misc Ask Us Anything About Screenwriting

*DISCLAIMER: I use CAPITALIZATION for EMPHASIS - not shouting.

As @indietalk pointed out in another thread, we have some extremely knowledgable members here that I think can answer ANY question about screenwriting that any of you may have. I think it would be great if we kept the thread going with all those questions. If this isn't allowed? I apologize and please delete the thread. It just seems like we should have an ONGOING place to answer all these questions.

There are NO stupid questions. Ask away!
 
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Hmmmmmmmmmmm.........

How do I write a script?

Sorry, just being a wise-ass, as usual.

It's a weird coincidence that my most recent binge has been screenwriting vids. (Previous lock-down binges include astrophysics, psychology, archeology, and evolution.) My purpose is not screenwriting - I'm just not built that way - but to improve my ability to recognize good scripts from bad scripts when audio post work opens up again.
 
Can someone show me a short story broken down into a film script? :) I know that is a bit of work..how about 1/3 of the story, or even less. Just how would you take a short story, (any) and turn it into a movie script? A formal script as you would in Final Draft or another editor. This is awesome. Thanks!
 
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mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
Just how would you take a short story, (any) and turn it into a movie script?
It would be different for each story - I can't imagine any way to generalize.

I've adapted several short stories and books to screenplays, and each was different.

What's the same is that I look for the heart of the story - what the writer is REALLY trying to say. Then I figure out how that can work on the screen, which often involves changing the order of how the story is told. Sometimes I add things and often I take things out.

Many stories include some form of interior monologue, which doesn't (in general) exist in movies. Most include discussions of characters' thoughts and feelings. I figure out what of that is essential to telling the story and how it can be shown.

And like every other screenplay, it requires re-writing and revising many, many times.
 
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It would be different for each story - I can't imagine any way to generalize.

I've adapted several short stories and books to screenplays, and each was different.

What's the same is that I look for the heart of the story - what the writer is REALLY trying to say. Then I figure out how that can work on the screen, which often involves changing the order of how the story is told. Sometimes I add things and often I take things out.

Many stories include some form of interior monologue, which doesn't (in general) exist in movies. Most include discussions of characters' thoughts and feelings. I figure out what of that is essential to telling the story and how it can be shown.

And like every other screenplay, it requires re-writing and revising many, many times.
I am curious to find the best resources to create a script - not the structure of the story but just how one is written/typed. Is there a copy of a script typed from a first draft to compare. I simply have no idea how to take a draft and create it to a film script. I suppose a how to book would be best approach, just have no idea how to write it to a script formally.
 
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mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I'm not sure I understand your question. If you google "screenplay sample" you'll find lots of downloadable scripts. If you want something one of us has done, I could upload a production draft of something I already produced, and if you want, I could also upload the first draft.

The format is essentially the same from when it's a first draft to a final version, although scene numbers are only added in the production draft.
 
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I am curious to find the best resources to create a script - not the structure of the story but just how one is written/typed. Is there a copy of a script typed from a first draft to compare. I simply have no idea how to take a draft and create it to a film script. I suppose a how to book would be best approach, just have no idea how to write it to a script formally.
When you say a draft, are you just meaning a basic story that you've written, and you are asking how to put that into a proper screenplay format?

I'm assuming you don't currently own any screenwriting software? If not, I'd recommend downloading some freeware for now so you can practice writing. CeltX does a decent free online version.

Another tip would be to search for some scripts online of films you have already seen. It will give you a good idea of how what is written on the page translates to what we see on the screen. Just be aware that most scripts online will be shooting scripts and therefore contain things like camera shots and directions that might not be suitable for a spec script.
 
I have Final Draft on IOS Ipad and Iphone, just have no idea how to format..yes I would just like to see any original draft written put into an actual script so I have an idea how it is formatted from a story. I am curious if I can take stories I have written and turn them into scripts etc. I can look at a script and have a basic idea of what one looks like, just not exactly sure how to transform a story into a script.

Thanks
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
I would just like to see any original draft written put into an actual script so I have an idea how it is formatted from a story. I am curious if I can take stories I have written and turn them into scripts etc. I can look at a script and have a basic idea of what one looks like, just not exactly sure how to transform a story into a script.

I think you're making this too difficult on yourself, Dean.

Screenplay format is set into Final Draft - Scene Heading (Slugline),
Action (Description), Character Name, Dialogue - all go into the same
place. Even if the original story source is a short story, novel or play.

Let's say your story starts with a woman running through the woods:
EXT. WOODS - NIGHT

Then you write what is seen on the screen.

The rain was falling heavily. It was like driving through a thick curtain of water. He eased off the accelerator a little. Had to be careful driving on wild nights like these.

The last thing you’d want is to have an accident or breakdown. You just want to be at home on these stormy nights. The thwack-thwack of the windscreen wipers was hypnotic.

He stared out into the glow of the headlights. The rain sounded like white noise interference as it battered the car. He was reminded of the opening scenes of a Hitchcock film.

Through the wash of the rain he spotted a figure at the side of the road. The person wore a green parka and had their thumb jerked out.

Why on earth would anyone be hitchhiking tonight? Surely you would just stay put until the morning. They must have been in a rush to get where they were going.

There are some things in this opening to a short story that cannot be seen
on the screen - you can easily identify those - they don't belong in a screenplay.

There are some things that can be seen on the screen - the rain, the windscreen
wipers, the guy driving the car, the figure on the side of the road - that's what
you write in the "Action" lines.

Figure out how many "Scene Headings" there are. I see a car on a road (EXT. ROAD),
a man driving (INT. CAR) - so write what is seen on the screen. I even see some
potential dialogue. Once the hitchhiker gets into the car the driver can ask those
question.

Here's your work for today. Take that opening and put it into screenplay format.
Let's see what ya got.
 
I think you're making this too difficult on yourself, Dean.

Screenplay format is set into Final Draft - Scene Heading (Slugline),
Action (Description), Character Name, Dialogue - all go into the same
place. Even if the original story source is a short story, novel or play.

Let's say your story starts with a woman running through the woods:
EXT. WOODS - NIGHT

Then you write what is seen on the screen.



There are some things in this opening to a short story that cannot be seen
on the screen - you can easily identify those - they don't belong in a screenplay.

There are some things that can be seen on the screen - the rain, the windscreen
wipers, the guy driving the car, the figure on the side of the road - that's what
you write in the "Action" lines.

Figure out how many "Scene Headings" there are. I see a car on a road (EXT. ROAD),
a man driving (INT. CAR) - so write what is seen on the screen. I even see some
potential dialogue. Once the hitchhiker gets into the car the driver can ask those
question.

Here's your work for today. Take that opening and put it into screenplay format.
Let's see what ya got.
Right, I do not know how to format that. Do you know of a link or a great book that teaches screenwriting format? It is back to the original question of seeing a story formatted into a script, not guidelines, but what it actually looks like from a story adapted to screenplay format. If I can see an example from a story I can understand how the format works.
 
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sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Right, I do not know how to format that. Do you know of a link or a great book that teaches screenwriting format? It is back to the original question of seeing a story formatted into a script, not guidelines, but what it actually looks like from a story adapted to screenplay format. If I can see an example from a story I can understand how the format works.

There are so many examples of this in pop culture.
Interview with the Vampire was a book. The same author wrote it into a screenplay.

Search for books turned into screenplays and you will discover a plethora of examples.
You can read both the books and the screenplays.
 
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directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
*DISCLAIMER: I use CAPITALIZATION for EMPHASIS - not shouting.

While I've never adapated a short story... I have adapted a couple of books. The way I personally approach it is to TRANSCRIBE the STORY into screenplay format just so I can SEE what I have to work with. In other words? I'm simply taking the story and converting it into screenplay form without worrying about structure, length, etc. I do this just to see what I end up with, SCREENPLAY-WISE.

As @mlesemann pointed out from there? Anything can happen. You might have to combine characters. You may have to restructure the story. If there were a lot of character-thought passages in the story, you'll have to figure out a way to show that on screen IF in fact, it's important to the story. Which leads me to exactly that... What is and is NOT important to the story once you have everything in screenplay format?

As for writing the actual screenplay? Since you do have Final Draft for your iPad and or iPhone? Should be pretty easy to begin to figure it all out by heading over to IMSDB and opening up the script of one of your favorite movies. I'm recommending IMSDB because you can actually copy portions of the script easily since they're all in text form.

Just take one screenplay element at a time i.e., scene headings, action/description, character cues (names), parentheticals, dialogue, etc. and paste them into a new document you've created to do just that. You obviously do not have to copy and paste the entire script... Just enough to get the gist of what your software does when it comes to formatting each element.

Take the example @directorik gave you and compare... Also take note that shooting scripts -- which is what you're going to find online 99.9% of the time are not spec scripts. Specs won't have scene numbers, camera direction, maybe some of the transitions, and or (CONTINUED)s... I think if you just go back and forth for an hour or two? You see how it all comes together pretty quickly.

Good luck!

*EDIT: Here's a screenplay format example from Oscars.org. I only add it here to @directorik's example so you can see what the overall screenplay should like like (more or less).
 
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As I previously posted, I am NOT a screenwriter, but as a "creative" I understand process.

In the numerous vids and blogs I have listened to recently a very substantial percentage of the writers and producers I have heard seem to follow the basics that mlesemann outlined for you. It doesn't matter if you are adapting a story, writing to specific client requirements or writing from personal passion, look for the core of the story. Understand it, embrace it, personalize it. Then just spew out your first draft. Some jump in and write a script, some make copious notes, some write an almost novel-like narrative. Don't worry about how good, bad, consistent or logical it is; this version is the most honest version of how you initially were inspired, felt and reacted to the project. Michelangelo was supposed to have said that the sculpture was already in the marble; all he did was chip away the unneeded bits. The first draft is your marble. You now need to chip away the unneeded bits.

Every screenwriter and producer I have heard so far then mentions rewrites - lots and lots of rewrites. Sometimes dozens of rewrites. Finally there will be a script that works for the producer, the director and (hopefully) the writer. But the script may need to be rewritten again to fit the budget or more directly address the target audience. And don't kid yourself, if you want to write for a living you need to remember that this is the entertainment business, and the entire point of a business is to make a profit, which means appealing to the largest audience possible.

The script will then be adapted/rewritten again through the director when it is shot. And then again during the post process.

So I don't see how perusing the initial draft of the script would help you, as the script goes through many, many changes before it finally hits the market.

The most confusing and yet most obvious thing is that, although all of these successful writers follow the basics, they have entirely unique methods/processes on their journey to the final draft of the script. Just because writer ZYX uses method 975 doesn't mean that YOU have to use method 975. So you will have to choose the tools/methods/processes that fit your personality as you blaze your own way through the wilderness which is the search for a great script. One writer said that she thought about it for a long time, made copious notes, wrote bios on key characters, set up the character and plot/story arcs, index-carded it all, and, after all this is completed, started to write. Another writer said that he just dove headfirst into the script and let it evolve on its own. The rest seem to work somewhere between these extremes. One writer said that the story and characters dictated his approach to writing the script, i.e. doing a sports screenplay meant immersing himself in the sport, but when writing a mystery he had the ending (almost) set in stone and worked backwards from there.

The same applies to me when wearing my hat as a music engineer/producer. The songs are the stories. My job is to take the artists concept & passion and turn it into something to which the audience can relate and enjoy without draining the initial spirit and passion. When I do audio post I am not simply sticking sounds to the visuals, I spend a lot of time attempting to select or create sounds that enhance the characters, move the plot/story and inform the audience. The first versions of these songs or soundtracks often have little resemblance to what I started with. But the core (hopefully) holds true. That is the challenge for every artist; to make something that connects to the audience while holding true to the core passion that started it all. The artists that can do that are the ones that are successful.

+*+*+*

A number of posts have appeared while writing this. I feel, although you and others may disagree, that a screenplay that adapts a short story is no different than any other screenplay. The format will be the same. Perhaps that is where you should start. Get a grasp of the basics.

Again, my musical experience is relevant. Music is written on the page and can be read by any musician, whether it is an original piece or an adaptation. "Pictures At An Exhibition" (1874) by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881) is a solo piano suite comprised of ten "reflections" based upon an exhibition of the art and architecture of Viktor Hartmann tied together by an evolving "Promenade" - Mussorgsky's walk through the gallery from picture to picture. "Pictures" was adapted by several composers, the most famous version by Maurice Ravel in 1922. Progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) adapted some of the material from "Pictures" and rocked the hell out of it in 1971. Each adaptation is unique in and of itself, but the musical core remains the same.

Don't worry about how others have adapted stories; find your own voice. To beat you over the head with it, learn the basics - correct formatting, proper scene headings, relevant dialog and subtext.

Do you know of a link that teaches screenwriting format?

Damn it Jay, can't you use Google? About 10 seconds gave me this:

How to Format a Screenplay (makeuseof.com)

Format has nothing to do with the content. Covers of songs follow the same basic format. The difference is only in the interpretation.

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (original piano version) - YouTube

Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade (part 1) - YouTube

Promenade (Pt. 3) (Live At Newcastle City Hall, 1971) - YouTube

+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

Just for fun you may want to watch three films - "The Shop Around The Corner" (1940), "In The Good 'Ol Summertime" (1949), and "You've Got Mail" (1998). The core is the same, the interpretations are all different. Oh, by the way, "The Shop Around The Corner" was based upon the 1937 play "Parfumerie."

The infamous "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) was based upon the short story "The Greatest Gift;" every publisher it was sent to passed it. So the author, Philip Van Doren, sent it out as a Christmas card, which is how it came to the attention of Frank Capra. For another oh-by-the-way "The Greatest Gift" was very loosely based upon "A Christmas Carol," probably the most adapted story in film history.

Well, there I go with another lock-down ramble. I wish you luck!
 
As I previously posted, I am NOT a screenwriter, but as a "creative" I understand process.

In the numerous vids and blogs I have listened to recently a very substantial percentage of the writers and producers I have heard seem to follow the basics that mlesemann outlined for you. It doesn't matter if you are adapting a story, writing to specific client requirements or writing from personal passion, look for the core of the story. Understand it, embrace it, personalize it. Then just spew out your first draft. Some jump in and write a script, some make copious notes, some write an almost novel-like narrative. Don't worry about how good, bad, consistent or logical it is; this version is the most honest version of how you initially were inspired, felt and reacted to the project. Michelangelo was supposed to have said that the sculpture was already in the marble; all he did was chip away the unneeded bits. The first draft is your marble. You now need to chip away the unneeded bits.

Every screenwriter and producer I have heard so far then mentions rewrites - lots and lots of rewrites. Sometimes dozens of rewrites. Finally there will be a script that works for the producer, the director and (hopefully) the writer. But the script may need to be rewritten again to fit the budget or more directly address the target audience. And don't kid yourself, if you want to write for a living you need to remember that this is the entertainment business, and the entire point of a business is to make a profit, which means appealing to the largest audience possible.

The script will then be adapted/rewritten again through the director when it is shot. And then again during the post process.

So I don't see how perusing the initial draft of the script would help you, as the script goes through many, many changes before it finally hits the market.

The most confusing and yet most obvious thing is that, although all of these successful writers follow the basics, they have entirely unique methods/processes on their journey to the final draft of the script. Just because writer ZYX uses method 975 doesn't mean that YOU have to use method 975. So you will have to choose the tools/methods/processes that fit your personality as you blaze your own way through the wilderness which is the search for a great script. One writer said that she thought about it for a long time, made copious notes, wrote bios on key characters, set up the character and plot/story arcs, index-carded it all, and, after all this is completed, started to write. Another writer said that he just dove headfirst into the script and let it evolve on its own. The rest seem to work somewhere between these extremes. One writer said that the story and characters dictated his approach to writing the script, i.e. doing a sports screenplay meant immersing himself in the sport, but when writing a mystery he had the ending (almost) set in stone and worked backwards from there.

The same applies to me when wearing my hat as a music engineer/producer. The songs are the stories. My job is to take the artists concept & passion and turn it into something to which the audience can relate and enjoy without draining the initial spirit and passion. When I do audio post I am not simply sticking sounds to the visuals, I spend a lot of time attempting to select or create sounds that enhance the characters, move the plot/story and inform the audience. The first versions of these songs or soundtracks often have little resemblance to what I started with. But the core (hopefully) holds true. That is the challenge for every artist; to make something that connects to the audience while holding true to the core passion that started it all. The artists that can do that are the ones that are successful.

+*+*+*

A number of posts have appeared while writing this. I feel, although you and others may disagree, that a screenplay that adapts a short story is no different than any other screenplay. The format will be the same. Perhaps that is where you should start. Get a grasp of the basics.

Again, my musical experience is relevant. Music is written on the page and can be read by any musician, whether it is an original piece or an adaptation. "Pictures At An Exhibition" (1874) by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881) is a solo piano suite comprised of ten "reflections" based upon an exhibition of the art and architecture of Viktor Hartmann tied together by an evolving "Promenade" - Mussorgsky's walk through the gallery from picture to picture. "Pictures" was adapted by several composers, the most famous version by Maurice Ravel in 1922. Progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) adapted some of the material from "Pictures" and rocked the hell out of it in 1971. Each adaptation is unique in and of itself, but the musical core remains the same.

Don't worry about how others have adapted stories; find your own voice. To beat you over the head with it, learn the basics - correct formatting, proper scene headings, relevant dialog and subtext.



Damn it Jay, can't you use Google? About 10 seconds gave me this:

How to Format a Screenplay (makeuseof.com)

Format has nothing to do with the content. Covers of songs follow the same basic format. The difference is only in the interpretation.

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (original piano version) - YouTube

Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade (part 1) - YouTube

Promenade (Pt. 3) (Live At Newcastle City Hall, 1971) - YouTube

+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

Just for fun you may want to watch three films - "The Shop Around The Corner" (1940), "In The Good 'Ol Summertime" (1949), and "You've Got Mail" (1998). The core is the same, the interpretations are all different. Oh, by the way, "The Shop Around The Corner" was based upon the 1937 play "Parfumerie."

The infamous "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) was based upon the short story "The Greatest Gift;" every publisher it was sent to passed it. So the author, Philip Van Doren, sent it out as a Christmas card, which is how it came to the attention of Frank Capra. For another oh-by-the-way "The Greatest Gift" was very loosely based upon "A Christmas Carol," probably the most adapted story in film history.

Well, there I go with another lock-down ramble. I wish you luck!
Ok I will use google instead of asking about the best resources here.
 
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That was a long way to go to get to your real question:

That link is just for fun - I hope you know that.

There are hundreds of websites that show screenplay format.
I kinda like this one
Not quite sure how the first question was that hard to understand lol
 
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