As previous articles may have mentioned, Gannon Universtiy offered a screenwriting course this semester. A big part of the class has been learning how to create a full script. We’ve been working our way up to it, from a few sample scenes, to 6 full pages, to our final 30 page script at the end of the semester.
As someone who never wrote a script before this class, 30 pages seemed like a daunting task. Granted, each page is about 1 minute of screen time so it’s only 30 minutes of material, but the length of a TV episode is still substantial. I sat on that project for a long while before I even started typing. What sort of story could I fill that time with? I was drawing blanks, so I looked to my favorite films for inspiration.
Every year the possible nominees for best screenplay at the Oscars release their scripts to the public online for educational purposes. I went and downloaded the last 3 years of scripts. Everything from Birdman and Grand Budapest Hotel, to Straight Outta Compton and Hateful Eight. I downloaded them all and just read through them. I looked for stylistic choices, I looked for how they crafted dialogue, all the details that makes scripts successful, and to some extent I tried to imitate a lot of it.
One thing I’ve seen plenty of directors say is that your first script is going to be a mashup of all your favorite things from other films and that’s OK. You develop your own voice and style by imitating to some extent. You see what ideas work and which ones fit for you and you mold them into your own unique perspective.
So after reading through a ton of scripts I settled on a simple story with lots of dialogue and a limited number of characters. I didn’t want to get too ambitious, but rather hone in on crafting a few good characters and some interesting story lines. Luckily we were given worksheets early in the course full of questions for creating characters with personality.
With these tools in hand, I just tried to dive into the process and just put words down without immediate concern for making it all perfect. I just let my thoughts spill out. In that jumble of ideas, I saw the ones that I liked and took them further, expanding until they were fully formed plots pieces.
I sat on these ideas for a bit. I went out and watched movies (I try to see as many new films every year as I possibly can). I saw bad ones and thought of how I would have approached them. I saw classics and made note of the approaches that I never would have thought of. Then, I came back to what I had written and tried my best to apply some of those thoughts to my own work.
Is my end result going to be a masterpiece? No. I’m just hoping it’s deserving of an A when it comes to grading time. I never expected my first attempt at a script to be anything but a learning process, and that’s fine because the next one will be cleaner and more complete as a result. I may never be a paid screenwriter, but taking the course and writing the scripts has taught me to have a little patience in my work and to see where my ideas take me.