Screenwriting is the art and/or craft of writing for film, television, video games, and pornography.
Just The Facts
- Of the many tools a screenwriter must master, chief among them is looking pensive, building up a tolerance for copious amounts of coffee, and not having a day job.
- Scientific reports indicate that roughly 92.8% of all people in the city of Los Angeles consider themselves screenwriters. However, further research reveals that only .02% of these people are actually in the process of writing or rewriting a script.
- Taking a screenplay writing class is a great way to share ideas, meet new people, and lose all faith in human decency.
Types of Screenwriting
1. Spec Scripts: A spec script is written on speculation, with no expectation that it will be purchased or produced. Meant to exhibit a writer's style/talent and win jobs, this is where a screenwriter hopes to come across as edgy but not too gritty, touching but not sentimental, imaginative but not Michael Gondry. As this his how the majority of screenwriters break into the industry, a spec script is the most common type of screenplay floating around Hollywood. When your waiter, valet or dominatrix tells you that they've written a screenplay, this is what they've written, or will, someday, as soon as they score an agent and a development deal on the strength of a three-minute pitch of their "Jurassic Park" meets "Last Temptation of Christ" epic.
When, or if, a spec script is completed, it is usually entered into screenwriting competitions and sent out to agents, producers, or anyone who'll listen. The hope is that someone, anyone will read the manuscript and be compelled to respond, thereby giving the writer a reason not to give up and pitch themselves headlong into dark desperation, applying to dead end office jobs that provide security in exchange for one's soul.
2. Punch-Up: Punch up jobs are filled with action words, as, based on the strength of an aforementioned spec script, a writer is given the task of "tightening", "tweaking" and "funny-ficating" a screenplay written by someone else. These jobs are a great boon for a new screenwriter, as they represent an opportunity to make contacts, show off one's skills and potential, and earn enough money to order off the non-value menu at KFC.
3. Assignment: Assignment writing is generally arranged by an agent, who acts as something of a matchmaker between the writer and the project. Like any marriage, once a writer commits to a project of this kind, he or she is duty bound to stick it out, even if through lies and legal machinations the project starts out a potential Usual Suspects and ends up a Kangaroo Jack.
Our first assignment writing job, day 1.
Our first assignment writing job, day 155.
Are YOU a Screenwriter?
Thanks to Cracked's patented (patent pending) quiz, we can determine if you are destined to become the next Billy Wilder (look it up) by answering a few short questions:
- Have you seen more than one foreign film, or at least two films featuring Sir Ian McKellan? *Please note that X-Men counts, but only once.
- Are you constantly misunderstood?
- Would your loved ones (if any) use the term "long suffering" to describe their relationship with you?
- Can you sit around and talk about your ideas for hours, while resisting the temptation to actually write them down?
If you've answered "no" to any of these questions, then sorry, friend, screenwriting probably isn't for you. If you answered "yes", please continue reading to find a few tools you'll need to craft a killer screenplay, once you get around to it.
Plot: Commonly known as the "story", or "what happens". Once an integral part of screenwriting, this is no longer applicable, as, sadly, original plots went extinct in the Great Plot Fires of the early 2000's. To overcome this, screenwriters turned to recycling old ideas and adding scenes that call for CGI.
Like this, but the baby is a robot, Michael Keaton is a ghost, and Terri Garr is Megan Fox.
Character: Unless you are Tyler Perry, the rule here is that your leads must be written white, heterosexual, and preferably unlucky in love. For you progressive types, minorities and gays are acceptable as long as they seem to exist only to aid your lead characters, offering up the bits of wisdom and insight that they posses as magical, mystical creatures. In the case of gay characters, they must also be asexual. No exceptions.
Structure: Generally, a three-act structure is common practice. No one knows why. Mythology suggests that it has something to do with god.
Deus Ex Machina: Fancy pants term that translates to "god from the machine". This refers to that moment in a film when the hero's problem is magically solved. As such, it is an invaluable tool when, at the end of your story, you still can't figure out a satisfying resolution. Simply come up with something ridiculous and unexpected, preferably accompanied by the swelling of a string section. Odds are high that your "resolution" will simply piss off the audience once they figure out that you've insulted their intelligence, but they will quickly be pacified by the fact that the film is almost over. For example, please see the last ten minutes of the film "Signs", or any movie starring Nic Cage post "Leaving Las Vegas".