Screenwriting: Activity 1

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Structuring a Script

The creative process of writing is the same regardless of the medium—whether the writer is working on a book, a play or a screenplay. However, there are important differences in thSe technical process of writing for a visual medium like film. Perhaps most important, the writer must be able to think in visual terms-he or she must be able to show what is happening.

Syd Field, author of several books on screenwriting, describes a screenplay as being "like a noun—it's about a person, or persons, in a place or places, doing his or her or their 'thing.' "In a screenplay, the story is told with pictures, and it follows a very definite form. Like a play, the screenplay unfolds in acts: In act one the writer sets up the story. Act two contains the conflict-the basis of any drama. According to Field, "All drama is conflict. Without conflict you have no character; without character, you have no action; without action, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay." Finally, act three provides some kind of resolution.

Some writers begin their work by writing the ideas for their scenes on index cards. Others begin with an outline. Still others start with a treatment—a narrative synopsis of what happens in the story. Regardless of format, each approach takes into consideration character descriptions, central story conflicts and key plot points.

In this activity your students will learn about the structure of a screenplay; they will view a film, identify the three basic parts, and analyze how each part contributes to the dramatic whole. Then, they will develop the treatment for their own original story.

Supplementary Activity:

Have students identify and discuss the "plot points" in the film they viewed. (A plot point is an incident or event that ties into the action in the first act of the film and connects it to act two. Another plot point occurs at the end of the second act, and connects it to act three.) Have them incorporate plot points into their treatments.

Screenwriting: The Language of Film

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Complete Screenwriting Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Structuring a Screenplay

Activity 2: Formatting the Script

Activity 3: Developing a Screenplay from a Book

Activity 4: Learning from the Winners

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