Assignment 1: Screenwriting 1

Hi everyone, it was good meeting all of you in the first class. There are three parts to this week’s assignment:

  • PART 1: Watch TV with sound off (see below)
  • PART 3: Write a short scene (1-2 pages) (see below)
  • PART 3: A short video about Celtx (below)

Part 1: Watch TV with Sound Off

A challenge for many writers is to train ourselves to think in terms of images and actions rather than dialogue when visualizing stories.

For this assignment, watch a few minutes of a movie or television show with the sound turned off.  As you’re watching, write a description of what you are seeing.  (Keep your eyes on the screen as much as possible as you’re writing or typing, so you don’t miss anything.)

Don’t focus on, or worry about, camera angles (close-up, medium shot, etc).  These are generally NOT a screenwriter’s concern.  Instead focus on what you see the characters doing. Or if there are no characters on the scene, jot down whatever you do see.

For example:

You don’t have to write in complete sentences, just jot down quick impressions of what you see on the screen. Your notes can be quick and basic, such as:

  • Man walks up to house. Opens door. Goes in.
  • Sits on couch, turns on TV.
  • Phone rings, answers it.
  • Arguing. Looks unhappy.
  • Leaves house, hurries to car, drives away.
  • Woman in office. Laughing. Talking with others.
  • Walks to desk. Opens laptop. Typing.

If you have time this week, watch some excerpts from several movies this way, jotting down the actions as you watch.  If you can’t write or type fast, just jot down what you can, and go back and fill in the details you remember later. The point of this exercise is to kick us into the clipped, succinct style of writing used in screenplays. You may miss some details, but for this exercise, that doesn’t matter. Jotting things down quickly is a way to start training ourselves to write in this style.

Part 2: Write a short scene

  • After doing assignment 1(above), try writing a short scene  (1-2 pages long).
  • Come up with two characters in any situation, and jot down what they might be saying and doing. Aim to keep the dialogue and description succinct.
  • Re: the formatting, if you have software such as Celtx or Final Draft, feel free to format it. Otherwise just left-justify it like I’ve done below.
  • Here’s a an excerpt from a scene I wrote, left-justifying it:

Room is filled with party-goers. Poster on wall says “ROCKFORD HIGH TEN YEAR REUNION.” MAGGIE, in a corner, stands looking around for a moment, then starts toward door. KAI sees her, waves across room.

Maggie? Maggie Dawson?


(hurrying toward her)
It’s Kai. Kai Kramer! We were in Mister Bellamere’s class together. And, like. the water fountain thing with the fish tank. You remember!

Uh, yeah. Right. It’s good to see you, Kai. But listen, I —

I had a little crush on you, you know. Before I met Lee. So how the hell have you been for the last ten years?

I’m okay. I mean, I’ve had a few health problems, but —

That’s fantastic. That’s just fabulous! I have to show you something. It’ll blowyour socks off!

I’m sorry, Kai. I can’t stay. My sister is —

Note that dialogue in screenplays is very tight. One character might say 7 words; another character might reply with 10-20 words. (25 words feels like a long speech in a movie.)

In the above example, I just left-justified everything. I did not try to correct the indentation. Then I copied and pasted it into Celtx. Here’s what (one page of it) looked like after Celtx formatted it. (I added in things like italics and underlining after pasting it into Celtx).

P.S. If you have Celtx or Final Draft of other screenplay-formatting software, feel free to use it. But if you don’t, again, don’t worry about the formatting.

Part 3: How Celtx works

You don’t have to use Celtx; you don’t need to buy any software for the class. But if you decide to try Celtx, perhaps downloading it for a their one-month free trial, there’s a video below showing how easy it is to use. 

Alternatively, you could use Final Draft, or Highland 2, or Fade In, or Scrivener, or Movie Magic Screenwriter. (Note: Highland 2 is free to download. Its “pro” version has more features and costs a few bucks. It can import some Final Draft files.) (I usually use Celtx but that’s because I’m used to it; it’s very easy to use, as shown in this video. But so is most screenwriting software:)

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