The Secret to Screenwriting

by on December 6th, 2014
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Brace yourself, because I am about to give away the biggest secret of film & motion picture:

Its actually an illusion. The picture isn’t moving at all. You are simply seeing twenty four still photos flashed before your eyes every second. In one minute, you’ve processed fifteen hundred unique stills. They are all perfectly still, but your mind assembles them in a row, leading you to believe that you are actually seeing real life motion, captured on screen.

Visual Storytelling.

I open up most scripts, and I see just two thing: dialogue and description. The dialogue is usually the characters telling an audience exactly what they are experiencing, and the description is usually telling the audience exactly what the character is thinking. Both absolutely useless for a movie.

You see, you can’t shoot on film what a character is thinking, and it will bore an audience to death if an actor is actually telling what he is experiencing or feeling.

Ninety seven spec scripts out of a hundred are written like this. Well, actually, while I’m making up the statistics, it might as well be nine hundred and ninety seven out of a thousand. And it is a huge red flag to me that the writer – although most likely talented – doesn’t have a clue about screenwriting.

All that a screenplay is, is a story told in pictures. In essence, a movie is just a picture book. Since we have a sound track, and since the pictures seem to be moving, most people think that the medium is somehow different, but if you look closely, this understanding of the medium is what makes the difference between the novice writer, and the expert.

The secret to writing a movie: forget that it moves at all. Forget that you are a writer – you are not. You are a photographer. Instead of telling your story with words, think about how you can show it with images. Imagine that you are trying to explain to a deaf person an experience that you had, and all you have are pictures from your Polaroid camera. Show those pictures in such an order as to show them your story. And now, as a screenwriter, know that you can take pictures of absolutely anything you want to get your point across.

When putting your masterpiece together, each sentence of description is one Polaroid photograph. Nothing more, nothing less. Describe that photo with one sentence, in the simplest way possible. Then line up hundreds of these Polaroids in a row, and simply describe each one.

When a reader reads this list of photographs, they won’t realize that they are looking at a series of still pictures. Their mind will blend it together, and create motion between them, creating a fluid story that they can see.

Just like a movie.

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