How To Write A Good Screenplay

How to write a good screenplay tips

Writing a movie script is one thing, but knowing how to write a good screenplay is a horse of a different colour. It isn’t enough to know all about the mechanics of formatting correctly, or even throwing in some sharp dialogue (or so you think!) Let’s agree that a good screenplay is one that sells and leads to a commercially successful movie.

What makes a script good? What are the magic ingredients? How do these great screenwriters get their inspiration? There is no magic, except the kind generated by dedication and hard work. If you wait around, looking out of the window, expecting that flash of inspiration, you’ll be waiting a long time. It happens, but it’s rare.

For the vast majority of writers, the seed of an idea pops up in the mind and grows over a period of weeks or months. Whatever he or she is doing, the the idea is being nurtured in the back of their mind. Before getting down to some serious script writing, each scene is planned carefully to create the naturally flowing story crafted to capture the hearts of the audience.

How To Write A Good Movie Script – Two Perspectives From Professionals

https://youtu.be/ulg1gQFfmmM

Video Transcript:

My writing process has evolved over the years but I’m always very much concerned with outlining and giving a shape to it before I dive in. Whenever I’ve tried to just take a run at it I find myself writing myself into impossible corners and having to back up and rethink things.

I tend to think very much about structure and organization and I do a lot of preliminary sketches and notes and put post-its on the wall to figure out where certain scenes are before I actually dive in.

I don’t do outlines. I don’t plan where I’m going because I like to be surprised by what I’m writing. The greatest twist in the history of cinema I would suggest humbly is Darth Vader saying ‘I’m your father’. I love writing things when one character says something and you’re like ‘well that’s a joke’ and then you, you know, you go that way and I think outlines you know prevent that happening.

Obviously most people do them and that’s great and if that works for you then brilliant but it’s me personally. I like to be surprised and in order to do that, that can only come from listening to the characters. They’ve become very real people to us.

I mean they are obviously versions of ourselves at some level and we know where they want to go in life. We each have an instinct about our own characters and I think we have an instinct about each other’s characters.

How to write a good script for movie guideOur daily routine for working is, when we’re writing, is to write five days a week, sort of 10 till 5 and it pretty much like a day job. A lot of that time is spent mining the interiors of the characters. It’s not necessarily physically writing but we might spend two hours discussing the motivation of something people say.

Write you know and I do think that that usually, with some exceptions, people are strongest writing about a millionaire. So for instance, I think Woody Allen is uniquely brilliant at writing about the world he came from and no one knows the nuances of that better than him but not by his own standards.

I think he’s quite clumsy when he tries to film about London. When you’re adapting a novel you have to take into account, especially with a well known work, what the audience remembers most from that book. You don’t have to remain true to the actual structure of the book or to specific lines.

You have to remain true to what people remember about the book. So they’re going to be moments that stand out in their minds, that they’re waiting to see, the scenes that they expect. Well Marigold is a very free adaptation and it got freer and freer. I mean the book actually got reissued with a new title and people reading it slightly baffled as to them in the end.

All we took from it is old people go to India, which is not say that’s not a great book, it just it was a process of development and the more people that read it they had that haven’t read the book, or like ‘why don’t we change that and change that’.

So gradually the book … because the longer the process of development, that likelihood is the further and further you’ll get away from the book itself. I learnt a lot at during working on the thick of it about this process. Very nearly everybody who are the core actors were also writers.

How to write a good screenplay advice

And I think that there’s something about having that bit of your head that can stand back and look at the whole and understands it as a structure and as a beast. That is very useful particularly if you’re going to use improvising. So really it’s about story. I mean, I think story is the key to writing.

You do spend a lot of time by yourself when you’re writing the first draft particularly and I’ve gotten out of the habit of showing anyone anything before the first draft is done. Because I’m too paranoid about what they’ll think of it.

I won’t even show my wife uh when it is done. I try to send it off and I’ve gotten better at not getting emotionally upset when the response is not ‘this is the best thing I’ve ever read in my life’. I think once something has worked you can analyze it post the event, like you analyze a rally at a tennis rally.

And explain why the two, you know, combatants, chose those shots at that time and why that worked but I think you you slowly learn what works and what doesn’t. I think with most things again the analogy was with sport the best way of learning is to watch someone who’s really good at it.

So watch stuff that you really like and respect and you will imbibe some of that and then you will make it your own. It’s an interesting challenge with screenwriting because I can’t spend page after page designing exactly the way a scene will look.

That’s the job of the director. That’s the job of the production designers. I have to captured the actions and the tone and the rhythm of the scene. It’s kind of always on set for everything I write … people still say like ‘that’s weird’ that the writers saying ‘where else am I going to be?’

How to write a good script for beginnersLike I’m so I’m lonely on my desk. It’s, you know, this is the good stuff. This is why I do it – to be here – this is the good stuff. But conversely, when it’s not good … when they, you know, you walk into the bedroom of the character and you go ‘yeah that’s not what I thought’.

When they cast someone you go ‘really?’ That’s, you know, that’s tough but I mean that comes with it. Those are the breaks, you know. Listening, I think, for me has been really critical. I’ve worked with some brilliant script editors and some brilliant producers early on and they have basically taught me the rules.

Then of course those rules are there to be broken but I think without understanding them it’s really hard to keep going. I when I first started out I had a a piece of post-it note stuck to my screen that said ‘nothing worthwhile is easy’, so that when I got a rejection I would say to myself ‘well it’s not supposed to be easy’.

It’s going to be difficult. The real job in getting into this business is sticking around long enough and continuing to get better and better at what you do, because the truth is if you write a great script they’ll find you.

They’re aching for good writers, so it’s the ability to be ready when the door opens. It’s not about how which door you knock on first. It’s about, yes, getting the job as an assistant, keeping yourself in there, continuing to work at it and waiting you will get your chance – then the question is ‘are you ready?’

How To Write A Good Movie Script – Attention To Detail

https://youtu.be/5rR_kFsjeR4

Video Transcript:

When screenwriters finally get around to writing the story they’ve had in their head for so long they often want to hurry and get that first draft on the page without planning it out. Getting those 90 to 100 pages for that first draft often really is the hardest part but if you sit down and just start writing when you finish it’s really not a first draft.

Instead, it’s a rough first draft. Now I have no objection to doing this but the problem is some of the scenes that just get thrown onto the page to get that rough first draft completed stay in the screenplay when they really don’t fit, once you start developing it and really crafting your script.

I’ve read and analysed literally thousands of screenplays in depth from top Hollywood directors down to writers who didn’t know how to format a screenplay, and across the board the most common problem I see is writers leaving irrelevant or boring scenes in the script.

How to write a good movie script 2018Actually, most professionals know to take those out but aspiring writers too often write scenes to fill the pages to get to that magical number of 85 or 90 page minimum and the minimum keeps changing, so they keep writing to get to that magic number.

But when a scene is plopped into just add to the page count, it can really mess things up. When it comes to the plot every scene in your script needs to be crafted so it arises organically and the next scene just comes naturally.

Of course, it takes a lot of work to make it seem so organic and natural but that’s the work you need to do to write a great script. Every scene in your script needs to be purposeful and meet at least two of the three key objectives.

If it doesn’t, then it either needs to be cut or rewritten so that it does meet at least two of the following three objectives. Now here are the three objectives:

amplify the theme
move the plot forward
develop the character arc

Now let’s take a look at each of these. Number one amplify the theme. Your theme is basically the whole point of the story. What’s your story really about on a universal level? Your story needs to offer some kind of insight into the human experience.

We become riveted, or I should say, audiences become riveted when we see characters confronting real-life situation. A movie script should show an amplified version of what we normally deal with. The lesson your character learns is the theme of your story.

Your scenes and sequences need to always have an eye toward your theme. Your images, your dialogue – they need to reference a theme throughout your screenplay and each scene should amplify the theme in some manner.

Number two objective is move the plot forward … In the film The Wolf of Wall Street for example, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the real-life wolf and DiCaprio does this amazing thematic speech about money. It’s inspiring to the employees while he gives the speech and then at the end he gives them a call to action which sets up the next point.

Having that speech turned into action for the plot is critical. He’s not just merely pontificating when he gives this speech to the employees. He actually has a very specific intention and in that scene all three objectives are met.

The theme is amplified, it moves the story forward and then that brings us to the third objective which – is number three, develop the character arc. The scene from the film that I just mentioned shows us Jordan Belfort’s character and it intensifies what we’ve already seen.

It builds tension around the question of ‘how long he can push things?’ Watching it, you can feel DiCaprio’s strong personal intention behind what he’s saying. It looks like he’s just motivating his employees but you can sense that he’s on a mission.

So that’s why it’s developing his character arc or revealing his character, also because this scene accomplishes all three things. It makes that scene one of the most memorable scenes in recent movie history in my view. Even if you hate the principal he speaks of, which is all about the money.

So those are your three objectives and you should try to fulfill at least two of them in each and every scene, if not all three. Now for a quick summary – to dramatically improve your script go scene by scene and see which of the three objectives or purposes above that it meets.

If it doesn’t mean at least two of them, then rewrite it or take it out. Feel free to also add whatever one is missing if it only meets two, but most importantly make sure it meets at least two of the three objectives.

I hope you have found this helpful. If you’d like to have a professional assessment on your screenplay check out the types of script analysis that I offer. Again, this is Melody Jackson. Let me know if you want any of my help and either way, whether you have me review your script or you do it on your own, keep these three key objectives in mind. Learn them inside and out and you will be well on your way to excellence in your screenwriting.

How to write a good screenplay – 3 Key Objectives For Every Scene

How To Write A Good Script For A Movie

How to write a good script

Any fool can write a movie script, and I’m sure that the great screenplay writers out there will laugh, but also tend to agree with me. How to write a good script for a movie, there’s the rub. It’s not even twice, or three times as difficult. Think of it like comparing your house with a skyscraper – not only is it going to take much more time to build, but you also have to know how to do it.

Once you get the script format down pat (and it’s not that hard) you need to know what makes a great movie script tick. Everything seems to be in the right place to enhance the story. Is this by chance? Of course not. Successful screenplay writers know exactly where each event should be to drive the movie forward.

Add some snappy dialogue and your half-way there. But, yes, you’ve got it – half-way isn’t enough. The video below takes a look at the script of Collateral, a 2004 film starring Tom Cruise, and examines why it’s so good. If you want detailed help with writing and selling a script, check out the course by James Lamberg – he guarantees that you’ll sell your script. Can’t be bad.

How To Write A Good Screenplay – Collateral Analysis

Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. At first glance, Michael Mann’s 2004 thriller Collateral might seem like just another run-of-the-mill action movie. But in between its action sequences lies a well-crafted story of personal transformation over the course of a single, terrifying evening.

A cab driver, Max, is taken hostage by a hit-man and forced to drive him around Los Angeles as he eliminates the targets on his list. This set up puts the protagonist and the antagonist in constant, direct conflict, allowing each of them to learn from each other.

How to write a good script for a movie tipsAnd while you might not think that a ruthless murderer would be the best influence, as screenwriter Stuart Beattie says… “The killer’s gotta have a point of view.” “That was always the idea behind him-that he actually had some, you know, some solid viewpoints.”

So today I want to examine why it’s important that an antagonist represent everything the protagonist lacks… To look at how characters filled with contradiction can feel more true-to-life… And show why one of the most important moments of character change doesn’t come at the end of the story, but directly in the middle.

Let’s take a look at Collateral. Living in society is hard. We all have important goals we want to achieve, yet are often afraid to take the necessary steps to attain them. This tension is also found in great characters. As John Yorke writes in his book, Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story…

“This conflict between who a character is, and who they want to be, is real life’s gift to drama. Writers have always known that when their characters act in a manner they profess to disapprove of, when they lie, when they self-sabotage and generally act contrary to their conscious proclamations and beliefs, they are far more interesting, far more exciting to write, and feel far more true to life.”

In Collateral, this contradiction is immediately apparent in the protagonist, Max. Max is not your typical cabbie. In his first scene, we see the juxtaposition between him and the other cabbies.

“…some unshaven, swapping stories, counting cash, one stands on the passenger seat to shout over the roof to his pal, spills his coffee, couldn’t care less…

Not Max. His cab is fly. Among cabbies he is GQ. We soon learn that this is because Max doesn’t think of himself as a cab driver.

“…limo company I’m putting together. Island Limos. It’s going to be like an island on wheels. It’s going to be a cool groove, like a club experience. When you get to the airport, you’re not going to want to get out of my limo. So I do this part-time until I get my Benzes off leases, staff up, get the right client list, you know, things like that.”

 

“An uncomfortable beat.”

This is Max’s facade. He wants to be thought of as someone who runs a successful, A-list limo company, so he presents himself as being just around the corner from making it a reality. After all, the cab driving is just temporary.

“I’m not in this for the long-haul. I’m just fillin’ in. It’s just temporary while I’m getting some things shaped up. This is just temporary”

“How long you been driving?”

“Twelve years.”

“Hardly temporary…”

How to write a good screenplay guideHere we see Max’s contradiction fully rendered. He wants to own a successful limousine company more than anything, yet he’s been driving a cab and making excuses for twelve years. This is his character’s flaw / weakness, and we soon see that his lack of self-confidence and inability to take risks are holding his inner self back.

In his book, John Yorke creates a simple visualization to help demonstrate the relationship between the facade and the inner self over the course of the story. The protagonist begins clinging to a facade— the idea of themselves that they want others to see. But hidden away is their inner self— the part of them they must learn to embrace to become who they need to be. So what drives the character to change?

“What’s your name?”

“Max.”

“Max? I’m Vincent.”

Coming into conflict with the antagonist. A person uniquely suited to push the protagonist in exactly the right direction. And as John Yorke writes…

“The antagonist they fear, then – the ‘monster’ they must overcome – is the embodiment of the very thing lacking in themselves.”

The function of the antagonist is to strip away the facade of the protagonist and force the inner self to rise up. Enter Vincent. A well-dressed man of action who plays by his own rules, he is the anti-Max in almost every way. When Max picks up Vincent and agrees to be his taxi for the evening, he has no idea what he has really signed up for. (loud crash)

“Oh no! You killed him?”

“No. I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.”

And while this is clearly the worst night of Max’s life, it’s also, in many ways, the best. Since Vincent is everything that Max isn’t, he directly and indirectly forces Max to stand up for himself and do things he never thought he could. For example, early on, cops stop the cab while there is a dead man in the trunk.

“Get rid of ‘em.”

“How?”

“You’re a cabby. Talk yourself out of a ticket.”

But Max isn’t able to.

“Get out the cab. Open the trunk. Come on.”

He’s still clinging to his facade and suppressing his inner self. Luckily, the cops get called away before Vincent has to kill them. Later, Max’s boss call over the radio…

“Max? Max? You out there, you son of a bitch?”

To get him to stop calling, Vincent poses as an official, and encourages Max to stand up to him.

“You tell him to stick this cab up his fat ass.”

“I can’t do that. That’s my boss.”

“So?”

“I need my job.”

“No, you don’t.”

How to write a good script for movie - good advice

This chips away at Max’s facade, and forces the inner self to begin to emerge.

“And next time you pull any shit, I’m… I’m gonna stick this yellow cab up your fat ass.”

Over time, Max even starts to stand up to Vincent.

“Come on, Vincent, give the dude a pass.”

“I’m working here.”

“No, listen. You the one sitting here talking about improvisation. You like the guy, you like how he plays. Let’s just play a little jazz. Come on.”

“Improv… That’s funny, coming from you.”

And when they visit Max’s mom in the hospital, the depth of Max’s facade is embarrassingly exposed.

“Limousine companies.”

“Is that right?”

“He drives famous people around.”

“Famous people. Limousine companies. Now that’s quite an achievement.”

How to write a good script for a movie beginnersAt the end of the scene, Max steals Vincent’s briefcase— a demonstration of his inner self growing in strength. During the entire first half of the screenplay Vincent is destroying Max’s facade and teasing out his inner self. And if we look at the the progression of these two lines, there is a clear trajectory.

The facade is chipped away at and the inner self is forced to rise until something happens— they collide at the midpoint of the story. John Yorke says of the midpoint:

“As a story progresses and need supplants want, the traits that help a character sustain their outer appearance are slowly transformed by the ‘better’ angels within. Need becomes conscious at the inciting incident, is embraced at the end of the second act, and at the midpoint triumphs for the first time. The subconscious has been dredged and brought to the surface to take over.”

The midpoint of Collateral is shortly after Max destroys Vincent’s files.

“You are screwing with my work!”

He needs the list of names to finish the job, so he sends Max in to talk to the dangerous drug lord, Felix.

“You go in there, say you’re me. Score the backups. They’ll be on flash drive or CD.”

“If I don’t pull it off, then…”

“They will kill you.”

“I can’t do this. I can’t.”

This scene begins almost exactly halfway through the film’s runtime. And in this case, the screenplay creates a literal example of the metaphorical change happening in the story structure. To overcome his character’s weakness, Max has needed to be more like Vincent— the embodiment of everything he’s not. Now, his inner self and his facade collide, as he is asked to become Vincent.

“Say it’s Vincent. I’m Vincent.“

Inside the club, Max is threatened by Felix, and it’s clear that the old Max is not cutting it.

“So, tell me Vincent. What do you think?”

How to write a good script 2018So just before the jig is up and Max is killed, his inner self truly takes over and for the first time we really see what he’s capable of.

“I think you should tell the guy behind me to put that gun down.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, I think you should tell the guy behind me to put his gun away before I take it and beat his bitch ass to death with it.”

Soon, Vincent’s words are even coming out of Max’s mouth.

“Improvise. Adapt to the environment. Darwin. Shit happens. I Ching. Whatever, man. We gotta roll with it.”

“Gotta roll with it. Adapt. Darwin. I Ching.”

Max successfully acquires the list and makes it out alive. The midpoint represents an important change for the protagonist. As John Yorke writes…

“A new ‘truth’ dawns on our hero for the first time; the protagonist has captured the treasure or found the ‘elixir’ to heal their flaw.” But the story, obviously, isn’t over. And he goes on to write… “At this stage in the story they don’t quite know how to handle it correctly. The ‘journey back’ is therefore built on how the hero reacts to possessing the ‘elixir’ and whether they will learn to master it in a wise and useful way.”

The first half of the film was getting Max to recognize he can overcome his weaknesses. The question for the second half of the film is…will he? Collateral demonstrates how an antagonist can be designed to bring out the best version of the protagonist.

It shows that a character who expresses the contradictory nature of human beings not only feels more realistic and relatable, but also lends itself to dramatic story structure. And it highlights the importance of the midpoint, the moment when the hero’s inner self truly emerges for the first time.

In the case of Max, he must learn to use this newfound strength to try to survive the rest of this fateful night, which will leave one of the characters alive, and the other nothing more than collateral. Another thing I love about Collateral is that the antagonist goes on a character arc that is similar to the protagonist’s.

The same way Vincent tears at Max’s facade, so does Max tear at Vincent’s. This was something I wanted to talk more about, but unfortunately it didn’t fit the flow of the video. So I took that section of the script and made it a blog post available on my website.

This process was simple and quick because I use Squarespace. Starting with one of their designer templates made setting up my website easy, and adding features like a place to sign-up for my newsletter is always a hassle-free experience. So if you’re looking to share your ideas with a new blog, or simply want a beautiful website to showcase your work, make it with Squarespace.

Head to Squarespace.com slash L-F-T-S for a free trial, and when you’re ready to launch, use the offer code L-F-T-S to save 10% on your first purchase of a website or domain. Thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring this video. Hey guys! Hope you enjoyed the video.

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How to write a good script for a movie