Writing Screenplays: Tools and Talent

So here’s a little progress report on ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES as a screenplay.

Target number of pages: 90-100 (represents around 90-100 minutes of movie)

Current page count: at/around 50

I’m using Celtx (the desktop version) to help put the screenplay in the right format and organize the characters. I’ve used Word in the past (there is a style template for screenplays), but Celtx makesit easier to write by just typing, a few clicks and tabbing. In most cases, you’re just typing/picking character names and writing dialogue. Short cut keys that are available appear at the bottom of the screen. Here’s a screen shot of a page of the script in Celtx:

A script in Celtx
A script in Celtx

Anybody who thinks, “Wow writing a screenplay should be easier than writing a novel,” should be taken outside and shot in the most dramatic way possible.

Adapting a book into a screenplay is not easy. First of all, books take their time. They’re not too worried about overall story size (but word count can be dependent on the genre). A book can be as elaborate and detailed as the writer wants it to be.

A screenplay is just the basic facts, ma’am. You have to consider the setting, the characters, the dialogue, the action and keep things concise and visual. Two characters talking in a room for a very long time is not very exciting.

Take for example a scene between Dexter and Doctor Corbin talking in a prisoner meeting room at the penitentiary. In the story, this scene takes pages. Corbin and Dexter square off at one another: Dexter accuses Corbin of helping Zak too much with his “disassembler” device; Dexter threatens Corbin with losing his privileges of writing to Zakary; and then Dexter tells Corbin that Zak came over to see him and was asking questions about why the doctor went to jail.

That’s a lot of dialogue across many pages. But I had to cut all that down and get to the meat in a much shorter amount of time. Here’s what that scene turned into:

INT. VISITOR ROOM, PENITENTIARY ISLAND - LATER
Dexter enters one half of a small room, divided by a thick glass wall. He sits in front of table at the glass wall. There is a microphone in front of him.

He looks up. High in the corner there is a video survellience camera, watching.

Doctor Corbin is brought in by a PRISON GUARD. Tired and drawn, he sits on the other side of the glass wall. There is a microphone for him.

DOCTOR CORBIN

(voice heard through speaker)

So, Captain Dexter. Another year goes by. What brings you to my humble abode?

DEXTER

(into microphone)

Are you well, doctor?

DOCTOR CORBIN

I am quite the celebrity, so I have been told. I am watched constantly. My activities are recorded. Even my mail is censored.

DEXTER

You know the rules, doctor. I wish things could be different.

DOCTOR CORBIN

(angry)

Do you? (a beat) To be silenced. To be muted. I don't think you have a clue as to how I truly feel!

SQUEALING feedback comes across the speaker system.

Dexter rubs at his ear.

DEXTER

How is your family? Have you spoken to them yet?

DOCTOR CORBIN

No. my yearly meeting with my brother and his wife hasn't happened yet. (curious) Why do you ask?

DEXTER

What about your nephew? He still writes you, doesn't he?

DOCTOR CORBIN

Ah. My prodigal nephew. Yes, he writes me and I write him back. He's a wonderful lad. Very smart.

DEXTER

(puts newspaper against glass)

I thought you might be interested in this.

CLOSE UP: NEWSPAPER PAGE AND HEADLINE

TEXT: HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN TAKES FIRST PRIZE

DEXTER (CONT'D)

(reads)

It says here that Zakary Corbin won the all-district science fair with a unique, labor-saving device that disassembles radios, televisions and other appliances.

DOCTOR CORBIN

Splendid! Well done! That boy is going to go far, I tell you.

DEXTER

Indeed. (folds paper) With the right guidance, he might go very far. Or he might get into a lot of trouble.

Doctor Corbin's smile of jubilation melts away.

DOCTOR CORBIN

(aloof)

I have no idea what you're talking about.

DEXTER

Zakary is a very smart young man. I know, I met him the other day.

DOCTOR CORBIN

(surprised)

You ... spoke to him?

DEXTER

He wanted to know why you were in here. What you had done.

Doctor Corbin is embarrassed and sulks.

DEXTER (CONT'D)

He doesn't hold it against you. He admires you. You've been writing to each other?

DOCTOR CORBIN

We swap recipes. Talk about food. They can't take that away from me! I just want to help the boy succeed!

DEXTER

(holds up newspaper)

Don't you think you've been helping Zakary a bit too much? This disassembler ... how can he  comprehend the advanced science you're just handing over to him?

DOCTOR CORBIN

The boy is innocent! He only wants to learn! (looks at camera) Please don't tell them. They've taken so much away from me!

DEXTER

You and Zak can keep on writing. Try not to be so bitter about the years you've lost. Just be his uncle. He loves you very much.

DOCTOR CORBIN

(calms down)

I will heed your advice, Captain.

What do you think? Can you make it writing for the movies and TV?

 

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