Monday, 23 January 2012

Elements of a film script

You have a film script is in progress, but have spent so many hours on it you can no longer see the wood for the trees. To get a fresh view of your screenplay, take a look at the following questionnaire; it may help make your script project easier to manage and highlight issues unforeseen.

Screenwriter’s Check List

Screenwriting is not easy, but what to cut out is as important as what to keep in. Remember a screenplay is not like a novel, there are only around 100 pages or so to play with. The first 10 pages are most crucial, so think about the following questions when it comes to the opening of your screenplay:

Top Five Tips for the Best Screenplay Opener
  1. What is the genre of the screenplay? Is it science fiction? Romantic comedy? Action movie? Erotic thriller? Spoof? Psychological? Or fantasy? The genre of your film is also your intended audience. Keep the film genre in mind when writing your screenplay.
  2. What time or place is the script set? Is it set during WW2, is it contemporary or a futuristic scene? Is the story set in England? What is significant about the time or place regarding the plot? How does it impact upon the characters and the plot?
  3. Establish the main characters. What sex are they? What do we need to know about them? How do they contribute to the opening scenes? Are we supposed to like them?
  4. What is the main premise of the story, what is it about? This part might help conceive the logline of the film script, such as, ‘a gigolo meets a client only to be framed for murder.’
  5. What is the general message or theme of the screenplay? Is it money and greed? Love conquers all? Is it about the spirit of the small person at odds with a large force, such as a corporation or nature?
Finally, with these five elements established, is there a hook at the beginning of the screenplay? The hook is the precursor to the conflict to follow. It should draw the audience in. Can the hook be made more interesting or sinister or embarrassing or excruciating?

Writing Scenes for Scripts

Look out for scenes that serve no purpose or recap the purpose of another scene. Cut them out. Cut the length of scenes if this is possible. This means opening the scene as late as possible and ending early. No preamble is allowed; get straight to the action. Consider the following:
  1. What location and time does the scene takes place? Is this influence the plot? Could an alternative time and place add tension to the scene? For instance, a couple arguing in a car could be more constrained if the scene occurs in a library.
  2. Can a series of short scenes be made into a montage or series of shots? This can often add dynamism to the screenplay and advance the story more quickly.
  3. Does the scene move the story forward?
  4. Does the scene say something about the character(s) within? Can fewer characters improve the scene (it often does.)
  5. Can the scene be changed to make it more original? (Watch out for subconscious sourcing of scenes previously seen in movies.) Can a clich├ęd element be replaced to make the scene more memorable for the viewer?
  6. Do the characters’ motives contrast with one another? Can a little tweaking heighten this contrast?
  7. What are the characters doing and where are they at the opening of the scene? Remember, action description should always follow a slugline.
Although integral to action scenes, dialogue is a crucial element in a screenplay and is looked at next.

How to Script the Best Dialogue
  1. Is the dialogue necessary? Can any of it be substituted for body language? This is known as subtext and can often improve the screenplay.
  2. Is it clear who’s speaking? Is the dialogue too similar? Can the words each character uses be made more different to one another? Can their backgrounds, attitudes or upbringing colour the words each character uses? Does the dialogue sound natural?
  3. Is any of the dialogue simply there to inform on the story? Does it sound forced?
  4. Are the characters’ motives reflected in what they say?
  5. Is any of the dialogue wordy? Can some of the speech be cut? Can fewer words do? (it often does).
  6. Is there any irony used? Can what is actually being said and character action be made different, as different as possible?
Essential Characters to a Script

The characters in your script are crucial for the story. If a problem exists with the plot, it is probably due to a lack of character drives. The following tick-off list will help highlight problems with characters within your screenplay and improve the plot.
  1. Are all the characters crucial to the story? Can any be cut out? Can two minor characters be combined into one?
  2. What are the motives of your characters? Are each character’s motives suitably different from one another? Is this sufficiently reflected in the action scenes, dialogue and subtext?
  3. Do any of the action scenes not ring true of the character(s)?
  4. Can altering the sex, age or culture of a character improve the story, create tension or an interesting spin?
  5. Are there any stereotypes lurking within? Is each character plausible and interesting?
  6. What stands in the way of the character(s) goal and how does this affect their actions and dialogue?
  7. Are the characters’ strengths and weaknesses reflected in their actions and dialogue? Is this relevant to the story? Are we meant to sympathise with each character?
Plot Outline for Screenwriting

The plot of the story often comes out of character drives in a screenplay, and with sufficient conflict, obstacles and high stakes, can improve a screenplay. Think of the following elements when conceiving the plot.
  1. Does conflict in the screenplay have peaks and troughs? Does this trend generally increase between acts 1, 2 and 3?
  2. Do obstacles that stand between the character(s) and goal increase throughout the screenplay? Are the stakes high enough? What does each character have to do to win their objective? Can this be made more difficult?
  3. Is there a logical passing of time with each scene? Is it day or night? How is this relevant to the story?
  4. What is the ratio between character action and dialogue? Is there a lot of talking going on? Could the characters be doing something as they speak? Where are they in relation to one another in a scene?
Troubleshooting a Script

Working too closely on your screenplay can make problems harder to see. As well as getting some distance, completing a screenwriter’s questionnaire will help keep each element in sharp focus. Even if it is not revealed in the screenplay itself, try to answer all the questions. If any of the questions are unknown or not clear, this might reveal a potential issue with the screenplay.

Great Tips for Screenwriting

How to write a screenplay synopsis
Writing dialogue for film
The midpoint of your screenplay
Platforms for screenwriters
Add tension to your screenplay
Character names for your script

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