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Machinima Screenwriting Basics
A machinima filmmaker is someone who uses video-game footage to create a movie or episodic series using the game’s characters and settings. While recording and editing a machinima film is a technically challenging endeavor, crafting an entertaining screenplay to match a visual story also requires specialized knowledge and skills. Having read a few beginner machinima screenplays and script-doctored some others as well, I would like to offer some basic advice and tips on improving your machinima screenplay’s spoken dialogue. A screenplay with effective and entertaining dialogue will go a long way in making your machinima entertaining for your audience.
When writing dialogue for your machinima, a good rule of thumb to remember is that less is more. I’ve seen some beginner scripts where a character has a paragraph’s worth of dialogue to speak; it is much better to break the paragraph down into shorter conversations with another character rather than boring your audience with rambling speeches. My screenwriting instructor once had our class write a scene where every line could be no longer than five words. While I’m not suggesting you use this drastic model for your screenplay, “Twitterizing” your script will make it read more smoothly and keep the audience better focused on your story.
One of the biggest challenges in writing dialogue is making it sound realistic and convincing. A good example of such dialogue is when you see a movie and a character reminds you exactly of someone you know in real life. Listening to everyday people around you is a great way to pick up on dialogue nuances and different ways of saying things. Also make sure your dialogue matches your characters. I read a machinima script in which a supposedly capable military commander was uttering words like “we could, maybe we should,” etc. I told the writer that his character needed to use more decisive language in order to portray a competent leader.
Another important point to remember when writing your machinima script is that movies are basically about people doing things. But what happens when your characters are merely talking in a scene? You can make these scenes more “visually interesting” by having your characters talking and doing an activity simultaneously. Examples are two cops discussing an important case as they drive around town or shoot targets at a gun range. For a graphic novel I wrote recently, I needed to add some activity to an otherwise static dialogue scene; I ended up having the characters converse over a game of cards.
When writing your machinima script, you may also feel like adding some humor to your story. This can be one of the most difficult things to pull off in your script, as you’re dead in the water if the joke doesn’t deliver the goods. But this is another area where listening to people around you can come in handy for source material -- maybe one or more of your funny lines will originate from a humorous classmate or co-worker. It also helps to “test drive” some of your jokes by doing a scene reading with friends. They’ll be happy to let you know what works (and what doesn’t).
A good machinima script will avoid any time-worn movies clichés. Try to think of a new way to say “don’t die on me” or “drop the gun or she dies” instead of relying on these action-movie staples. It will also test your creativity and make your script feel fresher and more original.
Try to avoid excessive profanity in your machinima script; I read one script where a character let loose a long stream of F-bombs that was unintentionally hilarious. I’m not arguing against having any profanity in your screenplay, but I think the “less is more” rule applies here too. Also keep in mind that some voice actors may not be comfortable with a script that is excessively profane or offensive.
When producing your machinima film, your script must be as entertaining as your visuals. A technically proficient film still requires an effective screenplay to entertain an audience. By applying some of these writing principles to your next machinima screenplay, you will be able to take your film to the next level and increase your fan base as well.