Why writing a screenplay is great for storytellers

The Screenwriter: An Architect of Dreams!


The film Trumbo perfectly captures the essence of what it takes to be a screenwriter. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.The film Trumbo recounts how Dalton (Bryan Cranston) used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice under the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

You are sitting in a film theatre.

Only when the action on the screen and the reaction in your mind are united as one, “film” is taking place.

This ‘communication’ begins with the screenwriter who created the idea for the film, and uses film as the medium (the element that the artist uses to express ideas) for communicating and expressing the idea.

The Write Journey Is Your First Step Towards Becoming A Screenwriter

The screenwriter has to write something that:

  • Is deeply personal
  • Will arouse specific emotions
  • Is filled with passion
  • Express a specific view of life
  • Embrace universal qualities
  • Provides mass entertainment
  • Becomes a film 000 – 800 million people worldwide will pay to see

That is the screenwriter’s position as a storyteller:  the screenwriter’s life should ideally be informed and fueled by inspiration, driven by passion, and not seen as a ‘job’, or something the writer is forced to do.

A screenwriter wants to tell stories and wants to write because the writer wants to, and needs to, not because the writer has to.

Now may be the most demanding time in history to be a screenwriter. By the time audiences sit down to view your work,they’ve absorbed tens of thousands of hours of television, film, prose, radio and theatre.

Film is two entities:

  • A long strip of celluloid with small pictures on it, which is projected with the aid of light and a lens, onto a screen.
  • It is also a communication between the filmmaker and the audience.

Just as a book is nothing but words until someone reads it, film is nothing but tiny pictures until someone sees it.

What makes screenwriting an ultimate art form?

You’re half a filmmaker

As a screenwriter you are half a filmmaker, creating the blueprint for a film that guides the producer, director, cinematographer, editor, composer, actors and creative team (from the production and costume designers to the special and visual effect artists) to bring your story to life on the big screen, or on television.  It is your vision that is realised on the big screen and reaches millions of viewers internationally.

The screenwriter is a a playwright

You’re a wordsmith; you write the dialogue that is spoken in the film and create meaningful dialogue.

The screenwriter is a novelist

You create vibrant characters that live forth in the hearts of those who see the film, characters that become iconic in status.  Only when the action on the screen and the reaction in your mind are united as one, “film” is taking place. This ‘communication’ begins with the screenwriter who created the idea for the film, and uses film as the medium (the element that the artist uses to express ideas) for communicating and expressing the idea.

The screenwriter as journalist

As a screenwriter you take on the role of journalist when you research your story.  Research involves exploring anything and everything connected with your plot: experts, books, legends, mythology, current events, history, movies. The ability to do quality research constitutes an entire discipline within the craft of screenwriting. Tracking down the diverse material that both grounds your story in fact and opens up bold horizons can be truly stimulating. The writer becomes part detective, part librarian and  part amateur expert on the subject

The screenwriter as artist

In his Screenwriting 434, Lew Hunter says that a painter has three primary colours on his palette: red, blue and yellow. As a screenwriter you have two primary emotional colours: sex and violence.This does not mean the horror-slasher genre. Look at the plot lines of such classics as Medea, Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, King Lear, and works by Ibsen, anything by Tennessee Williams, and Shakespeare.In screenplay terms, the words sex and violence means sensuality and dramatic action, not blood and gore and naked bodies.

The screenwriter as architect

Structure is discipline. As a screenwriter you have to build (plot) your story. It’s where the right-brain subconscious and unconscious writing and thinking are whipped into order by the rigid, uncompromising left brain consciousness and logic.This is where idealism and realism clash head-on.   The writer’s instinctive and rebellious creative nature is tamed and ordered so that chaos becomes organised. The writer’s creative self and rational self team up to unify the story and present the best of both possible worlds; one where imaginative and unique scenarios come to life in an well thought-out master plan, where the writer is master and slave to the story. Structure tames the creative spirit, but also allows it to reign free within its logical limitations.

The screenwriter is an illusionist

As a screenwriter you can spin your magic and make anything happen.  You are the architect of dreams and create new realms, new languages, new ideologies and new cultures.

Films are important in people’s lives

  • Film today is an art form:  Along with such other art forms as painting, sculpture, music, writing, architecture, dance and theatre, the art of film is a continuing endeavour by creative people to find ways to express themselves and to communicate their ideas.
  • The very nature of the film medium itself perpetuates its popularity: The size of the image  – IMAX versus a small screen – the use of colour, the stars of the film, and the interest of popular story lines, such as sequels, all contribute to film’s universal acceptance and popularity.
  • It is easy for an audience to become involved in a film:  There seems to be little to do except let it pour into their head.
  • To most people, films seem to be real: It is if the action were taking place as they are watching. When you are telling someone about a film you have seen, you often say: I saw the most amazing film last night…Have you seen it yet?” You ask the question in the past tense, yet describe the film in the present tense… In Starman an alien comes to observe life on earth and gets stranded near the home of a young widow…. You are describing the film’s action as if it is still happening.
  • Film is an arena in which magical things can happen: Jeff Kitchen, the author of Writing A Great Movie says: “That’s part of their enchantment – the things that could never happen in real life can happen in film and theatre, even only for a few special hours… People naturally seek closure and meaning in life – sometimes a film can provide this if ‘real life’ cannot.”
  • Drama is a crucible: We can experiment with powerful situations, explosive reactions, radical solutions, and forbidden ideas. People often need drastic changes in their lives, but experimenting can be risky. Films are a ‘let’s pretend’ arena: We can engage in an experiment from a safe distance.
  • Films have become part of our culture: They influence how we think and what we do. It is chic to be able to talk to others about the Terror Dogs in Ghostbusters, the dinosaurs in The Lost World, the volcano in Dante’s Peak; or the latest festival of operas a Cinema Nouveau. A kind of belonging and a closer relationship develops among people when they talk about mutual experiences. When people talk about films, they like to believe they are experts. They speak with authority and they tell each other their opinions and reactions.
  • Films influence people in many fads, clothing styles, mannerisms, and lifestyles that they copy from actors and actresses: Think of the influence of Marlon Brando’s jeans and leather jacket, Marilyn Monroe, the Spice Girls… Merchandising has become a major part of our culture. If you buy a burger at Mac Donald’s you can get the latest  Kung Fu Panda action figures.
  • People go to films because it’s a way of escaping the realities of life: If only for a short time, a film allows you to experience undreamed-of excitement, adventure, drama, comedy, and romance in your not-very exciting life. During the Depression of the 30s thousands of people flocked to films to see beautiful people tap dance across gigantic, lavish stages in the pure-escape films of Bushby Berkeley. During the 70s people flocked to see spectacular “disaster” films, such as Earthquake, The Towering Inferno. Today people flock to see special effects ‘never seen before’,  the science fiction world of the Fifth Element; dinosaurs in The Lost World, giant insects attacking the world in Starship Troopers; tornadoes in Twister, and the futuristic computer generated world of George Lucas in the first installment to the Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace.
  • Film has the ability to transport us in time and it can also reflect the society of an earlier day: David Lean gave us a vivid picture of Czarist Russia in Doctor Zhivago; Amadeus took us back to the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • Film is the art of the world that we can share easily with all other people: A film scene of a child smelling a flower means nearly the same thing to the Russian, Japanese, French, African and American audience. The moving picture camera can make a flower bloom before your eyes: It can capture the grace and beauty of a flying bird.The moving image can transport us to any place on earth, or beyond, or underneath, or even out of the galaxy.  The camera can see the world through other people’s eyes. A thousand words can be written about a girl’s beauty. Yet, a picture of her face, showing her responding emotionally, tells us so much more about what she is like.
  • The world of film allows several generations of people around the globe to experience and remember films. As people look back in their lives, they remember a line, a scene, or perhaps a sequence from a favourite film. These reflections, like the recollections associated with a melody or song, bring memories of happiness, sadness, joy, fear, and even hate.

The Write Journey Is Your First Step Towards Becoming A Screenwriter