Writing for the Screen
eBook - ePub

Writing for the Screen

Creative and Critical Approaches

Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

  1. 282 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Writing for the Screen

Creative and Critical Approaches

Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

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Informazioni sul libro

This revised and refreshed edition guides the contemporary screenwriter through a variety of creative and critical approaches to a deeper understanding of how to tell stories for the screen. With a renewed focus on theme and structure, the book is an essential guide for writers, script developers and teachers to help develop ideas into rich dynamic projects, and craft compelling, resonating screenplays. Combining creative tools and approaches with critical and contextual underpinnings, the book is ideal for screenwriting students who are looking to expand their skills and reflect on practices to add greater depth to their scripts. It will also inspire experienced writers and developers to find fresh ways of working and consider how new technology is affecting storytelling voices. Comprehensive and engaging, this book considers key narrative questions of today and offers a range of exercises to address them. Integrating creative guidance with rigorous scholarship, this is the perfect companion for undergraduate students taking courses in screenwriting. Encouraging and pragmatic, it will provide a wealth of inspiration for those wishing to work in the industry or deepen their study of the practice. New to this Edition:
- Refreshed and revised edition to meet the demands of contemporary screenwriting
- New case studies, models, tools and approaches to writing for the screen
- Updated areas of industry practice, including web series, transmedia, VR and long-form storytelling
- Includes practical approaches and creative exercises that can be used in the classroom

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Part I
© Craig Batty and Zara Waldeback under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2019
Craig Batty and Zara WaldebackWriting for the ScreenApproaches to Writinghttps://doi.org/10.26777/978-1-352-00603-2_1
Begin Abstract

1. Establishing Practice

Craig Batty1 and Zara Waldeback2
RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Australia, Australia, Munka Ljungby, Sweden
Craig Batty (Corresponding author)
Zara Waldeback (Corresponding author)
End Abstract
There are several practical issues that affect the life of a screenwriter and make it distinctly different from that of other creative writers. The screenwriter has to strike a balance between working independently, with discipline and creativity, in isolation, and working effectively with producers, script editors, directors and promoting themselves through networking and pitching. The development of a script tends to follow a rather prescribed path, and screenwriters have to learn how to work to brief, respond to notes, deliver drafts to deadlines and offer work in a number of forms, such as pitches, treatments and step outlines. It is therefore imperative that the screenwriter establishes a sense of creative practice to help maintain a sense of focus among a potentially convoluted process, where many voices enter the fray to offer comments and demand changes, not always with great insight or knowledge.
While the ways that screenplays find industry homes is forever changing, such as online pitching platforms and circulation via social media, they usually always come into being as one of the following:
  1. 1.
    Spec Script – a writer chooses to develop an original idea and write it without having been asked or paid to do so, that is, writes ‘speculatively’ (‘on spec’);
  2. 2.
    Commission – a producer hires a writer to create a script or series of an idea, often from an outside source, such as the producer himself, or another party;
  3. 3.
    Adaptation – the writer adapts pre-existing work such as a novel or play into a script, often at the request of a producer.
The most common way for screenwriters to make a living is through commissions and adaptations, and in many countries this comes about via the use of a literary or entertainment agent. Commissions and adaptations might be for full scripts, or they might be for treatments, series outlines or bibles. The spec script plays a smaller though still important part of a writer’s career. It often serves as the sample that gets the writer an agent and/or a commission, and some original scripts do get produced. Spec scripts also help to develop and showcase the writer’s original voice, something that development executives and producers often look for in emerging writers, not only in film but also in television.

The development process

Development refers to the various phases that a script, or screen idea (Macdonald, 2013), takes towards improvement, which can include story refinement, character development, thematic cohesion and dialogue polishing, to name just a few. Much has been written about script development from those working in university settings, particularly in the Journal of Screenwriting, exploring various aspects such as practical definitions (Batty et al., 2017), creative processes (Senje, 2017), working with actors and other creative personnel during various phases of development (Dooley, 2017; McNamara, 2018), and the role of the script editor or story consultant (Bordino, 2017). Script development can be difficult to define and hard to pin down academically, even if practically it is clear what it means and how it feels to be ‘in development’.
According to Peter Bloore, writing specifically about the world of independent feature films, development is:
the creative and industrial collaborative process in which a story idea … is turned into a script; and is then repeatedly rewritten to reach a stage when it is attractive to a suitable director, actors and relevant film production funders; so that enough money can be raised to get the film made. (2012: 9)
Lucy Scher, in her book Reading Screenplays: How to Analyse and Evaluate Film Scripts, defines development as ‘the process by which the developer works with a writer on a project with the intention of making the script better placed for the next stage, that is finding a producer, seeking an agent, making an application for funding, or production of the film itself’ (2011: 131). For Jonathan Sendall, whose concern is with ‘good’ working practices that improve the skills of a writer as well as the work in question, ‘Development isn’t the complication of matters but their simplification … Simplifying actually creates deeper, complex layers; complicating creates superficial ones’ 2003: 9). In other words, development should not be a convoluted, bureaucratic process, but rather one that enables the writer to better understand their project and that facilitates the growth of a rich, more fully fledged script. Writing about those involved in development, Bloore proposes: ‘At their best, development executives and script editors … provide a vital sounding board for the writer and help to protect and develop his vision; they help shape the script and guide it through the maze of conflicting feedback’ (2012: 120). At the same time, he acknowledges that giving ‘effective script notes and feedback is one of the most complex skills of managing development’ (2012: 176). Thus, for the writer, development can be both rewarding and challenging, with everyone involved having their own ideas about what will make the script better. Chapter 8 discusses the creative and collaborative process of feedback and story meetings in more detail.
It is useful to think of development not as linear, but as a circular (or spiral) process. The writer may start off with a pitch or outline, then complete a draft, step outline, another two or three script drafts, then return to working with a new step outline, revise the pitch and sales treatment, and then complete a final script. Or, as may be the case with online formats, a writer might put their idea out via the internet, perhaps in a draft form, then garner feedback from audiences in order to rewrite and reshoot the material; or, keep the original material but, in the next webisode, respond to audience feedback by changing an aspect of the story. Each project requires its own working process, dictated by personal preferences and (where relevant) industrial imperatives, and so it is important not to get locked into a rigid model.
As a general rule, development includes these stages and documents/tools, though not necessarily all of them, nor always in this order:
  • Pitch
  • Outline
  • Treatment (or Scriptment)
  • Step outline
  • First draft script
  • Various draft versions of script (anything up to 20, perhaps beyond)
  • Final draft script
When writers or producers want to sell or raise interest in scripts, they produce development documents so that financiers do not have to read a full script to know if it is something they are interested in. As well as good sales tools, these concentrated versions of the story can also help the creative work of the screenplay during its development, such as clarifying thematic intent and identifying opportunities for better key plot points. The different documents serve different purposes, and the terminology can sometimes be confusing as industry professionals do not always share the same language. Therefore, writers are always advised to ask how many pages is expected of each to make sure they offer documents in a format palatable to the reader/stakeholder.
A treatment is a selling document, usually ranging between three and thirty pages. A prose version of the script, it reads in a clear and engaging manner. It should have a strong sense of beginning, middle and end, without giving too many details, and does not usually include dialogue. It should introduce all main characters in a concise, dynamic way, and be suggestive of both theme and world. The purpose of a treatment is usually to get the reader to either commission a script or read a full draft, and it is therefore essential that it is a polished piece of work written in the right tone, where reading the treatment gives a similar feeling to watching what would be the eventual screen work. If the script is a horror, for example, the treatment should be frightening; if a thriller, tense; if a comedy, funny.
A story outline is often similar to a treatment, but there are two potential differences: an outline is usually shorter, sometimes just a page or two, and often more of a working document rather than a selling one. However, industry professionals tend to use these terms interchangeably and so sometimes there is no big difference between them. As a working document, created either before or after script drafts, it can help clarify structure, character arcs and plotting, and can be useful during development to help give an overview of the script and see how it is working.
A synopsis is a summary of the plot. Often quite short (usually no more than a page or two) and similar to an outline, it tends to be written after the story is completed, often by a script reader in a report (coverage) or for selling or distribution purposes. It summarises the story in a dispassionate description of main events and characters. It can be very useful for a writer to read a synopsis of their script written by someone else, as it demonstrates how the story is coming across and if there are moments, themes or characters that are not communicating as intended.
A step outline is always a working document, never used to sell the script. It is a bare-bones outline, breaking down each scene into key ‘steps’ in order to show how they connect. Not concerned with presenting the story in a polished manner, it simply details facts and character emotions (arc) to highlight story architecture. It can be an extremely helpful document at many points in the development process as it allows the writer to stand back from detail and see how pieces of the puzzle form a bigger picture. In a step outline, each scene is represented by a scene heading and a two- to three-line plain description of what happens, both plot progression and emotional development, and any key changes that take place within the character. It reduces each step to its most essential elements to clarify the purpose of the scene, and does not include dialogue or description. Instead, it highlights the reason for each scene’s inclusion in the story, and by doing this the writer can decide which scenes are redundant, which can be condensed and combined, or how to improve the story’s order.
Using index cards, either physical or virtual ones, is an effective tool for working with structure, moving beyond initial story assumptions to discover new ideas and solve problems. As with step outlines, working with cards gets to the heart of a story quickly, and allows writers to test a large number of ideas without wasting time. Cards allow the writer to see as many possibilities as they can in the story, which can then be combined in innovative, fresh, surprising and appropriate ways. The main beats of a scene are written on each card (as per the step outline), and then the cards are arranged – on a floor, wall or screen – to experiment with different scene orders. It is extremely useful to know the purpose of each scene as this will allow the writer to build and analyse story architecture with a great degree of precision. During the writing of the script, knowing the purpose of each scene is invaluable, and working with cards can highlight problems with pace, plot and structure at an early stage.
The sequence outline is a working (not selling) tool mainly used in feature film development, though the concept of sequences – as episodes – is also sometimes relevant to series (television or web), such as ongoing arcs that are structured across episodes. Here ‘bible’ documents outline a series in sections, to show how they fit together. As features and series are large sprawling narratives, writers (and readers) need to gain an overview quickly and effectively. Nearly all features are divided up into eight sequences and this ‘road map’, outlining each sequence in brief paragraphs, depicts how key building blocks combine to produce rising action, thematic resonance and narrative momentum. In television and web series, the number of episodes can range from four to fourteen, though this is highly flexible especially with the advent of web series. The sequence outline can be an excellent place to start building story as it quickly demonstrates whether there is enough substance in the premise to drive a whole screenplay. Chapter 3 discusses in-depth the use of sequences as a structural tool.
Treatments, step outlines, index cards and sequence outlines are all crucial tools of the development process and should be used as and when needed. Other ways of developing screen stories, such as scriptments and prototyping, are more often concerned with writer-directors or those who are already part of production teams, because as well as written documents they include audio-visual artefacts such as trailers, sample scenes and discussions by key creatives. Part of becoming an experienced screenwriter is to learn which tool is appropriate at what time, in order to create an effective development process. It will differ from writer to writer and project to project. A key to understanding the life cycle of a script is to accept that, however talented or experienced a writer may be, great scripts are never completed in a first draft. Development is a natural part of bringing a script to life, and writers need time to unearth thoughts and feelings about a story to make it work on the page. It takes time for characters to emerge and plot to solidify, and so writing is a constant process of revision and exploration, switching between creative and critical skills, sustained by constructive feedback and discussion.
Common pitfalls of development are that writers become bored with the project, they begin to doubt the story or their ability to write it, they forget why they wanted to write it in the first place, or they jump ship to new ideas simply because they feel fresher. First drafts are often loose and too long and need to be trimmed and tightened, but they can have great energy; whereas later drafts are sometimes more mechanically effective but are in danger of losing the spark, especially as many notes by various development personnel have been given, and the writer feels like they have been pushed and pulled in all directions. Screenwriters t...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Frontmatter
  3. 1. Foundations
  4. 2. Speculations
  5. Backmatter