Genres

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Two cars, a sports car and an SUV arrive at the same parking spot. Write the scene or sequence of scenes in
a. A Romantic Comedy
b. An Action Adventure
c. A Film Noir mystery
d. Science Fiction

You may change the vehicles and characters inhabiting them as you please.

Creative Instruction

Beyond storytelling, the screenplay is a map for actors and filmmakers. The screenwriter conveys creative instruction through action elements in the script.

The Exercise

You’ll need a partner.

Partner A is to instruct partner B how to put on a shoe (preferably one with laces). To do this, partner B must take off one of their shoes. They are also to pretend that they have never seen a shoe, don’t know what it is and don’t know what its various parts are or do.

Partner A needs to explain the process of putting on a shoe. Partner A should do this verbally and without pointing at the parts of the shoe. Every part of the explanation should try to be clear, verbal and effective enough to get partner B to get that shoe on.

Journal

How can language create and shape action?

Ten People

Running low on our own ideas creates the best motivation to ask our friends. Your task: Pick ten people you know and write a brief character description for each of them. Ask each of them what one defining moment in their lives was, and one character trait that changed in that moment. Write this as a character ark. For each character, write a paragraph-long plot summary for this event.

What Does It Take?

What changes in your scenes when you reduce or expand them? Screenwriting books almost unanimously call for an economy of words — choosing your words wisely and using less to say more. Practice this. Your Task: Come up with a scene from a movie and write 3 versions of the same scene. Write the first one using a 1/2 page; the second one with 1 1/2 pages; and the third one using 3 pages.

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?

Passion

Sometimes, seeing where other people have taken an idea can inspire us with new ways to develop our own. Your task: Make a list of five things you are passionate about. Identify as many movies you can think of that cover the first item on your list. Do a 5-minute free-write with the starting sentence, “Stories can be…”

Editing Practice

Editing our own scripts is sometimes wrought with our own defensiveness and inability to let go of what we originally put on the page. Practicing with other scripts can improve our skills and help us see that no matter how done we think a script is, it can always use a little more work. Your Task: Download and read someone else’s script. Answer these questions: What opportunities have the writers missed? What loose-ends have not been tied up? Does this seem important to the writer? Why or why not? How would you make this script better? Explain each element you would change in detail. To go even further, share your notes with someone who has read the script or seen the movie. What do they think of your comments?

An Example of Place

Examining how others view and use place will give us a better idea of how we can use it to strengthen our stories.

The Exercise

Watch a movie set in a country that was made by someone who’s not from there.
Watch two movies set in the same country made by people who are from there.

Journal

How is place perceived and setup differently?

From My Life

Use transformational moments in your life to explore screenwriting structure.

The Exercise

List three transformational moments in your life.
Pick one incident and answer these questions:
What was your life like before the transformation?
What took place during the transformation?
What were the obstacles to transforming (both internal and external)?
How did you face these obstacles?
Name the people involved in this transformation.
What were their roles in your transformation?
What happened to them because of this transformation?
What was the outcome for you?

Create an outline of the specific incidents that occurred before, during and after this transformational experience.
Visualize a movie with each of these specific incidents as a scene in your movie.

Journal

What do I think about my movie? What am I leaving out? What can I add to make it more powerful?