Intro to Screenwriting…

I gave my first lecture on Aug. 22 on Introduction to Screenwriting. I talked a little about the formatting of a screenplay and ran out of time to go over structure.

A. Watch movies, especially those in the genre that you wish to enter.

B. Read scripts. Read at least one a week. C. Listen to a movie. Help notice the pacing, the dialog. Dramas are good. Action films… not so much. Braveheart wasn’t bad. Die Hard … no. Tombstone had way more gun fights in it than I had originally thought. My favorites to listen to Goodfellas, Fight Club, and The Usual Suspects.

Did I say three things? This is why I’m a writer and not a mathematician.

D. Write.

II. BASICS About page counts… 90 to 120 is the average, but wholly dependent upon the genre. Animated and family films tend to run about 86 min. (Aliens in The Attic) to 96 min. (Up). — Kids have shorter attention spans. Shorter movies = less cost for movie studios. Comedies tend to hover around 100 min. (The Hangover) to 108 min. (The Proposal). Sci-Fi and fantasy… 115 to 127 min. (Star Trek) range. Adult dramas tend to hit that range as well. The big studio tent pole movies with the budgets of $100 to $200 million… they may run close to 150 min.

So… know the genre you’re writing and try to hit that page limit.

Try to avoid “cheating” by fudging the point size of the script, the margins, etc. I also design pages for the newspaper where I work, and people like white space. It gives the reader a chance to rest their eyes. You see it social media… Wall O’ Text.

Write to the story, not to the beats… to the page count… write to what you feel is best. And if the big event doesn’t happen on Page 90 like you need it and it’s on Page 100… you might want to consider going back and trimming out some of the story. The takeaway from this: Know your genre and write to it.

Write not direct.

The script is meant to control the reader’s eyes and to get them invested into the story. Minimize the best you can. The goal at this point is to get people to read your spec script. Margins… (software can help CELTX, FINAL DRAFT. I wrote the first two scripts in Word and just used hot-keys to set up. I’m using Scrivener for the next one.)

But if you don’t have a specific software and just use a standard word processor… 12 point Courier Here are the margins. RM: 1" … LM: 1.5"

Make an extra hard return after Scene Heading, Action, Dialog, Transition, and Shot.

Scene Heading… LM: 1.5".
INT. or EXT. LOCALE - TIME. I’ve been told to stick with just DAY or NIGHT. Unless there’s a specific reason to have a more defined TIME… like MORNING, DAWN, TWILIGHT, DUSK…

Action… runs the full width of the page. Keep it short. No more than 4 to 5 lines. NOW! Active voice. Always write in present tense. If you have to emphasize a specific shot, write it on a single line.

Character name… LM: 3.5. Be consistent Name Description Occupation (COP 1, COP 2)

Dialogue… LM: 2.5" … RM: 2" to 2.5"

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” by Lawrence Kasdan. Used here for educational purposes only, and because it’s just a friggin’ awesome movie.

Parenthetical… LM: 3" RM: 3.5" Not centered. Rarely used. Short, to the point. Use only one line. The only time I use it is if there are multiple characters in a scene and I need one to specifically address another.

Extensions… to the right of the character’s name (O.S.) or (V.O.)

Transitions… LM 6.5" RM 1"

“The French Connection” by Ernest Tidyman and William Friedkin. Used here for educational purposes only, and it’s another great movie.

Shots… same as scene headings… flushed left… Tells the reader the focal point of the scene has changed. Types used…

INSERT or INSERT SHOT… When the reader or audience needs to see something from a book, magazine, a note, words on a computer screen. Wes Anderson does this beautifully combined with V.O.

WIDE SHOT also WIDER ANGLE … WIDE ON [LOCALE] … WIDE — [SUBJECT] … get a bigger sense of the area

POV SHOT … from a character’s perspective … [SUBJECT]’S POV … POV

TWO SHOT/THREE SHOT … 2 or 3 people in the scene




Be vigilant… don’t interrupt the flow of the story.

A brief explanation of Blake Snyder’s story structure… I highly recommend picking up his book: Save The Cat! It does a much better job explaining this.

I’ll admit I was in a bit of a hurry putting this together so I found that someone already did most of the work putting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in line with Snyder’s story structure. However, I disagreed with his assessment of the movie’s theme. You can find Corey Milles work over at

ACT I (15 scenes)
1. Opening Image — The “before” snapshot. Sets the tone, mood, type and scope.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: What is Indiana Jones’s ordinary world? Adventure? Academic? Both?

2. Theme Stated — A question or a statement reveals the theme.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Greed (money, power, knowledge).

3. Set-Up — Introduce or hint at every character in A Story. Plant character tics to be addressed later.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: “There is nothing you possess that I cannot take.” We have the theme. We get Indy as an underdog, which helps us root for him.

4. Catalyst — Life-changing event that knocks down the house of cards.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Army Intelligence shows up to ask about the Ark.

5. Debate — Point of no return. The protagonist makes the choice.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Learn of Abner Ravenwood. Hitler’s obsession with the occult. History lesson with a bit of the occult. Marcus outlining the dangers for too much knowledge, but Indy chasing the historical significance.

ACT II (23–30 scenes)
6. Break into Two — Change the playing field.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Indy goes to Nepal. Travel by map.

7. B Story — Sometimes the “love” story, breaks from the tension of the main story. Still carries the theme of the movie. “Fun” version of the characters.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: We meet Marion. She seems happy to see him, and then punches him in the face. She augments the theme of greed by calling out Indy’s own greed and demanding more money from him.

8. Fun & Games — “The promise of the premise” … the heart of the movie … all about having fun.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Indy getting kicked out the bar. The Nazi showing up. Fighting in the bar, the bar burns down. Indy and Marion go to Egypt to meet with Shallah. Learn Belloq is there. Reinforce the theme that man’s greed was the downfall and not to disturb the Ark. Marketplace fight. Marion dies. Indy is in despair. Confrontation with Belloq… greed is reinforced as Belloq temps Indy with the significance (knowledge of the Ark is knowledge of God). Indy learns the location of the Ark and the dangers of opening it.

9. Midpoint — The threshold between the halves. Can be false peak or false collapse. The stakes increase. No more happy fun time.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: The Fuhrer is unhappy with the lack of progress, raises the stakes (with the ticking clock). Indy learns of the Ark’s location. While dodging Nazis, he finds Marion, but it’s a false peak as he must leave her behind.

10. The Bad Guys Close In — The Bad Guys regroup and go after the hero. The team begins to unravel.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Indy finds snakes on the floor of the Ark’s temple. Marion tries to escape Belloq, but the Nazi shows up. Indy fails by getting the Ark out, but into Belloq’s hands. Marion is thrown into Well of Souls. Indy escapes, but learns the Ark is being prepped to go on a plane. He fights to stop the plane. Then chases after the Ark and recovers it. Indy and Marion board the steamer.

11. All Is Lost — Opposite of the midpoint. The whiff of death. The give-up or run away moment. False defeat. No hope.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: The Nazis reclaim the steamer and put the Ark on the sub. The “whiff of death” is the rat near the Ark dying and the burning of the Nazi swastika.

12. Dark Night of the Soul — The darkest point. Everything is lost.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Indy jumps into the water and steals aboard the sub.

ACT III (11–15 scenes)
13. Break into Three — The A Story and B Story combine to reveal the solution.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: To Nazi base. Travel by map.

14. Finale — Wrap-up; dispatch the bad guys (in ascending order)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Indy sneaks into the enemy’s ranks. He gains the higher ground, threatens to destroy the Ark unless Marion is given to him. Belloq calls the bluff (appeals to Jones’s greed for more knowledge). Jones is captured. He’s tied with Marion. Indy must decide to succumb to his thirst for knowledge or heed the danger given to him. Indy and Marion keep their eyes shut as the Nazis are destroyed. The Ark’s power is then contained.

15. Final Image — opposite of the opening image; show how much change has occurred.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Indy tries to learn the fate of the Ark. He goes for a drink with Marion. The Ark is transported down a warehouse filled with similar-size crates. The theme hits us as an audience member: What else is out there? What is the cost for that knowledge?

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