One of the most informative actions I’ve taken as a beginning screenwriter is to watch movies with their screenplays in my lap. I read a scene, watch that scene, and read it again to see how it translates from the page to the screen. Here’s what I’ve learned in this process:
- The final screenplay and the final movie often look very different. Scenes are reshuffled or cut altogether. I watched one of my favorite movies and saw that an entire storyline had been cut from the final movie. Lines and words are different, too. Unlike a book or short story, the final screenplay is nowhere near final.
- Screenplays are short compared to most books. A two-hour movie is ~120 pages (~25,000 words). That’s half the words of even the shortest novel.
- Every single word in a screenplay counts. There is no room, or interest in, excess description. No inner thoughts. If it can’t be said or shown on screen, then it doesn’t belong in a screenplay. Writing has very few hard and fast rules, but in screenwriting brevity is one of them. Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary can speak and be seen.
- Scenes are Lego blocks. One thinks to the other in sequential order. In novels, you have rest scenes. In screenplays, you don’t. The question “And then what happened?” is crucial to ask at the end of every single scene. The answer to that question is the start of your next scene.
If you’re writing a screenplay, reading screenplays and then watching their corresponding movies is the single greatest tool you can utilize. Are you writing a screenplay? Which screenplays do you recommend reading and watching?