Filmmaking Tips: The Basics of a Screenplay

Just to share a bit about screenplay writing… Hopefully this basic guide comes in handy especially to aspiring writers and interested film buffs who couldn’t prioritize having workshops or having such costly film studies.

Everything starts with a concept. Make your concept simple. And like the script, it should always be in present tense. Its best to keep it as a one-liner. Ideally, it should answer or support most of the following questions already:

- What is the story all about

- What is the theme? (a love story? boy meets girl? girl meets boy? treasure-hunting? ghost story? conquering one’s fear?

- What will be the film’s genre? (drama? comedy? horror? action? gangster? youth-oriented? suspense? fantasy? children’s? period film?

- Whose point of view (POV) will be used for the film? (usually, it’s the POV of the protagonist, but not at all times).

Make your characters human. It would be good to show some gray areas of her/his personality. Be careful of the use of pure white and black characters may it be the protagonist/antagonist, supporting or minor roles, or even bit players (extras). Make a character breakdown from the back stories of your characters. With how you make your characters, the following questions should be clearly answerable:

- What kind of lives do your characters live?

- What is the goal of the main character? (to win the love of the girl or guy?

- to fight for the country? revenge? to unveil/solve a secret/mystery?)

- What is the motivation of the main character? (his/her love? his/her drive to save mankind? his/her revenge? looking forward to a successful career?)

- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the character?

In a linear format of a screenplay where there is the usual beginning, middle, and end, the main character particularly gets to have a certain change in character – most of time, in mainstream and feel-good films, for the better. But sometimes, there are negative changes too.

Expand your concept to a storyline (1-2 pages telling what will happen to the film from start to end). Base your characters from the character breakdown you made so you won’t get lost. Also, your concept, goals, and motivations should be clear so you keep yourself on track. The story becomes tight, justifiable, culturally correct, among other things, depending on your very intentions for the film. Do researches to help you make the best story for the film.

For beginners, always make things simple. Upon mastery, that’s the time to be a bit more intricate and complicated.

Don’t deal too much on having lots of plots in every sequence (like flamboyant actions & situations), but be more keen on characterization and the required actions to make the story work. This puts heart to the story and makes it effective.

Make your sequence guide. This is the storyline in screenplay format already (cut into sequences) – with basic screen directions but without the dialogues yet. Just to give a basic idea about a “sequence,” it is a group of scenes working together, generally with one major business in one basic location (e. g. the sequence of the team playing basketball in a championship game where all the fans are cheering for their teams).

Make your Ssquence treatment. This is an expanded sequence guide but still without dialogues. Here, you describe the scene (scene direction) in a more detailed manner.

After final revisions, the treatment is ready for the screenplay/script.

Make your script/screenplay. This is the sequence treatment with all the dialogues already in and all the production requirements crafted into it already. The screenplay has a basic format. You can check the internet and books for guidelines.

Most films and dramatic productions follow the “Sequence no.- Interior/Exterior-Location-Day/Night format.”

Some TV scripts, especially lifestyle and talk shows, and reality shows, and also AVP scripts, follow the “audio-video format.”

The different formats can have slight variations depending on the need of the production. What is important is that the actual format works for the production’s requirements. And as a writer, it also depends on the style and your demands for your writing. As you continue to write, you discover what really works best for you.

Actually, watching films, primarily the good ones, makes you realize all these things further. The theories behind that you can get through film school and also film workshops greatly help especially if you really want to go into a serious filmmaking career. But more than that, the very watching of great films hones you as a viewer, and even as a writer. And as the cliché says, practice makes perfect. And the experience and exposure to making films and becoming part of the filmmaking process hone you as a writer/filmmaker.

I hope these helps. See you at the movies!

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