Science of the film screenplay

A screenplay is the raw essence of a film. Whether it’s absorbing dialogue or even memorable shots – a screenplay maps out the basic settings, characters, scenes and even camera shots in a film. Cartridge Discount has provided some clear insight into what goes on behind the creation of a screenplay to help you understand the process.

Inspiration

While some film scripts are created completely independent of any source (original screenplays) there are many that take inspiration from novels. Adapting a script from a book can be a lengthy and difficult process. If you’re going to adapt from a novel – first establish whether you have permission to adapt. If so, you should take the following tips into account:

Length

When writing a screenplay there are some clear tips to bear in mind. The typical screenplay equates to 1 page lasting 1 minute of film time – meaning a standard 2 hour film should have a script that lasts 120 pages. Although the shorter the film, the more showings it can have in the cinema and the more profit it can garner.

The length of the film affects how long you’ll need to make your script, but it can also have little correlation if you’ve got long scenes with less dialogue. For instance, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is broken down as the following:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring – 173 pages = 178 minutes of film
  • The Two Towers – 222 pages = 179 minutes of film
  • The Return of the King – 152 pages = 201 minutes.

Structure

The main rules to follow relates to the layout of the script. The title page should be a bold, well-presented document to help it stay relevant in the pile of editors and agents who will read it. It must contain the following elements.

  • Title: this should be centre-aligned in the middle of the page and have the following sections
    • Title
    • By
    • Your author name
  • Personal details should be on the bottom left.
  • Agent details (if you have one) should be on the bottom right.

You should use a simple, monospaced typeface for your script. Courier size 12 is one of the most common fonts.

Your page should have a scene title, description of what’s going on and dialogue that happens on separate lines. For example:

“CHARCTER NAME: Dialogue here. “

Pitfalls

While some films fail for other reasons, it is often the result of a poorly planned script. The most common screenwriting errors are remarkably similar and happen again and again. Here are the most noticeable.

Deus Ex Machina: This is a Latin term which means ‘God from the machine’ and is used whenever a writer has written the story into a corner and only a surprise intervention will solve the problem. For example, the eagles at the end of Lord of the Rings or the bacteria in War of the Worlds.

Overt exposition: The rule of good writing is ‘show don’t tell’ – nothing ruins a film quite like having the setting dumped on you with a voiceover.

Directing with your writing: The difference between novel writing and scripts is that an actor will interpret your character and deliver their own version. You don’t have the same control you do of your book characters – so keep things basic and allow room for interpretation.

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