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Writing for a film

A model of a script  

What does a movie do? It tells a story. Not just a story but a visual story. Movies are dominant visual media. For storytelling of this type, we need a screenplay. Writing for movies is not like writing for any other medium. The basic difference is, for movies a screen writer writes for “what we see” and for other medium, say novels or short stories, an author writes for “what we read”. There are advantages as well as disadvantages in this medium. While describing a castle, an author may go on to write for three pages, but in a film, all that a director might require establishing the beauty of the castle is a single shot. Also movies can sometimes restrict or control the imagination of the audience, whereas a reader can frame his own imagination to the written words.

Screenplay is not just about writing the narrative but understanding the visual potential of the story and actively using all the elements such as cinematography and editing into account.

However, it is not necessary for a writer to know the other aspects of the filmmaking, but the knowledge would definitely help improve the storytelling. So screenplays are not just about dialogues: a good screenplay gives equal space to action, movement, sound and other elements.

How to write a screenplay?

Idea is the key to a great script. Once you have an idea, it’s important to form a framework. Any script will have a structure, a beginning, middle and an end. Infact, any medium of storytelling, be it theatre, television, or novels, will have this structure. Screenplay depends on factors like characters, field of play and situational motives. It is very similar to a chess game which depends on the factors like chess coins, players and chess board.

Three Act structure

Generally the screenplay follows a Three Act structure. It is to be understood that it is not a rule but only a guideline. Act 1: is the exposition, where you set the tone of the movie. Here we introduce the characters, field of play and possible conflicts. Act 2: Here we bring out the major conflict of the movie. Act 3: This Act will generally resolve all the problems that arose in the Acts 1 and 2 including the central conflict of the film.

Script format:

There is a fixed format that writers follow to write a script.

The script begins with scene heading

Scene heading is composed of

1.INT or EXT LOCATION:

2.TIME OF DAY

3.CAMERA ANGLE (close up, long shot, etc)

4.WHAT (what the camera sees, specifically)

For example:

“EXT. CHENNAI (1892) – DAY - ESTABLISHING” or

“EXT. STADIUM (6:15AM) – DAY – ESTABLISHING”

Camera cues:

Though it is not mandatory and the director and the cinematographer decide the final take, writing camera cues helps them to visualise better.

For Example: follow, zoom, angle widens to include, see, move, pan down, high angle, etc.

Character names:

The first time a character appears in a script, the name should be in all capital letters and the character is always aligned in the center.

Characters dialogue:

When writing dialogues for a character, the character’s name appears in capital letters, centered over the dialogue. Any description of how they give their dialogue is given in small letters within a parenthesis,

For example:

MAYA

(Weeping)

I had no idea that he would do this!

A script is written in a certain way because the script has so many elements and it is impossible to identify the elements every single time.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Visual Communication, Loyola College, Chennai)


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 5:24:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/signpost/Writing-for-a-film/article14414695.ece

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