Using Words To Discuss Other Words

From Script to Screen, and Back Again.

Rummaging through the archives of my hard drive, I stumbled upon some writing exercises that I used to play around with. Here is one of my favourites, for a multitude of reasons.

  • Select a scene from a well known film. It must be one that you have access to the script for.
  • Watch it a few times, focusing on different elements each time. Follow the dialogue first, before paying attention to the character actions or physical environment.
  • Have a go at writing this scene before you look at the real script.

This is not intended to be a memory test, but a good way to better understand the movement of a screenplay. Once you feel that your scene accurately depicts the one you are watching, compare your work with the real script and take note of the differences.

This exercise is good for helping those who struggle to balance speech and action, but remember not to get bogged down in the details. If your choice is from the middle of the movie, then don’t worry about introducing the character or writing out all of their dialogue. Imagine the scene is just an idea in your head, and write your screenplay as if you were the original author.

By trying this with several different genres and styles, this technique will improve your knowledge of how a produced screenplay should look and feel. The best part about it is not only does it get you watching different movies and reading professional scripts, but it can really boost your creative drive. I have seen a team of writers attempt this with an entire short film before comparing results, and even my first attempt ended with me attempting to rewrite Chinatown!

To get started, find a script you like from somewhere like SimplyScripts or Drew’s Script-O-Rama.

Happy writing!


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One thought on “From Script to Screen, and Back Again.

  1. Very interesting idea that I have actually tried. I did it the first time with No Country for Old Men and my script looked nothing like the Coens’ version. That is when I learned something very valuable. Having Oscar wins affords screenwriters the right to break rules on formatting. I totally believe the Coens would totally fail out of FSU’s Creative Writing program just on formatting errors.

    I often do this exercise though because it is fun and a great way to build confidence.

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