Okay, week one introduction to screenwriting. Hello my name is Jane Pugh and I will be your tutor for the online script writing unit study block – I really hope you enjoy the course. Our first week’s work is threefold.
In part one we will discuss what is script writing, what does the script writers do, and how do they do it. Finding ideas and choosing your subject. Research and where inspiration comes from.
In part two of this week’s session you will begin to write and develop a portfolio of ideas. In part three we will look at the major theorists and the Guru’s who claim they can help you write your script, plus useful websites and inspiring information.
For this session you will need a notepad and pen. There are a total of four exercises I would like you to complete. One is ongoing . You can either listen to the lecture in full and then completely exercises, or pause the lecture to complete the exercises as you as you go along.
Online Script Writing Course – Screenplay Mastery
So let’s begin at the beginning with the idea. We have a voracious appetite for stories in all forms because we aren’t, we are trying to understand ourselves and the world around us. Writers and their stories help us on that journey.
So what does a scriptwriter do? The script writer writes feature film scripts and scripts for television drama. As well as online content, the script writer must generate generate ideas that are fit for the marketplace. They want interest a producer or a broadcaster in the first instance and will capture the imagination of the audience in the second.
The ability to generate ideas is akin to the nonfiction industry, where ideas are considered first and only when the idea is accepted and commissioned does the actual script writing begin. So a script writer generates ideas.
It is therefore well worth keeping abreast of current trends, spotting gaps in the market and creating new areas of interest. This applies to all types of screenwriter, whether they are generating original work or writing for an existing television drama series.
It is important for you as a screenwriter to know the business side of the film and television industry, so I want to spend a short time looking at the role of the producer, because it is the producer who will become your best friend and partner.
The role of the producer, the producer is the person who is in charge of making the film. It is they who search for ideas to turn into scripts. It is they who raisee the not inconsiderable finance to pay for the making of the film, and it is they who distribute the film with the help of a distributor.
They do this because they want to make a profit. I would strongly argue that good producers also love films and television dramas, otherwise they wouldn’t involve themselves with such a precarious and costly industry. So contrary to popular belief a writer with an idea for a script needs to solicit the interest of a producer, not necessarily a director.
Because it is a producer who turns your idea into reality. Of course there are lots of exceptions to this basic rule. Writers and directors do indeed work together, also producers might approach a writer and not the other way round, because it is the producer who has originated an idea but needs the most appropriate writer to realize it.
Writers and directors do indeed work together on scripts and then convince a producer that they are the right partnership or package to bring this particular idea to the screen. Finally, producers of a long-running drama series on television will read original scripts by writers, not because they want to produce the submitted script, but because they are finding suitable writers for their series.
Much like a salesperson touting their wares from door to door, a writer will be thus equipped. They will have a feature-length script to show the producer and they will also have a list of ideas to discuss with the producer. This is because they want the producer to make their feature script into a film or they will use their feature script as a sample of their work.
They will try to get one of their other ideas commissioned, or if the producer doesn’t like the squid or the ideas, the writer will try to build a working relationship with the producer so that they might work together at some future date on only new idea.
Please note – the writers ideas do not come in the form of finished scripts. That is impractical and will take far too long. They come in the form of outlines or synopses of your story and range from about 50 words to 2,000 words in length.
Again there are no set rules for this. Do not be intimidated by the notion that you have to have 10 wonderful ideas for scripts. It’s the quality of ideas and not the quantity that counts. It’s important to have at least 2 drawn and ideas that really resonate.
That is so much better than having half a dozen underdeveloped poorly realized ideas. However I must stress that all script writers must have written a feature-length script to show as a sample of their work before launching themselves into the big wide world of producers and agents, funders and broadcasters.
Why? Because they need to know you can write and they need to find out who you are and what interests you. I’ll give you an example to illustrate my point. If you have written a script that involves tensions within a family then a producer from EastEnders might be interested in reading your script and hiring you to write for the series, because you are interested in the same issues as dramatized in their series.
At this juncture I would like to advise you to think carefully about the kind of writer you are. do you like writing car chases or love scenes? Horror or science fiction? Are you interested in action or characters? Never attempt to write something that doesn’t interest you, simply to try and compete in the market.
You will probably fail in the first instance and in the second, a gifted producer will be able to tell from your writing that your heart really isn’t in it. Shane Meadows who last year brought his highly offered piece summers town to the screen, wouldn’t take his scripts to Barbara Buckley producer of the Bond films.
Exercise one – it doesn’t matter if you have never written the script before. Write 500 words describing the type of writer you are. The content should include – something of your background, the subject you are interested in and why. Please also include the type of audience you would like to reach.
Next research a producer or production company who might be interested in your ideas. To achieve this look at the latest copy of a television listings magazine such as the Radio Times or a copy of a mainstream film magazines, such as Empire.
Make a note of all the drums of interest to you and make a note of the producer and the production company for your reference. Make a note of what format it is, i.e. is it a long-running series, a soap, a seriall, a single drama or a feature film.
Next write a single sentence describing the drama. Finally write down what type of audience the drama is aimed at. The advantage of this exercise is threefold. Firstly you will be able to identify type what type of writer you. Are you will begin to understand how you fit within the marketplace and you will get to know producers who have a similar outlook as yourself.
Always remember that a producer or Commissioner wants to make a brilliant award-winning, profitable work so don’t show anyone a half-baked idea. You have got to love it first before showing anyone else. Producers put their life and soul into their jobs and they expect the same from writers.
You have got to convince any potential producers you meet that your script or idea is worth really quite substantial amounts of money. Even a micro budgeted film costs about a hundred thousand pounds. Is your idea worth a hundred thousand pounds. Let’s find out.
Now bandying around a lot sums of money can sound intimidating and I don’t want to put a price tag on any script or scriptwriter. As a writing script editor myself understand how much films cost but I rarely think in concrete terms of the actual amount my script would cost to bring to the screen.
I write because I think I’ve got a great idea not because it’s cheap or expensive to make. So how do we find a good idea? As your life unfolds, so will opportunities for drama. Some writers travel across the world to find ideas. Some stay closer to home.
All writers keep their eyes and ears open every day to find new ideas, to excite and inspire them. Use a notebook, scrapbook, shoebox or cuttings file to collect ideas. A good idea is an idea that grabs you. It could be a story in a newspaper or something you reserved a party but if it actually makes your heart beat faster, then you’ll know it’s good.
But test your idea by leaving it alone for a few days. If it’s still granted when you return to it then it probably has the necessary substance. If it fails to grab you then resign it to the bin. Do not be too precious about your ideas.
As one of my students said ‘all ideas are good if they are written well’. Concentrate on finding an idea that means something to you and not necessarily on changing the world. On the other hand, be discerning. It is you who will spend weeks and months, even years writing your script.
Make sure the original idea is genuinely captivating. Collect ideas as you go along because some ideas will be utilized months or even years later. Be careful not to talk about your ideas to friends before they are properly formulated. Rigorous criticism from the well-meaning can swamp a fledgling idea.
Be inspired by existing films or stories but don’t copy. It is plagiarism and you will be found out and it reveals a lack of confidence in your own work and your own ideas and your own style. Remember you and your stories are unique.
For a fascinating glimpse into the formulation of an idea visit YouTube and type in David Lynch interview. Scroll down to receive David Lynch interview part 1 from the BBC programme scene-by-scene with Mark Cousins.
In this excerpt both Lynch’s preoccupations and how his 1999 film straight story came into being are discussed. One could argue that the first part of my lecture has concentrated on inspiration more than ideas, so for the second part of my lecture I would like to apply a more rigorous approach to finding and developing the right idea.
The essential question to ask is ‘does your idea have enough conflict to sustain a full-length drama’. I will be returning to the notion of conflict again and again during the course because conflict is at the heart of every drama.
What do I mean by conflict? Of course every piece of writing in whatever form or genre must have conflict, otherwise there is no story. Structurally, stories have a beginning, middle and end but so does a trip to the shops. It doesn’t necessarily follow that a trip to the shops would make a good story.
Put simply, a character at the beginning of their story wants to reach a goal or goals. As she embarks on her journey to achieving her goal she encounters obstacles along the way and changes as a result of those obstacles. Whether she reaches her goal or not, she is a different person at the end of her story than she was at the beginning.
It really is as simple as that and if you can grasp that you have understood the rudiments of all storytelling in all forms that ever has been and ever will be. For your second exercise writing in first-person narrative describe in 500 words something that really bugs you.
For example, drivers who hog the middle lane of the motorway. Then write 500 words expressing the counter-argument, also in first person. Finally, write 500 words where you reach some kind of consensus. By completing this exercise by grappling with conflict you will have in effect written a small story that deals with conflict and resolution.
This approach can be applied and expand it to all your stories and scripts, whether you’re dealing with a domestic or global subjects. The same principle applies to every script that you will write. The central conflict could be something grounded, such as how do I survive as a working-class woman in the cutthroat business world, such as Nora Ephron’s 80s film working girl.
Or the more philosophical how do I survive in a world that operates in direct conflict to my morals beliefs and sensibilities, such as BBC’s life on Mars. I hope you can see from my two examples how the central conflict in both these dramas are strong and simple deep and complex and then therefore strong enough to warrant bring you to the screen.
For the final section of my podcast I would like us to indulge ourselves in a short brainstorming session to get the ideas flowing. I will endeavour, as we proceed through the course, to demystify the machnations of the film and television industry. I hope this next exercise contributes because it takes place in every producers and broadcasters offices on a daily basis.
Exercise 3 – for the sake of the exercise pick a long-running drama series from the current schedule. It could behold these boots, waking the dead for example. In your own words write a short description of the series that you are clear what the series is about. What the characters do and the actual moral problems they deal with.
Secondly, on a single piece of paper write five storylines. By story lines I mean no more than three sentences describing what the episode is about. I used to do split Edit on the Canton television series peak practice and here is a story line I generated for an episode as an example.
A middle-aged man is in need of a kidney transplant and will die without one. His estranged daughter is the only possible donor but the man has abused his daughter in the past when she was a child. Will his daughter make the sacrifice or will she let him die?
I would suggest that you keep doing this exercise in your own time as it really fires up the ideas machine in your imagination. This brings my lecture back to where we started. As a screenwriter you are a purveyor of ideas. The more ideas you have, the more material you have to write, and the more inspired you are to write.
This week’s film is Citizen Kane. Ask yourself what is it about. Let’s have your comments and observations on the website party, having discussed ideas and how to find them in my podcast for. Week one – and having completed the exercises you are now in position to start your portfolio of ideas.
I would like to reiterate the points I made in my podcast.
- One – a good idea is one that grabs you.
- Two – be discerning
- Three – check that the idea contains conflict inherently within it
- Four – make sure it is the kind of idea that suits you as a writer. There’s no point in writing a horror story when you love romantic comedy.
- Five – collect ideas as you go along. Who knows? You might return to an idea you spotted in the news paper five years from now.
- Six – be audience aware
- Seven – don’t copy. Don’t be overwhelmed by an existing film or play or book and wish you could write in the same way. You must develop your own unique voice.
- Eight – a good idea is one that grabs you. It’s you who has to sit down and write the script, which may take months even years to perfect, so you must be very very interested in it.
To help you get started you might want to explore the following to find those all-important script ideas: newspapers and magazines, the internet, books, television, lectures and talks, pictures and photos, real-life experience of yours or someone else’s, visiting places and interviews.
For your final project you will be asked to select an idea from your ideas portfolio. I will ask you to submit a short list of four ideas by week six for your portfolio of ideas. Your first task is to start gathering as many ideas as possible.