Screenwriting Fundamentals:


EXERCISES


Test your understanding of screenwriting fundamentals, as presented at this site, including concept, character, story, dialogue, action.



CONCEPT

  1. Consider the "Top Grossing Movies of All Time at the USA Box Office". Sort them into genres, e.g., science-fiction, action-adventure, family, comedy, animation, musical, etc. View some of those you've always wanted to get around to seeing. What makes them so popular?

  2. Consider the "Top Grossing Movies of All Time at the USA Box Office". How many "chick flicks" are there? How are they handled?

  3. Consider the "Top Grossing Movies of All Time at the USA Box Office". How many have a homosexual theme, or deal with it in some way? How is the topic handled?

  4. Consider the American Film Institute's "Top 100 American Movies of the Last 100 Years", viewing as many as possible. What can you learn from them in terms of concept, character, story, dialogue, and action?

  5. Consider Movieline Magazine's "The 100 Greatest Foreign Films", viewing as many as possible. What can you learn from them in terms of concept, character, story, dialogue, and action? What are the major differences between U.S. and foreign films?

  6. Identify a subject, historical incident, or life that most fascinates you. How might you make a movie out of it? How would you make it cinematic?

  7. Identify a potential movie concept out of the daily newspaper, and gather the related clippings. How would you adapt the story to make it cinematic?

  8. What is the theme of THE FULL MONTY (1997)?

  9. What is the theme of FARGO (1996)? What is it about? How does the title foretell this? HINTS: In what town does most of the action occur? What scene seems out-of-place, in terms of the story, and why was it put in the movie? Why cast a tall Swedish actor as one of the villains (one named Stormare)? Consider the tradition of the beserker in Viking history.

  10. What is the movie AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997) about? How does screenwriter Mark Andrus weave this into the fabric of the story?

  11. Consider the way homosexuality is presented in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2001), SEXY BEAST (2000), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999), and ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE (1998). Compare with the way it's handled in BEFORE THE NIGHT FALLS (2000), BENT (1997), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978), and TEA AND SYMPATHY (1956). How might this difference affect initial marketing of the script and ultimate commercial feasibility of the project?

  12. What aspect of the concept for MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (2002) largely carries the movie? How does the autobiographical nature, or the innate desire of the main character--played by the authoress--to see her life play out on the big screen, hurt the movie?



CHARACTER

  1. Who is your favorite character in cinematic history? Why?

  2. As a screenwriter, how would you describe your favorite character in cinematic history upon introduction to a movie?

  3. How is evil portrayed in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)? How are character opposites employed? What can you learn?

  4. What is the most notable characteristic of almost every character in O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000)? What were the character opposites written into George Clooney's role? How well did he portray them?

  5. How does David Koepp set up, establish, foretell the special powers of the superhero in SPIDER- MAN (2002)?



STORY

  1. Consider the way the story is told in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). What can you learn in terms of simplicity, pacing, and building suspense?

  2. Read the book The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Then view THE GODFATHER (1972). How did Francis Ford Coppola (et al.) rewrite the story to make it more cinematic?

  3. View BURNT BY THE SUN (1994) with other screenwriters or appreciators of film. Discuss.

  4. What are the principle weaknesses in the the story structure of PULP FICTION (1994)? How might it have been done differently?

  5. Read the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by Joe Pistone. Then view DONNIE BRASCO (1997). How did Paul Attanasio rewrite the story to make it more cinematic?

  6. How could the story in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) be enhanced? How could it be made more cinematic?

  7. How does David Koepp tell the love story in SPIDER-MAN (2002) to make it appealing to boys and girls, men and women?

  8. Write a narrative poem telling the story of the next screenplay you're planning to write, or one you're rewriting. Read the poem aloud to friends and family, or at an open mic. What can you learn that might enhance your screenplay?
(See also exercises related to Story Dynamics)



DIALOGUE

  1. What makes the dialogue in CASABLANCA (1942) so exceptional.

  2. What can you learn about writing tight, pithy, twist-you-up dialogue THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)?

  3. What is it about the dialogue in PULP FICTION (1994) that makes it so notable? What can you learn from it?

  4. What are the strengths of the dialogue in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)? What can you learn from it?



ACTION

  1. Identify a favorite cinematic character, historic personality, or celebrity of some sort. Write an action narrative describing the person's mannerisms, gestures, and actions only, attempting to relay character, without specific references to occupation, accomplishments, relationships, or anything else that might give it away too easily. Try the passage out on others to see if they can guess who you are describing.

  2. View the THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936). Consider the actual charge. How was it originally written in the screenplay?

  3. Consider the restaurant and car scenes in PULP FICTION (1994). How might they have been done differently?

  4. Identify an action sequence in a movie you really like. How would you write this scene in a screenplay action narrative?

  5. Identify an action sequence in a movie you really like. Find the shooting script and review the narrative passages for that scene. How was it actually written?


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