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Screenwriting

FIRST SEMESTER (Premise, logline, pitch, synopsis. The basic rules for a screenwriter)

 

I. The most important questions for the screenwriter

  • The tasks of the screenwriter from concept to final draft
  • Getting started, progressing, rewrites
  • Proper format for the screenwriter
  • Expressing the characters’ thoughts through dialogue and action
  • Collaboration between writers

II. Logline, one-paragraph, screenwriter pitch, synopsis

  • The elements of a logline (characters, conflict, location, plot, originality)
  • The screenwriter pitch (the above, plus the hero’s plan to succeed, and the struggle)
  • The uses and advantages of the one-paragraph
  • The synopsis (elements that should be included/excluded)

III. Short comparison between the storytelling standpoints of Aristotle, Arthur Miller and Freud

  • Story vs. plot
  • The beginning, middle and end of a film
  • The inciting incident (the plot point that kick-starts the story)
  • The climax of the story and the final punctuation mark as the dust settles

IV. The fundamental elements of a short film screenplay

  • The role of drama and conflict
  • Expanding the idea
  • The different types of short films

V. The components of a dramatic story

  • Premise
  • Presenting the characters; their break down (hero, opponent, allies)
  • How the characters relate to each other; and their roles in the story
  • The problem
  • The conflict
  • The surrounding world
  • The structure
  • The dialogue
  • The film’s tone and genre

VI. Visualizing the short film shot by shot by the screenwriter

VII. Writing screenplays and scenes that have an effect on the audience

  • Elements of a working screenplay or scene
  • Getting the audience involved in the story by the screenwriter

VIII. The beginning, middle and end of a screenplay

  • The opening and the ending
  • The middle
  • The cause-and-effect chain

IX. Which is more important fort the screenwriter: story or the characters?

  • Concept -> Story outline -> Character vs. Character -> Concept -> Story outline
  • Conceptual vs. intuitive writing (only the basic concept)
  • Plot-driven vs. character-driven story (short explanation and the basics only)
  • The harmony between characters and story
  • Reusing elements in a different context to help character change

X. Action description

  • Writing the action, making the screenplay a good-read
  • Avoiding “directing on paper”
  • Making your screenplay visual without giving camera directions
  • Action, fight and chase scenes
  • Metaphors; setting the mood by the screenwriter

 

PRACTICAL SCREENWRITER WORK, EXAMS

For creative, talented practical screenwriter students:

Writing the elements of a short film:

  • Premise, logline, one-paragraph
  • The screenwriter pitch
  • Synopsis
  • Screenplay

Alternative screenwriter task: analyzing the elements mentioned above, writing a conceptual summary (We recommend this to screenwriter students who only visit the first part of class. See below.)

 

THE SCREENWRITER COURSE BUILDUP

12 x 3 hours. In the first hour and a half there will be a presentation, while the second half of the lecture will be spent as a workshop, where we will discuss and critique the screenwriter students’ ideas and projects. There will be short examples screened or mentioned during both the first and the second hour and a half.                                      

Screenwriter students will be frequently given homework, which we will address in the second half of the lecture. We will be giving out new tasks for the following week.

The advantage of the system is that those screenwriter students who missed the week’s lecture in an earlier semester can also sit in in the first hour and a half; also some ELTE screenwriter students can participate who do not wish to complete their practical training in our class.

Another benefit is that we do not require an extra lecturer or classroom; it’s inexpensive and time-saving. Moreover, screenwriter students can have their studies customized to best fit their needs and progress.

In the first half, screenwriter students who aim to become directors, producers, cinematographers or editors, can also visit the class to acquire the basic knowledge of screenwriting. In the second hour and a half, the core of the screenwriter group remains; those who wish to study screenwriting on a practical level.

Finally, there will be guest screenwriter lecturers in addition to the planned curriculum.

 

SECOND SEMESTER (From an idea to a finished film: character intros, character building, and the master scene)

 

I. What’s more important: a good story or strong characters?

  • A screenplay is as strong as its weakest link
  • Engaging, magnetic, memorable characters and an original story are equally important

II. Conceptual (outside-in) vs. intuitive (inside-out) writing (in detail)

  • Conceptual: cause-and-effect, conditions, structure, conflict
  • Intuitive: looking for believable characters and the emotional charge
  • What would the most interesting decision? (conceptual thinking)
  • What would the character do? (intuitive thinking)
  • How can we improve our conceptual or intuitive side?

III. Why do you write the screenplay? Why should someone spend time to watch your film?

  • What’s the stake for you and the viewers?
  • Why are YOU telling this story? What makes it YOURS?

IV. The five most important questions for screenwriter students (The five W-s)

Who?

  • What motivates our characters? What do they want? What are their needs?
  • Their past and secrets

What?

  • What is the story about?
  • What is the conflict?
  • What is the inciting incident?
  • What do the hero and the opponent do?

When?

  • When does the story take place?

Why?

  • What is the inciting incident? What is the reason for the conflict?
  • What is at stake in the story?
  • What grabs the viewer’s attention?
  • Why is the story unique? In what does it differ from other movies with the same genre and setting?

Where?

  • The setting and its effect on the story and characters
  • Uniting the film’s milieu with its premise, and determining the genre and the target audience

V. Character introductions by a screenwriter

  • Introducing the protagonist and the antagonist in a visual way
  • Strong characters engage viewers
  • Dialogue is determined by the character
  • Displaying the characters’ individual features visually and dramatically
  • The common and opposing attributes of the hero and the opponent

VI. Creating and developing engaging characters

  • Researching, observing
  • The character arc, collecting background information, forming unique speech and behavior
  • Why are we interested in this character?
  • Defining the hero’s and the opponent’s intentions

VII. Subtext (detailed discussion with screenwriter students)

  • What’s underneath? Making it felt rather than telling it.
  • Indefinite dialogue and an appropriate tone vs. on-the-nose dialogue
  • Reading between the lines, deeper meanings
  • Handling controversial subjects
  • Keeping the audience active
  • Building tension and creating a backstory
  • Preparing the subtext
  • Symbols and metaphors
  • The power of lies
  • How does subtext help the characters express their goal and desire without stating the obvious?
  • The character building role of subtext

VIII. Writing the dialogue

  • Making the characters come alive, following our intuitions
  • Reading aloud and performing the dialogue
  • Cutting the unnecessary, overwritten text
  • The best dialogue is not said, but performed
  • Avoiding heavy exposition in dialogue; instead telling information through conflicts
  • Secrets and mystery
  • Setting up the punch line

IX. The master scene from the point of view by the screenwriter

  • The hero realizes his/her mistake and changes
  • Adjust his/her attitude and plan
  • The opponent realizes this and also changes his/her plan
  • The main vs. the supporting characters

X. Dramaturgy of the master scene

  • Character
  • Goal, desire
  • Problem
  • Conflict, information
  • Recognition of the circumstances
  • Changed desire or goal

PRACTICAL SCREENWRITER WORK, EXAMS

For creative, talented practical screenwriter students who aim to be writers:

Writing a master scene or character intro

Alternative screenwriter task: analyzing the content and connections of the materials discussed during the semester, writing a conceptual summary.

 

THIRD SEMESTER (Story elements, Structure, Style, Different genres)

 

I. The story problem discussion from the screenwriter point of view

The question by Aristotle: „How should a person lead his/her life?”

  • Philosophy
  • Science
  • Religion
  • Art

II. Amateur vs. professional screenwriter

  • General mistakes
  • What is good writing?
  • Screenplay development division, the creative process

III. Structure, buildup

  • Structure is the collection of different events
  • From the smallest component to the big picture:
  • Beat (emotional change)
  • Scene
  • Sequence
  • The three-act structure (Also mentioned: the four-act structure)
  • Plot

IV. Different screenwriter storytelling styles

  • Classical
  • Causality
  • Closed ending
  • Linear time
  • External conflict
  • Single protagonist
  • Consistent reality
  • Active hero
  • Mini-plot
  • Open ending with unanswered questions
  • Internal conflicts
  • Multi-protagonists
  • Passive hero
  • Anti-plot
  • Significant role of chance (coincidence)
  • Non-linear time
  • Inconsistent realities

V. Comparing different screenwriter storytelling styles

  • Closed versus an open ending
  • Internal or external conflict
  • One protagonist versus more than one
  • Active or passive hero
  • Linear versus non-linear narrative
  • Causality or coincidence
  • Consistence versus inconsistence
  • Changing or static

VI. The classical structure (just a short intro as a demonstration)

  • Every writer must know the classical structure
  • How would a screenwriter creatively minimalize or gain advantage from something he doesn’t know?

VII. Genre films, their attributes and requirements

  • What is genre? Storytelling style which defines the film’s basic direction, buildup, and characteristics
  • Different genres, different expectations and storytelling strategies
  • Genres role in selling a screenplay and marketing a film
  • Creating something original in within the limitations of the genre
  • Combining multiple genres, genre-mixing
  • European film vs. Hollywood
  • Genres in the film market – the perspective of the agent, distributor, studio, and the screenwriter
  • Uniting the genre’s distinctive features with the classical structure
  • Genre requirements in general
  • Picking the appropriate genre or mix of genres

VIII. The main genres

  • Drama, comedy, family film, children’s film, thriller, action, detective story, crime, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, western, horror, film noir, etc.
  • Their distinctive features
  • Their stylistic differences
  • The audience’s expectations

 

PRACTICAL SCREENWRITER WORK, EXAMS

For creative, talented practical screenwriter students who aim to be writers:

Writing a synopsis in a genre (or mix of genres) chosen by the screenwriter student.

Alternative screenwriter task: analyzing the content and connections of the materials discussed during the semester, writing a conceptual summary.

 

FOURTH SEMESTER (The classical movie structure)

 

I. The importance of the classic 3-act structure, and laying down the basics by the screenwriter

  • Introduction to the classical structure, and its points
  • There are no rules, but it’s important to know the options, and the missing pillars of the structure
  • The most important step is to adjust the structure points to fit the story, and to fill the void between two structural pillars with plot

II. The science of storytelling – the 20 steps of the classical structure (this material is discussed with screenwriter students through the whole semester)

A guide in 20 steps with the approximate page numbers as a guide.

TRADITIONAL ACT 1

Sequence 1

  1. Opening Hook (1-5) (OPTIONAL, but recommended)
  2. A Day in the Life (1-12)
  3. A Stick of Dynamite (10-15)

Sequence 2

  1. Limbo (12-18)
  2. Escalation (18-24)
  3. Goal (20-30)

TRADITIONAL ACT 2

Sequence 3

  1. New World, New Plan (25-45)
  2. Meanwhile… (30-45)

Sequence 4

  1. Blowback (40-55)
  2. The World Turns (45-60)

Sequence 5

  1. Course Corrections (50-65)
  2. A Gathering Storm (60-80)

Sequence 6

  1. Disaster (70-85)
  2. Light Bulbs Go On (80-90)

TRADITIONAL ACT 3

Sequence 7

  1. The Final Approach (85-95)
  2. Battle Royale (90-100)
  3. To Arc or Not to Arc? (95-105)

Sequence 8

  1. A Final Twist (OPTIONAL, 95-105)
  2. The Dust Settles (100-110)
  3. A Punctuation Mark (OPTIONAL, but recommended, 105-115)

III. How will the screenwriter hold the plot together?

  • A clear (and typically simple) storyline
    • The sceenwriter makes sure the audience can follow the action and that all action is focused enough around that storyline for them to follow/care
    • Subplots and diversions must strengthen main storyline, not detract or distract from it
  • Events triggered by cause and effect amidst rising conflict and obstacles
    • Always have rising action, with the obstacles seemingly more and more impossible to traverse (but also natural and organic to story)
    • Limit coincidences, especially later in the story
  • Integration with character and their choices
    • Decisions trigger consequences that trigger new situations… and the cycle continues, told through character choice and action
    • Remember that consequences of choices are magnified in a dilemma
  • Complications, reversals, and revelations
    • Must be set up and believable
    • Use them sparingly, but in key points
  • A purposeful, unified structure that ties it all together
    • Go into detail
  • Clear or unclear story resolution
    • Do you leave important story questions unanswered and let the audience do their own interpretation?
    • Or will you make all the most important decisions, and those decisions are clear and irreversible?
  • Is the main battlefield outside or inside the lead character?
    • Will he be fighting internal demons or an outside enemy
  • How many protagonists/antagonists are in your story?
    • Traditionally, one and one… but sometimes several characters have different values that add up to overall theme… their journeys are different but intertwined
  • Is our main character proactive or reactive?
    • It’s more difficult to make the story work unless your character is actively pursuing his goal
    • Harder to show a character change if he just reacts… only the circumstances change
    • Harder to make the audience care about this kind of hero, because if he doesn’t care enough to act, why do we?
    • Even if the character is proactive, we might make the decision not to change him or the world
  • Story Chronology
    • Do events happen in order, or is there a different organizing principle?
  • Story World Consistency
    • Are you following your established rules throughout the script, or are you breaking them without apparent reason?

 

PRACTICAL SCREENWRITER WORK, EXAMS

For creative, talented practical screenwriter students who aim to be writers:

Writing a synopsis which follows the classical structure.

Alternative screenwriter task: analyzing the content and connections of the materials discussed in during the semester, screenwriter students write a conceptual summary.