By Mikael Colville-Andersen:
History of Hollywood Dramaturgy -
The long road to the modern screenplay
Screenwriting by Numbers
A Screenwriter's Checklist.
European Film & American Movies
The evolution of two distinct worlds.
Writing a Logline
A short guide to that all important log line.
The Dogma Doctor from Denmark.
The Disneynisation of classic works.
A guideline to creating excellent characters.
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Suso Cecchi d'Amico
Screenwriting by Numbers - A Screenwriter's
Rule number one is "there are no rules".
These are some of the basics to consider when writing. Personally, I write blind when I do a first draft, and then use the following checklist before moving onto the rewrite.
Sometimes I just use my instincts when deciding that one or more elements are not necessary, but if you are writing for Hollywood, you should try to stick to the points rather strictly.
For clarity, we'll assume we have a 120 page screenplay. If you format it correctly, one page should equal one minute of screentime.
At a point of reference, I chose two films I happened to have seen recently, Scent of a Woman and Sleeping with the Enemy, and use them to give examples
Page 1-30 - ACT ONE
Pages 1-10 - THE SET-UP
Here's what you need:
Introduce our protagonist. Who are they? What are they like? What do they do? What is their dream and their want?
We have to know rather quickly what the story is about. The plot should be clear and defined. We should sense the atmosphere of the film. If it s a love story, we know it. A thriller, same thing.
In SCENT OF A WOMAN, for example, we see Charlie looking at a bulletin board, searching for a job. Within a few minutes, we know he is on scholarship and not one of the rich boys at the exclusive school.
In SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, we establish that the couple are wealthy and live along the beach at Cape Cod.
Pages 3-4 - PRIMARY QUEST
Tradtionally, we know the answer - of course he/she will find him/her and of course they ll fall in love. Then we ll begin the journey. Getting there is all the fun, but the PRIMARY QUEST needs to be spelled out.
SCENT OF A WOMAN: The PRIMARY QUEST is established as "will Charlie get the job and make the money?"
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Will Laura be able to get out of/put up with the marriage with the obsessive, violent husband.
Pages 11-20 - THE SET-UP DEVELOPS
Be careful not to start adding all sorts of new elements. Stick to concentrating on expand on the ones you presented in the setup.
Pages 21-30 - THE CONFLICT GAINS DEFINITION
Pages 25-30 - PLOT PIVOT 1
SCENT OF A WOMAN: Charlie is forced to go to New York with the Colonel. We now wonder if he will be able to complete the task of taking care of the colonel.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Laura escapes by arranging her own death by drowning.
Pages 30-60 - GAIN SEGMENT
SCENT OF A WOMAN: Despite Charlie's protests and repeated attempts to get back home, he cannot leave the colonel. He has to complete his task and make the money
Page 45 - DEVELOPMENT METAPHOR
Pages 55-58 - ILLUMINATION
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Laura, now established in the new town, enjoys a wonderful scene in the theatre with Ben. It's as though she is learning to have fun and relax.
SCENT OF A WOMAN: Charlie watches the colonel dance the tango with Donna at the fine restaurant.
Page 60 - PLOT APEX
In the Godfather, for example, Michael Corleone walks out of the bathroom and shoots the cop and the mob guy. Now he is involved in the family s goings-on and won t be able to preserve his innocence any longer.
It is a point of commitment. Innocence is lost, only the journey to achieve the Primary Quest remains.
The protagonist can experience that the Primary Plot Quest becomes something much more personal.
While this point is related to the plot, it usually is more of a character development. It does not have the same emphasis as a PLOT PIVOT.
SCENT OF A WOMAN: Charlie learns that the colonel plans to kill himself at the end of the weekend.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Laura's husband is on her trail. He realises that she is alive.
Pages 61-65 - GRACE
Pages 61-90 - INTENSIFICATION
The protagonist s drive increases to match the increasing conflict. Both the protagoist and the audience realises that this is definately no walk in the park. Achieving the PRIMARY QUEST looks a bit iffy.
SCENT OF A WOMAN: Now that Charlie knows the colonel plans on suicide, Charlie is much more aware and wary of the situation.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Laura's husband moves in for the kill
Pages 85-90 - PLOT PIVOT 2
All that hard work down the drain. Or is it?
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Laura discovers that her husband knows where
Pages 90-108 - THE SPRINT SEGMENT
Something happens in this sequence, closer to the beginning than the end, through which the protagonist gains some nugget of wisdom. The protagonist may experience something that makes him/her realise something they didn t know. Something that helps them or something that shows that they have learned/experienced something they hadn t planned on when they began the journey.
Pages 108-115 - CLIMAX
Unforunately for the protagonist, however, the main antagonist, or nemesis, just happens to be standing in their way. This is a "life and death" or a "choose love or nothing" situation. The crucial point where the protagonist has to do the ultimate battle, whether physical (in a plot-based story) or emotional (in a character-based story.
SCENT OF A WOMAN: The colonel helps Charlie get out of his predicament
at school by giving that moving speech.
Pages 115-120 - DENOUMENT OR SOLUTION
SCENT OF A WOMAN: Charlie drops off the colonel at home and watches him make amends by being nice to his niece and nephew.
Page 120 - THE END
© Mikael Colville-Andersen 2006-2011