Learning Proper Formatting & Beginner Tips for Aspiring Screenwriting | Skye Buehler | Skillshare

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Learning Proper Formatting & Beginner Tips for Aspiring Screenwriting

teacher avatar Skye Buehler

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (25m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. A Lot of Questions

    • 3. Looking at a Screenplay

    • 4. 4The Right Way to Write

    • 5. Scene Heading

    • 6. Action

    • 7. Dialogue

    • 8. In Late, Out Early

    • 9. Outro

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About This Class

In this introduction tutorial I'm helping out amateurs who might be struggling to write their first screenplay or they have no idea what it is. We really key in on the basics of a screenplay such as where to put: Scene Headings, Action lines, Dialogue, Act Breaks, and Parenticials. There are a lot of screenwriters out there now and a way to have a leg up on them is to be doing what you are already doing. Watching videos, practising, and getting a teacher and not just reading a screenplay and trying to copy that. 

No prior experience is needed! We are learning the very basics of screenwriting. 

I recommend a writing program (there are free options) for the project and moving forward.  

Meet Your Teacher

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Skye Buehler


Hello, I'm Skye. I am a screenwriter who attended Toronto Film School and have written over 60 short films in different levels of development. I have a son who turns 1 in December and a beautiful wife who we have been married for just under a year but have been together for 7. 

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1. Introduction: Hi everyone. I'm Skype Bueller and I'm going to be teaching you a little bit about screenwriting today. As a little bit about myself is that I am currently a student at Toronto Film School, and I am in their writing for film and television program as well. I've written quite a few short film scripts as well as a lot of full feature-length scripts as well. And I feel like introduction. And you know, in this video I want to be teaching you all about proper formatting and kind of what to put in your screenplay and what to avoid putting in your screenplay. Very bare-bones stuff like if you're completely new to screenwriting, barely ever seen a screenplay before, then this is for you. And I'm very excited to be teaching it to you. So let's get started. 2. A Lot of Questions: So this is introduction to screenwriting. So I'll be right up in the top. S will mostly be looking at the information. So a lot of questions, especially for people who have never seen a screenplay before. Me personally, the first time I think ice, ice cream pie wasn't. I think I was 20. And the first one I ever actually read was Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse, which has, was my favorite movie back when it came out and it still is to this day. But regardless of that, there's always a lot of questions. So a lot of people aren't even aware of what a screenplay is. You might be thinking, well, what is a screenplay? You know, what is a screenwriter? What does it look like? And is that different to what producers might want it to look like? How do you come up with ideas? How do you know if you're good enough? Like what is the industry like? There's so many questions. And I hope if you're able to stick around with this Skillshare and a whole bunch that we'll be able to eventually have all these questions answered. So you got q and I got a is so that's kinda the dialogue from the office. We'd like to keep it fun here while still being informative. So the objectives for today and kinda with the Skillshare, learn the tools of eat good screenwriter and some tips along the way as to gain knowledge to complete a short film scripts. And it's kinda the same as a feature film script that's just obviously a bit longer. And I hope that we can also practice a one-page screenplay or as much as possible. So without further ado, what is a screenplay? So we'll take a look at one. 3. Looking at a Screenplay: Alright, so here's a good example of a screenplay and kind of what it looks like in its form. So this is back to the future. So Augustae, great, great moving. So kinda when you look through there certain things that you can kind of point out that it's vastly different then a novel and pretty different from a play. So you kinda have your interiors like this dialogue done like this action in office. And we're going to kind of break down what all of these means and kind of some tips and tricks to go along with it all. 4. 4The Right Way to Write : So what did we learn from looking at that? Now? So screenplay is kind of the book in essence that gets turned into a movie. And of course, every movie started off once as an idea and then became a screenplay. And then NAMI, not all screenplays but come movies, but every movie has had a screenplay as well. Thousands are created every year by amateurs to veterans, and they're submitted to either Writers Guild of America. And I believe that they have west and east or Writers Guild Canada, depending on where you are, they probably have something similar to that. How to make your standout? The simplest answer I have for you is do it properly. As much as I'd love to tell you that you will be the next score akin or Spielberg. Chances are you won't. But does that mean that you can't don't make this your career and kind of go after your dreams. No, it's very possible to do it. And I think one of the biggest differences between amateurs and veterans is that, you know, everyone was an amateur at 1, but the people who became veterans, they went out and they read screenplays every day they practice. They got mentors, they watched videos depending on how far back We're talking. But they watch, you know, Skillshare's or masterclasses, YouTube videos, took one-on-one mentor classes. Like I think that that's the difference between amateurs and veterans. If you're able to invest in yourself and get the help that you need, then you can't succeed. And a great, great story won't mean anything if a producer or an agent can't get through the first 34 pages because it's just so poorly written and so poorly formatted that they can't keep reading. So again, you'd be amazed at how many scripts have. Don't use proper grammar, spelling, punctuation that don't follow basic guidelines. They have unnecessary fluff in there and they just frankly aren't entertaining. So we're going to try to avoid all of those today and fill you with some knowledge of what to do and how to make this a career for yourself. So proper format. So let's start with that one. So if the formatting is wrong, again, I kid you not. And I'll say this a bunch. No matter how good the rest of it is, they will throw it out. Sometimes I for the first page. So this is why we see so much happen a lot of times in the first few minutes of the movie. Because you kind of need to get the reader, the producer, or whoever it is to light your script enough to read it. And if you can kind of get them invested early on, then they're going to keep reading because they kind of want that payoff. So the right way to write. I always recommend a proper format in program. So when you're kind of in the industry and you're making a bit of money. Everything is basically run on final draft. But luckily for everyone, There's a lot of free programs out there, you know, Celtx troubling. I believe even Google has one. So there's a lot of options to have the formatting right now as much as doing it in Microsoft Word or Google Docs is possible. And I say possible. The reason why I kind of don't tell people to do this is because you're going to be worrying about formatting and know how far in as my spacing, you know, how indented doesn't have to be here when you really should just be writing and thinking about, thinking about that and really just expressing yourself. And again, there's so many free programs out there like literally Google, top seven, I believe. Top free screenwriting programs. And you will find one. Use that get familiar with it. Get formatting right. 5. Scene Heading: So let's actually break down what we saw from that screenplay. So it all kind of starts with a scene having, so proper formatting for that. All caps, it's bold. Interior or exterior. Pretty simple. You can't have both. Sometimes you'll see that from a a car scene might typically have interior, exterior. It depends on who's writing it. Spaces between the words as you can kind of see here. Keep it simple. You know, with time, with the location as well. You don't want to put 905 or eight or nine o'clock, AM. It's just day. Scenes aren't nine o'clock or, you know, you can write kind of dusk and, you know, dead of night like they're okay. But I would just completely tell you guys be completely brunt day or night. Very simple. Why are you trying to complicate it? And then talkers hosts, for example, Tucker says bedroom, very simple, very straightforward. Gets to the point. The scene heading isn't supposed to tell us anything too much know like know whether no character description, no description about the you know, the location itself. Like it shouldn't say, mysterious talkers house with green paint like that makes no sense. This is tucker house, plain and simple. Move on. 6. Action: So what are action lines? So these are the lines that tell us exactly what is happening at all times. It's frankly makes up the majority of your screenplay. Your story should be told through here and then kind of given meaning in the dialogue. Neal, if that makes sense, See you want to have more, typically, typically I say more action than dialogue. You know, you don't want your characters explaining everything. You know, you kind of want to, because film is a visual medium so you want people to see stuff and that's kinda what your action lines are. You know, it's, it's the difference between, you know, hey, can you pass me that bottle of ketchup for example? And someone just reaching for it. Of course, dialogue and action. They all can have so much more meaning. Because let's just say that this was a couple that is with their kid and they're fighting, fighting, fighting constantly in there, close to getting a divorce or something like that. Where can you pass the ketchup? They might already know, you know, Kaboom like that might be good because they've just been arguing for so long. That's an example. Another example is they just ignore them. So that's kind of storytelling through the action. So they just completely ignore their wife there in that instance, sought to do so. Here's some little action bits that I have kinda picked up over the years. For me, every new camera angle is a new line. So let's just say, for example, that this was our screenplay. And so on one line, you would have man reaches for the ketchup bottle for example. And then you could have another one. So space it out the next one and then the wife kinda skulls at him. So that's, you know, you're not tying the director and I'll kind of reinforce it later when we go through kind of my courses. But you don't want to tell the director how to do histology. Year's job is to just tell the story. You want to be giving him camera angles. So that's why if you have cut to or close in or medium shot anywhere, take it out. If you're about to send it to a producer, take it out because they will not like it. What you can do is kind of infer. So if you have, in that instance, if we had the man reaching, well now we know the camera has to be watching him. And then you know, the life skills, for example, that's a different camera angle. We didn't say close in on her, for example, or medium shot on her. But we kind of imply it. And then you could have the men pores and ketchup on his button and a hill. This is a terrible example. And then he looks at his watch, let's say different camera angles like now we're assuming it's a close in on that watch. That's kinda how I write. And if you read enough screenplays and have enough teachers kinda tell you, that's what a lot of people like to do. Every camera angle is a different line. Another thing is try to keep it to four lines, kind of average out there. And I say never go over seven or eight lines. First of all, it's kinda boring to read Hollywood producers and kind of everyone. It's all quick. So if you have a block of something terrible like 1212 lines of action, I kid you not a producer might just completely skip over that because they're assuming that the information is just not too relevant as you kind of want to space it out, change up the camera angles, keep things interesting, keep things moving. Another little thing, It's more just a nuisance, but tried to avoid leaving hanging paragraphs. So, you know, the little hanging at the end, but it will rework or sentences first introduced characteristic are in cats. Sit, your name was John Smith. The first time we meet him, it would be in all caps. And that age in brackets, not again, not too picky about that. Visualize it. So remember that a screenplay is not a novel or a play. So we can only write what we can see. So obviously a lot of movies kinda break this with voice-overs. But you've really only want to write what we can see. And at the same time, great writers were able to kind of describe the character as opposed to just giving an adjective. So it's the difference between, you know, John Smith is angry. Sure, that's possible. And I can mean your screenplay, but John Smith is red in the face. Steam coming out of his years is fists clenched like that gives a lot more visual aspect and it helps the actor or that kinda helps to read her out as well. And it can just shows how good of a writer you are. 7. Dialogue : So another thing is active voice. So nothing takes a reader out of a script more than when the action is passive. So this is oftentimes with I-N-G firms. So he is eating a steak, for example, as opposed to John eats a steak. So small difference, but it can kind of pay off. Especially when for hundreds of years, however long they've been doing screenplays and whatnot. That's kind of the way that they've been doing the act of voices. So again, here's another example. So he is passing here a cup, keep passive circuit or a cup. He grabs the ketchup as opposed to he's grabbing the ketchup. So simple things like that. Sometimes you can't avoid it. Some words are ING and you can't really get rid of them. It's just, you know, I'm telling you to be aware of it. So character lines, so if only one of the characters, so if you only have one character of that name and you really only have to use the firstName. So in this hypothetical screenplay, we only have one John. And even though his name is John Smith and people might call him John Smith, and our character alignment can actually just leave it John, keep it nice and simple. So OS, you might see this a lot, stands for offspring. Such a voice that's di agentic. So it's in your film. In that character can hear them, but they're not currently on the screen. V0 voice-over. So that's obviously not from the screen. They can't hear them, but that voice week and hear them select the audience can hear the character cannot. And so the character Linus also centered and in all caps. But again, formatting will hopefully do this for you. Parenthetical. Use these sparingly. So these are kind of LY for verbs or actions. So you can have John, for example, angrily in your parenthetical and then he delivers his lines. That's a option. You can have flips a coin, little quirks like that. Smoke cigarette gives a high-five like there's a lot of stuff that you've been throw in here apparently articles in action. Sometimes you might just leave it in the action line. Parenthetically. Again, similar thing. You don't want to tell the director how to do his job. You don't want to tell actors how to do their job. So if you are writing for Robert Downey Junior and he wants to you to grab a snack, or he doesn't want to grab a snack in this particular scene, he won't do it and they will just take it right out. Kinda use them sparingly. Again, actors want to do it their way. A good kind of tip is the first time you do it, you can include as many as you want so that you yourself can understand what is going on. But then kind of as you go through, you need to make it clear that they're saying they're light angrily and then you can kind of take up that parenthetical because you understand, hopefully everyone understands that that's what's happening. You don't need that added parenthetical there. Dialogue. So we're getting to the anterior dialogue. You know, kind of short, precise, concise. It's witty, it's fun. It has to sound like something that someone would actually say. And we'll go through an example in a bit. But it has to sound like something a human would say. You know, you can't be dropping weird lines and non, non-human stuff like unless of course it's like an alien screenplay that's a bit different, but, you know, make it believable. And if you're bad at dialogue, maybe going to a park and kind of just listening to people talk. Maybe that's the way to learn. But then in terms of formatting, see again, you want to try to avoid hangers. Keep your lines no longer than eight lines. So again, similar to the action. You don't want to have them to lie and for people to just skip over. And I know what you might be thinking. Oh, well what about like monologues in battle speeches and stuff? Break it up with action lines. So whether it's the president kind of looking out at the crowd and he's giving a massive two-page monologue. Kind of break it up as much as you can with, you know, even if it's just a few words like the president. Waves is faced with a cloth for example. Or, you know, someone in the audience tears up like little stuff like that, break it up as much as you can. And yet no one wants to read a conversation with dialogue for three straight pages. Another issue with dialogue is unique to kind of attack people with it. You know, if your dialogue isn't revealing something about the characters are moving the story forward. Considered just removing it altogether from, from the Screenplay. 8. In Late, Out Early: So exposition dump. So we hear it a lot sometimes when people say expositional dump, It's usually when a character delivers a lot of lines of information all at once, you know whether it's completely explaining the story. Again, you kind of want to attack the audience with it and kind of break it up as well. Another way to kind of give exposition with a dumping it on us is have two people disagree on it. If you're doing a particularly complicated dinosaur movie, similar to dress a world where you need to explain how the dinosaurs actually come to be. Have someone disagree with it, you know, so half the doctor trying to explain how the genetics work and then half the main character kind of disagree with that. You know, even though they might not know too much about it, they might just disagree with it altogether. Another way kind of is, you know, another exposition dump is when someone says something that they would never say in real life, it's just not realistic. So for example, hello william, my brother-in-law, went managing frozen yogurt business with how are you today? No one would say that. And what's her being a complete weirdo? No one is saying that. So what you would probably do is, Hello William, how are you? So that's, again, that's how normal people talk. And then we can kind of get revealed through action or other dialogue that their brother-in-law. And they own a frozen yogurt business together like maybe as one of them comes in before he meets William, may be one of the employee, says, Hey boss, like that kind of tells us all we need to know. So some of the last things, so transition, so a phrase spec script. You won't be using too many of these. And again, another question, what is the Expect script? Suspect script is speculation script. And so there's a difference between a spec script, any shooting script, especially script, is what a screenwriter would submit to his producer, to his agent for them to read. So there's no sequence number and there's no camera angles at all. And then kind of once the producer kind of buys into it, They pay you for the spread. Whether you stay on or whatever. Then they can start adding their camera angles. And that's kind of worked with the director. But typically sprint runners in the spec script stage, you're only sticking to fade in, fade to black and fade out. And they're placed on the right-hand side in caps with a semicolon AQ breaks. So you won't see this typically in feature film scripts, but I figured I would include it anyway here. And television use it a lot more. But proper formatting is just centered, bold caps and underlined. Mtv. This is where you put in a sitcom, for example, cold open Act 1, Act 2, and then tag. Another little note here. It is in late, out, early. So this is very important for writing your scenes and running your dialogue. Basically means we tried to enter scene after it has already started. And again, this rule doesn't always happen, but it's something that you can do and try to get better at. So instead of seeing a couple of walk into the restaurant together, they kind of chipped out a bit. Then after they eat and we've kind of already been with them for five minutes or whatever it is. Then she says, Hey, I want to break up. Instead, we might just go right to maybe he know he's picking food out with a toothpick or something or maybe the reason why she's breaking up is because He's disgusting. So he's kind of picking out food with his fingers. And so we jump right to that breakup where she goes, I want to break up. So that's a bit different than going through all of that five minutes having the breakup the breakup middle, they have a conversation that's another three minutes. It's an inference of a scene between eight minutes and three minutes. And then we can try to leave early as well. So if a scene of a guy argument with a waiter, and they both say, Okay, we'll meet me outside and we're going to go fight. We might get out early and jumped right to them throwing punches. So instead of having the man who was arguing, you know, him walking out and then he maybe he puts his coat on a hanger, maybe pays a pill first. And then they kind of go outside. They exchange a few lines, they circle around each other and then finally one throws a punch. So again, it's possible that that's a second scene. But what's more likely and more entertaining is no, Hey, meet me outside. Maybe he does something real quick but then boom, right into the action. There's foreign punches. 9. Outro: So that's basically all I have for you. So remember that this is kind of just the basics on kind of formatting properly and all of that. For the screenplays. We're not diving too deep into printing and story, plot points, characters, and improving dialogue at all that. But that's all I have for you guys. And I hope that you kind of learned something. I hope that you can check out some of my other classes. And if anything, every day just read, right, get better. I would love to communicate with any and all of you trying to help you out. Screenwriting is a lot of people say that writing is kind of boring and it's kind of a lonely task, but screenwriting can be fun like writer's rooms on television and movies like a lot of the times, they will have several screenwriters that kind of fault come in and they're contributing. So writing doesn't have to be boring, like start this conversation. Just have fun with it. But that's all I have for you guys. Take care and stay safe.