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How to write a screenplay

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How to write a screenplay

  1. How to writea screenplay.Or tell a better story.by Victor Piñeiro[storystuff]
  2. What’s your idea?First things first.
  3. It should be awesome.It should have a HOOK.It should be HIGH CONCEPT.Which really means...
  4. high concept: adj. a story based on a striking andeasily communicable plot or idea(Oxford English Dictionary)
  5. Awesome ideas.• A cop who has to kill robots might be a robot himself.• During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major powerbreakdown that allows its cloned dinosaurs to run amok.• A suicidal family man is given the opportunity to see whatthe world would be like if he had never been born.• A guy who complains about God too often is givenalmighty powers to teach him how difficult it is to run theworld.• After an Alaskan town is plunged into darkness for amonth, it is attacked by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires.
  6. You need a PLOTand a STORY.
  7. Plot• the hero WANTING something• one event causing another
  8. Story• the hero NEEDING something• revealing the hero’s character
  9. Tell it to me in one line.Okay, you’ve got your awesome idea.
  10. Your one-line idea, or LOGLINE, should include orsuggest these three elements:Someone (the hero) wants something (the goal) butis blocked by something (the adversary).
  11. Awesome loglines• An 8-year-old boy, who is accidentally left behind while hisfamily flies to France for Christmas, has to defend his homeagainst idiotic burglars.• A cowboy toy is profoundly threatened and jealous when afancy spaceman toy supplants him as top toy in a boysroom.• A weatherman finds himself living the same day over andover again.• A naive young man battles heartless authorities to protectthe life of his girlfriend when it’s revealed that she’s nothuman— she’s a mermaid.
  12. If it helps, you can also describe the TONE of your moviewith an “X meets Y”, “X with Y” or “X in Y” one-liner.
  13. Pocahontas In Space
  14. blair witch meets Godzilla
  15. hamlet with lions
  16. jaws with othercreatures
  17. Your idea in one word.For bonus points, give me:(This is your THEME.)
  18. revenge.
  19. family.
  20. character.
  21. Who’s your hero?Okay, you have an idea.
  22. What does heWANT?What does he NEED?To define your hero, ask:
  23. A WANT is external.A NEED is internal.
  24. WANTS: Parents to MeetNEEDS: Courage
  25. WANTS: MoneyNEEDS: Trust/Love
  26. WANTS: TomorrowNEEDS: ToAppreciateToday
  27. WANTS: To Defeat Doc OckNEEDS: Confidence
  28. What’s his FLAW?[What he NEEDS is related to his FLAW.]One more question.
  29. FEAR.
  30. INDECISION..
  31. SELF-DOUBT.
  32. Who’s the adversary?Okay, you’ve got a hero.[Note: They might not be a villain.]
  33. An adversary embodies the hero’s FLAW.An adversary forces the hero to face his FLAW.
  34. Adversary.
  35. ADVERSARY.
  36. ADVERSARY.
  37. ADVERSARY.
  38. Let’s talk STRUCTURE.Idea? Check.Hero? Check.Adversary? Check.
  39. Most films (and many stories) have THREE ACTS.Each ACT is made up of SEQUENCES.Each SEQUENCE is made up of SCENES.Each SCENE is made up of BEATS.
  40. MOVIESCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENESCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENESCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENESCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENESCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENEACT ACT ACTSEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCESEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCESEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCE===BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEATBEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEATBEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEATBEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEATBEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT=
  41. Beat• the smallest unit in a script/story• an exchange of action & reaction
  42. Scene• a continuous action in a specific location• functions as a mini-story• has a protagonist with a goal• the protagonists must face an obstacle• a scene either moves the story forward or• reveals info about the character
  43. Sequence• several scenes that build up to a bigger climax• each sequence has a mini-goal• sequences end in turning points• turning point = a goal achieved or lost• turning point = the story changing direction
  44. Act• several sequences that build up to a climax• the climax is a a major turning point
  45. Stories also tend to have the following SIGNPOSTS.
  46. A day in the life.Show us what the hero’s world is like, introduce all themain characters, introduce the hero’s flaw(s).ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  47. The SPARK!Something happens and the hero’s world is FLIPPED ONITS HEAD. This is where the HOOK comes in. You canalso consider this THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  48. Do I Stay or Do I Go?The hero must decide whether to embark on thisadventure (or take this new opportunity). 99% of the timeshe will REFUSE INITIALLY and something will drive herto make the decision and GO!ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  49. Into the NewWorldThe hero (boldly) ventures into the new world, which isthe OPPOSITE of the world she’s lived in up to this point.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  50. What is love?The new world often comes with a few new characters,including the LOVE INTEREST. He usually representswhat the hero NEEDS.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  51. MeltTheir Faces OffRemember that awesome HOOK you thought up? Pay itoff here. The hero has fun with her new powers orsituation. The audience should LOVE this part.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  52. Crossing the RubiconIn other words, this is the POINT OF NO RETURN. Thehero must do something which she can’t undo, whichwill soon plunge her into the NIGHTMARE... but notquite yet.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  53. FalseVictoryThe hero gets a moment of clarity, and everything seemslike it’s going to be okay – she’s going to prevail...[Note: sometimes this is False Defeat.]ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  54. Long Journey Into NightThings go from bad to worse. The villains come back,way more powerful than before. The hero’s losing herexternal battle and internal battle (which often means thelove interest leaves).ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  55. Rock BottomThings could not get worse. The villains seemunstoppable. All hope is lost. The love interest ditchedthe hero (usually because of the hero’s FLAW). And justwhen things are at their most hopeless...ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  56. From theAshes...the hero realizes her flaw, learns her lesson, andformulates a plan to defeat the villain. Here’s where the Astory (the main plot) and the B story (often the loveinterest) meet.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  57. Time to KickAss!The hero faces the villain, who is at their strongest... andWINS! By winning she has now CHANGED THEWORLD. The hero is now older and wiser. And everymajor character HAS CHANGED.ACT I ACT II ACT IIIMIDPOINT
  58. ACT ONEDay In the LifeThe SPARK!Do I Stay or Do I Go?Into the New World!ACT TWOWhat Is Love?Melt Their Faces OffCrossing the Rubicon (Midpoint)False VictoryLong Journey Into NightRock BottomFrom the AshesACT THREETime to Kick Ass!Signposts
  59. Focus on your outline.The best advice I can give you at this point is:
  60. Spend a lot of time working out the beats, scenes,sequences and acts. Use the signposts to help guideyour story. Stories/Scripts ARE structure. Iron outstructure before you dive into the writing.** This point is super controversial. For another take, Google the term “pantser”.
  61. Checklist✓ You have an awesome idea that’s easy to communicate.✓ Your hero is awesome and likable.✓ She wants something that’s tangible, and she wants it BAD.✓ She is flawed and needs to change if she’s to succeed.✓ Her adversary is formidable.✓ Every scene has conflict.✓ Obstacles get harder and harder.✓ Stakes get higher and higher.✓ We enter scenes late and leave scenes early.✓ Every major character changes by the end.✓ The turning points should be SURPRISING BUT INEVITABLE.
  62. Rookie Mistakes• Your hero is too passive.• Your main character has too many friends.• You have a few (or many) scenes that lack conflict.• Your characters don’t all change (or learn something).• You have too much exposition, and are telling, not showing.• Your scenes are way too long.• Every character sounds the same.• The stakes aren’t high enough.
  63. Read.Finally, the best advice I can give you:
  64. Start with these books.• Save the Cat by Blake Snyder• Story by Robert McKee• The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier• Screenplay by Syd Field• The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell• Writing Movies For Fun & Profit by Ben Garant & Tom Lennon• Save the Cat Strikes Back by Blake Snyder* In order of usefulness (to me).
  65. Visit these websites.• http://johnaugust.com• http://screenwritingtips.tumblr.com/• http://www.gointothestory.com/• http://scriptshadow.blogspot.com/• http://www.tracking-board.com/
  66. Caveats!These tips and guidelines are a collection of stuff I’ve founduseful as I’ve learned about storytelling and screenwriting.Nothing here is set in stone and all these “rules” can be broken.I learned a lot of this stuff from the books I mentioned earlier – do yourself a favor and read them!I’m barely scratching the surface here. Didn’t even get into genre!I wrote this for friends who’ve asked me to give them a quickprimer on storytelling basics, and for a younger version of myself– I wish I’d known some of this when I was in high school orcollege.
  67. Who IAmHi – I’m Victor. I haven’t written an Oscar-winning screenplay, asummer blockbuster or The Great American Novel.I did write and produce the documentary Second Skin, whichpremiered at SXSW, won a bunch of awards, and was distributedinternationally. I’ve also written a bunch of screenplays, onewhich was a Sundance Film Lab Finalist.Besides film, I’ve worked on establishing stories and voices forSkittles, Star Wars and other brands. I’ve also published a bunchof articles and poetry. And of course, I’ve got that unfinishednovel in the desk drawer.Talk to me: victor@victorpineiro.com Twitter: @victorpineiro
  68. Thanks!Tyson Damman for the design.James Hutchinson for the advice.Will Simon for the edits.Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza for the ideas.Greg Babonis for the tweaks.

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