Screenwriting 1A – Lesson Four

Since our last lesson was posted, I have completed and copyrighted the screenplay I mentioned in earlier lessons.  The script, “Survival In Paradise” is an adaptation of Manfred Wolf’s recently published memoir “Survival in Paradise: Sketches from a Refugee’s Life in Curaçao.”

http://www.survivalinparadise.com

For your entertainment and–hopefully–learning.  I’ve included a link to the PDF copy of my script, below.  At present we have begun networking with friends who have industry connections and we also have entered two screenplay competitions.  I’ll keep you posted when I receive responses from any of these marketing efforts.  The script:

SURVIVALINPARADISE_by_Vernon_Miles_Kerr

Screenplay Narrative

Now, back to the lesson plan.  We promised some material on writing narrative in this lesson.  I explained earlier that Survival In Paradise was my very first attempt at writing a screenplay.  Before writing  “FADE IN,” on the first page of that script, I knew nothing about the craft.  Probably as a result of of my background in creative writing, in my first attempts at narrative I was definitely trying to show off my writing skills and impress prospective readers.  As my research into screenwriting progressed, I learned that readers and analysts don’t give a flying frisbee about a screenwriter’s ability to write riveting narrative.  Basically, the formula is to effectively set the scene with as few words as possible.  (Actually, this “constraint” later turns out to be a big “blessing,”  when the screenwriter is struggling to keep his or her masterpiece under the customary limit of  90 to 120 pages in length.)  A novice might think, “Oh no problem with that, I don’t see how I could ever get that much down in the first place.”  Trust me, this thing is like eating peanuts, once you get started you can’t shut the [bleep] up.  And, later, doing surgery on your baby, excising this organ and that organ is very painful , so it’s better to keep it spare in the first place.   Leaner is meaner–and more effective –in this calling.

Compare this small part of the opening from the classic “Citizen Kane” written in 1941 to the  next example from 2014’s  “Me & Earl and the Dying Girl” which leaps right into the story with just a minimum of narrative.

Citizen Kane

By

Herman J. Mankiewicz

&

Orson Welles

PROLOGUE

FADE IN:

EXT. XANADU – FAINT DAWN – 1940 (MINIATURE)

Window, very small in the distance, illuminated. All around this is an almost totally black screen. Now, as the camera moves slowly towards the window which is almost a postage stamp in the frame, other forms appear; barbed wire, cyclone fencing, and now, looming up against an early morning sky, enormous iron grille work. Camera travels up what is now shown to be a gateway of gigantic proportions and holds on the

top of it – a huge initial “K” showing darker and darker against the dawn sky. Through this and beyond we see the fairy-tale mountaintop of Xanadu, the great castle a sillhouette as its summit, the little window a distant accent in the darkness.

DISSOLVE:

A SERIES OF SET -UPS, EACH CLOSER TO THE GREAT WINDOW, ALL TELLING SOMETHING OF:

The literally incredible domain of CHARLES FOSTER KANE. Its right flank resting for nearly forty miles on the Gulf Coast, it truly extends in all directions farther than the eye can see. Designed by nature to be almost completely bare and flat – it was, as will develop, practically all marshland when Kane acquired and changed its face – it is now pleasantly uneven, with its fair share of rolling hills and one very good-

sized mountain, all man-made. Almost all the land is improved, either through cultivation for farming purposes of through careful landscaping, in the shape of parks and lakes. The castle dominates itself, an enormous pile, compounded of several genuine castles, of European origin, of varying architecture dominates the scene, from the very peak of the mountain.

DISSOLVE:

GOLF LINKS (MINIATURE)

Past which we move. The greens are…

It goes on for several more pages.  This is narrative.  The audience never sees or hears it.  It was intended strictly to be seen by  the producer, agent or director.

Now this , from  “Me & Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews:

1 INT. GREG’S BEDROOM – NIGHT 1

A mediocre-looking teenage boy, GREG, is staring in frozen horror at a computer monitor, the only source of illumination in the room. He is lost in thought, and his thoughts are hell.

GREG (V.O.)

I have no idea how to tell this story.

He types. His typing is labored.

GREG (V.O.)

I don’t even know how to start it.

Like: I guess I could use one of those classic story-beginning sentences.

He examines the screen. There’s one line written:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

GREG (V.O.)

(becoming agitated)

But what would that even mean? I mean, obviously somewhere in the world it’s the best of times for someone…

Now , go download and read some more professional scripts.  Notice  in the narrative how punchy and abbreviated the sentences are–heck even sentence fragments are fine.  You’ll see how I held my nose and plunged in to this style in many places in “Survival in Paradise.”

Next time we’ll share any news received regarding our marketing efforts and perhaps share and comment on some of your own comments.

VMK

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