Monday, 30 September 2013

A Guide to the Amazing World of Screenwriting

Among all the audiovisual roles that I love and enjoy, like producing, editing and operating cameras, I also have found passion in the mysterious area of Screenwriting. Whether you have an idea for a short film or even a feature film, you need to go through the whole process of developing a script. It might seem easy, but there are a lot details about structure, format, and of course, storytelling, that you need to be aware of. 

For all those writers at heart, here are some screenwriting recommendations that you might find helpful when writing a screenplay, that may also apply to different script formats as well:

Every great movie out there started with just an IDEA, no longer than a sentence or two. The secret here is to try to make it simple: What do you want to write about? 


Let's say you want to write a story about zombies (because you're a huge fan of The Walking Dead and you think you can write an amazing zombie short film that will blow minds). So, are you writing about a massive group of zombies or just one? What does this zombie accomplish or try to accomplish? What's his goal? You have to ask yourself as many questions as possible, to really develop a simple, direct and strong idea. For example: "A young male zombie travels in time to try to stop the apocalypse".

If you feel comfortable and confident with your idea, then it's time to go to the next step: Synopsis. Here you have to write a summary about your story, expand your idea a little bit to get into some details. How does this story start? Why does this zombie want to travel in time? What happens when he does it? In this stage you have to ask yourself even more questions than before, getting deeper enough to have a full abstract about your film, but still keeping it precise and simple at the same time. 

There are different types of synopsis:
By length:
-Short Synopsis: 1 paragraph or 2 maximum.
-Long Synopsis: 1 page maximum. 
By content:
-Project Synopsis: similar as the ones you can read about the "coming soon" movies, it gives you a sneak peak about the story, but it doesn't clarify spoiler details. This synopsis could also be used to pitch a project, because they are written specially to make the reader want to know more about the movie.
-Script Synopsis: a regular summary of the story, not written to attract viewers but to give the writer and the film team an idea of what this story is going to be about, details included.  

My recommendation would be: choose the one you feel comfortable with, but keep in mind that it is always good to have your project synopsis in case you want to pitch this idea to a company or a producer.

Here is where it gets interesting. After you feel you have a strong summary about your story, grab a piece of paper and prepare yourself to doodle. You are going to develop your film arch or 3 act structure, created by the great Syd Field. 

ACT I: Setup. Here you have to introduce your character(s), establish them, their context, and their relationship with their world. 
*INCITING INCIDENT: An event, accident or situation that will motivate an action into the main character. This confrontation will lead him to a turning point or dramatic situation, known as PLOT POINT #1.
*PLOT POINT #1: This point will mark the difference in your main character from now on, giving him a goal or a purpose to achieve. It will also be the end of ACT I.

ACT II: Confrontation. This whole act is about the main character fighting and struggling to achieve his goal, getting in more trouble while doing it. 
*MIDPOINT: Another turning point for the main character right in the middle of the script, more subtle and internal. It could be a devastating discovery that will change the course of the story.
*PLOT POINT #2: A more dramatic turning point, it is usually when the main character realizes he has to confront his problem or antagonist. It will mark the end of ACT II. 

ACT III: Resolution. This act consists in resolving every detail of the story. 
*CLIMAX: The main character finally confronts his antagonist or his grand problem, trying to accomplish his goal.
At the end, the main character's goal can be accomplished, leading to a happy ending; or not, leading to a tragic/more dramatic ending.

*NOTE: as you may have noticed, not every script follows this structure (Tarantino's films, for example), but this is a good way to line up your film and then play around with the structure a little bit more, if you feel like it. For more information, you can browse Field's theory on the web or find one of his fabulous books, which are definitely a MUST.

After finishing your synopsis and your 3 act structure diagram, go ahead and create a new document for your Treatment. This would be as specific as your story will get. The treatment is a document of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or as many pages as you need (no longer than 10, because it might end up becoming a nightmare), where you are going to tell every detail of your story, from start to end. You are basically going to specifically explain what happens in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd act of your story, ending included.

After those prior steps, you should have a pretty good idea about your main character and your secondary characters, including your antagonist (if you have one). Sit down and develop a document for each one of those characters, including but not limited to:

-Professional, Personal & Private Dimension
-Point of view
-Motivation, Goal & Action
-Conflict or Dramatic Need
-Transformation Arch

This is just one way to develop three dimensional characters, the ones that will make your story deeper and real. Remember, the more details you can write about, the more you will get to know these people. 

You're almost there! Now that you are familiar not only with your story, but with the characters that will live through those pages, you're ready to start your script. First, start with your ACT I, SCENE 1. Look at the example:

CARL, a young and attractive zombie, wakes up in a dumpster. (…)

Remember I told you there are specific formats in screenwriting? Well, there it is. Every scene should start with its number and a header, indicating if its INTERIOR or EXTERIOR - LOCATION (bar, bedroom, park) - and the DAYTIME. Then, every time a character appears on a scene, you should write its name with CAPS. Some say this should be the case only the first time it appears on a script. Just pick an easy and comfortable way to recognize every time a character appears in your story, and your producer will thank you for that. 

I recommend you write your whole script with descriptions only for your first round. This is what we call the "ESCALETA" in Spanish, breakdown of your scenes with no dialogue. After you are done with that, second round will consist of adding dialogue to every scene. Remember, every character has its own voice. Try to make this dialogue perfect and unique for each one of those three dimensional characters. That's one of the reasons you needed to know them so well. 

Now the script is done!… Ha! JUST KIDDING! The only rule about scriptwriting that you should never forget: "Scripts are never done". You will always be revising it, adjusting it, moving things around, changing dialogue, a character's name, etc. This is completely normal. But at least now you have a FIRST DRAFT! Hurray!

I hope this has been helpful for your screenwriting adventure. Now tell me, what other steps, tricks, techniques or recommendations will you add about screenwriting? Have you done anything similar to these? Please post your comments below or share your thoughts with us on Twitter @Swagger_Media.

And remember! If you need any help creating and developing your script, please reach out to us. We'd love to collaborate with you on your next project!

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