What You Will Learn:

The screenwriter is the person who creates, takes, or adapts an idea and formulates a screenplay. Without the writer, there would be no movie. Period. He or she is the person who starts the ball rolling down the hill. Sure, some films are made backwards. There are studios who come up with ideas and package actors, then go find a writer. Nevertheless, the film getting made still hinges on the writer or group of writers ability to put together a viable, industry quality screenplay.

1: GETTING STARTED

We dissect a script to find out what makes it a killer script. We also discuss the importance of reading classic screenplays and begin understanding the essential elements that all good screenplays have in common.

2: THE STORY

Everything starts with the story. What story are you trying to tell? Is it based on a true story, a book, or some other published work (an adapted screenplay), or an original idea that you came up with (an original screenplay)? You will learn what it really means to write what you know and that every script has a beginning, middle and end.

3: THE THREE ACT STRUCTURE AND PLOT POINTS

Pretty much all movies follow the same plot format, which consists of three separate sections of a film to tell a story. This is called the 3-Act Structure.

ACT ONE: THE SETUP

Exposition
Main Character
Dramatic Premise
Dramatic Situation
Inciting Incident

ACT TWO: THE CONFRONTATION

Obstacles
First Culmination
Midpoint

ACT THREE: THE RESOLUTION

Climax
Denouement

HOMEWORK

4: CHARACTER

Your characters must be alive. Your characters must be real. Some of the greatest screenplays of all time are great not just because of the memorable lead and supporting characters, but the one-line characters that are featured. Sometimes a character can say one line, and you instantly feel you know him or her. Every character in your screenplay (especially your lead characters) has to have substance. Substance is achieved by back story.

The Reality
Back Story
Character Arcs
Taking What You See
Supporting Characters
Homework

5: THEME/GENRE

This lesson defines the kind of film you are writing. Genre is defined as a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. For films, genre is the form of film that your story is going to reveal.

GENRES INCLUDE:

Comedy
Drama
Action
Musical
Thriller
Horror
Western
Science Fiction
Fantasy
Satire

AS WELL AS THESE VARIATIONS:

Dramedy (Drama and Comedy)
Black Comedy
Film Noir
Romantic Comedy
Street Drama
Horror Comedy
Musical Comedy
Crime Thriller

“Theme” is different from genre. A theme addresses the question “What’s it about?” in a topical, idealistic sense. A story can be made deeper by adding a theme.

EXAMPLES OF THEMES INCLUDE:

Revenge
Loyalty
Love
Forgotten Love
Justice
Betrayal
Friendship
Faith

Additionally, this lesson will spend time getting you ready to sell your screenplay.

Identifying the Genre
The Two Line Pitch
The Two Movie Pitch
Homework

6: ACTIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS

A screenplay has to move. We’ve talked about having a beginning, a middle and an end. All of the scenes within the three acts must be targeted to move the story along, whether it’s character exposition or action.

The Novel vs. The Screenplay
Write What’s Seen
Writing Scene Action
Shooting Scripts vs. Reading Scripts
Homework

7: FORMATTING

If you submit a script to a literary agent, and it is typed in Microsoft Word in Times New Roman font, it will most likely never be read and end up in the trash. Screenplays have to follow certain rules:

They need to be formatted correctly.
They need to be the proper length. A screenplay page is roughly a minute of movie length, so a 120 page screenplay is a 2 hour movie.
They need to be printed and presented correctly

In marketing, “packaging is everything.” If you plan on selling your script or raising money to produce your own film, you need to know how to format and present your finished screenplay.

Which Screenwriting Software to Use
Your Title Page
Printing
Homework

8: DIALOGUE

When writing dialogue, you’re not writing what looks good on the page. You’re writing what sounds good. One of the best ways to become good at dialogue is to listen to the people around you. Every line you write should be able to be spoken aloud, and you should be able to visualize and hear your character saying that line of dialogue. You have to try to be as tight and as economical with your dialogue as possible. Try to never “over-write.”

Again, this is a screenplay, not a novel. People rarely talk in paragraphs. Make all your words tight and to the point.

Giving Your Characters a Voice
A Word on Narration
Do You Ever Use It?
Homework

9: SYNOPSIS AND TREATMENT

The short synopsis is a one to two paragraph summary of your story. Be careful here. You don’t want to give away the ending! You just want to give a quick rundown of what the story is about. This is another one of those tools that helps you both before you write (it gives you a short, tight picture of your story),and after you write (your short synopsis is many times the way to get your foot in the door).

The Long Synopsis
The Four Page Treatment
Homework

10: THE SCENE OUTLINE

Start getting excited, because you are very close to beginning your KILLER SCRIPT. The outline is an essential tool for many writers. Though many veteran WGA writers still use outlines, it’s quintessential for beginning writers who have never completed a script to have a general idea on where, specifically, they are going.

Scene Ordering
Marking The Plot Points, Acts, Midpoints and Climax
Sample Scene Outline
Your Guide
The Main Rule of Writing
Create Your Rock
Homework

11: THE FIRST DRAFT

As we mentioned in the last chapter, the main rule of writing is to not be afraid to write crap. You have to understand that even the best writers in the world do not write brilliant masterpieces on their first drafts. Many of the greatest screenplays of all time have been written and rewritten numerous times over. Just focus, get excited, and begin to write.

Create Your Rock, Part Two
Pushing to the End
Homework

12

You’ve finished your rough draft screenplay. Isn’t it a great feeling? It’s fantastic to hold those 120 or so pages, 3 hole punched, 2 brass brads and say, “I did this.” Okay, don’t get too confident. The script you hold in your hands you will show to NO ONE. EVER.

The First Read
The “Professional” First Draft
Making a Cohesive Story
Judging the Logic and Movement
Your Job
Homework

13: POLISHING

“Tightening” is the process where you make the script shorter and quicker. There’s no such thing as a script that reads too fast. You need to be economical on your dialogue and your action, but not lose essential elements.

Good Tightening
Bad Tightening
Fixing a Scene’s Structure and Flow
Making It Error-Proof
The First 10 Pages
Your Job
Homework

14: THE GOOD READ

The Good Read is the read by an objective person who will cover your script and give you feedback. This shouldn’t be a friend or a family member, even if you find them critical or think they’re objective. They’re not. They know you and they have a sense of you, so their view of your script is always tainted.

Where to Find Good Readers
How to Interpret Their Notes
Homework

15: REWRITING, PART TWO

One of the essential steps in your second rewrite is to identify the problems that the “Good Readers” pointed out. What do you need to change? How do you change it? Again, the best way to improve something is to see how the problem areas in your script were resolved in a successful script. If one of your consistent notes from your readers were, “I wasn’t buying the action sequences,” for example, then you know you’re not writing great action sequences. Continuing with this example, you’d need to refer to at least two screenplays where the action sequences are known to be excellent. Always, always refer to what has worked in the past.

That’s what makes this course and its approach to screenwriting instruction so powerful. We’re using the technique of “modeling” to create a KILLER SCRIPT. “Modeling” involves duplicating successful paths so that you can be successful as well. You’re going to be modeling your KILLER SCRIPT after the techniques and qualities that previous KILLER SCRIPTS had!

Don’t Be Afraid to Kill Your Babies
Go Back and Read
Your Job
Homework

16: AGENTS

In essence, that’s what you’re paying the 10% to your agents. Paying for their contacts and relationships. The more powerful the literary agent, the more pull he or she has with the studios and major production companies.

The Pitch
Referrals
The Query Letter
Getting Them to Read Your Script
Homework

17: BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL WRITER

Becoming a professional writer takes time, hard work, and talent. As we stated earlier in this course, if it was so easy to sell a screenplay for mid-six figures, everyone would be doing it.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself and plan for success is to write a KILLER SCRIPT. That’s what matters in the end. If you can create a true Killer Script that’s backed up by good reads, and has been rewritten, and can potentially be reshaped (more on that in the next lesson), you have a much better chance at a sale.

Be Realistic
Production Companies
Don’t Be Afraid
Copywriting
Homework

18: REWRITING, PART THREE

Okay, so maybe your script isn’t selling. him to a female. There are so many variables. The key is, you need to be flexible and open to changing your script. A script is almost never finished. Once your script is optioned, it will be rewritten many times, and by time the screenplay makes it to the screen, the script may be completely different. You must be open to this.

Be Open to Changing Your Script
Writing is Rewriting, but…
Director’s Notes
Homework

19: ON SET/CREDITS/WGA

Sometimes it seems like the writer has one of the least important roles on set, and, in many ways, that’s true. You, as the writer, were the inspiration and the cause of a film. You created the ideal. As a result of that blueprint a movie will be made.

Your Job On the Set
Actor’s Notes
Credit Rules
The WGA
Homework

20: YOUR CAREER AS A WRITER

The killer script is your ticket to making a career as a screenwriter. You have to work at it persistently. As your read more, learn more, and write more scripts, remember to always look into the great screenplays you’ve studied and consider what worked and why it worked. In short, task yourself with developing a deep understanding of writing film. And even though the screenplay is a document of words that serves as the blueprint for movie, always work to entice the reader who is holding that script in their hands. Make it enticing to read.

The Future
Branding Yourself
Establishing a Body of Work
Homework

Let's make great things together!