What do we mean by cinematic story and form?
Basic characteristics of screen storyFirst, screenwriting is a dramatic form, which means that we’re creating a script for actors to perform in front of the cameras. So, a screenplay is often similar to the script for a stage play. It’s constructed with “Dramatic Action”, a term that refers to character movement with consequence. It builds the story on a certain sort of causality. E.M. Forster once remarked that, “The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot.” i Most movies are built around a plot. And, the story is constructed to take advantage of the considerable power of cinema. The visual experience happens to us. It can be grand, perhaps in the films of David Lean; overwhelming in the sci-fi worlds of Ridley Scott; or evocative, as in the films of Lynne Ramsay or Andrea Arnold. Colm Toibin, whose novel Brooklyn was recently adapted into a film, remarked that Saoirse Ronan’s character Eilis was able to convey fifty pages of character development in a single look. It was Nick Hornby’s screenplay that set up that ‘look’.
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An Introduction to Screenwriting
Developing storiesThe problem for us, as writers, comes in finding and developing the stories. David Mamet, the playwright and filmmaker, once remarked that, “Stories happen because somebody wants something and has trouble getting it.” Let’s take a quick look at this simple format:
Put these three elements together, and you have the makings of a basic storyline. We often use this approach to create a movie logline, or one-sentence synopsis. To this I want to add one more question: What’s great about it? What’s exciting about this? That’s the key. Why is this material compelling? To You. I think that makes a good place to start.
- The “Somebody”… gives us a character. Not just a name, but a person in a specific place, at a specific time, living a specific life.
- The “Wants Something”… gives us a goal, the ‘story question’ that will be what this film is ‘about’. Sometimes this is an opportunity to do something that the character wants: to travel, to climb a mountain, to woo the person of their dreams, and so on. And sometimes it’s a dilemma forced onto the character: to flee the alien invasion, escape the stalker or survive a Tsunami. And it might be largely internal, for example in a story built around a character battling grief.
- And “Has Trouble Getting It”… gives us the conflict. It provides obstacles that the character must overcome to achieve their goal. These obstacles will ask difficult questions, and the response will come to change and define the character.
An Introduction to Screenwriting
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