Posts tagged ‘watching movies’

June 23, 2011

Screenwriting 101: Watch, Read, Write

Scott Myers offers this advice on how to become the best screenwriter you can be:

You can learn everything you need to know about screenwriting by doing these three things:

Watch movies.
Read screenplays.
Write pages.

Why watch movies?

Because  to be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the  world of film.  Every movie you see is a potential reference point for  your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters  you develop to scenes you construct.  Moreover people who work in the  movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing  stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean  or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in  order to ‘get’ how movie stories work.  If you immerse yourself in the  world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp  intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions,  dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Movies must be in your lifeblood – and the best way to do that is to watch them. If you haven’t seen all of AFI’s Top 100 Movies, now is the time to start.

Why read screenplays?

Because  every script you read is a learning experience.  If it’s a good script,  you can break it down scene-by-scene to determine why it works.  If  it’s a bad script, you can see aspects of writing you do not want  to emulate.  By reading screenplays of great movies, you can see how  the pages were translated onto the screen, thereby giving you insight  into how to write cinematically.

But most important, you need to  read screenplays because these are primary source material, the ‘stuff’  you traffic when you write.   Reading other writers’ screenplays is a  great way to expose you to different approaches, which will help you  inform and define your own unique style, your own distinct voice.

Screenplays  are the form through which you tell stories – and the best way to learn  that form is by reading scripts.  If you haven’t read the WGA Top 101 list of screenplays, now is the time to get started.  You can go to,, or any of a dozen or more screenplay sites to access literally thousands of screenplays.

Why write pages?

I don’t really have to explain this, right?  You know that you have to write to get better as a writer, not just the words you manage to write, but how you approach writing from a psychological, emotional, and spiritual perspective.  Nobody is born a writer, we all become writers, it’s an active process that is ongoing throughout our lives.

But  most important, you need to write to feed your creativity.  Putting  words onto paper is an act of incarnation.  Rewriting and editing your  words are acts of shaping the material.  Screenwriting is a craft, but  you have to be able to tap into your world of ‘art’ in order to make  your pages come alive.

Writing is the process whereby you create  stories — and the best way to develop that process is to do it.  Every  day.  For this, I have no websites to which to point you.  No lists with  which to challenge you.  Just this fact: When you aren’t writing, someone else is.

Screenwriting  is an incredibly competitive business.  There are no short cuts to  success.  But there are three habits you can embrace that can teach you  everything you need to know about the craft, about creativity, and about  your writer’s self:

Watch movies.
Read screenplays.
Write pages. 

April 29, 2011

Watching Movies from a Critical Point of View

The first time you watch a movie, just watch it. Let yourself get lost in the experience of the film. That’s why we screenwriters work in this business — because we know the power of film to transport, to transform, and to transcend.

The second or third go ’round, bring a critical eye to your viewing experience in order to improve your craft and your film knowledge. Here’s how the Script Lab suggests us writers watch a film:

Many films are made to entertain. But cinema can also educate, indoctrinate, or propagate by allowing us to experience multiple perspectives: cultural, political, or ideological. Hence, we subscribe to the so-called experts, but who’s to say the average moviegoer can’t add to the discussion. Enlightenment is often a product of hard work and practice, so for the aspiring home-based couch “critics”, here is what to study when watching a movie:

(1) Screenplay. Hitchcock said, “The three most vital elements in any good film are the script, the script, the script.” And watching a movie in the right way can teach you a ton about how to structure “the script”. One of the best ways is to watch the clock as you go. At about 12 – 15 minutes in, you should hit the inciting incident. 24 -30 minutes – the character is locked-in, propelling him into the Second Act tension. The practical experience of seeing and analyzing the parts of a script, with stopwatch in hand, is key to identify major plot points, three act structure, and the eight sequences in a film.

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