AWDF: Scriptwriting Masterclass at the 2nd African Women in Film Forum
AWDF AFRICAN WOMEN IN
CREATING COMPELLING SOCIAL JUSTICE STORIES
AWDF AFRICAN WOMEN IN FILM SCRIPTWRITING
MASTERCLASS BY ADE SOLANKE
• This masterclass covers key aspects of cinematic storytelling.
• It aims to improve your understanding of important principles of dramatic writing and to
develop your ability to apply these ideas.
• We’ll use film clips and discussion to explore some of the tools screenwriters use to
attract, hold and satisfy audience attention.
• By the end, you will have an insight into important elements of a screenplay and the
contribution each makes to effective storytelling. You’ll also have a workable approach to
the process of developing your screenplay from idea to first draft.
Dominant mode is blockbuster action movies
which typically depict supernatural heroes,
saving the world by winning explosive physical
battles against external forces which seek to
•How do social justice stories differ?
•Human dramas, presenting true-to-life experiences of
ordinary people grappling with everyday issues
•But the most successful blockbusters have something in
common with successful social justice movies... they
feature characters who change through struggle.
1 - Developing the Idea
•Selecting a viable premise/idea:
•What kind of story do you want to tell? What excites/infuriates/moves
•What is its dramatic potential (ie how and why will that subject grip the
•Who is the target audience?
Spora Stories: Great Stories, Well Told
With Spora, i look for material that will appeal to audiences with an interest in Africa
and in family stories.
Case Study 1: Pandora’s Box
A tragicomedy about leaving your child in another country.
Why Pandora’s Box worked: subject and treatment – comedy about a serious issue that
resonated deeply with the British-African audience.
2 - Developing the concept
•Building on your idea/premise to turn it into a
marketable concept, the basis for a pitch.
•Case Study 2: Dazzling Mirage
Theme: Sickle Cell Sufferer struggles to achieve career success
• The material is about overcoming the stigma of sickle cell. But
in crafing the story, the ‘issue’ of sickle cell was not enough.
•Audiences want to share an individual’s emotional experience
as they struggle to deal with the issue and achieve a goal. They
‘enjoy’ seeing hardship, and seeing it overcome through
tenacity, skill and resourcefulness.
•The emotional involvement comes through the vicarious
experience of first suffering with the character, then ultimately
triumphing with her.
“ Social justice films work best when they entertain and
elicit an emotional response, as well as educate
The issues they explore are best dramatised through an individual or group who/which is striving
to help themselves, no matter how terrible their circumstances. Unfortunately, just because
someone is suffering does not mean people will want to see a film about them. People like to
root for the underdog, but they sympathise more with self-help than absolute victimhood. So
design your stories around fighters, troubled people resisting against oppression.
Examples of social justice films that successfully
do this are :
•The China Syndrome,
These films show the issues dramatised and the courage of
people who refuse to give up. In fact, the characters often risk
their lives to achieve their goals.
3 – Developing the Characters (traits and arcs )
Types of dramatic characters?
•The Kings Speech is an example of how to design a character
who successfully draw an audience into their struggle.
•Why did a film about a privileged English monarch connect to
so many ordinary people?
•How does it compare to the impact of Slumdog Millionaire, a
film about poverty-stricken Indian kids?
4 – Developing the Action (drama means ‘to do’)
Types of dramatic conflict?
• Drama shows what characters do in reaction to crisis
• Structural devices to help you shape the action
(Beginnings, middles and ends)
• Scenes, sequences and acts
Some key plot points in a character’s journey of
change through struggle (eg .inciting incident, mid
point reversal, the climax)
The Principle of Antagonism
One of the main ways a character is tested is by the action of
an antagonist; an equally strong character who actively
opposes the protagonist and forces her to work harder to
achieve her goals.
The stronger the antagonist, the better the drama. Social
justice drama has no shortage of ‘baddies,’ but make them as
complex and nuanced as your ‘goodies.’ They have a POV too,
and a reason for their behaviour, no matter how warped it is.
Make the bad guy pat the dog!
Actors like to play great parts .
They look for the roles that will allow them to showcase their
range and the parts that “give them somewhere to go
The viability of any project is increased when you have
excellent actors itching to get their teeth into your characters.
5 - Developing the Project
Stages in creating your screenplay, and
development documents useful for each stage.
The premise in a 50 word logline
Expand the logline into a one-page outline
outline into the treatment
treatment into the sequence breakdown
sequences into the scene breakdown
6 – Developing the scene, the sequence, and the act
• Planning the scene
• Planning the sequence
• Planning the act
7 - Writing first drafts - Managing the process
•Get out all your ideas in the first draft
•keep going till you finish – do not look back!
•Start wide and focus in
•Do it just the way you want to
8 – REWRITING
Check each element of the script separately:
•Is it clear who the main character is?
•Is it clear what their goal is?
•Do they change through struggle?
•Are they tested by a forceful antagonist?
•Do they hit the main plot points at the right parts of the
•Is the resolution clear?