Lesson 1/10: Finding Subject, Form & Function Within Your Screenplay | Skye Buehler | Skillshare

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Lesson 1/10: Finding Subject, Form & Function Within Your Screenplay

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

12 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Jobs of the Screenwriter

    • 3. Story Structure

    • 4. Feature Film Structure

    • 5. Why Not Longer?

    • 6. Drama

    • 7. Plot Points

    • 8. Form vs Function

    • 9. Learning Process

    • 10. Research

    • 11. Last Notes

    • 12. Project

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About This Class

In this class students will learn all about how to start the process of writing a screenplay. It sounds simple but it's quite a tall task to actually sit down and write one. Finding the subject, or what your screenplay is about is a tall order. We also focus on form vs function. When is a script too formulaic and where can we push boundaries. 

You can apply these skills learned today to go out and write your very own screenplay. 

No prior experience is required and after watching all 10 videos you should have a strong base for creating your own screenplay. 

You can use a free screenwriting software such as celtx.com or trelby.org 

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: Hello everyone. My name is Skyler and I'm going to be teaching you about screenwriting. Screenwriting, it's kind of this incredible thing. And if you've ever watched a movie before, then you probably know what screenwriting is. So that's the kind of book, the kind of script that goes in the background of that movie. So we're going to be doing, this is going to be Part 1 of a 10 part series. That's going to be kind of our introduction to screenwriting. So we're going to talk about everything from screenplay and subject. We're gonna talk about characters, building your storyline, and then what you actually do after your screenplay is actually finished. Editing process and agents and all fat. But today we're focusing on screenplay and subjects. So that's our focus for today. And for this lesson. 2. Jobs of the Screenwriter: A reminder. So a screenplay, it's not a novel and it's not a play. It's something completely different than those two things. So a novel is obviously told mostly through the mind of the main character. While a plate you can see everything. And a lot of the times you'll have monograms with the audience. So film is neither of those things. And I'll kind of explain in a little more detailed pretty soon just how different these are, you know, in terms of length, as well as just dialogue and just overall the look and feel of a screenplay compared to novel and compared to eating, like eating a playwright. So the jobs of the screenwriter. So my goal is to help you follow all through all 10 of these series is here and eventually get to making your first short film. So that being said, we have some major jobs that as the screenwriter, we need to accomplish. So screenwriter, unlike the kind of director, he gets to work off of something, you know, he gets to build off of this script. He has something in his hand that physically he can go off of. And that gives him a great opportunity if he doesn't like to see, okay, well, he can move it around a bit, you know, he can change it. He can do whatever he or she. They can two different lighting here. They can maybe add a little bit over here, a little bit more foreshadowing in the dialogue. A screenwriter does not have that opportunity. They have a blank page in front of them, or blank desktop or whatever it is. And they need to turn that into a masterpiece. They need to turn it into the next Lord of the Rings. They need to turn it into the next blockbuster like Avengers Endgame. So their goal and their job is a lot more difficult than everyone else is. At least just in my opinion, I am a writer. So I'm allowed to say that anyway. So the jobs of the screenwriter, so you need to kind of set up the story. You need to establish characters. You need to also launch the dramatic premise. You need to illustrate the situation that's going on. So the dramatic situation that's going on. And then you need to finally create that situation and that relationship between main character and the other characters. 3. Story Structure: So let's now talk about story structure because a screenplay really has so much structure to it. As opposed to kind of novels, as opposed to kind of play write. A screenplay has so much structure to it and don't be alarmed and think, oh, well, if there's too much structure, I'm not going to be creative as I can know. And we'll kind of explain the difference between, you know, kind of what, what, what to push like, what boundaries to push in terms of your writing and what boundaries to kind of stay with him. But kind of at its root, structure means struct and that means to build or put something together. So obviously when we're talking about structure, we're talking about putting this storyline together to make this cohesive story. And overall to just make it all makes sense all kind of fit together. Another way to kinda look at structure is the relationship between the parts and the whole. So structures collect the gravity. So it's kind of the glue that holds the story in place. So you can have great characters, you can have great scenes or even great sequences, great dialogue. But if you don't have structure and you know, you don't have that first act, second third act. You don't have your plot points, correct, or whatever it is, then your story ultimately will just not be read by, by kind of Hollywood readers. It's not going to go up the totem pole to producers, executives kinda, wherever it goes. 4. Feature Film Structure : So feature film structure. So we've spent a lot of time already on structured. But it's important to remember that we're going to be kind of cluing in on feature film structure as opposed to TV, drama, sitcom, and kind of all different ones will have different structures to them like sitcoms. They have a different structure kinda with that tag at the end, they'll have their cold open to ax and then a kind of tag at the end. That's their structure. Tv Trauma, five to six acts to kind of accumulate all of those different commercial breaks. And then a feature film obviously doesn't have those breaks. But it's going to have the three-act structure. So that's what we're going to be talking about throughout this course, is created that short film and eventually bringing out this full feature-length script. So let's break it down. So the beginning, so our act one is going to be pages 1 to page 30, and that's going to be considered our setup. So that's where we're setting up characters. We're setting up our situation. We're setting up or dramatic premise for everything that's going to happen. And obviously, you can probably have your antagonist a little later kind of setup into the film. But you should look to have everything that we need to know as an audience should be set up in that first step. Then our second act, kind of the longest one, that's going to be pages 30 to 90 that I like to call the confrontation can kind of act because in this one, our main character who has been established, he was at his ordinary life and I was kind of passes point of no return. You know, Luke leaves the planet of Tatooine. Frodo leaves to the Shire. Now we're, we're kind of getting to the real reason that we wanted to go see this movie in the first place. We want to see out. We want to see the Avengers fight 1000 and kind of His people. And kind of whenever it is. So it's kind of obstacle after obstacle that's getting in the way of our main character and just maybe, or a group of characters sounds for confrontation comes from. Then our third act, that's our ending acts. And that one is going to be pages 90 to 120. So that's our resolution. So that's where our climaxes and then where we're resolving everything. So if our main character dies, hopefully there's a little bit of resolution where, you know, there's a funeral or whatever it is. If this is, the couple finally gets together in the end. Maybe now they're getting married and that's kinda the resolution of the film. It's important also to remember that story determines structure. Structure doesn't determine story. So that's kind of where I'm talking about kind of bending and bending but not breaking this structure. Because obviously page 133 tonight and 90 to a 120, that's just a set kind of guideline. But if you're dealing with a movie like Inception, which is just this incredible, incredible complex story. Well, you're setup might need more than 30 pages to keep that kind of rolling. So your first act might be page one to page 50, leaving. That's okay. And then you might have your middle so many pages 50 to 90, and then your resolution is kind of 220. So that's kind of what we're talking about. Bending don't break. Or if you have that, this is a SQL movie, for example. Well, everything's kind of already been set up in that first movie. And now we can immediately get into those confrontations potentially a lot faster, because we don't need to show this character again, we don't need to see his, his best friend or whatever it is. We don't need to see the antagonist any anymore because it's already been established in the first movie. So we might see something like in the first act, it's only 20 pages because everything's been set up. We can move forward into confrontation. Now we get more conflict, more conflict. What didn't we do that first one? And what are we doing this time? And now we have the opportunity because we just have more time to put more in front of this character, reveal more about his kind of character. And then obviously if you have a really big climax at the end, like this is Avengers Endgame again, obviously no spoilers, but you're ending might be a bit longer than that. 5. Why Not Longer?: So why not longer? So a 120 pages, roughly speaking. And I say roughly because there are exceptions to every rule. But that being said, every one page of screenplays should be roughly one minute in movie time. That's a one-page of screenplay equals one minute of screen time. And of course always exceptions to that. Lord of the Rings, for example, I think is a great example where the script is only about 90 pages. But that movie, obviously the extended cut is a 180 minutes. And there's obviously the other way where you have movies that are longer script and they're kind of not as long. Comedies, for example, are very good for that. Because everything is just moving so fast that dialogue is just coming out so quickly that you might end up with a 120 page script, which would be technically two hours, but the moon is only an hour and 20 because everything is just so much more faster. So not only that, but it's actually very costly every minute, and particularly the genre that you're running. So science fiction movies, those are obviously going to be a lot more money. Historical kind of movies. Those are going to be more period pieces. Those are going to cost us more money. So relatively speaking, a cost between ten to $12 thousand permanent of screen time on a blockbuster movie that has since, I believe, gone away more. And in saying this, That's not the number for those big Disney Marvel movies, like you're talking about, over a million dollars per minute. This is more so indie films, those smaller ones that go underneath the umbrella of some of these bigger movies. So obviously, big movies. Again, it could be triple or even millions on top of how much you actually put into the film. But now we're talking about advertising because you spent $200 million on this movie. A lot of the times, they will spend about 50 percent of what they spent or more advertising that movie. So that's why you see so many trailers. You'll see it on bus stops. You'll see it with the buses, big billboards, you'll see kind of ads everywhere. And that's kind of millions and millions of dollars that are being spent on this movie. So if you have a $200 million movie that was made, you might see a $100 million that goes into advertising. So obviously, that's a pot of money that kind of has to be returned to them. 6. Drama: So drama. So two things to take away from this class today more than anything, are the dramatic premise is what the story is about. And dramatic needs. That is what the character wants to win, game, get or achieved during the course of this screenplay. So I'll say again, dramatic premises, what the story is about. So is this a movie of good versus bad? Returning the ring to the fires of Mount Doom. Is this about the guy is going to get the girl or, or vice versa. That, that's kind of the dramatic premise. The dramatic needs, although very similar for it. So that's what the character wants to win. So Frodo obviously wants to put the ring into Mount Doom. But there's also this element of people don't believe in him. You know, there's, you know, for example, Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse movie. I absolutely loved. The movie is about Spider-Man needs to save the City of New York from the collider. That's different than his needs, like Miles Morales. This dramatic need is that he needs to prove that he is someone who needs to find himself. So that's what he hopes to kind of when gained from the situation and throughout the course of the screenplay. So main character encounters obstacle after obstacle after obstacle as keeping him from achieving his traumatic need. So orcs are, are stopping the habits. You know, Doctor Octopus is stopping Spider-Man, kind of whatever that situation is. It's a ROM COM, the guys trying to get what the girl, but he doesn't want to say how he's feeling very, When Harry Met Sally, or maybe an old her ex-boyfriend shows up, another conflict is thrown in there and his traumatic needs might be, you know, I need to feel loved because I've never been loved, you know, properly before from my parents, from my friends or whatever it is. So he needs to feel like she fully loves him and he has to prove to her that he's kind of worthwhile. So that could be kind of your dramatic need. So a little quote from very good filmmaker, writer Quentin Tarantino. So all drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action. Without action, you have no character. Without character, you have no story, and without story you have no screenplay. So Quentin Tarantino, there. 7. Plot Points: So to break down further structure, we need to establish your story hopefully within the first ten minutes to have people entertained. Not necessarily fully, everything needs to be established within those first ten minutes. But either consciously or unconsciously, audiences will do, will decide in this time if they liked the movie. It's the first 10 pages of your screenplay are honestly the most important. Because within the first few pages of the screenplay, we should know the main character. We should know the dramatic premise which we just talked about. And we should note the dramatic situation that's going on. So we should know all of that, at least within the first ten minutes. You know, this is why you see so often in war movies, in action movies, you'll see this kind of seen at the beginning, which makes no sense to at first, but it's this high moment of action. It's this high moment of drama. You know, they're running away from a killer. There's a shootout on a yacht, kinda of whatever it is. But we're getting right in, we're getting right entrenched into the screenplay and into the script. Okay? Now that I kind of know, okay, well this is the main character or this person died. Now there's a mystery. I need to go solve it in terms of the audience. And then you know, that's a great way to keep people in their seats at the movie theater and it's a great way for readers to continue reading your work. Another kind of note is that resolution doesn't mean, it means solution. So how does your screenplay get resolved? So does he died as he lived, as he get the girl? What happens? How is it resolved? So plot points. So the way to get from one task to task 3 is using a plot point. So there'll be an entire class dedicated to plot points, but I'm going to talk a little bit about it here. So plot point is an incident, an episode in the event that hooks into the action and spins it around in a another direction. So it should be, should be always the function of main character. You need to make your character active within your story. So if you don't and he's kind of reacting to situations, you know, the, the antagonist is kinda putting situations in front of him. His best friend is putting situations in front of him. His mom is her father is putting situations in front of them. That's not a very active main character. They're just reacting to everything that's going on, which you need to do as a writer is figure out the most dramatic way to kinda presented this kind of scene. But also have your main character making things happen. They're going to the bank to chase this girl. They're going to the action. They're trying to look for the kind of antagonists trying to stop his evil plants. So these top ones should serve an essential purpose in place. So they are a major story progressive and they keep the storyline anchored in place. So they don't have to be this big dynamic scene or sequence. They can be a quite a scene in which a decision is made. So as long as it kind of hooks us into the action that spins around in it and other direction. It can be a big shootout. It can be a big punch in and punching scene. It can also just be this decision where this character admits, okay, I will take that ring, okay, I will take that leap of faith. Okay. I will do this. And that's kind of, you know, you're, you're kinda quite seen. 8. Form vs Function: So foreign versus function. So I'll talk a little bit earlier about, you know, keeping structure in mind but not being a slave to it. So this is kind of where it kind of rears its head again because there's a distinction between form and formula. The form of a coke is two arms, a front and a back end. But within that form, you know, you kinda have variations of style of fabric, color and size, but the form remains the same and intact. The form will always be two arms in front and a back. Formula, however, never varies. So certain elements are put together so that they come out exactly the same each and every time. So this is kind of in relation to screenwriting and kind of screenplay. Screenplays should be a form, it should not be a formula. So when I'm talking about putting your plot point at page 35 or whatever it is. You don't need to fall that in your own script. Your story will dictate where your plot points go and kind of what your story arc looks like. Because if you again have this story that is very complex, Don't be set to just those 30 pages from page 12, 30 year in your setup. You know it, because the worst thing that could happen for your story is if you're sitting at page 29 in your thinking, Oh my God, I have so much more than I need to set up. But I'm running out of pages. I gotta get into my confrontation. No, that's the wrong way to look at it. You're, you're talking about more about that formula, a formula of screenwriting where every page should be this. And on page 35 I need a plot point. And at pH 55 might be stories is going to come in at page 60 is my midpoint. That's not a way to write. The absence of writing. What you're looking for is that form. So you know, two arms, a front and a back. That's your act one, act two, and X3, That's always going to be there. But within that genres different, you know, your midpoint might be different than my midpoint. Your first three pages, we'll look different than mine. You know, your resolution will be different. Where you put your plot points which you choose to do will always be in front. So the form of the screenplay is more important than a specific page number it place on. So I hope that's clear. So never worry about following page 12, 30 and 32, 90 and the 90 to a 120. It's a lot more important to just remember the form of the screenplay and making sure that you're doing your setup first, and then your confrontation and then your resolution. That's kind of what we're talking about as opposed to setup, resolution, confrontation. That's not right. As well as, you know, that's more important than that specific numbers. 9. Learning Process: So learning process. So every movie C should be a learning process. Every screenplay you read should be learning process as well. I tried to read at least one screenplay every week just to get better and to keep my skills kinda fresh. It's just like if you're a basketball player, if you're a kind of tracks start. If you're an artist, if you're a singer, you need to be doing something in that field that's keeping you sharp intellect. You're a professional musician and obviously like if you take two months off or whatever, you should still be good at it. But think about how much better you'd be if you just kept going every single day or even every week, I should say. But just reading that, that's framed by getting better. Here's some great examples. But of course, the best movies to watch and kind of read are the ones that you enjoy watching yourself. So if you're like me and I might get some paint here, but I'm not the biggest fan of, of kind of classical movies like Chinatown, for example, as Citizen Kane. They just weren't as interesting to me. And honestly, it would kind of bogged me down if I was reading just the those kind of scripts and just watching those movies, like watching them here and they're run those scripts here and there. Diana's fine. But what's kind of a lot better for me was writing and watching or writing, reading and watching movies. I wanted to make, you know, I love superhero movies, I love action movies, I loved horror movies. The conjuring is actually one of the favorite screenplays I've ever read is phenomenal. Actually bay watches while that was a great screenplay. But, but yeah, those are kind of movies that I'm more interested in, so I'm going to be more involved with those. I'm going to be more likely to take notes and actually finished that screenplay entirely. And my kind of, my goal is that I can inspire some of you guys to pick up a screenplay and just start reading it and then making your own, own movie. Because there's so many viewpoints, There's so many points of views like what's happened in my life is going to be completely different than than than yours. Like I want to see it, you know, everything, you know, if you're kind of a refugee from wherever you are, you went to Canada, he went to New York City, or even you know, you're from a small town, you went to the big city. Your viewpoint will be different than someone down the road from you. Maybe they're eating your roommate and you guys have similar paths. Using that situation will be slightly different from everyone. And we just need all of these voices in this industry to broaden the horizon. You know, this is kind of your time to shine now. 10. Research : So questions to ask yourself about your screenplay. So do you know the subject of your screenplay, what it's about, who it's about. Can you express it in a few sentences? Do you know your main character? What is his or hers background? What is the backstory? Do you know what happens at the end? And so when you can articulate your subject in a few sentences, kind of using some of these questions and using that in terms of action and character at the near ready to start expanding the elements of structure and storing. So next step. The next step is expanding your subjects and expanding your knowledge of the subject. So flushing out the action and focusing on the character broadens the storyline. So every project I've ever done, and most screenwriters, most professional ones will tell you that before they started writing down anything, whether that's in a notebook or whether that's on the computer, whether that's on the typewriter. You need to do some research is absolutely essential. And so obviously there's two kinds of research kinda that texts of books, papers, magazines, websites. And then there's live, so, so live interviews, talking to people or getting a feel for the subject. This is the advantage can have that will make you immediate and more spontaneous within your screenplay. If you're making this book or this screenplay about this kind of football club that eventually makes it to the kind of Championship in Europe. Well, if you know nothing about that topic outside of just being a fan, that's not going to create the best product. But if you do your research, you know, you actually talk to people, you know, you call up people for interviews, live interviews within people in Europe that are kind of doing this right now. That's where you're going to hit goals. If you're doing a kind of medical drama or whatever it is, you might watch Grey's Anatomy. That's not going to be enough to kind of put you into the right mindset and getting the right information. That's going to strike gold with your screenplay. Because the more you know, the more you're able to communicate and the better your screenplay is just going to come across. So the key to successful screenplay is preparing the material similar to cooking, similar to when you're doing sports. You need to prepare, you need to stretch your body, needs a practice before a game. Or your natural talents are not going to lift you to that championship. Because at the end of the day, dialogue is perishable. The actors and actresses can improvise lines to make something work. They might not like that line. They might want to sit differently. It might be a monologue and they might be so entrenched in their character that they want to deliver it using different words. They might want to do it in a different area that you've read. That is fine. There is nothing that you can do above that. What will always stand the test of time is that character's dramatic need is that proper structure, that is the foundation of your house and your screenplay that cannot be changed at all. And that will always stand there. You cannot change that. 11. Last Notes: So kind of getting into the end of it. So character named basically means dramatic needs. So again, what the character wants to win, gain, or achieved determines the dramatic structure. So two kinds of actions. So you have your physical action. So battle sequence, car chase, I'm boxing match. This kind of just fight off or shoot out and kind of as cetera, past that emotional actions. This is what happens inside your characters during the story. So they're, they're kind of father dies or whatever, but they are told from a young age, stay strong. You're not going to cry at my funeral. That's something that's going on inside that character or cheated on, that's emotional action. These two characters look into each other's eyes lovingly. That's an emotional accident. What's going on inside their head? They are just completely head over heels in love with this person. And so always remember. So before you start writing, you need to know and be able to define what the dramatic needs of your characters. So what is his or her need, what drives them to the resolution of your story? The Munich character that has a goal. Your character needs to achieve something. You know, if your character achieves or doesn't achieve that goal dot becomes the action of the story. But if they don't have a goal, they don't have anything that they're hoping to accomplish. You don't really have a story there. There, there's nothing to kinda hang our hats on, nothing for us to root for. And so how your character overcomes these obstacles is your story. So you know, conflict, struggle, overcoming obstacles, both internal and external. Those are all part of it. Those are the primary ingredients in all dramas, in all communists, in all actions. And so it's your job, it's the writer's responsibility to generate enough conflict to keep the reader or keep the audience interested. So last little notes. So without conflict and there's no action. Without action, there's no character. Action is character and a, what a person does is what he is, not what he says. And lastly, know your subject. 12. Project : So this kind of leads us to Part 1 of Part 10. So for this class, after this class, what I want you guys to do is to start to think about what your feature script will be about. So what we're going to start with is we're going to brainstorm more stuff, but we're going to try to have five different general ideas for feature-length films. So in other words, come up with a sentence or two description of what your, what your, your film is going to be about. So kinda like your logline. If this was in Netflix or if it was, you know, you're watching this on cable, what would that description, you should be able to say it in at least a sentence. So try to come up with five different ones. And then kind of, as we get further on with this course, we're going to break that down until we only have one idea left. We're going to kind of read through it, see that we can make sure that we can come up with five ideas. So that's kinda the key. So just think of those five different general ideas for feature-length films. So that is the end of the presentation. I hope to see you in the next class. And as always, keep writing, keep reading, and I'll see you next week. Take care.