Writing a film scene: Movies are made up of scenes. They are little one-act plays with a purpose: a set up, development and resolution. Write a 5-10 page scene in screenplay form (see Juno script linked below). It can be longer if it needs to be. I’m giving you a lot of extra time on this because it is creative writing, not academic writing, and I want you to have plenty of time for your ideas to germinate.
You are responsible for:
– creating characters (at least two),
– a situation with a problem presented early in the scene,
– development of a conflict precipitated by that problem,
– a climax that leads to some kind of resolution or pay-off that either solves the problem or moves it to a new level.
– a climax that results in some kind of change in one or both of the characters and their relationship.
The topic of the scene is a confession. Think about how confessions work – one person has the objective of hiding information and the other person’s objective is to pry it out: mutually exclusive objectives. Each character has strategies for going about what he or she is after. If/when one tactic doesn’t work, another one is employed, so that there are several beats or units of action. Don’t make it too easy. Think about your life. Think about times where you have had to confess some trespass or when you pressed a friend or relative to come clean. It is charged with emotion and energy. It might be easiest to think of one character as your protagonist and one as your antagonist, but give them an equal investment in the outcome of the scene. Both need a stake. Don’t be afraid to have one character be a liar, equivocator, jerk. They are always a fountain of conflict in drama.
My recommendation is to figure out your story ahead of time – have a rough beginning, middle and end in mind (set up, development, payoff) before you start trying to write the dialog.
Make sure the drama/conflict is on stage. We want to see your characters live it, not talk about what just happened off stage.
You are NOT responsible for camera directions and incidental ‘stage’ movement like “she walks to the table.” You should include actions pertinent to the story. “He walks toward her, his fists clenched.” “She picks up the meat cleaver.”
Important: Write in present tense. Minimal, perfunctory narrative. Actions speak louder than words, but the actions are not described in colorful detail as in fiction. See the Juno script.
Important: Everything you put on the page must be able to be seen or heard by the audience. You are writing a blueprint for a show, dialog that is brought to life by actors. No “he thinks,” or “she feels” in your narrative passages. There is no way for the audience to get those messages unless your characters say them or demonstrate them in their behavior e.g.: pounding a table, crying, laughing, walking away, shrugging, throwing dishes, etc.
Important: You do NOT need to be as technically detailed in the writing as the Juno script. All I really need is character names centered, narration flush left and dialog indented on a one or two tab stop margin. See “The View from Here” linked below.
First: Establish a status quo (the state of things, the “normal” world) but get your character in trouble as soon as possible. The status quo can be anything from the mundane everyday life of a student to a firefight in the middle of a war. The disruption of the status quo (the main character’s life) should ask a dramatic question along the lines of “How is this going to be solved?” (Will Dorothy make it home to Kansas. Will Trudy find out where Moss was after his rehearsal last night?) The answer should not be obvious or expected, though it might be inevitable. (We know that Dorothy will make it home to Kansas, but that she will have many obstacles thrown in her path. We expect that Trudy will find out where Moss was last night, but if Moss is a skillful enough liar, she might not.)
Start in media res (in the middle of things), which means as close to the disruption of the protagonist’s world as you can. You are writing about this event because it is a dramatic experience. It is the peak of the mountain, the last quarter mile of the climb, not the two weeks carrying food and gear over the foothills and setting up base camp.
Raise the stakes (increase the tension) whenever possible, and hold off revealing information as long as you can. You benefit from asking questions that remain unanswered as long as possible. Be open to surprises that appear from your typing fingers.
Establish the who, what, where, when, how early. Required of any scene is that it be set up clearly, that it reveal for the audience what is at stake, that it goes through some twists and turns, obstacles, complications … to some kind of resolution that completes the story and results in some kind of change in one or both characters. Unanswered questions are okay at the end, but it has to satisfy the audience. Without change, you hav
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