HOMEWORK – SCREENWRITING 101 – ASSIGNMENT 1

Hi everyone, it was good meeting all of you in the first class. There are four parts to this week’s homework assignment:

  1. PART 1: Recap of what we covered in first class
  2. PART 2: Watch TV with sound off (see below)
  3. PART 3: Write a short scene (dialogue) (see below)
  4. PART 4: A short video about Celtx (below)

PART 1:

For anyone who missed the first class (or wants a review of what we covered, read over this handout: SCREENPLAY

PART 2:

A challenge for many writers is to train ourselves to think in terms of images and actions rather than dialogue when visualizing stories. (Dialogue is important, but we get to know characters mainly seeing how they act and respond to the situations they’re in, not just their words.)

For this assignment, watch a few minutes of a movie or television show with the sound turned off.  As you’re watching, write a description of what you are seeing.  (Keep your eyes on the screen as much as possible as you’re writing or typing, so you don’t miss anything.)

Don’t focus on, or worry about, camera angles (close-up, medium shot, etc).  These are generally NOT a screenwriter’s concern.  Instead focus on the characters’ actions. Jot down what you see them doing. Or if there are no characters on the scene, jot down whatever you do see.

If you have time this week, watch several movies this way, jotting down the actions as you watch.  If you can’t write or type fast, just jot down what you can, and go back and fill in the details you remember later.

PART 3:

  • After doing assignment 1(above), try writing a very short scene which begins with a character calling (phoning) another character in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t pre-think it too much, it’s really just an exercise in writing some dialogue and getting used to the tight style of writing used in screenplays.
  • You can start with the beginning below, or come up with your own script from scratch.
  • If you DON’T have formatting software, just LEFT-JUSTIFY it like I’ve done below. (Don’t try to fake the formatting, it won’t work.) Here’s a left-justified excerpt from a short script:
INT. JOE’S HOUSE – NIGHTJOE on couch in bathrobe. Looks worried. Picks up phone, hesitates a moment, dials.INT. MAURA’S HOUSEMAURA in bed… hears phone, looks at caller i.d., frowns.MAURA
(answering)
It’s 4 A.M., Joe. I have to work in three hours.LEE
I know. I’m sorry. We gotta talk, Maura. It’s important.(continue writing)

If you DO have formatting software and want to use it, it should look like this:

SOME REMINDERS ABOUT FORMATTING

Screenplays have to be formatted correctly before being submitted to studios. Software such as Final Draft, Celtx, Movie Magic, etc. can format your script for you.

If you don’t have software, it’s best not to try to format it yourself. MS Word, for example, does not format screenplays correctly. (Your script will be rejected by a production studio if it’s incorrectly formatted; it has to be right.)

So if you don’t have software, just type is like I’ve typed the one below. No need for indentation or getting the font size right. Then later, when you get formatting software, you can copy and paste the text into it. Most screenwriting software will auto-format it at that point.

Reminders:

  1. The main components of screenplays are:
        1. TRANSITION (such as: FADE IN. FADE OUT.)
        2. SCENE HEADINGS (at the start of each scene)
        3. ACTION (brief description of who’s there and what they’re doing)
        4. CHARACTER (who is speaking)
        5. DIALOGUE (what they’re saying)
        6. PARENTHETICAL (a few words in parenthesis when needed to clarify things)
  2. Start every scene with a SCENE HEADING that begins with either INT. for “interior” or EXT. for “exterior” (outdoor shots). Scene headings are used to indicate changes of time or location. Examples:
        1. INT. BALLROOM – NIGHT 
        2. EXT. POLICE STATION – DAY
  3. One the line below the scene heading, type the ACTION (a description of who is doing what). Example: Jeff pulls out gun, aims it at Drew. Ellen stands, stretches, walks to window. Paul runs down the stairs, pulling on his shirt.
  4. The first time a character is mentioned in the action, type their name in ALL CAPS. After that, type it normally when mentioning them in the action. Example:
        1. The door opens. JUDY stands there, holding a box. Mary steps aside; Judy enters.
  5. The names of characters are always in ALL CAPS when they are speaking. Their DIALOGUE goes on the line below their names. You don’t need to type a colon after their names (and should not). Example:LEE
    I’m gonna kill that dog.SCOTT
    Dude, don’t be stupid.

 

  • Use parentheticals sparingly. Place them between the name of the character and their dialogue. Use them mainly to communicate emotions. If an action be described in three or four words, you can use them for that also.

 

Here’s a little excerpt from a script I wrote for an acting class exercise:

INT. BALLROOM – NIGHT
Room is filled with party-goers. Poster on wall says “ROCKFORD HIGH TEN YEAR REUNION.” MAGGIE, in a corner, stands looking around for a moment, then starts toward door. KAI sees her, waves across room.
KAI
Maggie? Maggie Dawson?
MAGGIE
Huh?
KAI
(hurrying toward her)
It’s Kai. Kai Kramer! We were in Mister Bellamere’s class together. And, like. the water fountain thing with the fish tank. You remember!
MAGGIE
Uh, yeah. Right. It’s good to see you, Kai. But listen, I —
KAI
I had a little crush on you, you know. Before I met Lee. So how the hell have you been for the last ten years?
MAGGIE
I’m okay. I mean, I’ve had a few health problems, but —
KAI
That’s fantastic. That’s just fabulous. I have to show you something. It’ll blow your socks off!

In the above example, I just left-justified everything. I did not try to correct the indentation. Then I copied and pasted it into Celtx. I then did a little very minor correction because Celtx misunderstood the parenthetical. Here’s what (one page of it) looked like after Celtx formatted it:

PART 4: SHORT VIDEO ABOUT CELTX

You don’t have to use Celtx, but if you decide to get it, there’s a video below showing how easy it is to use.  It usually costs $15 a month but is $7.50 a month at the moment if you use this link: https://www.celtx.com/pricing.html

Alternatively, you could use Final Draft, or Highland 2, or Fade In, or Scrivener, or Movie Magic Screenwriter. (Note: Highland 2 is free to download. Its “pro” version has more features and costs money. It can import some Final Draft files. 

But again, you don’t need to buy software for the class; you can just type assignments left justified like I did above.