By Wes Ball

The evolution of A Work in Progress was a real roller coaster, Wes Ball said about his 2002 B.F.A. Thesis film. It all began with my previous live-action short, Jacob The Movie, a pretty ambitious student endeavor that ignored everyone's concern about 'scope.' In the end, it had its flaws and I made my mistakes, but I accomplished a lot and gained some confidence in myself. Still, after the scale of Jacob, I decided I wanted to go back to basics and tell a very simple story as well as I could....

The Decision

Discoveries are often beyond our control, but decisions are not. They come straight from our unique Central Control experience, values, world view. The quickest and best way to know someone is to see that person make a significant decision, Sam Smiley says. I agree. Our decisions define us. They also define the lives that we lead. It's no wonder, then, that major decisions are powerful moments in screenplays. True watershed moments. In long and short scripts, a character's most important...

The Long Short Screenplay

For the past four screenplays, you've focused on essential elements of drama discovery, decision, conflict, connection and you've created and crafted these in short screenplays. In the process, ideally, you've learned to write vivid and economical descriptions of setting, character, action, using higher and more significant detail, and you've learned to sharpen your dialogue, letting your characters say far more with less. And along the way, you've probably noticed that these elements of drama...

The Screenplay Paradox

Joan Didion once said that the reason we write lies in the very vowel sounds of the phrase Why I Write I, I, I. It has also been said that the reason audiences go to see what we've written can be summed up in the phrase Tell me about me. It's a miracle shared emotions happen at all. Still, it's true We go to The Full Monty to see a story about unemployed steelworkers who save relationships and self-respect with a strip-show, but we also go because, on some level, we want to see our own life....

The Discovery

As you learned in the Mood Exercise, the most frequent moment of change in our lives and our characters' lives is the discovery. Learning. Finding out. Realizing. The best stories are patterns of discoveries that make a difference, however subtle, to the characters, like the discovery Hannah makes in Lena's Spaghetti Hannah jumps on the bed. She flops onto her stomach, picks up the comics, looks them over with a straight face. She turns the page and sees the personal ads. She brightens as she...

By Barry Jenkins

It took Barry Jenkins fifteen months to finish the screenplay and film of My Josephine. He wrote the first draft in mid-September, 2001, for his B.F.A. Screenwriting II class, and later much later directed the film for his Filmmaking III project. It was a very raw film in that first draft. Everything I was feeling about 9 11 was vented right there on the surface of the script. The two characters were broad frames for my sympathy for Arab-Americans in post-9 11 America, and in clinging so much...

Drafting The Screenplay

This time, raise the stakes on yourself as you draft your screenplay. Work harder for significant details in your Character I.D. and narrative description. A detail is concrete if it appeals to one of the five senses, Janet Burroway writes it is significant if it also conveys an idea or a judgment or both. Look at the description of Shawshank Prison in The Shawshank Redemption A malignant stone growth on the Maine landscape. The moon hangs low and baleful in a dead sky. The headlight of a...

Demystifying Format

Screenplay format breaks down into five easy pieces 1. The scene heading or slug line 2. The narrative description of the action 3. The name of the character speaking 4. The parenthetical directions and dialogue More and more, my students are using screenplay software (me, too). Talk about easy. In most people's opinion, it's worth every penny, but it can be pricey (I've listed different software names and phone numbers in the Appendix so you can check on the price and computer compatibility if...

The Third Screenplaythe Boxing Match

Write a five-page screenplay about a character (A) who wants something badly that a second character (B) does not want to give. And follow these guidelines 1. Character A's want must be clear. 2. We have to understand why your character wants it. This gets at stake what's lost if the character doesn't get what he wants. 3. We must understand why Character B does not want to give it. 4. Let Character A fail at least once, regroup, and try again. This is a screenplay, not just a scene, but even...

Preface To The Second Edition

This book is the distillation of a decade and a half of teaching screenwriting and dramatic technique at Florida State University and an epiphany I had halfway through. During that decade and a half, to my delight, I've seen the American short film (thirty minutes or less) rise in importance from a r sum piece intended to launch a filmmaker's career to an art form in its own right. As interest and access to short films increases, as well as outstanding venues like home-starrunner.com and...

Surface And Deep Action

When I'm writing a screenplay (or a novel or a play or a memoir, for that matter), I find it useful to break the story I'm telling into the external and internal patterns of change. I call these the story's surface action and deep action. Just as the best screenplays interweave striving and connecting, they interweave the surface and the deep action. The best drama, in fact, is a dance between the external and the internal Horatio sees the ghost of Hamlet's father (external), struggles to...

The Improbable Connection

There's no question that conflict is important. And we connect because we also strive, hit obstacles, suffer. Life is suffering, Buddha said. And such small portions, Woody Allen says in Annie Hall. Connection is the other half of the story of our lives and the stories we tell. Good screenwriters understand this intuitively even though, as I've said, connection is essentially overlooked in screenwriting books. Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict, Chris Keane writes in How...

Hmph

Writing down the page can give a scene great energy, so it's especially useful in action sequences, but it can also eat up a great deal of space, so it's rarely used in short screenplays, particularly if the writer has a page limit. My students do find it useful at times in short screenplays to use MONTAGE or SERIES OF SHOTS to show the rapid passage of time. A montage is a series of MOS (no dialogue) shots, but more and more, MONTAGE and SERIES OF SHOTS are used interchangeably. Some writers...

Emotional Flow

Just as emotion is the invisible thread that connects an audience to characters up on the screen, emotional flow is the invisible thread that connects the individual scenes. Each scene in a screenplay is separate, distinct. By definition, a new scene occurs when the camera changes time or place (not placement within a scene) EXT. LIGHTHOUSE NIGHT INT. LIGHTHOUSE NIGHT EXT. BEACH DAY And so forth. The story leaps from one scene to another, blessedly leaving the boring stuff out (Kosher is a...

Slow Dancin Down The Aisles Of The Quickcheck

At the first crew meeting for Slow Dancin' Down the Aisles of the Quickcheck, Thomas Jackson made a brief speech I told everybody the most important thing is I want everybody to have a great experience, have a good time, and learn from the experience. It was important to me that the set was pleasant and everyone felt good about it because there are so many sets you go on that suck. You hate to be there. So it was so important to me that this be a pleasant experience for all involved. Then I...

The Fourth Screenplaythe Improbable Connection

Write a seven-page screenplay about two characters who initially feel no connection whatsoever a connection between them is highly improbable but by the end of the screenplay they have come to feel an authentic connection. And follow these guidelines 1. Establish the improbability of your characters ever connecting. In Philadelphia, the improbability of a connection between Andrew and Joe is carefully set up when Joe refuses to represent Andrew. And it's underlined again in a scene between Joe...

Connecting To Collaboration

A former screenwriting student, Tom Kurzanski, e-mailed me one day. I just wanted to thank you for planting the seeds of writing with a partner. The seeds took root and I partnered up with a good friend and colleague of mine Michael Young . Now here I am with a T.V. pilot that, I feel, is some of the best writing I've ever done. Tom isn't alone. I've seen the interest in co-writing scripts rapidly rising among writers and students. And I'm not surprised Each year the list of script partners and...

The Making Of Killer Kite

Story by Matt Stevens Screenplay by Robert S. Gray The Making of Killer Kite, written and shot in 1991 as an M.F.A. Thesis Film, is a reincarnation of a spoof that Matt Stevens wrote, directed, and shot on Super 8 mm in high school Like every other young male filmmaker I'm talking about when I was in high school I made the obligatory inani-mate-object-attacking-people film. Killer Kite 2, a supposed trailer for a sequel that, of course, didn't exist. I decided to do the attacking kite in the...

The Boxing Match

Since the day you thought about writing screenplays, you've no doubt been told that they must have conflict. As I've said, this is only half true connection is equally important. And this advice about conflict is not very helpful if you're trying to learn the craft of screenwriting. It gets you obsessing about the wrong thing. You begin to think that conflict is some secret ingredient in a screenwriter's potion the dramatist's eye of newt and you wonder where the heck you can find some to throw...

Contents

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION xi INTRODUCTION THE POWER AND IMPORTANCE PART I Preparing to Write the Short Screenplay 7 Chapter 1 CONNECTING TO PURPOSE 9 Chapter 2 CONNECTING TO SELF 15 Chapter 3 CONNECTING TO PROCESS 23 Chapter 4 CONNECTING TO SCREENPLAYS 30 Emotional Flow 37 Everything You Need to Know You Can Learn Chapter 5 CONNECTING TO COLLABORATION 50 Top Ten Reasons to Write With a Partner 51 Finding the Right Writing Partner 52 The Space-Time Conundrum, The Sequel 54 PART II Five Not...

Cool Breeze And Buzz

Lani Sciandra wrote Cool Breeze and Buzz in my screenwriting class in 1994 and directed it for a B.F.A. Thesis Film in 1995. When I asked her how the screenplay changed during production, she said We really didn't have a solid ending for the story throughout production I had to communicate with and discover it through the actors within the guidelines of the written scenes we re-invented as we went along we all had to believe it was happening I was never really convinced of my own dialogue and...

Le Menu Screenwriting

A cross-section of their concerns. Self-analysis lite, so to speak, like those low-cal frozen dinners I jokingly called it Le Menu one day in class. The name stuck . I ask them to take out a pencil or pen and a clean sheet of paper and divide it into ten columns labeled What I Love, What I Hate, What I Fear, What I Believe, What I Value, What I Want, What I Know About, People Who Made a Difference in My Life, Discoveries That Made a Difference in My Life, and Decisions That Made a...

By Aimee Barth

Aimee Barth wrote Kosher in my Screenwriting II class for the final assignment a five-page script she would direct for her B.F.A. Filmmaking III project. Like so many terrific short films, Kosher was conceived close to home. The idea surfaced out of my little brother's desire to be Jewish so that he could have a Bar Mitzvah. When my mother denied his request to convert we were raised Lutheran , he exclaimed, You refuse to accept the fact that my soul is entering my body Always a precocious kid,...

By Rachel A Witenstein

Rachel Witenstein wrote Lena's Spaghetti in my screenwriting class in 1994. The B.F.A. Thesis Script Committee which chose up to five scripts to produce for thesis films every year voted unanimously to produce Rachel's screenplay. I asked Rachel to describe the process of writing the script, and she said The mail relationship in Lena's is an invention that came about through the process of trying to come up with an idea for your screenwriting class at F.S.U. My first idea had something to do...