The Pitch

Your agent just called. You’ve got a meeting with a major studio exec in half an hour. Your problem: You haven’t written the pitch yet. Your task: Pick the best movie you saw this month. Pretend it hasn’t come out or been sold yet. In half-an-hour, write a one-paragraph synopsis, a one-sentence log line, and two movie titles you can compare it to (for example: It’s Rambo meets Bambi).

Character Autobiography

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Write the full name of your character down the left side of a page, one successive letter on each line. On each line, write a true statement about the character (or from his/her voice) beginning the first word of each line with each successive letter of the character?ǂÄôs name. So for a character named Holmeyer:

He lives with a rabbit
Open hearted
Loves bridges
Means well
Ebbs when he should flow
Yearns for love
Even tempered
Runs from life

Try it with all your main characters. (Try it with your own name)

The 3-Act Structure

The three-act structure has been one of the most influential tools for screenplay development. An understanding of its history and applicability is essential to the burgeoning screenwriter.

The Exercise

Write a four-page essay on the three-act structure. Where did it come from? What is it and how is it used? What are some of the challenges against it? What are some of the movies that use it? Has it developed over time? How?

Can't Stand It

I was talking to a grocery store clerk about writing the other day, when he asked, “How do you write about characters that you can’t stand?” I responded with saying, “finding compassion for our characters gives us the ability to understand them more which helps when we write their lives.” Your task: Pick a person you dislike. Write a 1-page synopsis for a plot based on their life as a hero’s journey.

Place as Action

Have you ever seen Ghost in the Shell? There’s a contemplative movement in the second act where the main character watches the city go by. It’s a perfect example of place as action. The pensive main character is taken away by place in a moment that gives the viewer a chance to reflect on the action and philosophy in the movie. Are there other examples of place as action? Can place move the plot forward?

The Exercise

Brainstorm five movie scenes where place is a defining factor in the scene.

Write A Rant

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

What is the thing or person that irks you most. Lawn
sprinklers that spot your car? TV Ads? War? Politics? People who apply
makeup while driving?

Write a furious diatribe against it. Attack it. Lacerate it. Vent your
spleen. This will be the document that ends the thing that you hate.

When you have done, write PART 2. With equal commitment, honesty, depth,
passion and insight, be an advocate for the issue you have just attacked.
If it was a person, write his/her character piece about you.

Fear

Acknowledging our fears can release their grasp on our work.

The Exercise

A mind map is a visual display of images and words that flow from one to the next. To create one, draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper. Write your topic in that circle. This is the center of your first hub. A hub is a collection of related words, thoughts or ideas. Thinking about the topic, brainstorm items around it. Then, grow your mind map by making any of the other words a hub and expanding on it.

Create a mind map that centers around the topic “my fears”

Journal

What does fear look like in my writing life?

Practicing Writing Plots

Let’s practice developing plots. Your Task: Take a movie that you’re working on that uses the 3-act structure. If you don’t have one, download a screenplay online. Identify plot point 1 and brainstorm 25 other possible scenarios.

Happily Ever After

Let’s use the ending of a film to practice creating scenes. Your Task: Pick a movie – any movie. After watching it, jot down 4 alternate possibilities for an ending. Now, pick one of your 4 new finales and use standard screenplay format to write out one of these endings.

Plot Device

A plot device is a person or object in a story that is used to advance the plot. Your task: Identify the plot and at least one plot device in 5 movies.

creative screenwriting exercises (Get the book for all 101 exercises)