Screenplay Assignment

In this assignment you will be writing your own screenplay.  One of your screenplays will be chosen as our final 4th quarter project, where our entire class will be working as a team to produce an original short film from scratch…so yea, this assignment is kind of a big deal.

How the heck do I start this massive task?

You’ve already learned quite a bit about screenplay formatting and elements of storytelling, character development and literary devices in film.  It’s time to apply that.

  • Start with a synopsis – A “big picture” idea. Don’t get to specific.  What’s the overall message, theme or concept you’d like to get across your audience? What type of story is it – Quest? Coming of Age? Good vs. Evil? Love? What genre will it be – Drama? Comedy? Love Story? Horror? Fantasy?
    • Big Fish Example: I want to tell a coming of age story that explores the purpose of myths, legends and tall tales through the complicated relationship between a journalist son and his larger-than-life, storytelling father who is dying of cancer.
  • Move onto a plot diagram – summarize what will happen in your exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.
    • Once you summarize each plot section, expand on your diagram by listing a few bullet points under each section – these will become scenes within those sections.
  • Make a character map – this lists out the major characters in your story.  Don’t get too detailed, but think about who they really are, what their motivations are and what character traits they possess.  For each major character, you can break it down into subcategories like this:
    • Biographical information: Character name, age, occupation
    • Relationship to other characters – mother, son, boyfriend, teacher, etc.
    • Physical traits: What do they look like? Be general (handsome, pretty) or specific if it matters (spiked blonde hair with snake tattoo on left arm).
    • Emotional traits: What motivates them? What’s in their head? What are they feeling?
    • Backstory: If they’re a major character, we should know a little about their past if it’s relevant to the story.

I’ve got my ideas sketched out, what next?

Start writing! What’s going to happen in each scene of your story? As you write, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Remember the 4 purposes of a scene.  If it doesn’t fall into one of these categories, cut it!
    • Reveal character
    • Establish setting
    • Show conflict
    • Advance the plot
  • Keep your dialog real.  It should sound like a realistic conversation.  It helps to read it out loud to see if it sounds natural.
  • Watch your length – remember one page of screenplay = one minute of screen time.  Remember we are making short films, not two hour epics.  A good length to shoot for is 15 minutes.
  • Don’t stress over screenplay format.  Just get your ideas down first, then we’ll worry about indents, capitalization and all of that stuff.

To review screenplay format:

Good luck and I can’t wait to see what you come up with! You will be pitching your idea to the class on the day we come back from Spring Break.

For your pitch, you will present a synopsis of your story to the class and read us one page of your screenplay that you find most important, most interesting or especially well-written.

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