify what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Pitching:  be prepared to pitch your stories. Try to avoid subplots and backstories. Concentrate only on the heart of your main story. Who is your main character? What is her desire? Who is her opponent? What does she do to overcome obstacles? What happens to her in the end? Does she grow as a person and how?

Questions? Email me:
akustanovich@brooklyn.cuny.edu

See you Monday.


Screenwriting II — Week 2

September 18, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

 Greetings,

In class we discussed John Truby’s  SEVEN ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS of a good story (J. Truby: The Anatomy of Story)

1. Weakness and need: a hero with a weakness (Max in Collateral is timid and indecisive) and need (has to learn how to stand up for himself and be more assertive. )

2. Desire: the backbone of the story that drives the hero (Max wants to get away from Vince and stay alive in the process).  Note that DESIRE is not the same as the NEED.  Desire is on the surface and need is something the main character is not aware of until the end.

3. Opponent: The person or persons who against our main character. He either wants the same thing as the main character or tries to prevent the main character from getting what she wants. Collateral has one major force of opposition — Vince.

4. Plan: heroes who want something need a plan of action (in Collateral, the plan is forced upon Max by Vince, until the middle of the film when Max hurls Vince’s briefcase over the railing and onto the highway below; in Thelma and Louise, the plan is much clearer and is introduced at the very beginning of Act II by Louise — She’s going to Mexico and hoping Thelma will come with her. )

5. Battle: the battle is the CLIMAX of the story. The main character fights the opponent or forces of opposition.  In Thelma and Louise the women battle the cops. In Collateral, Max has a shootout with Vince on the train.

6. Self-revelation: the hero realizes her NEED, what she needed to have all along but wasn’t aware of it. In Collateral, Max realizes that he can be assertive and stand up for himself.  Thelma is the one who goes through a real change, so the self-revelation is given to her. She chooses death rather than live for the rest of her life in captivity, which is what she was doing at the beginning of the story.

7. New equilibrium: in light of her experiences, our main character looks at the world in a new way.   In Collateral, Max is with Annie. Because Thelma and Louise is a tragedy, there’s no New Equilibrium.

Your Assignments:

COMMENT on your groupmates’ work. Leaving comments is the largest part of your CLASS PARTICIPATION percentage of the final grade. Be sure to leave the comments during the first few days of the submitted work, that’s when they are useful, not two weeks later.If you want to comment on the work of your classmates from other groups, that’s great. One of the reasons I created groups is so you don’t have to read and comment on everyone’s work – just your groupmates’.

Read COLLATERAL SCREENPLAY (on Blackboard). Is it different from the film? How? Prepare your pitches. Everyone should be ready pitch and discuss his/her story on Monday. YOUR PRESENTATION AND QUESTIONS should not exceed 15 minutes. Concentrate on the main character and his/her journey. Use the seven steps discussed above to help you. This helpful tidbit is from SCRIPT magazine:

 Focus on revealing the essential elements of your story. 

  • Who is your HERO or protagonist?
  • What is that character’s EVERYDAY LIFE at the beginning of the film?
  • Why will we feel EMPATHY towards your hero?
  • What OPPORTUNITY is presented to that hero at the 10% point that will get the story going?
  • Into what NEW SITUATION does that opportunity take your hero?
  • What specific visible goal or OUTER MOTIVATION are we rooting for your hero to accomplish by the end of the movie?
  • What CONFLICT will the hero face that makes achieving that goal seem impossible?
  • What are two ANTECEDENTS to your screenplay – recent, successful films with the same genre, tone, and potential market as yours?

Let me know if you have questions.

ak


Screenwriting II — Week 1

September 15, 2013

Posted on: Sunday, September 15, 2013

Greetings!

It was great to meet all of you.

In class we touched upon the art and craft of dramatic structure — the lifeblood of every great narrative film. We’ll continue to discuss the elements of dramatic structure throughout this course. Remember that Screenwriting II is devoted solely to story architecture, so aside from some exercises, we won’t be writing scenes and dialogue for your story. You will be doing that in Screenwriting III.

In this course  we’ll use  Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and McKee’s Story. There are obvious differences, but also many similarities between the two.  I think it’s important for you to understand and be familiar with the terminology these famous story-structure teachers use, because most Hollywood (an Independent) executives, agents, directors, writers, and even actors have either taken story-structure courses from them or read their books. I also strongly recommend reading John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. You will learn a lot.

On Sept. 23 you will start pitching your stories in class. We’ll talk more about the art of pitching next week.  Meanwhile, here’s a good article by Christopher Lockhart, who was a story analyst and reader  for the talent-agent-to-the-stars Ed Limato. http://twoadverbs.site.aplus.net/pitcharticle.htm.

Before you begin your Assignment 1, try to understand the difference between Theme, Premise, Logline, and Pitch.

Many writers and writing teachers have their own definition of each term, so it may get confusing. So for this class, let’s agree that…

A premise is an IDEA for your story, a WHAT-IF scenario. Note that you don’t want to be too specific in your premise. A theme is what the story is REALLY about (for you!). It is what your story explores. The moral, the essence, the truth. Note that you should never be upfront (on the nose) with your theme. Let the reader/audience understand it for themselves. Also note that a theme should not be original. There are only a handful of themes and they have been mined by most stories from the beginning of time.

Example: Romeo and Juliet

Premise: Two young people from warring families fall in love.
Theme: Love is stronger than death.

Example: Avatar

Premise: An American marine goes to another planet and falls in love with a native girl and her culture.

Theme:  Only when we open our hearts to the culture of the people we’re trying to conquer, can we understand what our life is and how to live it. Or maybe …. When we stop fighting nature with technology we will find true peace? Or it is whatever you think the movie’s message / moral is.

A logline is a one or two sentence presentation of your story. Try not to go beyond two sentences.

Here’s  a logline for Schindler’s List: When a materialistic, womanizing Aryan industrialist discovers his Jewish workers are being sent to Nazi death camps, he risks his life and fortune to save them. Clean, clear, and to the point. There are tons of other things that happen in the film, but that’s the main throughline. What drives the film forward.

Here’s  one for Spy Kids: After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them… their kids!

The writer and teacher Jonathan Triesman says, “Make Your Logline Memorable

The main point to remember about writing a logline is that you have to try to boil down your own high concept ideas into something that’s easy for people to understand. If you can’t relate to an agent, a publisher, a producer or even a studio executive what your story is about in one or two sentences, then it will be difficult to get them interested in reading your work, and more importantly, wanting to buy it.

Keep in mind however, that a good logline doesn’t tell someone too much. It’s always good to leave a little something to the imagination. In the case of Spy Kids, you want the person you’re pitching, to ask you, “Hey, what does happen when the kids have to save their parents?” And that’s when you can say, “Well, you’ll have to read my screenplay to find out.”

Additionally, when you’re pitching your story logline, you don’t want to sound like a snake-oil salesman by telling someone: “It’s like Die Hard on a bus” or “It’s like The Firm meets The Fugitive.” What does that even mean? However, if you told me that your script was about “A man who is bitten by a genetically-altered spider, and soon discovers that he has unusual powers and the strength and agility of a spider.” Well, I’d say, that’s definitely a movie I’d want to see.

Some may ask, why is the Spiderman logline a high-concept idea? It’s high concept because, while we all can’t relate to what it would be like to be Spiderman, the film has many high-concept themes that we can all relate to such as: unrequited love, parental approval and of course, wish fulfillment as a superhero.”

A pitch is a verbal presentation of your story that shouldn’t take more than two minutes. Here’s a good article from Script magazine on the art of pitching.

http://www.scriptmag.com/resources/pitch-festivals/7-keys-to-a-great-pitch

Your assignments for Monday, Sept. 16.

1. The exercise we did today in class. Upload only the SCREEN STORY version of the exercise.

2. Assignment1: Premise and logline for your story. Follow the examples above and try to distill your story into workable premise and logline. If you can think of the theme, that would be helpful.

 

Upload a file with both assignments to your respective group folder on Blackboard (My Work / Your group folder). View the tutorial on how to upload your work. If, for some reason, you’re unable to play the video, here are the basic steps:

Click on your Group link.
Fill in all the info (YOUR NAME GOES INTO THE TITLE FIELD)
Upload your assignment and exercise (IN PDF) from your computer.
SUMBIT. (Don’t forget this step).

Don’t  wait until the assignment is due (Monday, 9:30). Submit it whenever you’re done with it.

Read the assigned chapters in  Vogler and McKee. See the syllabus.

Let me know if you have any questions.

See you next week.

ak


Welcome to Screenwriting II

August 11, 2013

Posted on: Sunday, August 11, 2013

Greetings and welcome!In this course we’ll examine the fundamentals of movie structure and its narrative components: story, character, action, dialogue, etc. We’ll discuss film genres and watch clips of popular (and not so popular) feature films. We’ll analyze scenes from the motion pictures and screenplays that are considered models of story structure. But most of all, we’ll do a lot of writing.

You can view the course syllabus and calendar in Course Information on the sidebar, and your grades in Grade Center. I will post class highlights, assignments and exercises on the Announcement Page (also known as Homepage). If Blackboard is down for maintenance and you’re a night owl, you’ll be able to view the class highlights on the web, at this address:  www.dramaticarc.wordpress.com.

PLEASE NOTE; All the assignments and exercises should be uploaded (by you) to the ASSIGNMENT page and your respective Group Folder. We’ll talk more about it in class.

The required texts for this course are:  Story, by Robert McKee,  and Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Both books are available at Shakespeare & Co. on Campus Road (see syllabus for address).

I  take attendance very seriously. So if you are unable to attend every class and come on time, please consider withdrawing from this course!

Looking forward to a great semester. See you on September 9th.

Alex Kustanovich


Screenplay Contests

May 20, 2013

The Top 10 Screenwriting Contests: An Industry Exec’s P.O.V.

by Mike Kuciak

 

As you may have heard, winning a screenplay contest is one of the best ways for you as an aspiring screenwriter to get your work in front of people who sell scripts and make movies for a living. If you win one of the top screenwriting contests, you can pick up a sweet chunk of cash. Even better, a big win can mean photo ops and snazzy awards. Meetings. Representation. Production.

But do a little research and you’ll find that there are a lot of screenwriting contests out there… No, a ton of contests. There are contests for specific genres. Contests hosted by film festivals, agencies and/or production companies. Contests for certain regions. Contests big and small.

Which ones should you enter?

The answer is not: “All of them!”  Some contests are only for certain kinds of scripts, and no script is all things to all people. (You wouldn’t submit a feature script to a TV writing contest, for example.)

Okay, then the runner-up answer is: “As many as possible!”

Better. But then you notice that almost all contests charge entry fees. This is not because all contests are “get-rich-quick” scams. Though there are certainly some questionable entities out there, and some contests are definitely more reputable and more prestigious than others, no one is getting rich by running a screenplay contest. Most are break-even operations, at best. With any reputable contest, the entry fees simply cover basic operating expenses and ensure that the contest is being judged by experienced industry readers.

If you have the coin and you’re willing to throw it at multitudes of contests to promote your script, then go for it… Coat the world with your viscous talent, you maniac! Like Wall Street, Vegas, and dating, screenwriting is often a numbers game – a combination of quality and quantity. The more eyes glued to your brilliant words, the greater the chance those eyes will be connected to an entertainment industry type who will recognize your brilliance and be able to do something about it.

But most writers are in a position to take only a limited number of shots at the contest bulls-eye. And in this case, you want to make sure you enter a few key contests — the ones that industry professionals actually pay attention to and the ones that offer you the best chance of launching your screenwriting career.

So, which are the most prestigious screenplay contests from an industry point of view?

The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

This is the big’un, administered by the Oscar committee. Thousands of writers enter this cage match each year. Only five emerge, sweaty and bloody. There is big prize money for each winner, the idea being that the writers have something to live on while they devote their lives to their craft for the next year of their lives. Plus, it is almost a prerequisite that every creative and development executive in town reads at least the top five winning scripts. Typically, winning a Nicholl Fellowship means taking a lot of meetings and, hopefully, getting the script set up somewhere. But even just advancing to the quarter-finals or semi-finals looks great on a query and can draw a lot of requests to read the script. This contest is for feature film scripts only.

The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards

Following a very close second, the PAGE Awards screenwriting competition also offers a sweet prize purse. As an added benefit, this contest offers script feedback from the judges and breaks down its winners by genre. (For example, action scripts aren’t judged against dramas, and so on.) The contest accepts both film and television scripts, and there are a total of 31 winners each year, giving contestants great odds at a win. And more than other contests, the PAGE Awards works to make sure its judges not only have a solid film and writing education, but also extensive experience in the real-world industry. The distinction is a contest that views scripts based not only on the “show” but also the “business” aspect of the industry. Each year, many PAGE Award winners land representation and sign options on their winning scripts.

The Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest

The Big Break contest is administered by the biggest screenwriting software company in town, Final Draft. It offers cash and prizes like the other significant contests, and the top three winners often secure representation. Plus, as a nice bonus, Big Break is sponsored by Script Magazine, which provides you with a cool article to stick in your press kit if you win, and a fun industry party for the winners in Beverly Hills. This competition is for feature film scripts only.

Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship

This contest offers one of the most amazing prizes out there: the winners get hired to work for ABC. While other contests can bring your script to the attention of managers and agents who might offer representation and hustle your work to the buyers, this fellowship eliminates the middleman. Above and beyond meetings and reads, winning the Disney/ABC Fellowship opens the door to a working education in the industry and creates opportunities to write and network from the inside. This competition is for television scripts only.

Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab

This is another contest devoted less to handing out prizes than fostering new writing talent. Each year a total of twelve winners are invited to participate in the week-long Lab held in Park City, Utah, just prior to the Sundance Film Festival. Above and beyond the prestige of being associated with the Sundance festival and community, participating in the Lab is a great way to learn from and develop contacts with industry professionals. The Lab accepts feature film scripts only.

A few other notable contests:

 

Formerly Script P.I.M.P., the Script Pipeline contest has helped to launch several screenwriters’ careers. Besides cash prizes, its finalists get a lot of development and marketing attention, and many assistants and execs read the winning scripts.

All submissions to the BlueCat Screenplay Competition are reviewed by multiple judges and receive a short analysis. Plus, the dude who runs the contest is related to Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Founded by Francis Ford Coppola, who reads the top ten finalists and selects the Grand Prize winner each year, the American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest has a strong track record and is widely recognized within the industry.

The relatively new TrackingB screenplay contest offers no cash prizes, but its top three finalists are reviewed by a panel of working professionals and the winning writers almost always secure representation as a result. TrackingB recently launched a separate TV writing contest, as well.

The Austin Screenplay and Teleplay Competition, affiliated with the Austin Film Festival, is also highly respected within the industry. The contest accepts both film and television scripts, and the winners receive cash prizes, promotion, and a free trip to one of the top film festivals and screenwriting conferences in the U.S.

In addition to the contests listed above, there are some others that may be worth entering, depending upon your genre and focus.MovieBytes.com offers an excellent overview of all the various options, along with scorecards and evaluations of each contest from screenwriters who have previously entered. It’s a great way to help you evaluate which contests might be right for you.

From http://www.creativewritingandwriters.com/authorsinyourpocket/?p=1

 


The Third Act

May 1, 2013

What needs to happen in ACT III?

1. Your main character makes a decision after the momentary lapse of will at the end of ACT II and starts to move toward his goal with even greater resolve.
What is his goal? That which his opponent doesn’t want him to get? Too simple? Make it as complicated as you want it to be, but those elements have to be there otherwise the third act won’t work.
2. The final battle / climax. The main character faces his opponent. Either he wins or he loses — physically, mentally, or spiritually (or all three).
3. Resolution. The French call it Denouement. How will your character behave now, having gone through all the trials and tribulations you’ve created for him? He can’t be the same person, otherwise what’s the point of telling the story? Some filmmakers will argue with me. But I will argue with them.
4. You shouldn’t have more than two scenes after the final battle. There are movies with several scenes after the climax and they work, but there are not very many of them.  Most don’t. The power of the final battle is lost if you continue the film. It just becomes a bump in the road as opposed to a head-on collision.
There’s a book on the market called The Third Act.  It’s a worthwhile read. Attached is a chapter from that book to whet your appetite.
Pages from The Third Act
ak

Screenwriting 3/4 — Hero’s Lowest Point — Act II

March 31, 2013

Greetings all,

I”ve used the term Apparent Defeat in this course. Most of you know what it means (especially the students who took Screenwriting II with me, since one of the required texts for that course was John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. The term “apparent defeat” was coined by Truby.)

There’s also an APPARENT VICTORY if your story is a tragedy. But we won’t get into this now.

As you all know by now, “apparent defeat” your hero’s lowest point. It’s the ORDEAL in the myth structure. It’s one of the important stops in the roller coaster ride of your hero.

It happens toward the end of Act II, about two thirds of the way into the film. Your hero believes she’s lost and the opponent has won. Why do we need an apparent defeat? Because we love to see our hero come back with a vengeance and win. The victory may be small, but it’s an important one for hero, without which she cannot continue living her life.

John Truby, in The Anatomy of Story, reminds us that “… the apparent defeat is not a small or temporary setback.  It should be an explosive, devastating moment for the hero. The audience must really feel the hero is finished.  Although your hero should have many setbacks throughout her journey, she should have only one moment that clearly seems to be the end. Otherwise, the story will lack shape and dramatic power. ”

See if you can work in an apparent defeat into your story.
_________________________________________________________

And here’s a treat. David Mamet interviewed by the film critic Elvis Mitchell. Mamet mentions many story points we’ve been discussing in class. Audio only. About 28 minutes long.

http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tt/tt130327david_mamet_phil_spe?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+kcrw%2Ftt+%28The+Treatment%29
See you in a week.

ak


Screenwriting 3/4 — Dialogue Writing Tips for a Fiction Writing Teacher

March 31, 2013

Although fiction writing is fundamentally different from screenwriting, some of these points apply.

Notice how similar the fiction writer’s approach is to a screenwriter’s.

TIP 1 – Show, Don’t Tell
Remember that dialogue is part of the action of fiction. Dialogue doesn’t tell the readers about the characters, it shows who characters are. Four key qualities of good dialogue are that it: 1) keeps the story or novel going; 2) reveals the characters; 3) is believable; 4) interests the readers.

2 – Listen To Yourself
The first and best source of the dialogue you write is your own speech. You’ve been practicing dialogue all your life. You speak in a range of emotions – anger, fear, love, loathing, joy and revulsion. You speak in a variety of speech levels – formal and informal, standard and slang, curses and expletives you haven’t deleted. Your speech also includes a mix of jargons reflecting your work and interests – baking, banking, bowling, gardening, garage bands, plumbing and physics.

3 – Listen To Others
Use the dialogue of other people. Become more aware of how other people speak, how they emphasize certain words and swallow others. Listen to the sound of their voices. Are they deep or high and piping? Are they rough or syrupy? Are they questioning even when they’re not asking a question? or do they chuckle though they’re not saying anything funny? Listen!

4 – Read
Use the dialogue written by others. No, this doesn’t mean you copy out their dialogue. It means take a close look to find out what it is that you particularly love about the dialogue in favorite books. Try to achieve that with the speech of your own characters. The same goes for dialogue in plays, films and TV that catches your ear.

5 – Read Out Loud
After writing a scene of dialogue, put it away for a while. Then go back and don’t just re-read it, read it out loud! That’s right: read it out at the speed and with the emotional tone you would as if you were the character speaking it. Reading your dialogue out loud helps you to hear if it works.

6 – Supportive Narrative
How much supporting narrative should you write for your dialogue? Enough. In other words, you can’t decide before you actually write it. Supporting narrative is used for identifying the speaker, indicating speech tone, describing the speaker or listener’s facial or bodily expression or action, stating unspoken thoughts or expressing the narrator’s reflections or observations. Some dialogue may have no supporting narrative, some may have more narrative than there is dialogue.

7 – Vary Forms
Dialogue can be used in other forms than in scenes and narration to enliven fiction. It can be used in monologues, that is, a character’s very long speech (not first-person narration), in which part of it can be shorter bits of dialogue. Dialogue can also occur in thoughts, as when a character remembers or imagines conversation. And dialogue can be presented in letter, in diaries, as telephone conversations, voice messages, even as emails or texts (she sd u r a fool bt u dnt fool me).

8 – Indirect Speech
Use indirect speech, for example – She said that I was a fool – as a good way to shift smoothly from narrative to dialogue or from dialogue back into narrative.

9 – Foreign Dialogue
When you present a foreigner speaking English, remember that a little bit of accent, or odd grammar, or lack of idiomatic speech goes a long way. As for presenting foreign dialogue, either be direct: She said in Estonian, ‘You are a fool,’ or write it in Estonian and have a character translate it. You can also use character reaction and comment to give your reader a good idea of its general meaning.

10 – Beware Of Slang
Remember that nothing dates as fast as slang. So if you’re writing a scene in which two fourteen year olds are talking to each other and there’s nobody around of that age, do a little research. The slang you used when you were fourteen in the 1980’s or 90’s is pretty much a dead language!


Posts from Blackboard / Screenwriting 3/4, Spring 2013

March 14, 2013

In class we’ll discuss scene construction and dialogue.

Here’s some useful info about scene construction from John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story.  construction-scene.pdf

And here’ s a really terrific video of John August reworking a scene to make the dialogue and description better. Check it out:

http://johnaugust.com/2010/writing-better-dialogue

And a Writing Great Dialogue article by Rob Tobin posted on the Writers Store blog:

http://www.writersstore.com/writing-great-dialogue/

See you in class.

ak

_______________________________________________

A few tips from Billy Wilder:

Billy Wilder, the Austrian born American writer / director was probably one of the greatest visual storytellers in the history of cinema.

This is taken from a post written by Scott Beggs from http://www.filmschoolrejects.com.

Do Something In Your Story

“I have ten commandments. The first nine are, thou shalt not bore. The tenth is, thou shalt have right of final cut.”

How are you going to grab someone by the throat again? Do something. Anything.

When I was reading scripts, the most common problem I saw among aspiring writers was a crushing inability to have anything happen in their screenplays. They would be filled with scenery and characters doing things that people do, but there was no plot. No forward momentum. No goals or obstacles. They were boring. Of course, the price to avoid boredom is to do away with safety. Fortunately, it’s just fictional characters that have to be put in danger.

To dig into Wilder’s scripts or his finished films, it’s easy to see his aversion to boredom. Something is always happening, whether it’s physical or emotional. As a result, his movies feel full and vibrant. They were vacations where the world seemed energetic and alive. Men have to dress in women’s clothing to avoid being murdered by the mob, or a woman wants her husband dead but needs it to look like an accident, or a man gets life-alteringly drunk one weekend. Does any of that sound safe? No. Does it sound boring?

Get Lucky

In receiving his Irving G. Thalberg Award, he thanked the necessary Academy affiliates and his fans, and then proceeded to thank an American consulate representative in Mexicali, Mexico. During the rise of Hitler in Germany, Wilder “got lucky” and sold a story which brought him on a visitor’s visa to the United States. After six months, he was to leave the country, but he didn’t want to, so he had to get an immigration visa. Which means temporarily leaving the country. Which means a road trip to Mexico.

The rest is a stirring story set up perfectly by a master. He wants to thank the one person who made it possible for him to be there that night, but he can’t remember that person’s name? That’s the kind of set up that demands an explanation. Wilder is pretty damned good at this.

But luck is definitely a factor. Wilder once echoed the sentiment that hindsight is 20/20, but it’s in looking at the past that we can see all the forks in the road that could have gone the other way. In a darker universe, Wilder might have become a statistic of the Holocaust; he might have been denied re-entry into the country; he might have never sold that first story to begin with.

He had a towering talent, but it’s nice to know he gave credit to a little bit of luck along the way as well.

What Have We Learned

There’s a fearlessness to Wilder’s output. He seemed comfortable taking on humor and dire straights alike, often in the same movie. More than anything though, he created stories born from a twisting of situations.

It’s easy to think of “high concept” as a dirty phrase, and it’s often used in the pejorative sense to describe a movie that’s narratively too easy, but Wilder excelled at high concept movies that had deeper emotions embedded within. He was no wandering navel-gazer, but he crafted commercially viable, often complex work that asked and raised questions of humanity. And he did it all without pretense.

Plus, he rocked giant, square glasses. Which is probably the true source of his power.

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David Mamet’s Memo to the Writer’s of The Unit

Posted on: Sunday, March 3, 2013

A friend forwarded this memo to me not too long ago. We talk about the same points every time wee meet. Read them, memorize them, apply them in your writing.

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CBS’s drama The Unit, about the lives of the highly trained members of a top-secret military division, was canceled last year, but a memo to its writing staff from its executive producer David Mamet has just surfaced online. (The source appears to be the online writing collective Ink Canada.) If you think you know where this is heading, you might be wrong:

Besides the fact that it’s written in all-caps, there’s nothing particularly ranty, pejorative or potty-mouthed about it. Rather, Mamet lays down an extremely sensible case for what makes good television, imploring them to avoid expository writing for what he characterizes as authentic “drama.” Along the way, he refers repeatedly to the “blue-suited penguins” (probably the copious-note-givers at the network), while passing along some very useful advice (“any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit”) and helpful writing exercises (“pretend the characters can’t speak and write a silent movie”). Screenwriters, take note: You may think you knew this already, but there’s nothing like Mamet for a good kick-in-the-ass reminder.

“TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?

2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?

3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THENEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TODO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIRAND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU.LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY ARE SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OFSPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET

SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)”

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How to Write Act II

Here’s entertaining article by Jengo Robinson about writing ACT 2.

Act II is the longest and most difficult part of any screenplay. It is the 60-page heart of the script. But it’s a broken heart, split into two very distinct halves, and the dividing page contains the most critical part of the story. This must happen at the mid-point around page 50-60.

How To Create a Mid-Point Shock

The show-stopper of a Hollywood screenplay should burst like a thunderbolt halfway through the second Act, exactly one-hour into the drama. Figure this out, because Act II cannot generally fall into place until this moment is established.

Anyone can read books on this subject, even more can become totally perplexed by all the diverse and confusing points, moments of enlightenment, crises, percentages and general lack of clarity. However, my disciplined method is a simple way of structuring Act II, in line with Hollywood standards.

How to Structure the Act II Mid-Point

Imagine a tale about a sexually nervous college graduate who is seduced by an older woman. At the end of Act I, she makes it very clear she is available, and given half a chance would jump straight in the sack with him! But the movie must end with the hero’s love for the older woman’s forbidden daughter. To win her hand, he must destroy an arranged marriage, barricade the church and run away with her.

I give you the ‘The Graduate’ with its perfect set-up and brilliant conclusion. Act I and Act III. But, the trick is the pace of the 60-page Act II and its correct structure. Ben has to progress from sleeping with Mrs. Robinson on page-30, to the low-point on page 90, where he has apparently lost all hope of marrying Elaine.

You must divide Act II in half. Watch ‘The Graduate’ again. And again. It is perfect. Look again at the significant events in Act II.

They are as follows:- Night one in the hotel with Mrs. Robinson and the montage that follows. His father berates Ben about his future. “And would you mind telling me what those four years of hard work were for?” Ben’s unforgettable response, “You got me.”

Then we get the first argument between Ben and Mrs. Robinson in the hotel room, and the incendiary topic of Elaine. We move to the first date with Elaine. Ben tries to tell her he has slept with her mother, and then that devastating moment when Mrs. Robinson appears, hears and coldly calls the police. Elaine is sent back to Berkeley. What now for the pitiful Ben?

Devastated, he drives to Berkeley hoping to find Elaine, but discovers she has a new boyfriend and a virtually arranged marriage. Ben is helpless. His life shattered, his love lost, beaten by his lust and his true self. This is the low-point. This is how Act II plays out in order. The significant event is the turning-point when Mrs. Robinson becomes enraged at Ben’s interest in Elaine. Not until then do we suddenly think, “Uh, oh. This lady is dangerous.”

This is the classic page-60 event, dividing, changing and heightening. The fling with the mother in Act II A, the fling with daughter in Act II B. It’s that simple. Don’t get caught up with theory. Just neatly divide Act II in this fashion – sharp as the slash of a dagger.

How To Figure A Mid-Point

And, as ever, there’s a knack. Look for the moment where the drama is heightened. At the beginning of Act II A, your hero is pursuing his goal, dealing with conflicts, until suddenly, something changes his course.

In ‘The Graduate,’ Ben discovers Elaine is very beautiful, and that he’s falling in love with her. As her mother’s lover, this is a potentially disastrous moment, loaded with unimaginable consequences. Therefore, ‘The Graduate’s’ mid-point must be the arrival of Elaine, and the first glimpses of Mrs. Robinson’s fury. They filmed this scene so skillfully, so movingly, Ben could be seen before our eyes to begin losing his attraction to Mrs. Robinson, and Elaine now represents the conflict that will carry the rest of the drama. Mrs. Robinson becomes the nemesis.

Watch films with a stop-watch to hand. Concentrate on this moment. With practice, you will never miss that flip-the-script moment when the course of the movie is suddenly set in marble. Every Hollywood producer looks for it and expects it bang before his eyes.

Next Step – The Low Point

The Low-Point is where your hero has just about run out of options. All hope is lost. His goal no longer seems attainable. Notice the words ‘just about’ and ‘seems.’ This is the key. Nothing is finished, but it must appear that way. Your hero, on page 90, must be beat-up, battered, and emotionally cooked. This is the first time he’s been this distraught, this helpless. Ben Braddock is in the boarding house. Mr. Robinson is threatening to sue. Elaine is getting married. Mrs. Robinson has orchestrated his worst nightmare. He’s disgraced at home. It couldn’t be worse. This is page 90. The audience is suicidal. This is the low-point.

And of course, there’s a trick to creating a devastating page 90 which will keep the drama alive. And it’s everything to do with time.

Ben cannot spend the afternoon hanging around the University of California Berkeley, remembering better times, because Elaine is getting married right now. He must race north, find the church, break down the door, and save her from a fate which only he appreciates represents cold horror.

What follows is one of the greatest Act III’s ever filmed. The hero must act now or never. If he doesn’t get dressed and get moving, he will lose the only girl he would ever love. The race is against time.

Another example of a brilliant low-point comes in the gangster movie ‘Scarface,’ when Tony Montana kills his best friend after he discovers him with his sister. Tony guns Manny down, and without emotion, steps back into his Rolls Royce, and drives home. But he inhales a mountain of cocaine, and suddenly realizes he’s murdered the only man he ever trusted. “Oh, fuck, Manny. How the fuck I do that?… How the fuck I do that Manny?” The brash, cocky, kiss-my-ass Tony, in tears of remorse.

This leads directly to the final battle of Act III. But like Ben in ‘The Graduate,’ Tony Montana has no time to wallow in his sorrow. Sosa’s army has arrived to finish him.

You need a low-point thunderstorm where the hero is weak, maybe even broken, and the nemesis comes forward like Attila the Hun. The time element will usually solve itself.

Once you have established the mid-point and the low-point, it should be plain sailing to the movie’s end. That’s if you’ve planned it meticulously. With the Act II A cliff-hanger halfway, and the Act II B roller-coaster to impending catastrophe properly set out, your run-in to an interesting end is nothing like so difficult as the minefield of Act II. Page 30 to page 90. That’s when you face death. Tread carefully and plan properly.

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How to Write a Scene

From John August’s blog (I recommend you subscribe to it: http://www.johnaugust.com)

1. Ask: What needs to happen in this scene?

Many screenwriting books will tell you to focus on what the characters want. This is wrong. The characters are not responsible for the story. You are. If characters were allowed to control their scenes, most characters would chose to avoid conflict, and movies would be crushingly boring.

The question is not, “What could happen?” or “What should happen?” It is only, “What needs to happen?” If you wrote an outline, this is the time to look at it.1 If you didn’t, just come up one or two sentences that explain what absolutely must happen in the scene.

2. Ask: What’s the worst that would happen if this scene were omitted?

Imagine the projectionist screwed up and accidentally lopped off this scene. Would the movie still make sense? If the answer is “yes,” then you don’t really need the scene, and shouldn’t bother writing it.

But it’s so dramatic! you say. But it’s so funny!

Tough. Put that drama or that comedy into scenes that are crucial to the movie.2 One thing you learn after a few produced movies is that anything that can be cut will be cut, so put your best material into moments that will absolutely be there when it’s done.

3. Ask: Who needs to be in the scene?

Scripts are often clogged with characters who have no business being there. But because words are small, it’s easy to overlook that “Haversmith” hasn’t said or done anything for five pages. And sadly, sometimes that’s not realized until after filming.3

4. Ask: Where could the scene take place?

The most obvious setting for a scene is generally the least interesting, so don’t be too quick to set your scene in the police bullpen, a living room, or a parking garage. Always consider what the characters could be doing, even if it’s not directly related to the focus of the scene. A father-and-son bonding moment at a slaughter house will play differently than the same dialogue at a lawn bowling tournament.

5. Ask: What’s the most surprising thing that could happen in the scene?

Give yourself permission to step away from your outline and consider some wild possibilities. What if a car smashed through the wall? What if your hero choked and died? What if a young boy vomited up a finger?

Most of your scenes won’t have one of these out-of-nowhere aspects. But your movie needs to have a few moments that are completely unexpected, so always ask yourself, could this be one of them?

6. Ask: Is this a long scene or a short scene?

There’s nothing so dispiriting as writing a great three-page mega-scene and realizing that you could have accomplished just as much in two-eighths of a page.4 So ask yourself up front: How much screen time am I willing to give to this scene?

7. Brainstorm three different ways it could begin.

The classic advice is to come into a scene as late as you possibly can. Of course, to do that, you really need to know how the previous scene ended. There’s often a natural momentum that suggests what first image or line of dialogue would be perfect to open the scene. But don’t stop at the first option. Find a couple, then…

8. Play it on the screen in your head.

At least 50% of screenwriting is simply sitting there with your eyes closed, watching the unwritten scene loop in your head. The first couple of times through, it’s really rough: a blocking rehearsal. But eventually, you start to hear the characters talk to each other, and the vague motions become distinct actions. Don’t worry if you can’t always get the scene to play through to the end — you’re more likely to find the exit in the writing than in the imagining.

Don’t rush this step. Let the scene percolate. Mumble the dialogue. Immerse yourself as fully into the moment as you can.

9. Write a scribble version.

A “scribble version” is essentially a cheat sheet so you’ll remember the great scene you just saw in your head. Don’t write sentences; don’t write full dialogue. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes. Just get the bare minimum down so that you won’t forget the scene in the next hour as you’re writing it.

I generally hand-write a scribble version in tiny print — sometimes literally on the back of an envelope — but you can also type. This is what a scribble version consists of for me:

  • DUNCAN waiting edge of seat
  • ITO
  • I was one of the doctors who worked on your wife
  • accident
  • injuries severe, trauma team, sorry, couldn’t save her
  • (sits, reflex)
  • nature of injuries, concern fetus wouldn’t survive in utero. paramedic able deliver caesarian boy healthy
  • (nodding not hearing)
  • nurse can take you to see him, know a lot to handle
  • what
  • a lot to handle
  • take me to see him?
  • yes
  • see who?
  • your son. paramedic was able to
  • (grabs clipboard)
  • I know this may seem
  • My wife wasn’t pregnant
  • Your wife didn’t tell you…
  • My wife has never been pregnant. been trying three years. fertility clinic last week
  • I examined the baby myself. nearly at term.
  • I don’t know whose baby, not hers.

It’s kind of a mess, and really wouldn’t make sense to anyone but me — and only shortly after I wrote it. But that doesn’t matter. The scribble version is only there so you don’t get lost or confused while writing the full version of the scene. Yes, it’s finally time to…

10. Write the full scene.

If you typed up the scribble version, don’t just try to fatten it out. Start clean. The scribble version is deliberately crappy, and rewritten crap is still crap.

The scribble version is your outline for the scene. Yes, allow yourself the chance to detour from your scribble version if a truly better idea comes along. But if you’ve really spent the time to play it through in your head (#8), it’s probably on the right track already.

Depending on the nature of the scene, getting the dialogue right may be most of the work. Regardless, focus on choosing the best words to describe the characters, the action and tone, so your readers will see the same scene in their heads.

11. Repeat 200 times.

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Here’s an interesting bit on description writing from the writer Paul Chitlik, published in SriptMag.com

Paul Chitlik, professional screenwriter and author on the subject, fields a question about writing effective description in your screenplay.

Question: How can a screenwriter write descriptions we can “see” without overwriting them?

Answer: Here’s one of the basic contradictions a writer has to face. You know that a reader, probably not the producer, is going to be the first person at the production company or studio to read your script, so you have to impress this person. We know that motion pictures are all about what you see on screen, so you’d think that the descriptive passages of a script would be important. And they are. But readers often skip through them to get to the dialogue because they think, sometimes correctly, that the character is shaped by the dialogue. And dialogue is easier to read. But harder to write.

So, does that mean you shouldn’t pay attention to description? No. Does it mean that you shouldn’t write visually? No, on the contrary. You should still make the reader see the movie as best you can, and that’s where your writing style for descriptive paragraphs will pay off. But you may lose the reader’s interest if he or she has to plow through dense and long paragraphs. So, you want to make your paragraphs as short and succinct as possible.

No one has ever been accused of having too little description. Screenplays should be terse, filled with short phrases emphasizing verbs always – always – in the present tense. Connor drags himself to the bed. Falls. Checks his arm. Blood spurts out of his wrist. He slams his other palm on it. Nearly faints.

Short declarative sentences. Fragments. Lots of verbs. But the scene is clear as a bell, isn’t it? You can see it, can’t you? You don’t need to know what kind of bed it is, or even what Connor looks like. You see the action, and that’s what counts. Let the make-up artist, the set designer, the production designer, the wardrobe designer, the director of photography, and the director fill in the rest. Let them do their jobs. Your job is to make them see the film, see the action, and move on.

Now, take a five-line paragraph of description (and you know you have one) and turn it into two and a half lines. Take out thoughts, feelings, extra adjectives, adverbs, and even nouns if need be. Leave action words. Now compare it to the original. Isn’t it better?

_________

Paul is correct. Especially if you’re writing action, thriller, horror genres. But even for comedy and drama, you still need to be clear and concise.
Read The Kings’s Speech(in the screenplay’s folder) and you’ll know what I mean.

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Greetings,

Good class today. All of the stories are interesting and have a potential to become exciting screenplays. Some need more work, some less, but that’s the nature of any creative endeavor.

Don’t worry about making a great screenplay or thinking about how much money you’ll get when you sell. Those thoughts are distracting during a creative process. Try to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from previous screenwriting classes, from the books you’ve read and the films you’ve seen in order to make your story the best it can be.

Please respond to those students whose stories we didn’t get a chance to discuss today in class. To make it easier, let’s do it this way: if you’re assigned to Group 1, respond to the stories of your groupmates; the students from Group 2 will respond to the stories in their group, and those from Group 3 will comment on the stories within their group.  I encourage you to go “beyond” your groups and comment the stories that will benefit from your suggestions. Be generous. Understand that by helping others you’re helping yourself. No, not in a pop-psychology, quasi-spiritual way, but in a very concrete, practical way. When you think and discuss other people’s stories you’re honing your own abilities as a storyteller.

DUE DATE FOR ACT I (ALL THREE GROUPS) is Thursday, Feb. 7th, by 11:59pm.  Please use a screenwriting software (Celtx is free) and don’t forget to convert your screenplay to PDF.  When you’re ready to upload your work, go to the Assignment page, click on the folder for the group you were assigned to and upload your file.  If you already forgot how to do it, watch the video or email me.

Happy writing.

ak

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Greetings everyone,

It’s was great to see the students from last semester and meet those of you I didn’t have the pleasure of working with yet. Welcome.

Please familiarize yourself with the left sidebar of the Blackboard page. You will be uploading your work to the folders on the ASSIGNMENTS page. View the instructional video/screencast on the TUTORIAL page. The tutorial was created last year, so don’t pay attention to the dates. The process is the same.
If you have problems uploading your file, email it to me ASAP and I will do it for you.

Your ASSIGNMENT 1 is due this Thursday, no later than 11:59 pm (one minute before midnight). All work submitted after that will be considered LATE.

Before you start working on your short treatment, identify the turning points in each act. What starts the story, how the act ends, what the midpoint is, where the climax comes in, etc. If you’re in this class you must have taken Screenwriting 1 and 2 at BC or the equivalent elsewhere, and must therefore be familiar with the three act structure.

The “act” approach is not necessarily the best way to write screenplays, but it’s the easiest way to understand dramatic architecture. If you’re not familiar with the three act structure, I suggest you buyScreenplay and Screenwriter’s Workbook (a helpful book for everyone in this class), both books written by Syd Field. Or go to this page for a quick review: http://www.cod.edu/people/faculty/pruter/film/threeact.htm

Once you identified the plot points / turning points in each act, write a brief description of what happens in ACT 1. Something like this:

Lionel Dobie is an acclaimed abstract artist who finds himself unable to paint during the days before the scheduled beginning of a major gallery exhibition of his new work. When he picks up his live-in assistant and lover at the airport, she tells Lionel that she wants to break up with him… etc.

Being clear about what each act is about, who the characters are, what they want and who prevents them from getting what they want is more important than writing carefully constructed sentences (although they’re always appreciated).

Do not go over TWO PAGES SINGLE-SPACED. One to one and a half pages is a perfect length. You can’t be too brief and general – we need details that reveal your story so we can discuss it in class. But not too many details – save them for the actual scene writing. Tricky, I know. Do the best you can.

Everyone is REQUIRED to read every treatment submitted.

As you work on your treatments, start jotting down thoughts and ideas for your first act (Assignment 2) due the following Thursday.

Before you submit your assignment make sure you rewrote it at least once and checked for spelling errors. Write every day. Don’t wait for inspiration. Respect perspiration and inspiration will come.

Good luck with first assignment.

Let me know if you have any questions.

ak

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Happy New Year and welcome to Screenwriting 3 / 4. (I have to use a slash between three and four to indicate that it’s not three AND four, which would mean all the students are doing both three and four. We have some students who have signed up for Screenwriting 3 and who have never written a feature screenplay before; and we also have students who have taken Screenwriting 3 in the past and are now planning to either write a new screenplay or rewrite what they’d already written.)

There are no required textbooks, only recommended ones. The list is available at  https://dramaticarc.wordpress.com/bookshelf/.  These posts are also available on Blackboard(http://cunyportal.cuny.edu).
Please print out or memorize the syllabus, which contains all the things that are REQUIRED for the class. This is an advanced class and more will be asked of you.  You will read every screenplay, prepare notes  and offer your thoughts opinions and suggestions.  If you don’t think you can actively participate in class discussions, this class is not for you.  Most, if not all, of the 3 hours and 40 minutes (minus 30 for the break) will be spent discussing your screenplays.
One last thing. BC’s attendance policy is strict. Make sure you can attend every class (and our first class on the 28th is no exception) at 9:30 am, Monday,  and be on time.
That’s all for now.  Enjoy the rest of your break. Looking forward to seeing you at the end of January.
ak