The most important type of nonfiction film is the documentary. Unlike fiction films, documentaries deal with facts–real people, places and events rather than invented ones. Documentarians believe that they’re not creating a world so much as reporting on the one that already exists. They’re not just recorders of external reality though, for they still shape their raw footage through the selection of how it’s edited. Many documentaries keep the structure of their films simple and unobtrusive, so that the audience will get caught up in the events. Good documentaries are just as compelling as, if not more so, than fictional motion pictures. It’s just that we rarely get to see them.
The screenplay is the way in which the story is communicated to the actors, the director, the producer, the crew and the studio. It is a written form of the film. A traditional screenplay is composed of three acts:
Act I (Setup), occupies the first quarter of the script. It establishes the dramatic premise, the main character’s goal and the likely obstacles in the path of the main character’s success in achieving the goal. (In The Graduate, think of Benjie coming home, the party, his retreat to his room, and Mrs. Robinson’s pass at him.)
a. Who is the protagonist – by page 5
b. Something exciting/entertaining happens – by page 5
c. The premise is clearly established – by page 10
Act II (Confrontation), makes up the middle of the script. The elements laid out in Act I come into conflict during Act II, leading to a major reversal of fortune at the midpoint. This portion of the screenplay complicates the conflict with plot twists and an increasing sense of urgency, showing the main character fighting all obstacles. (In The Graduate, think of Benjie going out with Mrs. Robinson, taking out Elaine and trying to dump her, but finding solace in her company, only to be split from her by Mrs Robinson’s confession of adultery with Benjie, followed by Elaine’s return to Berkeley.)
Act III (Resolution), constitutes the final part of the story/screenplay. Act III dramatizes and concludes the results of the confrontations in Act II. (Think of The Graduate: Benjie goes to Berkeley to ‘marry’ Elaine, is rebuffed, chases her to LA, back to Berkeley, winding up running out of gas in Santa Barbara, runs to the church and just as she’s married, whisks her away and succeeds in his quest for some kind of meaning in life— set up in Act I).
Scripts are not literature; but if the script isn’t written well, then the film will inevitably suffer. The elements of a script that must be developed are:
1) Story – Is the basic ‘story’ a strong one? Is it strong in its genre elements?
2) Theme – is the film about anything? Chances are, a film about nothing will interest no one.
3) Characters – are the characters interesting and powerful in taking over their own fate?
4) Dialogue – do the characters sound real? Interesting? Exciting?
5) Does the story structure – Act I, Act II, Act III – result in us caring about the ending? If these elements aren’t in place, the script will be neither a good script nor good literature.
GUIDE TO WRITING A DYNAMIC FEATURE SPEC
1. Script should be between 90 and 110 pages
2. Protagonist should be clear before page 5.
3. Must have an inciting incident by page 10.
4. Something interesting/entertaining should happen by the first 5 pages.
5. The first 10 pages contain action and intrigue.
6. Dialogue should be short and direct.
7. Don’t begin with a flashback.
LIVING A WRITER’S LIFE
Below are ways to ensure that you are living a writer’s life.
1. Decide if you want to be a screenwriter or whether you want to be in show business. (know who you are and what you want to achieve)
2. You have to write. Develop a routine. Write everyday
3. Learn from your mistakes.
4. Be persistent. Write – call contacts – go to all the parties.
5. Be Fearless. Write what you want and don’t be afraid to get it wrong.
6. Maintain a positive frame of mind. The industry attracts people with severe emotional injuries.
7. Accommodate. Give the audience / producers what they want.
8. Keep studying – Join a writer’s group – take a class – get feedback
9. You have to party – celebrate a victory – dance while holding a completed script over your head.
10. You need to develop a philosophy of life. (What you believe and why)
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