How To Write A Screenplay For Beginners
Film Courage: What is the first step in writing a screenplay?
Richard Walter: Getting your butt in the chair and hands on the keys and seeing where it goes. I believe you have to have an outline, but then you have to throw away that outline. It will take paths that are surprises to the artist that created it. I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t surprised by lines of dialogue that characters seem to invent by themselves, twists and turns in the story.
I remember asking Neil Simon “Do you laugh at your own jokes?” And he said “Sure I do, the first time I hear them.” And I think that’s fantastic that he actually hears them. It’s as if someone else is telling them…telling these jokes to him. And that’s the experience of a lot of artists. I wrote…I sold a TWILIGHT ZONE episode years and years go about a muse, some sort of composer of commercial jingles and his muse that proposes…I’ll spare you the story.
Usually something occurs to you that seems kind of odd. Imagined if this happened or that happened? I remember when our first child was going to be born we went to birth preparation classes which were held at Cedars Sinai. And everybody was supposed to bring a pillow.
So suddenly outside you know, Beverly Blvd. near San Vincent [in Los Angeles] all of these couples, all of the women are quite pregnant and everybody is carrying pillows “What’s that about?” Imagine you drive past the bus stop and there are like 60 people at the bus stop and they all have accordions.
I don’t know they all have accordions for some reason. “What could that be?” You start to think about that and also you don’t think about it you just sort of let it simmer and cook and the notion will come to you.
And you start to play with it and see how it unfolds. I know there are other people, including people you are talking to I’m sure, who have much more precise steps. Well I reject that in my own work and in the writers that I know. Again, I think that it’s a function of surprise, a lot of art is.
And the important thing for the artist is to stay open to those surprises rather than trying to drag the narrative back to some previous intellectual perception that you had. The very first script I ever wrote and I never did sell it (I wrote it in class) like my own class, except it was cross-town it was Irwin R. Blacker, legendary teacher of screenwriting, now long deceased, but he taught George and Milius and all these people.
And I wrote a story based loosely on a when I worked on the project, the pilot HEAD START program, the war on poverty Lyndon B. Johnson program having to do with support for pre-schoolers in the schools. And there was one social worker (a white guy) advantaged, privileged guy, but he would kind of speak with kind of a fake black accent, this street-ey kind of black jive “Hey Bro…wuz goin’ on?” and he thought that really impressed the black kids he was working with. He was not working with preschoolers.
He had started working with adolescents in another program. And the establishment, the people who ran that program thought “Boy this guy really goes the extra mile!” I thought he was an idiot! That he’s just patronizing and condescending. You know, I’m a jew. Imagine someone trying to make points with me in a Yiddish Accent “Richard….” [imitates a heavy Yiddish accent]. “What a cool guy this is. He talks the talk!”
Well, this guy got killed. He was murdered and I thought well that is something to write a script about. When I wrote the script, I thought it was the social worker’s story (the white guy’s story). But when I was done, it was really the black kids story and I didn’t realize this until I was done with the first draft.
And the smartest thing I did was to leave it alone in that regard. That is to say I rewrote it several times but I let it become the black kids story, which is a much more interesting story. The white guy was a subsidiary character now, not the protagonist of the piece. I never sold that script but I did get top representation.
I got assignments. I got on staff at Universal [Pictures]. A lot of writers don’t get it that when a script doesn’t sell that’s not the end, it’s just the beginning. There are all kinds of rewards that can flow from a script that doesn’t sell. Also a script that doesn’t sell now might sell you know, down the line.
Clint Eastwood made UNFORGIVEN which won the Oscar for best screenplay, best movie 20 years after he acquired that script. So you never really know. Again, if all the work you put into the first draft and you end up realizing that the guy you thought was the protagonist was not the protagonist (it’s not his story at all), that’s not a waste.
That shouldn’t be frustrating. That’s a really good use of that draft. You’ll salvage some of the stuff in the draft but also you’ll have used it to point you in the direction that you need to go. You can’t figure it out in advance, you just can’t. Kushner at the LINCOLN screening…have you seen it?
Maybe you won’t like it at all but it’s impossible not to be astonished at how important it is and engaging it is in the best sense of important. And it is a stupendous screenplay by Kushner. And Tony (Kushner) was saying “A lot of people think you think the thing up and you write it down but the writing down of it is sort of the thinking of it.
There is a nexus between the pen or the keyboard, or the hands on the keyboard that you just never know and you have to live with that uncertainty. You have to sort of rejoice and celebrate and face that uncertainty instead of trying to eliminate the uncertainty.
You look at the studios today and what is less interesting than what they are doing now? They are doing prequels and sequels, items of franchises. What they are trying to do is minimize risk. And they are trying to make it so when an audience goes to see a movie they get what they expect. Well when I go see a movie, I don’t want to see what I expected.
My expectations should be exceeded. I want to be turned upside down. I want to be frightened. I want life to be changed forever. It’s funny, I lectured in September a year ago to an evangelical Christian conference in Chicago, 500 passengers all across the nation on narrative and scripture.
I was never more warmly greeted or generously received. They also payed me very well. But I never had a better time, you know. I’ve given hundreds of speeches all around the world and I never had a better time than I had with all these sweet Christians.
And one of the things I told him was if you wanted to keep people in the Church even after they leave the Church on Sunday morning…that is to say…thinking about the sermon just like after when they leave your movie…I’m still thinking about LINCOLN and I saw it over a week ago and it’s still playing in my head.
And the more time that passes, the more I’m into it. It’s not fading, it’s getting stronger. Maybe I’ll go see it again? If you want people to stay in the movie, just like if you want them to stay in the Church, what I told them was you don’t need to make people feel good, you just have to make people feel. Scare them half to death.
Make them cry, you know? I remember walking out of the theater and the doors in Westwood…I was walking down the street past the theater and the doors and people started to steam out and it [the movie] had just broken and I saw somebody I knew but there were a lot of people between us and I sort of indicated…we waived hell and then I pointed to the marquee and shrugged meaning “So what did you think?” and at this point he was able to get up to me and said “….it’s….a….yeah…a worthy…movie I think you should see.”
And I said like I said to you earlier (and this does not make me very popular with people when I tell them what THEY thought of a movie. Or they tell me what they thought of a movie and I tell them “No, that’s not what you thought. What you thought was such and such.”
I understand that this is pretty arrogant but what can I tell you? I’m just reporting honestly, my own reaction. I said to this guy “I hear you saying it’s a worthy movie but in my impression it seems like you didn’t like this movie.” Now I want you to imagine that instead of the picture breaking and people streaming out, they are all crying, everybody is sobbing with tears streaming down their faces.
Well you wouldn’t want to see that movie would you? The hell you wouldn’t! You’d immediately go to see that movie. You’d stop. You’d stand up your date or your next appointment and you’d get in line to see that movie if it could affect people so strongly.
Writing a screenplay for beginners
Interior room. Day a girl walks into the room wearing a trench and black pants. She faces us and begins to talk breaking the fourth wall.
Hi there, my name is Rina and today I’m going to talk to you about how to write a screenplay and discuss some story writing techniques. Check it out. So some of you may have seen my short films and some of you may have not. If you don’t know I’m a filmmaker and I write all of my own content.
I’ve written, directed some short films and a feature film. If you want to check them out then click on one of them here you can check out all of my films on my main youtube channel called Wondering Pictures. If you want to take a look at those before you actually watch this video, just so you know the type of style of writing that I do, you go ahead and pause this video and then go watch them quick and then come back.
Ok, so let’s get started. So before we get into how to write a screenplay, first let’s discuss what exactly is a screenplay. Well a screenplay is a story told with images and sounds in a specific way and a story is simply a series of events. Obviously these events need to lead up to something, like a conclusion or a punchline.
Before you actually start writing you need to know what story you’re going to tell and why you want to tell this story. So that brings you to tip number one to writing a screenplay – know your ending before you actually start writing. If you start writing a story without knowing how it’s going to end, then eventually you’re just going to get lost and your story might fall apart into nothingness.
It’s the same thing as if you’re going to drive somewhere. Would you get into your car and just start driving aimlessly if you didn’t have a destination? No you wouldn’t, because then you would just get lost. That’s where you get into your car you first need to know what address you’re putting in your GPS.
The route that it takes you on will bring you through a bunch of different and interesting locations until you reach your final destination. So it’s the same thing as writing a story. You need to know how it’s going to end, because there needs to be a sense of direction and drive for your story to move forward.
And also the conclusion defines the reason of the entire story. Why all this is happening, what everything is leading up to, a final end.Iif you don’t know your ending then there’s no story, because there’s nothing to be achieved. So make sure that you do have a clear conclusion to your story. The entire movie will then simply be a series of events that lead up to that conclusion.
This technique I find works best with short films because it’s a short enough timeframe to tell an interesting event and to kick it off with a really fun punchline. Number two – creative character with a need. One of my favorite books that my father gave me is the Syd field book ‘Screenwriting According to Syd Field’.
Stories and movies are always about someone, somewhere, doing something. Stories are events and events happen to people, aka characters. Your character needs to be the driving force of events that are happening and in order for your characters to act upon these events he needs to have a drive or a need or a goal.
Who is your character? What does he want? In Birdman, the main character is a former movie star who wants to be relevant again. In the film Castaway the main character just wants to survive and go home. Every good story needs a main character that’s anchored to a desire. He needs to have a want or need that causes him to take action and force the movie forward to its conclusion.
So figure out what your character wants and make sure that that is clear to the audience. Tip number three – once you have a clear story idea, character, and conclusion, write out your outline. Before writing your script is always best to write out a clear outline. With all the series and what with all of the scenes and situations that are going to happen in the movie, this will help make the movie make sense and give a stronger sense of what’s going on scene by scene.
This will also help you organize your thoughts and ideas into a coherent timeline that will form into your story. Tip number four – divide your script into three acts all, divided by plot points. Act one should be the set up of your film. This is where you introduce the audience to their characters and their situations.
After Act one you need your first plot point. This should be an event that just flips your story 180 degrees. It should be something that happens to your character that screws everything up and it’s a problem that he has to solve, or is just something completely unexpected. It should be an unplanned mishap that happens to your character, which therefore brings him to the events that happen.
After which is Act 2. I did think of act 2 as solving the problem, then there needs to be a final plot point at the end of act 2, which is another twist of events. I don’t know what it is that then brings your movie to act 3 which is the conclusion of your film. This Basic structure is called the paradigm and it’s key for screenplay writing.
And lastly, tip number 5 – write your dialogue with gut feeling rather than words, if that makes sense. What I mean by this is that your dialogue should never be direct but rather it should be implicit. You shouldn’t be saying exactly what you want your audience to know. Your characters should talk the way any person would talk. They can be talking about anything. They can be talking about the weather. They could be talking about how their back hurts.
Whatever, but if you want a different meaning or if you want a different emotion coming from that I put that in the description part of writing your screenplay and the character will show it with body language. I don’t think that makes sense. It’s just so cliche. When your characters just say ‘what’s up’, they’re just talking about what’s going on, and they’re talking about what just happened or they’re talking about their feelings, so direct like ‘oh so sad’.
To me, people talk like that in real life and I think it’s so poor when scripts have that. It’s just so corny and cliche. I just hate it, so instead try implying those emotions in the situation. Try describing things through your characters body language, or through his demeanor. For instance, let’s just say this scene is about two characters and one of them is changing a car tire.
And the other guy is scaring him, I don’t know what, he’s like threatening him or whatever. So this guy feels scared. Okay, let’s just say he’s scared. He doesn’t want this guy to beat him up. Let’s just say that’s the scene. In the scene you wouldn’t have the scared character be changing the car tire and then say ‘oh dude you’re scaring me, please don’t hit me.’ You don’t say that.
You can already tell that he’s scared right? Your actor’sgoing to portray this in his body language, so you don’t need to say. Instead, you would have the character drop the tools out of nervousness and be like ‘oh sorry let me get that’. Like, he would feel scared, you know, like the way he says. This shows that he’s nervous and he doesn’t want to piss off this guy. I don’t know if that example was good or not. I don’t know if it makes sense what I’m trying to say but hopefully it makes sense.
Anyways, that’s about it. After completing the video Marina reminds the viewers, who she is and concludes the video.
Marina: ‘I’m marina and those were my tips for screenwriting and storytelling. I hope this video was helpful. If you enjoyed them, please do subscribe to this channel and also check out my short films. You may enjoy them. You may enjoy my writing style, you may not. Maybe you can give me some tips and techniques. Oh and also be sure to follow me on Instagram. Do you have script writing tips? Let me know in the comments below.’
Marina waves goodbye.
Marina: ‘Catch you later.’