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07/14/2004 - WRITING A SCREENPLAY - 1st 10 Pages
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WRITING A SCREENPLAY
Chapter One - THE FIRST TEN PAGES

INTRODUCTION:

Welcome to the wonderful world of screenwriting! Somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind you came up with an idea. Maybe it was something you overheard, maybe it is an old family story or maybe, as with many screenwriters out there, you want to write about YOUR LIFE. Whatever is motivating you - you're on the precipice of starting that screenplay. Good for you! You should be bubbling with excitement as you begin this journey. And I'll tell you right now - these first ten pages will probably be the easiest ten pages you write.

To begin with I'll assume a couple things. First: You know what a screenplay looks like. You have either done some research, talked to a friend, purchased a book, bought a "collector's edition" screenplay, etc. I'm assuming you know what a screenplay looks like. Formatting is all important. For your screenplay to be read by someone with money or power it needs to look, feel and act like a screenplay. If you DO NOT know what a screenplay looks like. Go find one or go buy screenwriting software. Second: You have a story you want to tell and this is the medium in which you want to tell that story.

Good! Now these are heady moments my friend. This is when the creative juices are flowing and the passions are growing and you know that all you have to do is put words to paper and within the next year you'll be standing at a podium thanking the "Academy." It's all a blank canvas now and you're champing at the bit to paint with words this moving powerful hilarious emotional erotic suspenseful love story with a twist ending that is keeping you awake at nights. Or you recently saw "Gigli" and thought, hell, I can do better than that.

Before you begin, though, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does my story have subtext? In other words, what is my story REALLY about?

2. Can I define my story in one sentence? Is it a "high-concept" script?

3. Have I told anyone my story and have they fallen asleep? Or have I kept this story to myself because it's just so darn good?

Your answer to these questions should be.

1. Depends. Action films often don't have subtext while most comedies do and all dramas do. Subtext is the deeper meaning behind the story you are telling.

2. You should be able to do this. How can you expect to pitch your idea if you muddle through an explanation of that idea? Re-define your story into one sentence.

3. Why isn't your story moving? Why can it not hold their interest? And if you haven't told anyone your story - TELL THEM! Get feedback NOW, before you throw yourself into this process you want to get a feeling if this story is interesting or moving or fun. If you have kept this story so far inside your heart - expect to have your heart ripped out when you finally finish and send it to someone to critique.

WHAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH IN THE FIRST TEN PAGES:

1. The hook.

2. The introduction of the characters.

3. The creation of conflict.

THE HOOK:

Sounds doable, right? If you have the right hook you should be able to do all three within the first 30 seconds (or half-page) of your screenplay. At least by page three the hook should have happened and you should be moving into the story.

These films have great "hooks":

"Rear Window"
"Adventures in Babysitting"
Any "James Bond Film"

The whole purpose of the hook is just like it sounds. It's to hook the reader into the story. To do that you need to show character and create conflict. The sooner you do this, the better the chance your story will get read.

INTRODUCTION OF CHARACTERS:

Whether you're writing about Dung Beetles or Nuns, your story is filled with characters. How you introduce those characters can set the tone for your film.

Since you work in the medium of film, the best idea is to SHOW character and not TELL character. Showing adds visuals to your film allowing you to tell your story without beating a person's head over it. Could you imagine the first five minutes of a James Bond film with a bunch of people sitting around talking? Of course not!

A classic example of showing characters can be found in "REAR WINDOW" - ALL WITHIN THE FIRST TWO MINUTES you know Jimmy Stewart character's name and you also know that his leg is broken, how it got broken, his neighbors (the middle-aged piano player and the free-spirit dancer among others), the heat, his profession, his girlfriend and the environment in which he is stuck - and not a word is spoken by Jimmy Stewart.

Use these tools to show character:

Clothing, car they drive, they way they wear their hair, bumper-stickers, what is in their fridge, what books do they read, what is on the walls in their room, what their desk looks like, what is in their locker, how many earrings they have, tattoos, if they smoke, etc.

CREATION OF CONFLICT:

If you have not touched on the conflict in the hook, by page ten your audience should have a good idea where the conflict is heading. You should already be planting the seeds. Look at the first five minutes of Brian DePalma's "Carrie" or the first five minutes of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" or the first five minutes of Sam Raimi's "Spiderman" - the seeds are being planted. Even if the film takes twists and turns and it doesn't pay off the initial conflict you are setting up - the point is to start creating a conflict to draw your audience in so they want to keep reading. Page after page.

COMING NEXT: CHAPTER TWO - THE NEXT TEN PAGES: SUB-CHARACTERS, DESIRE AND CONFLICT - MOVING TOWARDS THE FIRST ACT BREAK

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