Let’s step away from writing books for this week, shall we, and talk movies.
Ireland is punching well above its weight when it comes to screenwriting these days. With some great films hitting the cinemas in recent years – ‘The Guard’, ‘Once’ and most recently ‘Citadel’ spring to mind – writers like Mark O’Halloran, John Carney and now Ciaran Foy are showing us that, as a country, we can produce films as dramatic, evocative and compelling as any coming from the UK or Hollywood.
As with writing novels, there is an abundance of help out there to help us create that block-busting and emotion-provoking film. Let’s face it, coming up with compelling stories with addictive plots and powerful and relateable characters, rich with subtext and capable of drawing emotion is difficult enough to do, but it’s made all the more challenging when you’ve only two hours (or 120 pages) to do it in.
One valuable piece of advice that I took from the website ScriptSecrets.net is that before we start laying out our plot, developing characters or writing script, we should know what the theme of our story is. The theme is essentially the reason this film exists, the thing that keeps it going in a particular direction and prevents it from just being a series of action sequences or jokes or tear-jerking conversations.
We can help get our story’s theme straight in our heads by writing a log-line. This is a short dramatic description of our film that will eventually be put to good use when we pitch the film to agents/directors/producers. Many writers do the logline after the script but writing it beforehand can help us focus on the film’s central core. TheScreenplayWriters.com offers some straight-forward and practical advice on writing the logline and provides examples of loglines of successful films.
Once we’ve used the logline to nail down our film’s core or theme, it might be good to think about the film’s structure. One of the most common ways is by using the act-structure method, essentially breaking the story into traditionally 3 –but sometimes 4 or 5 – acts. This gets the film to reach particular story-points within a certain timeframe, which helps the film’s pacing, ensuring that the audience doesn’t get bored (not enough going on) or overwhelmed (too much going on). ElementsOfCinema.com goes into great detail in their guide to the 3-Act-Structure.
We can also use the ‘Hollywood Formula’ to structure our film. This worksheet from scripfrenzy.org lets us bang out our story by detailing the various story-points such as ‘The Inciting Incident’, ‘The Big Decision’ and ‘the All-is-Lost Moment’.
Once we’ve done all this preparation and development and structure, we want to get writing our scripts, right? Well, if you haven’t penned a film script before, then you’ll need to know how to correctly format it – nothing will get your screenplay in a producer’s bin faster than if it doesn’t look right. And if you don’t fancy forking out all that money for software that will do it for you (we writers need that money for coffee, printer-ink, stuff like that), you can have a look at Elaine Radford’s guide to screenplay formatting over at scriptologist.com.
Or if you do fancy forking out the money for the software, Final Draft is the one to get. It’s pretty much the industry standard at this stage. It’s not cheap for the PC/Mac but is much more affordable if you have an iPad.
For when we’re actually writing our movies, Danny Stack gives us his insight into writing subtext. This is essentially the art of knowing what not to write. Its purpose is to get the viewer to come to their own conclusions about a conversation/character/scene, which will get them more emotionally invested in the story.
And lastly, if you are writing a movie (or even thinking about giving it a go), you should definitely join the Irish Playwrights’ and Screenwriters’ Guild. The IPSG is the representative body in Ireland for writers for the stage, screen, radio and digital media. They provide invaluable support and information to Irish scriptwriting community, offering services such writing groups and member profiles, and liaising with writers organisations around the world. They also send out a fortnightly newsletter to their members updating on what’s happening in the screenwriting and film industries.
Cut. Print. That’s a wrap.
“There’s nothing more important in making movies than the screenplay. “ – Richard Attenborough.
There’s no ‘I’ in Theme.
ScriptSecrets.net’s insight into knowing the underlying theme of your film.
“Theme is the point of the story – the reason why telling *this* story is important not only to the audience, but to you.”
Captain’s Log (line).
Nick Blake & Pinaki Ghosh at TheScreenplayWriters.com tell us how to write a compelling and successful logline.
“Loglines succinctly describe the psychological tension underlying the main characters as well as the setting.”
Break it down, now.
ElementsOfCinema.com on the benefits of using the 3-act-structure.
“The 3-act structure has proven to be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of any screenwriter.”
Welcome to Hollywood, what’s your dream?
The ‘Hollywood Formula’, a very handy worksheet for laying out the structure of your screenplay.
“You can use this worksheet to break your script down into sections…it might be helpful if you’re not sure what to do with the characters you’ve created.”
“INT. BOB’S HOUSE – NIGHT”
Elaine Radford’s guide to correctly formatting your script.
“A screenplay is visual and your characters’ actions move the story forward from scene to scene.”
The industry standard.
Final Draft is the most commonly used screenwriting software on the market.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Danny Stack on the art of writing subtext.
“Only describe what happens on the screen, and let the drama and exposition flow from the characters’ behaviour and actions. While this is generally good advice, it is impossible to write a script without indicating some unseen sense of emotion.”
The Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild (IPSG) is the representative body in Ireland for writers for the stage, screen, radio and digital media.
“The Guild is an organisation run by writers for writers. We keep our members informed of news about the industry through our blog and fortnightly electronic newsletter, offer advice on contracts, organise talks and meetings, set up information sessions about issues of concern and lobby government agencies on matters pertaining to playwrights and screenwriters.”