What is Screenplay and How it Works
Screenplays are like books, everyone thinks they have one in them. I heard a story, and it was awesome—a family’s search for the total dream, drug dealers under the scrutiny of the law, police corruption, an adrenaline-powered shooting, everything you could want in a major motion picture.In my experience, most writing projects like this don’t work out, but when they show up, it’s important to give them your best. After all, at the very least, it’s good practice.
The most important thing to remember when you set out to write a screenplay is that you are writing a story for the screen and not a novel or a short story. You must, therefore, write only what the cameraman can film or the soundman can record. So try to think of a series of events that will be interesting to watch – as well as to listen to. This does not mean the story needs to be set somewhere strange or beautiful, it just means that you should try to think how the story can be told with pictures and sounds, as well as dialogue (what your characters say). For instance, if a man likes a woman, you don’t have to have him say, “I love you.” Most of the time a single look will be enough.
A properly formatted screenplay serves two purposes. The first purpose is to tell a story. If you write your screenplay well, your description of a great battle will explode in the readerʼs ears, your dialogue between two lovers will cause the readerʼs eyes to tear up, and that emotional speech you write from a great leader will leave a lump in your readerʼs throat. When you read a great screenplay, you see the movie in your mind and canʼt wait to see it on the big screen.
No matter your life experience, age, or level of education, you have a story to tell. Whether you live in Nome, Alaska; Tampa, Florida; or Ottumwa, Iowa, you have a story to tell. Bollywood alone produces 600 movies per year. Add in the television industry, independent films, and markets outside the INDIA and there are thousands of professional opportunities every single year for storytellers just like you. But for now, you will be starting where every successful screenwriter starts, with the spec script. A spec script is one written “on speculation” which means it has not yet been sold or produced.
Beginning, middle and end In his treatise Poetics Aristotle provided the first analysis of drama and was also the first to suggest ways in which Poets and Dramatists might best structure their stories. He believed that, at its most basic level, every good story has not only a Beginning, Middle and End, it also involves two main plot phases: COMPLICATION and UNRAVELLING. From the moment you start introducing your characters and giving them desires and ambitions, you put them into conflict with the people around them. The natural arc of any situation is for it to become more complicated until the conflict reaches a climax and the situation is resolved
Set-Up, Conflict, Resolution Screen stories are all about questions and answers – questions and answers. At the story level, you must ask: What is my story really about?
- What is my story really about?
- What do I want to say?
- What is the story’s big hook?
- What makes it cinematic (or televisual)?
- Why is it way better than anything else I’ve seen?
- Would I pay to see it?
At the character level you must ask:
- Who is my lead character?
- What do they want?
- How can I show what they want?
- What do they need to learn about the world or themselves in order to get what they want?
- How can I demonstrate visually what they need?
- Who opposes them?
- How do they attack the lead character and expose their weaknesses?
- Why is the lead character resistant to change, reluctant to confront their weakness?
- How does the level of conflict increase?
- What makes the conflict personal?
- Does the conflict become obsessive and force even friends to start deserting the lead character? (if not it should!)
- How is the lead character finally forced to confront their weakness and contemplate internal change?
- Why does the lead character come back for one last attempt to defeat their opponent?
- Do they still want what they did at the beginning, or are they beginning to understand that they will never win unless they change their goal or their attitude to life?
- What moral choices that they have to make in the final struggle will finally externalise their inner struggle between what they want and what they need?
- How does the lead character close the divide between what they want and what they need in the climax and resolution of the movie
Everything in a screenplay is organized into scenes, and every scene starts with a scene heading, which can also be called a slug line. These terms are interchangeable. Read these lines below from the hit movie DDLJ. The first line is the scene heading.
EXT. SEEMRAN’S STREET – DAY
It has three parts. The first one tells you whether the camera is placed outside, or exterior, which is abbreviated EXT; or inside, which is INT, for an interior scene. Next is the location of the scene. This can be as specific as SEEMRAN’s Bedroom, or as broad as Wyoming. In this case, it’s SEEMRANʼs Street. Last is a time of day. It’s best to write only day or night. Specific times are not used, although you might use a general time of day, like sunrise or evening if that’s critical to making the scene work.
ACTION AND DIALOGUE
Screenplays are made up of scenes and scenes are made up of action and dialogue. Action should never try to explain what a character is thinking. You would never write something like “RAJ thinks her blind date has appalling table manners.” If that’s the case, give the date something appalling to do, then have react to it.
OFF-SCREEN AND OFF-CAMERA In a movie,
you don’t always see who you hear. This happens when you hear someone talking off-screen or as a voice-over. Offscreen means that the character is involved in the action, but not seen on screen when he or she speaks. It’s easy to show this: At the end of the character cue, in parentheses, just type in capital letters, OS or O.S., for off-screen.
TITLE (fly) PAGE AND BINDING
Nowadays, most producers or agents will ask you to email them a copy of your script either in PDF format, or more likely, in Final Draft format. With Final Draft, you can save and email your script as a PDF file. You can securely lock your Final Draft file, so others can read it but they canʼt make changes to it. You can email it as a text or Word doc if your reader doesnʼt have Final Draft. And you can even register your Final Draft script with The Writerʼs Guild.
You should also read as many screenplays as possibles. Read screenplays from every genre. Read the best screenplays from every era. Read the best screenplays. Read bad screenplays. You can find screenplays on the internet and at most every bookstore. But, most importantly, write, write, and write some more.