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Handcrafted: The Fine Art and Craft of Screenwriting

If you’re new to screenwriting, and the film world, learn this: screenwriting is the foundation of film making. Without a good screenplay, there can be no good film. A bad film or VOD/TV script will always turn into a bad film, no matter how well the film production team papers over the cracks. If you’ve been in the screen trade for a while, you should know this.

It’s obvious, then: screenwriters brings stories into being in scripted form. They make stories filmable. Stories that they find in their heads, or in other people’s heads. Film producers can then turn those stories into films, if they can find a way through the development jungle.

Good or bad, film scripts are the rocks upon which movies are built. Screenplays embody a concept, which is designed according to a film genre. That film genre dictates the story>the- world-of>plot>structure of the film. Screenplays innovate film characters, and develop those film characters in ways caused by the story, which unfolds as a plot. Changed characters then make decision (even just instinctive ones) that change the film plot (Neo takes the red pill). The screenwriter creates dialogue that evinces these film characters, and the way they and the film plot changes over time (character and story arcs – the two should be inseparable). Make no mistake, then ...

Screenwriters are the authors of films.

We’ve established the importance of screenwriting to film making. So let’s take a look at the art of screenwriting and the significance of film scripts in the filmmaking process.

Screenwriting is the fine and wildly overlooked fine art of crafting a compelling narrative for the screen. A plot spine, and ‘ribs’ called beats. In their film scripts, screenwriters create a blueprint for the entire film, including the film characters, dialogue, and film plot structure. A well-written screenplay is a guide for film directors, actors, and other crew members that maps out the world of the film to them. It can woo their talent, too: a great cast can be attracted with a great script (though many other factors are involved in casting and packaging, too – I’ll go into these in another article). The screenplay provides everyone involved in making the film with a story and production map that can be used during pre-production to plan and execute that production.

In film scripts, screenwriters also set the tone and atmosphere of a movie, thus establishing the mood, the-world-of, and emotions that the audience they want to experience. Because ....

Screenplays are emotion in action.

Through vivid descriptions and carefully chosen words, skilled screenwriters can create a visual and sensory cinematic experience that immerses film viewers in the story of the film.

Memorable characters are the heart and soul of any film. Screenwriters breathe life into these characters by giving them unique personalities, motivations, and conflicts. Through their words and actions, characters come alive on the screen, leaving a lasting impact on the audience.

Watch other people when you are out in public, and meeting with friends and family. Why do they do what they do? Why do they say what they say? Because we are all playing games that have their routes in evolution. So make the characters in your screenplay play those games. Make them say one thing but mean another. Make them do things instead of say things. Experiment with as little dialogue in your screenplay as you can get away with. End sentences before …. That way you’ll create interest by curiosity. What was Joe about to say and why, etc.

Dialogue, then, is a crucial element of film scripts. Screenplay dialogue drives the film narrative forward (and follows it). Film script dialogue reveals the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters in the film. Well-crafted screenplay dialogue not only advances the plot but also adds depth and authenticity to the story, making it relatable and engaging.

Screenwriting begins with a spark of an idea. If you are a screenwriter for hire and so commissioned, that idea will come from elsewhere: a treatment, and logline, or maybe a book, if it’s an adaptation. Screenwriters brainstorm concepts, themes, and characters that will form the foundation of their screenplay – even if they brainstorm with themselves. This spit balling a screenplay story stage can involve research, gathering inspiration for the screenplay from various sources, and exploring different film script storytelling techniques.

Once the concept for your script is established – road test it! Pitch your script idea to those you trust. Then look online to see how it stacks up against similar film projects. Is it derivative? Of course it is. All screenplays are derivative to some degree, even if the screenwriter is unaware of the seminal influence. But reiterating themes and designing concepts (re John Truby’s use of that phrase) isn’t always bad thing. We all know about The Hero With a Thousand faces. OK – but give your archetype a new face. Make it interesting and plausible. Plausibility is essential: whatever the film genre, a film audience must be able to believe in those things they can experience themselves. That may be the way the film’s hero goes through a door or deals with conflict. It will certainly be emotions. Emotions are the bedrock of screenplays. These emotions must be relatable – even if they are experienced while facing Darth Maul.

To recap: screenwriters create a market-led outline that outlines the script’s major plot points, character arcs, and key screenplay scenes. This serves as a roadmap for the screenplay itself, ensuring a cohesive and well-structured narrative. Now it’s time to write that screenplay.

With the script outline in place, screenwriters can start writing the first draft of the film or VOD script. Writing the script usually involves translating the ideas and films concept into a screenplay format, adhering to industry screenplay standards and formatting guidelines (found in Final Draft etc).

Screenwriting is, of course, an iterative process. Multiple drafts of a script are often required to refine the story, characters, and screenplay dialogue. Screenwriters should always seek feedback from peers, mentors, and industry professionals to improve their screenplay and make it more compelling. Criticism of your script is essential to its evolution – and yours, as a fiction script writer. Because as a screenwriter, you never stop learning.

Write it large: Screenwriters are vital to the film industry. Their talent can shape the stories that captivate cinema audiences. Their creativity and storytelling prowess deserve recognition and appreciation, as they are the driving force behind successful films. Yet they rarely get the credit they deserve. They are usually seen as also-rans on the red carpet.

The art of screenwriting can inspire filmmakers to tell stories and explore the potential of cinema to move people. By showcasing the power of storytelling through film scripts, screenwriters can inspire a new generation of script writers to pursue their passion for filmmaking. It’s gotta be worth dreaming the dream, people. So …

Happy screenwriting.


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