Today I attended a scriptwriting seminar. This is just a blog post containing the notes I made during the session. I like having online copies of my work that I can refer to should I misplace my written notes.
One of the most important elements I took from the seminar was that:
Script writing is 75% visual, 25% dialogue.
In order to be a successful script writer you have to be able to think visually, and transform imagination into ideas, and inevitably into reality. Film is entertainment, and a story should have all the specific elements weaved into it. Plots, sub plots, suspension, disbelief are all elements to consider adding to a script in order to help the chance of success.
– A hero WANTS something, takes ACTION, but meets CONFLICTS on the way which lead to a CLIMAX and therefore a RESOLUTION.
You have to think logically but internally, and ensure there is a defined structure.
When viewing your script, it is important to see it from another’s point of view. Ensure you ASK OTHERS. If you do not do so it is easy to lose track and get so enthrauled in your own ‘perfect’ thoughts. Remember, your idea always sounds better to you than anyone else. This is a struggle for most if not all script writers.
A FIRST DRAFT IS NEVER GOOD. IT WILL NEED MANY EDITS.
Questions to ask others when reading your script:
- What is interesting in your story?
- Did you get bored? If so when? And why?
- When did you get interested? Why?
- What did you like most?
- What did you dislike most?
Film is commerce, commercial appeal (for producers). Everyone is voyeuristic; we are happy and relieved by watching the misfortune of others – we are glued to the screen. Audiences are extremely character based – we can easily relate to specific characteristics, and we enjoy this, it makes us feel involved and part of the action.
Examples of films that I really engaged with were Woman In Black and Shutter Island. I could really relate to the character of Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) in Woman In Black as I have been in situation where I have felt the need to discover more about the unknown, though there are consequences, and I have also been to ‘haunted houses’ (which I’m petrified of – though ironically I don’t quite believe in all that ghost nonsense). Character development is perhaps one of the most important elements to a script – it is crucial to engage your audience, and it is obvious which films have really pulled this off.
Maximising minimal circumstances is useful in regards to keeping an audience entertained. If a script hits a boring patch the readers/viewers will sure enough get bored instantly and switch off, so the story has to be encapsulated from the beginning right through to the end.
Remember you are not writing a novel; do not use literary tools such as an omniscient narrator or long descriptions. Keep it brief and concise. Only write what is necessary, what is seen/heard on screen – mise-en-scène. Be sparse with words. Give le-way for locations to be changed, otherwise later changes to the story will be too noticeable. Giving too much detail can sometimes be a hinderance – sometimes ‘less is more’.
Be able to sell your story in 4 lines/50 words – no matter how long the film. Precise, short yet engaging. This is what producers look for, someone who can describe an idea in short, without waffling. Don’t explain too much, keep them wanting more and to read the whole thing.
Think about the basic action of the film. What does the ‘hero’ (protagonist) want? For example, in the feature film I’m currently working on, the basic action is a journey – a treasure hunt, and the thing our protagonist wants is the treasure. A struggle between characters is always prized in scriptwriting, in Latitude our two characters, who are best of friends, end up falling out and going their separate ways. Again this can relate to audiences who have more than likely been in a similar situation. It’s these elements within a story (e.g. misfortunes that occur) that keep audiences intrigued.
I’ve looked a little more into screenplays – in particular the work of Syd Field. His work can be found on http://www.sydfield.com/.
What prevents the hero from achieving his goal? What are his psychological and moral weaknesses? Indecision/fear/insensitivity? In my road trip movie, Max clashes with Percy – their characteristics are so obviously different it is inevitable that we see them in conflict as the story progresses. The hero must have a struggle, something for him to overcome or discover. What does your hero have to overcome? Max has to maintain friendship with his friend while searching for something he desires for himself. What does he fear most? Failure, losing and isolation. What’s the worst thing he encounters? Himself and the realisation of his own greed and attitude?
If your story is a comedy, ensure that you can make the reader laugh at your pitch. If not, it will not be a comedy. This is just one example.
Our feature film follows the basic layout of three acts, Act One – The Set Up, Act Two – The Chain Of Conduct, and Act Three – The Resolution.
Be careful with dialogue in your script, ensure you do not repeat what has already been said in visuals. Make sure you clearly understand and separate the story, the characters and the dialogue used before you combine them. And do NOT write in camera movements, this is for the storyboarding and shot list stage.
Ask yourself what is NEW and DIFFERENT in your story? In terms of Latitude the underlying theme of Geocaching has never been made into a scripted feature film, therefore it is unique. Though character relationships and treasure hunting is certainly not new to feature films, we do have this edge. We need to think of new ways to represent our characters, ways that have not been used before perhaps. Could the story present a new approach to an old situation?
Referring back to earlier in the post, a visual medium needs to be adopted – sound and imagery needs to be able to tell the story before the dialogue is introduced. Movement of characters (action), movement of space and movement of time have to all be carefully thought about as well. Any action your protagonist takes defines his character, anywhere he goes or how he reacts to others all goes towards the development of his person.