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Screenwriting: Structure

It’s what sends screenwriters into frenzied anxiety attacks, rapidly losing the will to live, but Structure can seem a whole lot less terrifying once you realise that all it really means is the way your story unfolds. Think of it not as some rigid template you have to squeeze your story into, but the way the emotional needs and actions of your characters are shaping and driving the story. Keep remembering that the aim of structure is to draw your audience into an intense emotional engagement with the story and keep them totally absorbed throughout. Think of it as the story breathing – ever-developing sequences of tension and release which keep depth-charging the emotions of the audience. Having a flexible outline of pivotal events can help. A story needs something to get it going, moments that are turning points which force the character in new directions (often an emotional revelation, not just surface action), a climax and a resolution (which can be ambiguous or open-ended).Some pointers for shaping the story: Watch A Film Once, Then The Same Film Backwards The idea is to trace how the narrative thread is not just shaped but layered. You’re looking for how the whole story is paced, moments or scenes where you’re given breathing space to absorb what’s happening and so on. You’re looking out for moments that move the story forward in ways that layer and interweave. Make notes as you keep hitting the pause button. Starting from the final frame: Be aware of how each scene has been prepared for in previous scenes. You’re following the thread backwards. Try to keep in mind the overall thread – something in scene 20 may have been foreshadowed in scene 2. Make a note of what it is in each scene that is driving the story. Is what’s happening now more interesting than before? How is conflict being developed? Look out for moments where you’re registering meaning through the ways in which the story is being orchestrated not just in terms of plot. Watching backwards is a terrific way to see how not just actions, but symbolic resonances, unspoken feelings, visual metaphors, subtext, dialogue, subtext are all structuring the story. (Silence can be structure.) How are all these script elements driving the story forward?How’s the pacing? Is it varied?How much tension and release is happening? Do this with other films so you can discover some of the most powerful ways to develop the natural unfolding movement of a story. Beat Sheet This represents emotional beats and events which are pivotal to the flow of the story, and helps to focus on a clear and concise storyline. Think of it as successive bullet-points. A beat can be something happening within a scene or across scenes. Jot down a bare outline of the main critical moments in the story. This will help with pacing. Are there ups and downs? Where are the moments of dramatic tension and release?Significant turning points where things move in a new direction?Any twists that surprise? Now you’ll have a firmer idea of what other beats to add – and crucially – where they fall in the arc of the story until you have a complete sheet. A beat sheet is invaluable for assessing how an audience will stay completely connected to the story. Look at every beat and ask: Will the audience want to know what happens next? It can also help to draw a graph of beats to see at once how varied the pace is and whether you have those all-important tension and release sequences. Getting The Pace Right Make your words move, shift, change gear. Give them energy. Open your script at random and read a page out loud. Is there something moving which impels one word to the next, one line to the next, one page to the next? Now this isn’t a question of speed. A work has effective pace when everything happens at the right moment for its dramatic purpose. A stopped momentum is pace. A high-octane action sequence is pace. The key is to vary the pace. Keep asking your script questions. I strongly urge you to get some friends to do a readthrough of your script. They play the characters, one of them reads the descriptions and you listen and make notes. It’s best if the ‘actors’ can stand up and move around. You’ll soon be able to see where the story sags and needs more tightening, or has too much going on and needs more breathing. It’s the quickest way to find out whether the structure and shape of the story is working. Pauline is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, Shakespeare scholar, and former journalist. She’s also the author of one of the best guides there is to screenwriting: Screenwriting They Can’t Resist: How to Create Screenplays of Originality and Cinematic Power. Explode the Rules.
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How to format a screenplay

Guest author and blogger Jon Spira has written feature film scripts for Manga Live, Palm Pictures and a multitude of independent producers. He has taught the UK Film Council Screenwriting course since 2004. Screenwriting is probably the strangest discipline in the whole literary world. Unlike a novel, short story, article or poem, the finished screenplay is not really a fait accompli. Even the greatest screenplays in the world when finished and signed off are merely the first step of a highly technical process. I’ve never seen a published screenplay for an unproduced film (unless it was of huge interest due to its place in a highly esteemed film-maker’s body of work). A screenplay doesn’t really exist on its own. A screenplay is a blueprint for the production of a film. This is a good way to view it as, like a blueprint, it is a highly technical document which provides information for a very wide variety of people. Just reading a screenplay is a skill in itself. Understanding how this bizarrely, falteringly laid out piece of prose and direction could be visualized. Writing one is ten times harder. When you write a novel, you’re writing purely for your reader – to entertain or inform them. You can write the whole thing in first person if you like and just directly dump all that information into their head. A screenplay must be an engaging and distractingly enjoyable read but it also must deal with the expectations, demands and egos of far more than just one compliant reader. I’m not going to tell you how to format a screenplay – yet – but what I do want to explain to you is who you’re writing your screenplay for and what their needs are. Producers Need: To be impressed. The producer holds the purse strings and have the ultimate authority on a film. To make a producer happy, you need to, most importantly, have a good, commercial idea. This means you have written a film for a specific audience and touched all the bases that audience would want from a cinematic experience. You might think the Transformers films are cynical in this way but a film like The King’s Speech is almost identical in its awareness of what its audience demands. The producer also cares about budget, so think carefully before you make it rain in a scene or have a moment play out in front of a crowd of six thousand troops. Running time is a big issue for producers. Legend has it that many won’t even read a script that feels heavier in their hand than the 90-page product they can most easily persuade cinemas to exhibit – if you write a two-and-a-half-hour film, nobody will touch it as cinemas would have to do fewer showings, therefore making less money. The exceptions to the rule are always from very well-established film-makers who market their wares based on epic qualities. Keep it under 90 pages. Directors Need: To have control. Here’s your problem with the director. They probably hate you. There’s a gulf of ownership over a film which exists between the writer, who originates and creates the story and the director who interprets and realizes it. I’ve never held with the ‘Auteur theory’ but I can empathise with a director who slaves so hard over the job and who, really, is the person who will be held publicly accountable for its success or failure. They want to have creative control and you must give it to them. That’s your job – to make them look good. Careful formatting plays into this. The biggest no-no is to write camera direction into the screenplay (‘we zoom in’ ‘the camera pans left’ ‘the camera walks alongside them’) as this is telling the director their own job. Their job is to take what you’ve written and translate it for an audience using their vision. But you have your own vision too – you’ve already visualised the whole film in the cinema of your mind, as you wrote it. So here is perhaps the toughest part of screenwriting – you must write in such a way that the director can only interpret it as you saw it yet think that it’s their own vision. If you want a tight close-up of Billy’s eyes, you can’t write ‘extreme close up of Billy’s eyes panicking’ – you have to write ‘tiny beads of sweat form around the bags of Billy’s wildly rolling eyeballs’ – there is no other way a director can illustrate that without a tight close up. Crews Need: To have technical information. A technical crew couldn’t care less about your script or vision. They need the most basic of information and a screenplay formatted in such a way that they can get that purely by skimming. What do they want? They want clear and precise technical information. Formatting is key. You must put a slug-line at the beginning of each scene. It should look like this: 36. EXT. SCHOOLYARD. DUSK The ‘36’ is the scene number – this is important to the people who schedule the movie and make sure it’s running efficiently – the script supervisors, the assistant producers, the second and third units. The people who know what is happening when and why. You can’t say ‘we’re shooting the schoolyard scene today’ – there might be 30 of them, all differing wildly. You must number your scenes. The ‘EXT’ stands for exterior and it has a counterpart ‘INT’ for interior. Although it may be a whimsical choice to you if it is EXT or INT – for the production team, it makes a massive difference. An INT scene can be shot in a studio or closed location – it is controllable and easy and can be done with far less fuss. An EXT shoot demands issues of weather, light, sound, controlling the public – you need more crew, you must work quicker, it’s an entirely different proposal. Too many EXTs might even get the script rejected by the Producer on feasibility grounds. The ‘SCHOOLYARD’ is your specific location – something that is going to have to be secured or created by the production design team. The set builders and production managers really care only about these words in the whole screenplay. ‘DUSK’ refers to the time of day, though more common would be DAY or NIGHT but if you have a specific vision of twilight, dusk, dawn, or the like, you must make that clear. This affects art design, location management and camerawork. Also, don’t forget that anything not shot in general ‘DAY’ will cost a production a lot of money in overtime and, again, affects feasibility. Throughout the script you should also put important sounds and effects in block capitals to draw attention to them. The technical crew aren’t interested in your prose or the value of your work, they just want their responsibilities written clearly in CAPITAL LETTERS. Actors Need: To have dialogue (and just dialogue). Actors are the easiest to please. Their character names and dialogue run down a column in the middle of the page. It’s good form for everyone if the first time you mention the characters appearing in the prose sections, you do so in capital letters. It just lets people know that a new significant character is now making their appearance. Everyone writes dialogue differently – sometimes you’ll add in stutters and pauses, I think this should be a very rare thing – along with writing in such a way to reflect accent. The actors can figure this stuff out for themselves. I tend to say write the best dialogue you can and then trust the actors and director to worry about delivery and reflection. It’s bad form to write direction in brackets preceding the dialogue. The dialogue and strength of situation alone should convey the emotion. That’s basically it. Remember that all writing is altruistic but when composing your screenplay, you’re not just writing for the generic reader – you have the power to make a lot of people’s jobs a lot easier or a lot harder and these are the people who will dictate whether you get a career. And now you’re ready to format your screenplay. The lovely answer is that you needn’t. You can download formatters like the excellent Celtx for free online. And when you’re ready, you may just like structural feedback on your film script, too.
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How to sell a film script

Is It Really Ready Is your screenplay ready to go out to market? How many drafts have you done? 10- 20 is the norm. It really has to be the best it can be. It also has to be meticulously presented. Standard industry format, with no typos whatsoever. No scene numbers. Before even considering sending out your script, practise writing loglines and synopses for it. A logline is a one-sentence description of your story. A synopsis is a description of the story and characters that’s about one page in length. This offers you a final sense (reassurance?) that the whole storyline flows effortlessly, but they are also a necessary marketing step. However many drafts you’ve done, I urge to take one more look and ask yourself some questions. Imagine you are an industry reader late on a Friday evening, desperate to get home, or a producer who’s spent all weekend avoiding her slush pile and now it’s Sunday night and she’s tired out. Page One: Will they bother to turn the page? It has it be absolutely compelling. Keep on reading and until you’re satisfied that it is bold, original, with the words leaping off the page, don’t send it out. Wherever you send it, you get just one shot. And if in doubt, get feedback. It’s a new career you want to establish. Why wouldn’t you invest a little in getting proper, tough advice before you get going for real? Researching The Market/h2> Read the trades – Screen and Variety – invaluable info on who’s looking for what. Go online to find film companies’ websites for contact details of Heads of  Acquisitions and Development. Check out the kind of films they produce. If you want to try getting an agent (very tough now) look up online, research the writers on their lists to make sure there’s a chance they’d be interested in your type of script. If you want to try sending a script to a particular actor, call Equity in UK or Screen Actors Guild in New York or Los Angeles to get their agent’s contact details. Go to film festivals and screenwriters’ festivals. Network like mad. Join screenwriters’ forums – lots of useful info about festivals and contests – and moral support! Query Letter Do not send a script. The letter is to persuade them to ask to read it. Your query letter should be 7-8 lines maximum. No meandering, dull prose story of your life! Grab the reader in first 3 lines. Who you are, what your job is. Next 3 lines, a sizzling description of your script in 25 words or less. Make sure it’s original and intriguing. You need to spend time on getting this right. End the letter with: ‘I would like to send you my project for consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.’ Selling There are two probable alternatives. First is an ‘option’, for a certain amount of money the producer or production company will have, for a specific time, the exclusive right to try to get funding and attach names to the screenplay. In effect,  it’s a temporary sale. At the end of the option period, the producer can buy the script if it looks like the project can be produced, renew the option, or simply forget the whole thing – where the writer keeps control and copyright of the script. The second alternative is an ‘outright purchase’. After you sign this contract, you will not own the rights to your script anymore. New writers are often brought in and the screenplay dramatically changed. Contests Winning a contest or becoming a finalist or shortlisted can give your script some kudos and encourage industry professionals who monitor these contests to contact you. There are many to choose from with different criteria and entry fees. Of the most respected: Nicholls, Blue Cat, Red Planet, Zoetrope, and Page. While you wait, get onto the next piece of work immediately!  If this script doesn’t sell, it could get you commissioned to write a different script. Good luck! Other Tips Do try writing some shorts. Production companies now go to short film festivals that have mushroomed in the last few years. Join film-making groups, get involved, write a great short, get a director on board. The film could win or get shortlisted at a festival and that will mean your full length script will get taken more seriously. Several writers of shorts have gone on to be commissioned to write feature-length screenplays. Why not you? About the author: Pauline Kiernan is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, Shakespeare scholar, and former journalist. She’s also the author of one of the best guides there is to screenwriting: Screenwriting They Can’t Resist: How to Create Screenplays of Originality and Cinematic Power. Explode the Rules.Get feedback on your film script
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Screenwriting: Dialogue by Pauline Kiernan

Understanding Dialogue Dialogue functions to reveal character, impart information and move the story forward but it’s the way you make it function that’s important. How you create dialogue will determine how original it is at conveying meaning, developing the story, and drawing the audience into the emotions of your characters. Always be aware of how you can incorporate subtext into your dialogue. Subtext is the underlying meaning of a character’s words and actions. It’s when someone says one thing but means something else – usually the emotional significance behind the surface words. That’s why it connects to the audience at the deepest level. As you write see how much your dialogue can suggest the inner emotions of characters. (Oh, and if you’re after help with the same issues in the context of the novel, then you probably want to pop over to this blog post instead. Or, better still, as well.) Give Dialogue Energy Listen to your dialogue out loud as you write. If you leave them on the page you won’t know whether they’re going to come alive or not.  Use a tape recorder or the voice facility on your computer. Ask yourself how the dialogue’s going. Does it have energy, pace and rhythm?Is it original? Believable?Unique to each character?Emotional connection with the audience?Have I used subtext well?Creating tension?Breathing space?Creating conflict?How sharp is it?Each word necessary?Suggesting psychological state? Does it have energy, pace and rhythm?Is it original? Believable?Unique to each character?Emotional connection with the audience?Have I used subtext well?Creating tension?Breathing space?Creating conflict?How sharp is it?Each word necessary?Suggesting psychological state? Looking Over The First Draft Again, move around and say the words out loud or get friends to read through it and you listen and make notes. This time you’re assessing the dialogue’s role in the trajectory of the story. Ask yourself: Is this developing my characters’ inner life?What distinctive details are shaping my characters’ ways of speaking? Are they all sufficiently individualised by not only what they say but how they say it?Is it forwarding the action?What do I lose/gain if I get rid of this?Are there moments where I’m giving the audience some space to absorb what’s happening? Why is my character compelled to say this? And why at this moment?What does the audience need to know here? Better to keep them waiting?Would silence be more dramatic here?How are the words speaking to the theme of the story?How much is subtext expressing meaning? More Screenwriting Exercises Get into the habit of watching a few scenes of films and focus solely on how the dialogue and subtext are working. Choose a few movies you haven’t seen. Try watching dialogue scenes with the sound turned off. Then write the dialogue. Turn the sound up. Compare your words to those in the film. Try writing short exchanges for your characters using subtext alone Get two lovers talking. A scene of tenderness. A violent row. Making up. Get a supporting character and main character together. Make it a power struggle. How is the subtext conveying hostility? Notice how you’re creating emotion which lies behind the words (the subtext). Pauline is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, Shakespeare scholar, and former journalist. She’s also the author of one of the best guides there is to screenwriting, Screenwriting They Can’t Resist: How to Create Screenplays of Originality and Cinematic Power. Explode the Rules.
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Why screenwriters should write for television

Overall, writers are paid poorly and there is a vast over-production of supply. So professional novelists, for example, earn an average £11,000 for their year’s work, yet even so agents reject 999 in every 1,000 manuscripts that come their way. Screenwriting, no surprise, is much better paid. The average professional screenwriter in the UK earns perhaps 5 times that meagre sum. (Check data on minimum rates of pay, average payments are well ahead of those minimums.) And we here see plenty of would-be screenwriters bringing us screenplays that range from the visibly-new-at-this-game to the excellent. So, good, right? A bunch of writers choosing to write for a market that might pay enough to give those people a half-decent living? Only not. I’d say that well over 90% of the screenwriters we see come to us with feature scripts: 100 to 120 minutes long, and clearly designed for the big screen. And that market doesn’t exist. I mean, yes, of course new British films come to the screen all the time, and those things have paid something to their screenwriter. All the same: Those British films will often be adaptations, in which case the task will always be given to writers with a track record of some sort;When the films are original, there will nearly always be a writer, director, producer team who collectively act as ‘auteur’: the creative brains behind the film. Those things are nearly always born within a production company, and when they’re not the scriptwriter is almost certainly known – personally and professionally – to the project’s movers and shakers before any contract is ever written;There are bewilderingly few UK production companies that produce a regular slate of features and endure beyond a summer or two. Most production companies are born to service a project, then vanish once that project is either delivered or killed. The only major British exception to that rule is Working Title – but again, you’d struggle to find Working Title films where the scriptwriter was a genuine newbie. And so what, you may ask. Hollywood exists, doesn’t it? It needs scripts, doesn’t it? And yes, of course – but Hollywood teems with writers, good ones, all of whom are there, are networking, and on the spot. As a newbie writer, without a track record, and based in Hull or Roehampton or Donegal or whichever spot you call home, you have an approximately 0.0001% chance of getting your speculative script made into a Hollywood movie. Quite frankly, if you want your work screened, you should simply forget about writing for Hollywood at an early stage in your career. But this post isn’t suggesting that you should stop writing scripts – the opposite, if anything – it’s a plea for you to write for the massive, lucrative, and hungry market that exists right under your nose. Just count the number of hours of TV drama that unfolds on your screens each week. By all means, deduct American imports, but do remember to count every half hour of every soap, every hour of every cop series, every minute of every drama-special. Those things need writers and the British TV industry is actually short of good ones, in a way that Hollywood emphatically is not. I’m writing this post because I recently had a lovely dinner with a former head of ITV drama and she told me that there is a shortage of good writing talent in the UK. The big networks and big production companies are actually eager to find, recruit and pay new talent. The head of a big and successful UK TV and film agency told me the exact same thing: that almost every successful screenwriter in the UK has his or her roots firmly in TV. Another film agent told me that, so hard-pressed are they to find good scriptwriting talent, that they often raid the stage industry to find it. In other words, if you are a committed, talented and professional screenwriter, there is a real appetite for your work. That appetite will exist today, tomorrow and in ten years’ time. What’s more, if you build any kind of track record in TV – even if it’s churning out scripts for Holby City – you will start to build the kind of profile and contacts that means those feature projects, that you still really want, will come your way: because you will now be the sort of insider for whom good things happen. Even hearing these arguments, some screenwriters remain persistent. I think that resistance normally tracks back to one of two issues, namely: The film industry is more glamorous. And it is, yes. But it’s more glamorous because it’s less industrial. And you need a proper industry, with cash, expertise and commitment, to support your craft. You can get the glamour down the road, once you have a record that enables you to make the transition. (And, by then, you won’t think the film industry is all that much more glamorous anyway.)Feature films allow a writer more creative scope to be intelligent. And the opposite thing is true. Those dramas you adore – Westworld, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire and all the rest – are hyper-intelligent, challenging and wonderful dramas because they’re on TV and because they have the space and the time to expand into something wonderful. I know I’ve just named US dramas, but that’s sort of the point. British TV is short of top writing talent and when it finds it in programs like Sherlock, or Doctor Who, the results are fantastic. So. Screenwriters of Britain, write for TV. Think up a TV series or drama that will compel an audience. Your career will start with that script.
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Screenwriting: Writing your characters

Understand Your Characters Creating a screenplay of originality and cinematic power starts with your character. For me, everything in a screenplay is based on one overriding premise which I call emotional pull. How you spell-bind an audience into an irresistible involvement with your characters and keep it entranced by that magic till the end of the film – and beyond – is to arouse, provoke, intrigue, disturb, excite, and exhilarate them. Emotional pull is what powers the story. It’s what forces your characters to do what they do, when they do it and why. And when and why they try to resist it. It determines how you tell the story, the narrative impetus, the dramatic journey, how it moves and breathes, how it rises and falls in tension, how it climaxes, and how it ends. It pulls two ways. It exerts its power on the people of the story, and in turn, it pulls the audience into the story. The subject of Character in screenwriting is, then, huge. Only space here for a few pointers: Compare Scripts Choose a movie that’s moved you. Choose a movie that hasn’t. Get the two scripts here. Scroll to a few pages at random with each script.What’s happening?What are you feeling as you read?What response from the audience do you think the writer has intended here?Try to identify what differences there are between the two scripts.How would you rate each script for drawing you into an emotional connection with the character(s)?Can you identify why the second movie doesn’t move you? How were you responding to the character(s)? Talk To Characters Put your characters on the spot, challenge them with outrageous suggestions, shout at them, get them to speak back to you with urgency and rage. This creates a wonderfully fruitful tension between you. Think of your relationship as something alive and moving and growing. You don’t create unforgettable characters already formed. Allow them to grow organically and they’ll surprise you. As well as a list of age, birth order, appearance, childhood memories, friends, etc., ask your character: What’s your strongest memory?What makes you cry? Or don’t you?What makes you laugh? Who’s your favourite comedian?Do you giggle? What do you fear the most?Has anyone ever betrayed you? How? What do you feel about that experience now?Have you ever betrayed anyone? How? What do you feel about that now?If you could be granted one wish what would it be?If you could undo one thing you did in your life, what would it be?Do you hate anyone?Have you ever been in love? Are you in love now? Or have been once? Have loved and lost?Have/want to have children?Anything that keeps you awake at night?What do you want most in the world?What is preventing from that being fulfilled? Then start thinking about your character’s emotional needs and why they are not being met. Are they aware they have these needs at all? Even when a character does not know what they want, they can be subconsciously motivated to take certain actions to find out. Is there anyone your character knows who perceives the emotional needs although the character doesn’t? How will your audience recognise these needs when the character doesn’t? This last is to do with dramatic irony, one of the most powerful techniques of all dramatic writing. Basically it’s: What does the audience know that the character doesn’t? Dramatic irony makes for a terrific opportunities to weave tension and suspense into the character’s story. Backstory Powers Emotional Plot Backstory has to be mostly about the emotional past life of a character because the story being told in this story now is driven by impulses already set in motion. Don’t take the lazy way – don’t pluck a character ‘peg’ out of the air and hook it onto your character. You know the kind of thing – hard-boiled, cynical cop likes ballet. Write some scenes from your character’s past: in the school playground, as a teenager, etc. Watch how (s)he behaves. Then to make secondary characters help define your main character (they absolutely must), write scenes as though the other characters in the story inhabit the main character’s backstory. Who’s leader? Who’s the shy one, etc.? This will deepen your characterisation immeasurably. Pauline is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, Shakespeare scholar, and former journalist. She is also the author of one of the best guides there is to screenwriting: Screenwriting They Can’t Resist: How to Create Screenplays of Originality and Cinematic Power. Explode the Rules.
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How to write a script for a movie: screenwriting tips

There is no more satisfying (or possibly more lucrative) form of writing than screenwriting. It’s one of the most technical areas, one of the hardest to get right. You need a powerful story, but using the grammar of the screen. You have to write with pictures, not words. Nearly all screenwriters should look up, at least, a foundation course in screenwriting (like this one). Basics Of Screenwriting In the meantime, though, there are some important (often neglected) rules worth following. 1. Read Scripts It’s not enough to watch movies, you need to read them. Get scripts and read them page by page. Then watch the movie. Then read the script again. This is the way you will grasp the rhythm and feel of a script. You can download hundreds of scripts for free online. 2. Read Widely You needn’t restrict yourself to newer scripts or scripts you love (though do read what inspires). Just remember to read broadly. Read the scripts with accolades, letting your knowledge and versatility expand with each you read. 3. Learn How To Format Film scripts need to be written in the right format, so learn this. There are software packages helping with formatting, giving useful story tools, Celtx being one. Fewer people now need MovieMagic or FinalDraft. Learn more on the importance of formatting. The Next Stages Of Screenwriting You also need to: 1. Understand Structure This is the heart of scriptwriting. Read books from writers like Robert McKee or John Truby. Then absorb story structure into your film writing. 2. Understand The Scene Nearly all new screenwriters use too many words. Let your looks, scenes, silences do the talking, too. Read more tips on film scenes. 3. Understand Dialogue Dialogue is best when it’s fractured and oblique. If dialogue sounds too formal or fluent, your words are likely to sound stilted and awkward on screen. Read more tips on film dialogue. 4. Understand Character Novelists can spend 100,000 words exploring a character. You have about a quarter of that amount with which to write a movie, nut novelists don’t have actors. You do. You need to provide a framework that actors fill out, so stick to your job. Use action lines as cue in screenwriting. Read more tips on characters in films. 5. Thinking With Pictures Although camera angles are the director’s province, you need to see the movie you’re writing, and your script can do a huge amount to nudge a professional reader into sharing your vision. If you do this well, you may not just have a good script. You could have a great one. Selling Your Film Script Writing a good script is hard, but selling it is harder. Unknown novelists with no prior training are picked up every day by literary agents, and many go on to be successfully published. The film industry does tend to draw new screenwriters in from conventional routes: film schools, TV soaps, production company insiders, actors, and the professional theatre. It doesn’t mean securing an agent is impossible if this doesn’t apply to you – and if your script is strong enough, we’ll help it get read by a film agent anxious to find new talent. Meanwhile, peruse our guide to selling a film script and learn more about our script feedback. Good luck – and we’re rooting for you.
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30 screenplays for every screenwriter to read

Here’s a list of essential screenplays for every serious screenwriter to read – screenplays, not films. If you are a budding screenwriter, you can’t just watch the film and learn screenwriting from it. You must read the screenplay itself. Watch the film, but the screenplay is the thing. Read the rhythms. See scripts unfolding. I’ve noted a few places where you can get scripts online, but the web is a rich resource. You can find most things if you poke around. Here’s the list. 1. Some Like It Hot A deft blend of comedy and drama. Given there are two romances which matter, plus whether our two ‘ladies’ are going to get executed by the Mob, there’s a lot of plot to deal with and it’s done with wonderful grace and wit. A great film. 2. Casablanca Is this as good as everyone says it is? Casablanca is here because it tops most lists, though for me, the film is in the acting. The script itself plays a supporting role. (Read the script.) 3. Psycho A landmark in film-making and scriptwriting. To kill the heroine midway is a terrifically bold and (still) shocking decision, yet one that does not derail the film. If you tried the same in a novel, you’d kill the novel. Here it works. (Read the script.) 4. Chinatown Chinatown is magnificent, packing a ceaselessly interesting plot whilst combining two stories of real human weight (a corruption tale, an incest one.) Decades after its making, the film packs emotional clout. Though Chinatown is often held up as a perfect example of the three-act drama, I do question that. Isn’t it, in fact, a film that brings plot twists steadily and unexpectedly throughout the film? Read the script and see what you think. (Read the script.) 5. The Godfather A film whose power comes from the emotional force of seeing a decent man corrupted by his family and his circumstances. The gangstery stuff is all great, but the central story is one of emotional destruction, handled so unflinchingly. Its script details the Italian-American mafia life in such rich texture, taking the film beyond its (stunning) visuals. (Read the script.) 6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I love the sunshine in this film, the wit, the friendship, the lightness of touch. It’s a film willing to linger in places where plot isn’t being driven forward – a risky ploy in movie-making, but one that, in this instance, goes to create a film that is greater than a mere bank-heist Western. (Read the script.) 7. Bringing Up Baby Mismatched lovers falling in love despite apparent unsuitability has never been better handled. Yes, the acting is spot on, but forget about that. The script has a wonderfully light touch, one that’s happy to get ever crazier as the long night draws on. And that final dinosaur scene? Lovely. (Read the script.) 8. American Beauty A poignant film that starts with an astonishing script. Each character is beautifully formed, all with a convincing personality – before the actor comes to fill it – and each must deal with an aspect of appearances complimenting Lester’s own journey. That’s far too rare in movie scripts, but American Beauty shows how it can be done. Plus, on top of that, the drama is wonderful, its twists unexpected. (Read the script.) 9. Memento Memento is told in reverse chronological order, but this wasn’t just Christopher Nolan trying to be smart. Its structure is vital not just to audiences stepping into the shoes of Leonard (an amnesiac), but to unveiling the crux of the tale, revealing the story just wasn’t what we thought it was. (Read the script.) 10. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind Finally, for my top ten, is this philosophical exploration of identity and love. It’s moving, thought-provoking cinema, delivering fully on entertainment, as well. (Read the script.) And to complete the top thirty, hats off to these, the next 20. Annie HallThe StingWhen Harry Met SallyTo Kill a MockingbirdThe Shawshank RedemptionApocalypse NowPulp FictionThe Usual SuspectsShakespeare in LoveThe Best Years of Our LivesLA ConfidentialRaging BullThe Life of BrianRear Window12 Angry MenThe French ConnectionThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerHigh NoonLa La Land
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