Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lemmy&Binky's Guide To Screenwriting

In a bold and unprecedented move, Lemmy&Binky are going to take some time out from the rollercoaster world of games for this post. So what are we going to learn about instead?

Screenwriting.

Yes, after reading this short guide, you will be belting out blockbuster movies in days. And that's a guarantee! (though not the legally binding type of guarantee)

I must stress at this point that even if my excellent examples suggest otherwise, I am not a successful scriptwriter, and in fact have not had any work published, nor read by any agent or producer, or any other person in the movie industry. But I have wrote many great movie scripts, both of which were finished to a high quality and read by over two people, only one of which was my mother.

So without further ado, let the learning begin!

Story

The first step to creating a script that will sell is considering what the story is going to be about. Things with bombs in (or guns perhaps?) are always popular. Love stories are good too. Stick some guns and bombs in and you're golden.

They say there are only seven basic stories, but I have discovered several more. What follows is the absolute definitive list of story plots in the world of literature:

  • Someone is going to blow something up, someone stops them using guns and string vest.
  • Someone falls in love with another person, they have a slight sad bit, followed by a happy bit. This happy bit is the end.
  • There is something that happens, but you see after it happened first. Then actually see it happen -- but in little bits.
  • Someone thinks something, then thinks something different after some things happen to them.
  • Some things happen and almost everyone in the world dies except the hero, hero's family, hero's dog.
  • Some people go somewhere because something might be wrong. Something is wrong. Everyone dies except those who escape.
  • Someone is a bachelor, but then acquire a child somehow and is forced to look after it. Eventually learns about kids.

Hmmm actually, after counting, I guess they were right. There are only seven basic plots.

The best way to make an interesting plot is to take something normal, and put a comic twist on it. The twist could be somehow ironic (Americans: "crazy switch around funny"), like a man with no arms that enters a boxing competition, or a US President is elected that can't read, has lots of comedic misunderstandings due to his illiteracy, and then accidentally starts a war. It doesn't have to be completely plausible, it just has to get your attention.

So you've got your basic idea. Now you need to turn that into a pitch of a few sentences in length that captures the essence of your movie story. Here are a few examples:

  • A father must rescue his kids from a one-armed terrorist who is also a ninja, but things go from bad to worse when his mind is switched with the family dog by a voodoo priest.
  • Shelly Metcalfe is a sweet girl living in LA, and has everything going for her. Until one day her life is turned upside down when her feet are transformed into two crazy yet charismatic aliens by a voodoo priest.
  • Sheriff Smith has his work cut out for him. A new cowboy rolls into town who is actually a cowgirl, and the Sheriff falls for her, but things get complicated when she is wanted for the murder of a local voodoo priest. The sheriff must decide between a life on the wrong side of the law, or shooting her with a big gun.

There you go, simple as that. You can almost see them on the silver screen, can't you? Feel free to use any of these great ideas as you see fit. I have loads.

Words

Writing the words is one of the hardest parts of scriptwriting. It is at its easiest if you can read and write. If you're reading this now, then well done! You're already 50% of the way there. If you can write also (try this now on any handy writing surface), then you have everything you need to start. If you are unable to either read or write, then I suggest you learn to do so before continuing this guide.

Royal "We"

It is important not to say "we" when writing scripts, as it destroys the illusion that the script is really happening when it is being read, or something. I can't actually remember the reason, but it's very, very important, trust me. See the following example:

"We see a man wearing shorts."

"A man wears some shorts."

Which of the above lines made you imagine a man wearing shorts the most? The top one? I think not!

So what if the word "we" is needed for a line of dialogue? Simple, just exchange it for the words "the people present". e.g.

TOM
We must stop him before it’s too late!

or...

TOM
The people present must stop him before it’s too late!

Easy. Remember... if you say "we", anyone reading your script will instantly think it's crap, and that you are an idiot. Just don't do it, okay?!

No cameras in your script

Don't feature any cameras in your script. It is the director's job to decide if cameras should feature in a screenplay, not yours. You can always substitute them with a mobile phone, or a magnifying glass, or something. If the director feels its important to the story, he will put the camera back in upon filming. Remember, it's a director's medium.

Dialogue

Writing dialogue is tough stuff. You need to be acutely aware of how people speak. For example, people tend to have pauses when they speak, and say things in funny accents and that. This is what makes dialogue hard.

To make good dialogue, you have to make sure the "flow" is right. This means that the words "flow" out at the right pace, and don't sound clunky and stupid.

Also, unless the character is meant to prattle on, say everything in as few words as possible.. e.g.

MIKE
Hello, my name is Mike. I work
in a fire station. One might
assume that I am a fireman
by trade, and one would
assume correctly.

Yuck. Terrible... too much information, my friend! You ever heard anyone talk like that? No, me neither. Armed with a Dictaphone, take a walk to a fire station. It'll be worth the trip. I tried that and got some valuable insights. Here's what I ended up with:

MIKE
Hey, I'm Fireman Mike!

See? Short and sweet. It gets all necessary information across to the reader in the smallest time possible. His name is Mike. He's a fireman. He's friendly. He's in a fire station, probably.

Exposition

Exposition is where the plot is revealed to the person reading the script, or watching the movie. Bad exposition is obvious exposition. How many times have we all seen this before?

JIM
My God, the entire world is being overrun with jam!

BOB
But if that happens, won't the ancient Greek puzzle become unlocked and unleash the evil legions of Hades... upon Greece?

JIM
It sure will, Bob. There are three keys that must be found before we can lock the puzzle and bury it forever, or at least until it is dug up again in the sequel.

BOB
Will there be traps and snakes and stuff?

JIM
You can count on it.

Terrible stuff! Forgive me, but I wrote this clunky dialogue to illustrate a point, and my dialogue is usually top notch stuff. The problem with this dialogue is it is what is known in the industry as "on the nose". People don't queue up at the cinema to be told a bunch of stuff, they queue up to buy a ticket to get into the cinema.

Do you see the point I'm making here? I'm not quite sure myself, but I'll say this: If you're going to have interesting things happen, then it is important to get it happening on the screen, otherwise the special effects departments will have sod all to do. The above example could be tackled as follows:

EXT. GRAND CANYON - DAY

Jam oozes through the canyon. Two old men with few teeth observe.

MAN 1
Will this jam ever be stopped?

MAN 2
I don't know... I just don't know.

INT. GREEK TEMPLE - DAY

The Greek puzzle begins to glow as jam seeps over it.

INT. HADES - DAY

A demon is laughing manically.

DEMON
Hahaha! I'm free!!!
Free to attack ... Greece!

Point made, I think. And how!

Formatting

Oh dear, now the boring bit. I'll keep this short, but basically if you're looking to submit your script to someone in the biz, then it's a good idea to make it professional. Don't be slapping any weird fonts in, or pictures of your family. Unless of course the movie is about your family, or weird fonts.

It should be in that typewriter font. The one off of Murder She Wrote. Only smaller than it appears on screen (unless you own a small TV). All studio execs are huge Angela Lansbury fans, perhaps finding her erotic despite her seasoned age, I have no idea, but whatever the reason they never tire of reading in that font.

Also, make sure that there are lots of white bits down the sides. This is called "white space", and gives people reading the script somewhere to grip without getting inky fingers. And inky fingered execs mean no sale for you, sunshine!

For a front cover, why not go wild and fake a DVD cover for your movie? Maybe with photoshopped heads of your prospective cast? Studio exec fellows will eat that shit right up, surely?

Marketing

Marketing your script is the easiest bit. You've just got to mail it to a bunch of agents, and then get them to sell it for loads of cash. If your script is as great as it should be after reading this guide, then offers will be rolling in.

And there you have it. Any questions? Just get in touch and answers be yours! (possibly)


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. I am going to immediately begin writing a script about a bachelor fireman who finds a child left behind after a fire that was caused by terrorists who bombed the wrong building! Did I get it right?

Lemmy said...

Fantastic stuff there truleyscrumptus! Though you might want to consider adding a voodoo priest in there some place!

Captain Binky said...

Close, although you forgot the bit about the ninja voodoo alien!

Captain Binky said...

damn, you got there first Lemmy!
What I meant was backflipping-commando hamsters. Or something. Note to self: think of something witty before posting comments.

Mark said...

Amazing! I always read your blog thinkning to myself: "Is this bit joking? Or is it this next bit? Oh, but that was a good point. Damn, when are they joking"

I then promptly get eaten by a giant spider, that can backflip and has a black belt in karate.

ciscoblog said...
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