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Get Into Your Scene Late and Out Early

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:46 pm on August 18, 2011

As a screenwriter it is important to remember that while the stories we tell should reflect real-life (or aspects of it) in order to engage an audience and help them identify with the narrative and characters that inhabit the world we create, life is different from movie life.  In real life events occur in chronological order and time passes much, much slower.. even though some days may not feel like it.  If we recounted the story of our day in minute detail minute by minute to our friends over a drink after work, they’d probably shoot themselves or jump off a bridge with suicidal boredom because most of the events that occur are insignificant and uninteresting.

From the moment we are awoken in the morning by our alarm clock to the moment we arrive at work, many, many things have happened.  But put them all in a screenplay and it won’t be a blockbuster, unless of course your entire story is about an hour in the life of an everyday man who gets kidnapped on his way to work due to a case of mistaken identity!

A movie may begin by showing a man waking up, getting ready for work, feeding his dog and jumping into his car, and that’s fine.  It reveals certain things about the character that may be important for us to know before the story unfolds.  Similarly, a scene in the middle of a movie could contain these events, but ONLY if it is important to the character, plot or pacing.  Otherwise, condense those events into a shorter sequence of shorts or cut them altogether.

And that’s where the concept of “getting in and out early” plays its crucial part.  When writing a screenplay, you only have so much time to tell the story and so you must not waste those precious moments on things that don’t matter.  Why not cut from the alarm clock, to his irritated expression in bed and then right to him sitting down at his desk?  It still works, doesn’t it.  Absolutely.  And the great thing is we now have more time to spend on more significant plot and character developments.

I’m not saying go through your script and condense everything to the point that it’s all cut – cut – cut.. that would be equally annoying and give us a headache.  Pace means highs and lows, fast and slow, moments of intense action and lulls for us to contemplate what has passed.  The key is to find an effective balance and part of that is understanding when there is too much “chaff” in your scene to scene progression. So remember to get into your scene as late as possible and out of it as early as possible. This will tighten a flabby script and help focus your audience’s time and attention on the things that really matter.

Create Complex Characters that are not Black and White in Nature

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:40 pm on July 29, 2011

How often in life do you meet someone that is flawless?  Conversely, how often do you meet someone that does not have a single good bone in their body?  Never.  It’s impossible.  We human beings are very complex creatures and that’s what makes us so fascinating.  And that’s also what makes good movie characters so interesting.

We, as an audience, or as a reader, are usually not drawn to flat, two-dimensional characters that do what they say they’ll do and practice what they preach.  Most of us try to be good people and do good things but we all have flaws – it’s human nature.  Sometimes our own selfishness, jealousy, preconceptions and prejudice creep into our words and actions and it doesn’t make us bad people.. just human.

The same should be applied to the characters we create in our screenplays and novels. These people may inhabit an imaginary world but that world usually reflects our own, even if it is set on another planet, often there is a common thread of humanity that runs through the narrative.  If there wasn’t then we would find it extremely hard to identify with anyone or anything and the movie wouldn’t engage us on any level.

So the next time you sit down in front of your computer and fire up your screenwriting software, think about your central characters and their psychological make-up.  What makes them tick?  What are their hang-ups?  Are they coffee addicts?  Are they gym freaks?  Do any of their hobbies take over their lives to such a degree that they alienate friends and family?  Do they have bad habits?  Do they lie or cheat?  Do they drink or smoke?  Do they gamble or steal?  It doesn’t have to be a big flaw, even a small flaw can make a character appear more three-dimensional.

The other great thing about introducing flaws, even if they are just for you to know as the writer, is that they give you the opportunity to create comedy and conflict.  And if you use these flaws when developing your character arcs they will subtly influence character actions and their dialogue.  Sometimes creating a backstory for your character can help when deciding on a flaw because it gives you a sound logical reason for their behaviour and choices.

For instance, say your hero was bullied as a kid.  Maybe he was always picked on at the same place, and thus the image of this place was then burned into his/her memory and associated with bad things.  The place could be anywhere.. a hot dog stand, a library, a swimming pool.  The point is, as an adult (in your movie), this character can then have a hang up about eating fast food, reading books, or going swimming.  The hang up could be that he/she comfort eats hot dogs when he/she gets depressed, or throws up if he/she smells fast food.  He/she may have a bizarre hatred for book readers and book clubs, or read so much that he/she doesn’t have a social life.

And remember, the same principle can be used in reverse when writing your antagonist or one of his/her henchman.  Maybe your baddie kills people without a thought but has a love for flowers or pets.  Maybe he/she has a penchant for blades and making people bleed but when he accidentally knocks over a young school girl in his car, he feels bad and takes her to the hosipital and waits by her bedside.  It’s all about layers. Obviously, certain genres require an absolute “baddie” but even then it’s far more interesting to shape your characters using many contradictory layers.  Make them ambiguous in intent so the audience are constantly reassessing their motives and objectives.

Montage Sequence – Friend or Foe?

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:17 pm on June 29, 2011

Instead of writing a bunch of short scenes with little or no dialogue as separate steps in your story, why not group them together in a sequence and count it as one scene?  This way you can still give the audience the information they need but you compress the method in which you reveal it – adding pace to your story.

Okay, you say, we’ve seen this a zillion times in movies.. and it’s called a “montage”.  A sequence of shots, typically put to music to show the condensed passage of time.  It’s a screenwriting device that sometimes helps a script and sometimes, as with all over-used devices, hinders it.  Just like anything you do when creating a screenplay you have to make sure that every story, character or stylistic element is justified.  That means, asking yourself the question “Does it make sense to have this here?”.

The typical use of a montage sequence can be seen in movies like The Karate Kid or Flashdance – whereby the central character has to learn how to do karate or how to do a complicated dance routine.  If the scenes were played in real time the audience would be sitting in the movie theater for weeks and would probably be a little bored.  Similary, if you just jump to the scene where the Karate Kid does the “crane”, the climax wouldn’t have any impact and we’d be asking ourselves how in hell did this scrawny little kid suddenly know how to do such an amazing karate kick!  It just wouldn’t be believable.

So it is clear that in this example that a montage sequence is necessary.  But the problem is, we’ve seen them done so many times it forms a part of our instinctive cinematic language.  This can be a good thing, because we know what’s going on and don’t have to be educated – we just accept it.  But conversely, it doesn’t really break any boundaries for the cinematic art form and can often be the choice of a lazy writer.

If you decide that a montage sequence is absolutely the only way you can convey your character’s emotional or physical development in a short passage of time then go ahead, use it, but try to be innovative.  Maybe don’t use music.  Or perhaps use split-screen so the events unfold in condensed time in parallel to real-time events. Maybe you could even disguise the sequence through other techniques such as CGI, voice-over, flicking through pages of a book.. who knows, that’s up to you.

The point is, whatever screenwriting device you use from your creative writing toolbox, don’t be lazy.  Always force yourself to find a creative solution to your storytelling and never settle for something because it’s the easy option.

The Power of the Flashback

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:14 pm on June 19, 2011

Flashback can be a clever device or it can be an annoying one.  If you use it sparingly and don’t rely on it too heavily to tell your story then it can really help with the revelation of subplot, the recollection of key past events tied into your current plot, and the resurgence of repressed memories – sprinkling a little style at the same time.

When learning how to write a script, think of flashback as just another weapon in the screenwriter’s armoury. Sometimes it may help you, other times it may just get in the way or over-convolute the story, but if you use it correctly this device can be a fantastic visual aid.  Don’t use flashback because you are lazy.  If you can find another way of telling your backstory then be innovative and pursue a more creative route that doesn’t rely on exposition.

Only use flashback if there is no other way to convey past events or if you feel that introducing flashback (or indeed flash forward) will enhance the piece in a stylistic manner.  Sometimes writers even use flashback to intentionally confuse an audience or lead them down a particular path so as to turn the tables on them later on.

A great example of this was in The Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey’s character retold past events to the cop Chazz Palminteri.  We bought the story he was feeding us hook, line and sinker. And why not?  We had no reason not to believe that what he was saying was the truth, and the director also presented the backstory as the truth with no hint to subterfuge.  Then, right at the crucial moment in the third act, the writer and director pulled the floor out from under us and revealed that Kevin Spacey had been lying and that he was in fact the villain of the piece Keyser Söze.

Flashback, like any screenwriting device, such as voice-over, can be used or abused.  Good writers use it in a way that enhances the narrative and character development of a movie without relying on it to solve plot problems.  Great script writers find innovative ways to play with this cool device so that it feels fresh yet at the same time familiar. The trick is, striking the perfect balance.

Remember the Golden “Rule of Three” for Writing

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:11 pm on June 9, 2011

I know some of you writers out there – yes, you know who you are — don’t like rules and formulas and are ruthlessly resistant to following any kind or paradigm in your script writing efforts but the simple truth is that patterns and methods exist in life and art and often it is the artist’s task to present them in such a way so that they enhance the drama but do not stand out like a sore thumb.

Even Gene Kelly used technique.. He didn’t just wake up one morning and do a back flip but he was such a master at his craft that he made every dazzling move look seamless and effortless through years of practice and applying technique to creativity.

The job is the same for the writer.  To create a story that has technique and intention yet uses tried-and-tested screenwriting devices where necessary and the writer’s skill to present the events that unfold in an organic way so that we, as an audience, hook into the plot and the characters that inhabit the depicted fiction world before us.

So with that in mind, you, as a screenwriter, must learn that the “rule of three” doesn’t just apply to telling jokes.  That’s right, you don’t have to be a comedian (but it sometimes helps) to use this technique in your own scripts to make your narrative and character development have more impact.

In order for an audience to remember an important piece of information or to fully understand and identify with your screenplay’s clever third-act twist, you first have to set it up, then you remind them (usually in a subtle way) and then you make that jaw-dropping pay-off!  And it doesn’t just apply to your overall act structure but also to scenes and the dialogue within them.  Just as a witty one-liner may have a beginning, middle and end, so does a monologue, a heated dialogue exchange, a fight and a car chase.  The rules appear everywhere to varying degrees.

A crude example would be your hero entering a trendy club and noticing an ornate bowl of nuts on the bar.  He takes one as he asks the bartender some questions.  Then during the middle of the scene a seductive woman approaches him and they exchange some dialogue.  He’s not interested but as she departs she mentions how the nuts he’s eating contain germs since people don’t wash their hands.  As we approach the end of the scene, the hero comes face to face with the person that has been following him all day and they have a fist fight while everybody around them watches on.  The hero ultimately wins by reaching behind him, grabbing the bowl of nuts and slamming it across the guy’s head.. maybe even ending the scene with a witty retort about how the woman was right and that the nuts are bad for your health.

Setup. Reminder. Pay-off.

Now, would the scene work as well with only the first and last visual of the nuts?  Or perhaps just the last? No. One – Two – Three. Simple yet extremely effective.

Vary your Movie Script Locations

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:07 pm on May 30, 2011

In your everyday life, do you sit in one spot and talk to everybody you meet in that same place?  Okay, maybe you do but unless that’s the point of the story you’re writing it’s basically not gonna be the most interesting thing to watch.

When an audience invests their time in a movie they do so to escape and be entertained and part of the way an audience is entertained is by the way you structure your story and develop your characters. Locations are key to character development fro screenwriters because they tell us a lot about a character without words.  They educate us visually about how they live, their habits, where they work, what kind of people they work with and what they experience in their world.

So with that in mind, make sure you use the locations in your screenplay to develop your characters but also use your locations as a means of story progression and pace.

Pace?  What do you mean, “pace”?  I hear you ask.

Well, it’s simple really.  You ever watched a movie where there’s a big tense scene with two people arguing loudly for about five minutes?  And then one of the characters goes outside just to get away from the conflict?  Well, that’s a change of location.  And depending on your choice of location, it may change the pace of your movie and your audience’s engagement.

If the character slams the door and goes into his/her room, well, it’s a pretty static choice of location but it may be the best choice for your character and the story.  If however the character kicks the front door open and bursts outside into the rain then maybe sits alone in the woods while he/she gets drenched.. that’s something different.  Your character could also jump in his/her car and screech off down the road.

Each decision you make about location has an impact on the way the audience will react and the emotions they will feel.  In fact, using the “driving away in the car” as an example, sometimes this actually has a direct impact on an audience, especially if the argument we talked about happened at night and then we cut to the next morning as your character drives off somewhere to get away from it all.  This sometimes causes individuals in an audience to shuffle in their seats, since they subconsciously feel the story is progressing and it’s time to get themselves ready for the next chapter.

So if you find yourself writing your scenes based in the same place then take my word for it, the audience WILL get bored, especially if it’s just “talking heads” — two characters chatting with no action.  Why not try transferring that conversation to a swimming pool while your characters are doing laps?  Or in a moving bus or even on an escalator in a shopping mall.  Use the location as a device in your screenwriting and if you do it cleverly, nobody will ever know what you are up to!

Getting into a routine can help with screenwriting

Filed under: Screenwriting by admin @ 9:15 am on May 25, 2011

You might be desperate to get your screenwriting ideas noted down and formed into a completed work. After all, if you are successful, you may reap considerable rewards both financially and in terms of your levels of personal fulfilment.

But as with most things in life, the process is not straightforward. It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to complete screenplays, usually including many drafts of your work before you’re happy with it. Of course, there are ways of making the task easier. For example, you can invest in reputable screenplay writing software. This software makes structuring your ideas much more straightforward and means you will not veer away from the accepted industry format.

However, there is more to screenwriting than this. One way in which you can increase the chances that your creation will be completed is by ensuring you get into a routine. It is no good simply waiting until you feel inspired and energized before you sit down in front of your computer.

Instead, you must be disciplined and organized and have a routine in place that you rarely deviate from. It is only by operating in a structured fashion like this that most people find they are able to push ahead with the project.

It takes a certain kind of single-mindedness to be a success in the screenwriting field and you must not consistently let procrastination get in the way of your work – although let’s face it – we all do it sometimes!

So, once you have your screenplay writing software installed and clear ideas in your mind about your creative direction, you might well benefit from developing and sticking to a firm schedule.

Formatting is crucial in screenplay writing

Filed under: Screenwriting by admin @ 9:10 am on May 11, 2011

When you sit down to create a screenplay, there are many issues you have to bear in mind. Indeed, the process can be daunting. But as long as you are organized and know what you are aiming for, you stand a good chance of producing something you are proud of.

One of the most important issues when you are screenwriting is the way in which you present your creations. If you get this wrong, the sad truth is professionals in the industry are unlikely to even look at your offering. After all, they are busy people and they have to look through many scripts, so the chances are they will not waste time trying to decipher your screenplay if it isn’t set out as per the industry standard.

This is why using screenplay writing software can be so important. It helps you stick to the format required by those in the industry, including producers, readers, agents, actors and development executives.

By presenting your piece in the expected way, you help these specialists to envisage how the screenplay would come across if it was performed in front of the cameras.

Indeed, many experts agree that when it comes to screenwriting, the first ten pages are the most important. It is during these early stages that you have to succeed in grabbing the attention and approval of those analyzing the script. As well as getting your content right, this also means ensuring you are correct when it comes to your margin sizes, page numbers and arrangement of text, among other things.

Without using screenplay writing software, this can be exceptionally difficult to master.

Budding Writers Can Realize Their Dreams with the Right Tools

Filed under: Script Writing Software by admin @ 9:46 am on March 27, 2011

Everyone has dreams, but few ever get to realize them. When it comes to screenwriting, not everyone can put a script together that will be picked up by Hollywood, but it’s still a lot of fun trying. And besides, just seeing your script come to life when performed by a local theater company is still pretty incredible. Either way, aspiring writers will never get to know just how good they are or how far their work can take them if they don’t give screenwriting their best shot.

Putting a script together can seem a complex and daunting task, especially if a writer doesn’t have the right tools for the job. Organizing all those creative thoughts and managing the writing process requires specialist script writing software, otherwise budding writers can soon end up going around in circles and find themselves in a complete mess of scenarios and ideas. This creativity needs to be tempered by some order and structure – structure that can come from having script writing software that has been developed by successful writers, with other aspiring creative professionals in mind, at your disposal.

As well as helping to give the creative process some sort of organizational road map, the software helps with the presentation of the final document. Other people need to understand the ideas contained with the script and be able to envision how they would play out on screen.

Agents and theater companies receive a plethora of scripts every single day. Coherent presentation is the first step towards getting their attention and securing that first big break. While every new writer needs a slice of luck, they can also help themselves by investing in software to help them work like a professional.

Getting a Movie Script Noticed isn’t Impossible

Filed under: How to Write a Script by admin @ 3:38 pm on March 17, 2011

So many people find themselves stuck in unsuitable jobs. They sit behind desks in grey, soulless office blocks, churning out countless dull reports, when what they’d really like to be doing is writing their own material. They may have dreams of one day hitting the big time, scripting major movies in Hollywood, but rather than developing their ideas through screenwriting, they’re stuck in the accounts department of some small time firm.

Making it big in screenwriting takes real talent and a lot of hard work, not to mention a little slice of luck, but if you never try, you’ll never know what might have been.

Drafting something as ambitious and complex as a movie script is daunting; even more so without the necessary tools at your disposal. It’s different kind of challenge to writing a novel or short story, for example. A script requires imagination and visualization of scenes and scenarios, as well as extensive dialogue, and it takes a great deal of discipline and organization to get all of this down on paper.

Anyone serious about getting noticed by agents needs to present their work in a professional fashion. Agents receive thousands of scripts day after day, so it’s wise to make life easier for them and get noticed with a professional, organized document.

Screenwriting software helps the budding writer to achieve this. A good screenwriting software package not only helps the writer organize and present their work effectively, but also assists the creative process by providing function and facility to structure ideas throughout the creative process.

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