Jul 102009

A few quick tips you can use today to immediately improve your screenwriting:

1. Always write in present tense: “the dog barks, the car crashes, the boy screams.”

2. Write in the active voice, never passive. Active: “Bob runs.” Passive: “Bob is running.”

3. Don’t summarize. “Joe looks all over the house for his sister.”  That’s bad.  What does that look like? Does the audience just sit there and watch this kid actually look all over the house? Write the specifics. “Joe yanks the bedspread up, peaks under the bed. The light flicks on in the laundry room. Joe looks around, then flicks the light off.” Write the actions the way we’d see them unfold on the screen.

4. Write visually (related to the last tip). Make the readers picture it in their heads. Never write something that can’t be filmed. You can’t write “Greg grew up in a bad neighborhood, but studied hard and went to a good college.” How the heck do you film that?

5. Try writing in shots. Each time you imagine the camera changing to a new shot, start a new paragraph. And always keep your paragraphs short. For example:

Mark works frantically to open the lock on the door.

Sarah keeps watch at the corner. She nervously glances from the hallway back to Mark.

Mark’s sweaty hands slip from the rusty lock.

And so on…

6. Fight scenes: You’ve got to strike a balance. Writing a punch-by-punch description for a long fight scene gets old really quick. The alternative is to summarize the nature of the fight, and only give details for the important moments. (I know I said don’t summarize, but fight coreography is going to be handled by the director anyway. This is an exception to the rule). Here’s an example:

“Chase and Ogre engage in a scrappy fistfight, with Ogre’s size and strength giving him a greater advantage than Chase’s speed. Chase wheezes and gasps as he struggles for the upper hand. Finally, bruised and choking, Chase wriggles free and grabs a rock by the side of the road. Ogre closes in to finish the job, and Chase spins around, slams the rock into the side of Ogre’s face.”

A punch-by-punch description, while staying true to the rule of describing the action as we’d see it, can get lengthy and annoying. Here’s an example:

“Chase throws a punch, which Ogre easily grabs. Ogre retaliates with a quick jab and a heavy right punch that knocks Chase into the wall. Chase shakes out the cobwebs, charges at the Ogre again, this time swinging at his massive jaw. Ogre takes the hits like a statue, hardly moving as Chase swings away…”

As exciting as this type of writing may be, it really gets annoying for longer fight scenes. That’s a third of a page to describe 10 seconds of punching.

:) More tips to come.  Stay tuned to movieclassroom.com

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate this article:
Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Jul 092009

Short films are a great way to exercise your filmmaking muscles.  They can be made quickly, and if you’re smart about it, they can be made on a tiny budget (or no budget at all!)

Here are some quick tips I prepared for the students enrolled in my Summer Movie Workshop.  There’s plenty more to talk about, and I’ll be adding more posts on this topic in the near future.

Things to keep in mind when you come up with your ideas for a short film:

¨ Keep it short — Keep it around 5 to 10 minutes (which is 5 to 10 script pages)

¨ A simple, strong premise. You’re only going to have 10 minutes to tell the story. A twisty crime drama isn’t going to fit into our time restrictions. Think of one simple, strong idea that provides a lot of suspense, humor, or drama. A perfectly happy couple is breaking up because she’s moving away. A father who hasn’t seen his son in years shows up at his graduation party. The simpler and stronger, the better.

¨ Use available locations. I know you’re probably sick of the school, but it really is a great location, especially in the summer. Empty hallways and classrooms (that you can fill with extras if needed), sports fields, the woods, cafeterias, etc. Think of all the drama that happens in your lives in these very hallways. And the school doesn’t have to be a school. We turned the hallway outside my classroom into an Emergency Room once.

¨ Make it something you can shoot. If you include alien spaceships and a bunch of explosions, you’re going to have a hard time making it look convincing. Most editing programs can do some special effects, but keep in mind that effects will make your editing time longer.

¨ Use characters that are your age. Nothing screams “Student Film!” like a 16-year old playing the Dad. If you want to use older adults in your movie, make sure you know someone who will play the part.

Sample Six Week Moviemaking Schedule

¨ Week 1: Planning — casting, locations, gather props and wardrobe, scheduling, shot lists and storyboards, etc.

¨ Week 2: Planning & Rehearsal — of course actors need to rehearse, but SO DOES THE CREW (where is the camera going to go? what shots do we need? etc.). Shot lists and storyboards finalized.  Schedule finalized.

¨ Week 3: Filming (follow your schedule.  shoot everything that takes place at a specific location before moving on to the next location)

¨ Week 4: Filming & Editing — if someone in the group can start editing while you finish shooting, you’re in good shape.

¨ Week 5: Editing & Screening — a rough cut is finished, and your whole team should watch it and discuss changes.

¨ Week 6: Editing & Final Movie — make final changes based on screening. Watch final film with all your friends.  Upload to youtube.  Burn DVDs.  Send the movie to everyone you know.

Strongly Recommended Reading:

¨ Writing for Short Film: http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/writing/tips_shortfilm.shtml

¨ Writing a Good Short Film Script: http://hollyshortsfilmfestival.blogspot.com/2008/02/writing-good-short-film-script.html

¨ What Makes a Good Short Film? http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/filmnetwork/filmmakingguidegoodshort

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate this article:
Rating: 3.0/5 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)