Lights, Camera, Distraction: An introduction to screenwriting


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Lights, Camera, Distraction: An introduction to screenwriting

  1. 1. Lights, Camera, Distraction An introduction to screenwriting Gaz J Johnson PhD Researcher & Lecturer, Media & Communications, Nottingham Trent University Tuesday 11th March 2014 @llordllama
  2. 2. Overview  Introduce concepts of the screenwriting process  Consider the importance of clean concepts and concise pitches  Examine the cinematic narrative structure  Explore the importance of characterisation, plot and dialogue  Experiment with the form
  3. 3. 7 Ways A Screenplay isn’t a Novel 1. Format and layout 2. Dialogue really REALLY matters 3. White space 4. Enter late and leave early 5. K.I.S.S. 6. Audience, audience, audience 7. Turning points are always right where you expect them to be…
  4. 4. Film Production Conceptualise Characterisation Plot Outline Scripting Filming Editing Premier
  5. 5. Beginnings  The golden rule - Show. Don’t tell.  Words and pictures – only write what appears on screen  Narrative exposition a common flaw  Films ideally should have one core concept  Don’t write a film you wouldn’t want to see  A burning passion is better than a lukewarm idea  The pitch  Concept encapsulated in 25 words or less  Used to pitch to studios, The Money, The Man with the Plan etc
  6. 6. Exercise 1: Concept to Pitch  Generate your story ideas (3-4)  Recycle a short story idea or adapt something longer  Or something fresh  Consider the audience – who is this movie for?  Distil them down to a 25 word pitch  As small groups pitch your ideas  Agree on one to develop further
  7. 7. Layout & Format  FADE IN: / FADE OUT:  Top and tail a script, opening and closing your narrative  Also CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO, FADE TO BLACK between scenes  INT/EXT. LOCATION – DAY/NIGHT  The scene/setting - Inside or outside, location, time of day  Scene description  Key objects, sounds or actions should be capitalised (e.g. a LOUD KNOCKING at the door)  Character names CAPITALISED as well first time they appear  Brief character bios can be included  CHARACTER  The dialogue speaker’s name  (CONT’D) indicates new dialogue by same speaker after action  (direction)  A note to the actor, for a pause, a beat, an emphasis
  8. 8. And So It Begins  The opening 10  The hook(s) - opening line and establishing shot  Script readers only read ten pages  Setting up your store  Establish tone, pace, setting and milieu  Show the audience what they’re in for  Establish the protagonist(s) and their world  The Inciting Incident  The protagonist’s journey begins…
  9. 9. The Shawshank Redemption  Act I (32 mins)  The hook: Andy’s Wife is killed by…?  Instigating incident: Andy in court – goes to prison  Key plot point – asks Red for a rock hammer  Act II (~80 mins)  Andy and Red develop a friendship  Obstacles: Andy and The Sisters, failure to be paroled, crushing futility of prison life  Andy gains the trust of the warden and the prisoners  Midpoint: Warden shoots the man who could prove Andy’s innocence  Key plot point: Andy escapes
  10. 10. The Shawshank Redemption  Act III (~30 mins)  Andy’s escape is discovered  Red is released into the real world  The Warden and corrupt chief guard are punished  Key plot point: Red finds Andy’s box under the tree  Wrap up:  Red finds Andy in Mexico
  11. 11. Fearsome Plot Engines  Grand narrative can be driven forward in different ways  Character led -> their decisions shapes the narrative  Event led -> circumstances force the characters to respond  Conflict is the essence of drama  Individual against Individual (external)  Individual against the environment (external)  Individual against the self (internal)  Outer conflicts personalised as character relationships  Inner conflicts externalised in physical manifestations  Or through subtle signals to the audience
  12. 12. Plotting a Narrative  Timelining  Events in chronological order  Script can rearrange these to suit the narrative  Storyboarding  Visual thumbnails of actions and events  Commonly used for the shooting script  Mind-mapping  Spider-diagram of events, impact and consequence
  13. 13. Image credit: Dehahs,
  14. 14. Image credit: RobKing21,
  15. 15. Script Boarding Scene  WHERE is it?  WHO is there?  WHAT is going to happen?  WHY does it matter?  OUTCOME of the events?  PROPS/SFX needed (if any)? EXT LIQUOR STORE- Night  A liquor store in downtown Detroit at the dead of night  A jittery sales clerk, and scruffy armed thug. And thence the protagonist enters  Thug intends to rob, and will be stopped by the protagonist  Demonstrates the superior power of the protagonist, and the weakness of the “common criminal” against him. Establishes them as a “hero”  One (very) dead thug, about 10 shot gun shells, a whole lot of smashed groceries  A whole lot of things that go BANG!
  16. 16. Exercise 2: Plotting  Draft out your plot  Storyboard, timeline etc  Include the main scenes  Remember to include  Key plot points and climaxes  Obstacles and character growth  Think about shoot practicalities  Think of locations, situations and actors  Think about narrative arcs
  17. 17. Characters  Character + Obstacle => Growth + Narrative progression  Character and structure are symbiotic  Story and Character Arcs  Protagonist/antagonist’s journey from and to equilibrium  Changes they experience and embody  Turning points & especially the point of no return  Motivation and goals are key  What do they want and what drives them?  Why should they meet and overcome the obstacle(s)?  Text and subtext – never say what a character is thinking/feeling
  18. 18. Characters  Characterisation  Ensure each character has a unique tone  Small well defined cast more powerful than assemblage of cyphers  Traits  Mannerisms, catchphrases, attitudes and thumbnail backstory  Can include in scene descriptions briefly  Provides the actors with guidance on how to inhabit the role  2o and 3o characters  Do not need to be as well drawn as primaries  Enough characterisation to avoid being ciphers  Location as character
  19. 19. Character Sketches  JOE is a dishevelled pudgy 35 going on 50, and could easily pass for one of the homeless if only he smartened up a little. He’s lived and worked his whole adult life on the streets of New York and it’s left him bitter, cynical and world weary. He greets each morning with a snarl, hacking cough and 1,000 yard stare. One of these mornings he’s going to hand in his badge, climb in his beaten up old Corvette and head west. Today, might just be that day.  MARI-ANN is the girl you’d take home to your parents, if only you could get her to sit still long enough. 21 years young, she’s just the kinda girl who just exudes self-confidence, making even a thrown-together ensemble look chic. A ball of constantly distracted energy, she’s the one who makes every head turn as she flicks back her long blonde hair and giggles. It’s only when she’s alone that she dares to let the façade slip away.
  20. 20. Exercise 3: Character Sketches  Create a biographical sketch of your lead character  Try and consider  Who are they?  What do they want?  What is their lifeworld?  How will they become involved in the plot?  What will change for them?  What are 3 key character traits?
  21. 21. Dialogue  Give voice to your characters  Authenticity comes from understanding  Roleplay how they would respond to a situation  Effective dialogue  Most dialogue is between two actors  More voices harder to script, harder to differentiate  Dialogue should set the tone and define expectations  Interplay is important  Conversation is about turn taking, dialogue is about the narrative  Interruptions, over-speaking and action all play a part
  22. 22. Dialogue  Opening (hook) and closing (punch) lines count  Catchphrases or repeated lines as leitmotifs  Less is more  Brevity and punch give effective dynamism (e.g. Aaron Sorkin)  Question and answer interplay  Make use of silences & pauses (C’Era Una Volta Il West)  Different film milieus use different tonal structures  e.g. thriller, comedy, romance, psychodrama etc  Clever scripts subvert these expectations
  23. 23. Interaction  Movement brings an additional dimension to scripts  Silences can be powerful storytelling tools  Montages can build up a narrative picture  NVC - all actions, no words can tell an entire story in mime  SFX and music  Define music where a piece is essential  Important sounds in CAPS  Don’t dictate to the Director  Avoid camera angles and instructions unless essential  But be descriptive (e.g. “struts” is not the same as “walks”)
  24. 24. Editing and Polishing  Read your script aloud  Use the characters’ inflections and tones  What looks good on paper…might not sound right  Perform it for a critical friend  Writing is rewriting  Coherence  Structure and plot  Characters  Visuals and dialogue  Emotion and style
  25. 25. Exercise 4: Beginnings and Ends  Putting it all together  Draft the opening page of the script (1 page/min)  Include scene descriptions, character bios and dialogue as appropriate  Remember the hook!  If you can…script the final (punch) lines dialogue in your film  Then be ready to:  Share your (winning) movie pitch  The lead character’s bio  A brief overview of plot  Opening/closing line(s)
  26. 26. Fade Out  Next steps  Download and read a few scripts for style, layout, tone and approach  Watch a movie and follow along with the script  Go audience watching!  Remember  Show. Don’t tell.  Character and structure  Hook and punch  Words…and pictures!  Resources: