Advice from Paul Haggis, screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby and co-screenwriter of Crash.
Need a cure for writer’s block? Try one of these exercises!
If none of these suits your fancy, try Screenwriting Exercises Part 1.
ALLISON BURNETT – Fame (reboot)
- Subtext! Study scenes to see the difference between what the scene is about on the surface and what it is really about.
- Here is the scenario: A boy and a girl linger on the stoop. The boy asks her out, she says “Yes.” He leaves.
- Perspective 1: Boy has been in love with girl since grade school. He is certain he will be rejected.
- Perspective 2: Boy never noticed girl until he heard through the grapevine that she had a crush on him.
- Perspective 3: Boy and girl have been friends since childhood, but only at school. Boy has just realized his feelings.
LINDA COWGILL – Heads the Screenwriting Dept at LA Film School
- Conflict between what a character wants and what they need.
- 1. What does my character want?
- 2. Why?
- 3. How do they get it?
- 4. What do they need?
AMY HOLDEN JAMES – Mystic Pizza, Indecent Proposal, Beethoven
- Subtext! In real life, people often don’t say what they mean.
- Write a scene about nothing at all (ex: Hi, How are you, Good, I like your hair, Oh thanks, What have you been up to, Nothing…)
- Imagine this scene in different contexts
- Perspective 1: Father and daughter who haven’t seen each other in years, since the father stole the daughter’s savings to support his drug habit
- Perspective 2: A former soldier and a citizen who lived through their country’s invasion
- Perspective 3: Husband and wife waiting for their lawyers to arrive to their divorce proceedings
DAVID FREEMAN – Author of Creating Emotion in Games
- Pick an emotion for a character to experience (ex: sad, anxious, depressed, apathetic)
- Write a short scene where the character is expressing false emotion (ex: sarcasm, bored, cheerful)
- The pretense should be good enough that, at the beginning of the scene, the character’s false emotion seems real to the audience.
- Sprinkle in slip ups that give the audience the feeling that the character’s emotion is false
- Have someone read the scene
- Ask them to identify the false and real emotions
- You’ve done a good job even if they aren’t 100% sure of the real emotion
JUDY KELLEM – Partner in hollywoodscript.com
- Build subtext in narrative descriptions and stage directions.
- Wife (anxious) “I love you”
- She stares across the table, hoping her husband will notice her since she is dressed to the nine’s. He shuffles the mail, opening a letter. Without looking up,
- Husband (without feeling) “I love you, too.”
CHARLES DEEMER – Author of Practical Screenwriting
- Use short, simple sentences
- Don’t be afraid of sentence fragments
- Write generically: Only use detail that is essential to the story
- Write vertically!
- Horizontal writing is bad:
- They walk down a snow-covered path in silence. Jack reaches Alice’s gloved hand. Their breathe is visible in the cool air. A small brown dog bounds up to them, delighting Alice. She kneels to pet him.
- Vertical writing is good:
- A snowy path.
- Jack and Alice stroll hand-in-hand.
- A dog bounds over to Alice.
- She kneels to pet him.
BILLY FROLICK – MADAGASCAR
- Don’t use fragments. Use effective prose.
- Don’t be redundant (ex: Does a rundown gas station require any more description?)
- Watch a movie and pick a scene. Watch it several times.
- Write the scene. Rewrite it until you think it reaches a professional level.
- Compare your version to the published script.
DEVORAH CUTLER-RUBENSTEIN – Author of “What’s the Big Idea?” Writing Shorts
- A button is the “aha” moment that creates a sense of completion to a scene
- Bringing it full circle, a callback, a punchline
GLEN MAZZARA – Show runner of Hawthorne, writing Hancock 2
- Remember to write a hero that a lead actor will want to play
- Hero must drive action, not be passive
- Hero can’t be in a scene for two lines saying “Hi,” and “No, thanks.”