This assignment has four parts; the script writing assignment is toward the bottom of the page.
Part One: Write a Short Screenplay
Part Two: Listening to a Movie
1. Turn on your TV set and start “watching” a movie, but with the picture off. Or just turn your back so you can’t see the image on the screen. Then listen for a few minutes. This exercise works best with movies you haven’t seen.
As you listen, see how much of the story you can understand from the sound track alone. You’ll find that a lot of information is conveyed in the audio (though some will be missing). You may hear crashes and explosions, for example, but may not know what crashed or exploded. Then pause or stop the movie and see if you can answer these questions:
- where did the story take place?
- who were the main characters in the scene?
- what was their relationship?
You’ll find that in most cases, you’re able to tell from the audio what the story is about, but will be missing some key things that were communicated only in the visuals.
The goal of this assignment is to get a gut-level sense of what’s communicated in the audio track, versus the video track of a movie, something that’s essential for a screenwriter to be aware of.
Part Three: Word Counting
Remember that screenplays are light on dialogue compared to stage and radio plays. Even when a script seems to be largely made up of dialogue, the dialogue is usually broken down into small chunks.
For example, I watched part of a movie called Mystery, Alaska today, while typing this. Each time a character spoke, I counted their words before the other person replied. (I made a notch on a piece of paper and counted the notches at the end.) Here’s what I heard in the first couple of minutes of the movie:
- FIRST ACTOR: 6 words
- SECOND ACTOR: 1 word
- FIRST ACTOR: 11 words (a long speech!!)
- SECOND ACTOR: 10 words
- FIRST ACTOR: 1 word
- SECOND ACTOR: 9 words
- FIRST ACTOR: 0 words (nonverbal response)
- SECOND ACTOR: 3 words
- FIRST ACTOR: 3 words
- SECOND ACTOR: 6 words
Then I did the exercise again, with another part of the movie. This time I jotted down some of the dialogue as I listened. I didn’t catch it all, but it ran along these lines:
MAN: Hey, hi, how you doing? (5 words)
WOMAN: I’m good, you ran out before I could say hi last night (12 words)
MAN: God you look good, how can you look this good? What, do you have like nine children now? (17 words)
WOMAN: Three kids (2 words)
MAN: Three? (1 word)
WOMAN: Ha ha. (2 words)
MAN: Well you look good. (4 words)
WOMAN: So you’re producing now? (4 words)
MAN: Yeah, I wanted to impress you.
The point is that even when there’s a lot of dialogue, it’s usually broken own into small chunks. Of course, there are exceptions now and then.
If you find yourself writing dialogue like this:
I’m worried about you, honey. You were out last night, I didn’t hear from you for hours. I called your mom, she was really upset. She hadn’t seen you, you hadn’t called her. She was really worried about you. You’re always doing stuff like this. It really scares me. How do you think I feel when you’re gone all the time? I really worry about you honey. I wish you’d tell me what’s going on with you. I feel like I just don’t know you some of the time, Janet.
I’m sorry. I left on time. I was on my way home, but then the car broke down. I had to call a tow truck. I’m sorry if I worried you. I didn’t mean to. I mean, I had to wait for about three hours for the tow truck to come. It was freezing outside. But I had my jacket on luckily so I wasn’t too cold. So that’s why I didn’t call. Okay? I mean is that all right? I really didn’t mean to worry you. I’m sorry it I wasn’t able to call.
…. you’re likely writing a stage play, not a screenplay. Here’s how the above scene might come out after editing:
You were late last night. Again! I called your mom… she was worried sick.
I’m sorry. I did leave on time. But the car broke down. Okay?