Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Step Two complete - on to the screenplay!

I've completed the four-page treatment basically outlining the entire plot of Tomb of the Undead. I'm read to move on to the next steps - which is awesome.

What's next? Well, the first two steps are to be completed before you can even put your first word down for the script. That being said - everything else is tips on how to lay down the information for your first Act, and most importantly, the first 10 pages of the script. These first 10 pages make or break your script, confirming that a studio will pick it up and make it into a film/production, put it in a scrap heap, or send it with a big red "Rewrite" stamp on it.

To reiterate Syd Field's advice:
Aristotle states that there are three unities of action – time, place and action. Act I is a unit of dramatic (or comedic) action. It begins at the beginning, page one, with the opening shot or sequence, and goes through the end of Plot Point I. It is approximately twenty to thirty pages long and is held together by the dramatic context known as the Set-Up.

In the first twenty to thirty pages of screenplay, you must set up your story. You must introduce your main characters, establish your dramatic premise (what the story is about), create the dramatic situation (the circumstances surrounding the action), and set up the relationship between your character’s professional life, his or her personal life (relationships), and his or her private life (private time and hobbies). Most, if not all, of these elements need to be established in the first unit of dramatic action (p. 46).

The purpose of each scene is either to move the story forward or reveal information about the character. Anything that does not serve these two functions should be dropped. Act I sets up the story and holds each scene and sequence in place (p. 47).

First 10 pages Remember, you are setting up your story, your characters, and the relationship between the characters.

You already know the opening scene or sequence and the Plot Point at the end of Act I, so you know card number one and card fourteen. Start at the beginning of your story and move through the action leading to the Plot Point at the end of Act I. Free-associate. You know where you’re going, so all you have to do is get there. Lay the story line out on cards, one scene or sequence per card, using no more than a few words on each card.

After you’ve done the cards, write up the back story. Remember, it will influence the action of the first ten pages. Look at your opening scene (p. 162).

You must set up and establish three major elements in those first ten pages:

Number one: Who is your story about – that is, who is the main character?
Number two: what is the dramatic premise – what is your story about?
Number three: what is the dramatic situation – the circumstances surrounding the action? In other words, what forces are working on your main character when the story begins? Once you determine how you’re going to incorporate these three elements, then you can design and structure the first ten pages as a unit, or block, of dramatic action (p. 167).

The way to approach the scene is to define your character’s dramatic need. Is this a scene that is going to move the story forward or reveal aspects of the character? What is the purpose of the scene in relation to the story? Remember that we’re striving for conflict, either internal, external, or some combination of the two. What is your character doing before the scene begins and what does he do or where doe he go after the scene? What happens at the beginning and end of the scene? At this point you might want to sketch in some visual aspects and details you could use in the scene (p. 169).

NOTE: In screenwriting parlance, it’s called the reveal. There is a reveal in each scene – do you know what it is? Can you define it? Is it revealed through action or character? Character, remember, is who the person is in terms of their human and moral behaviour; characterization is how the character expresses themselves to the world. There’s a good screenwriting tool that may help guide you when you’re writing the scene: entering late and getting out early (p. 172).

It’s great screenwriting. The audience can fill in the blanks; we know what’s happening and don’t need it explained. It’s a very good example of entering late and getting out early with a beginning, middle and end (p. 173).

I found that to be a pretty good “rule” for the second ten pages – follow the focus of your main character. He or she should be in almost every scene in these second ten pages. If we use the first ten pages to set up and establish what and who the story is about, the the next ten-page unit of dramatic action needs to focus on who he or she is (p. 182).

Lay out your cards. Do they still apply? Do you need to add any new scenes that you hadn’t thought of before? If so, put them in. Is your main character in every scene? He or she should be. Is your character active – does he or she initiate the action and respond to the premise and situation of the first ten pages? Remember Newton’s Law of Motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” (p. 183).

Once you are clear on what Plot Point I is, ask yourself what you need to do to get there. What scene or scenes do you need to write to get to Plot Point I? Usually, one or two scenes are all you need. Can you describe and articulate what story areas you need to fill so you can reach the Plot Point at the end of Act I? (p. 185).

Second 10 pages Lay out the three or four cards that make up the second ten pages of your screenplay. Follow the focus of your main character. Is he or she in every scene? If you are cutting away to another character, or incident, see if you can keep the focus on your main character (p. 190).

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Hey there, I am glad you have taken the time to leave a comment. Thanks - I am looking forward to reading it.