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).

What Do You Like?

You can learn a thing or two about the way you write by delving into what you like.

The Exercise

Identify your favorite scene of all time.
Get that movie and watch the scene.

Journal

Let go and write for 10 minutes about the scene.
Why do you like it so much?
What does it bring up for you?
How has it influenced you?

Rule Breaking

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

In a series of one-line (or at most, two lines) impressions, make a litany of all the times you “broke the rules,” Lied, cheated, stole, set fire, pilfered, prevaricated, deceived. (eg: Poisoned my sister’s gold fish. Enjoyed it. Took joy rides in the family car at age 14 while parents were in hospital.

b. Extract the juiciest of all those incidents. Write it as a story, in prose. However long it takes — a page, 10 pages.

c. How would you adapt it to a screen story? Make a running order of the scenes. Would you need to invent other scenes to dramatize events that were mentioned in the prose version? How would a movie audience know who the characters were and what was important to them?

Feedback: Out Loud

The first time I had my screenplay read out loud, I immediately knew many of the things that had to change. Try it! Your Task: Get hold of a finished screenplay. Get a group of people (at least 2 others). Assign parts to each person and read the screenplay out loud. Finished? Now, have each person do a 10-minute freewrite answering the following questions: What are my impressions of this work? What do I wish was in it? What am I glad that was included? Share.

Place & The Economy of Words

When I’m writing a story, I like to get descriptive. When I’m writing a screenplay, I try to narrow that long-winded drive into shorter sentences with fewer words. This gives the production crew an easier time in bringing the script to screen.

The Exercise

Go somewhere you want to write about.
List ten words that describe this place.
Narrow it down to three that truly capture the essence.
Write one descriptive sentence that shows where you are.

Brainstorming Structure

Explore structure.

The Exercise

Create a mind map to help you brainstorm the structure of an idea. Place your story idea in the center of the mind map, and see what comes out.

Take Someone Else's Word for It

It’s time to listen.

The Exercise

Poll a few people with the following questions:
What’s your favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you like about this movie?
What’s your favorite scene?
What’s your least favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you disliked about this movie?
What scene(s) made the movie bad?

Find and watch a couple of these movies. Pay close attention to the specific scenes mentioned.

Journal

What are your impressions of the movies you saw?
Do you share the opinions of the people you polled?
What have you learned about writing action?

A Brave New World

Science fiction movies create new worlds for audiences to partake in. Identifying and showing the rules for these worlds are important tasks when explaining the plot.

The Exercise

Write a three-page science fiction script.
Before you begin, identify two rules for your new world. For example, is there gravity?
Make up the rules and write your script around them.

New Information

Research is a great way to learn more about our characters. Your Task: Pick a subject that your character is familiar with that you might not know much about. Research and list 15 facts on that subject.

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