Writing for the Screen resources 4-6

You’re going to learn about how to tell stories for the screen. We’re going to help you come up with an original idea, and then develop that idea into a story fit for a short film or animation.  

‘Short’ in this case means a live-action film or animation that might go for 3-7 minutes, not 90+ minutes – that's what we call a feature-length film. 

Housekeeping

This page is for teachers and students who have registered or been registered for this program.

The program will run like this:

Lesson 1: Do at home or school by 25 October

Lesson 2, online lesson with ACMI: 26 October

Lesson 3: Do at home or school by 29 October

Lesson 4, online lesson with ACMI: 30 October

Lesson 4: Do at home or school by mid-November, and send ACMI your work.

If you haven't read or received your Writing for the Screen introduction document, download or open it below.

Otherwise, if you're ready, get started on Lesson 1. Before you do, make sure you have a document on your device open, or a workbook/journal to keep track of your ideas and your work.

Lesson 1

Coming up with ideas 

All stories, be they for a film, a book, or a TV series, start out as ideas. 

But where do ideas come from? 

The obvious answer is your imagination, but it’s not always as simple as just stopping and having a think and suddenly you have the greatest idea for a story ever!

The good news is you can prompt yourself to think of ideas and prepare yourself to be inspired by the world around you for story ideas as well. 

Ideas: what if? 

Sometimes ‘what-if?’ questions can help you come up with some cool ideas. 

If you haven’t seen Toy Story and Jurassic Park you might know about them. Both are feature-length films, but they started out with ‘what-if....’ questions. 

What if toys were alive.  

What if someone cloned Dinosaurs. 

Now, these ideas wouldn’t have come out of the blue. They were probably questions prompted by the real world. Perhaps the author of Jurassic Park was reading about Dinosaurs or cloning and got this bright idea. Or with Toy Story, the writer might have been watching their kids playing with toys and thought “what if toys could walk and talk when no one was around?” 

So be ready for the things around you to inspire these 'what if' type questions, or, you can try sitting and thinking and imagining stories around ‘what if’ questions you might think up. 

✏️ Write down three ‘what if....’ questions of your own.

If you have more than three great! When you’re finished pick your favourite three. These should be ones you think are the most exciting for a short film story.

The real world 

Often the world around us inspires ideas and being open and ready to let your mind wander when it finds something interesting is a good practice.  

So, we encourage seeing something interesting and daydreaming about it! 

To give you another example of how the real world can inspire a what-if question, and a cool idea for a short film, let’s watch this student made one:

🤔 Before you read on, have a think: what do you think the 'what if...' question was that inspired this short film?

We love this example because you can see how these guys would’ve come up with this idea.  

They probably went into their sock draw one day and could only find odd socks, and wondered how socks always disappeared. So their 'what if' question might have been "what if the socks escape when we're not looking?" or something like that.

So they daydreamt a bit about it and came up with this idea of a sock escaping the washing machine when no one was watching! They then probably wondered “well, where do the socks go from there?” And came up with this idea of all these socks hiding out having a party under the couch. 

✏️ Activity: do a short lap of your classroom or home, and see if you can find inspiration for a story idea within that space. Write down any or all of the ideas you came up with.

Visual prompts 

The good news is you can also prompt yourself to think of ideas. It can help get your imagination and creativity firing. 

These start with visual prompts. 

🔎 ❓ Here you just look at a picture and ask a bunch of who, what, where, when and how questions. 

Take this turtle for example:

turtle fence.jpg

- Who is this turtle?

- Where is the turtle going? Is it escaping or breaking in?

- When did this turtle start climbing this fence?

- What has motivated this turtle into climbing this fence?

- How did it get up that fence?

We can come up with multiple answers and pick and choose the answers that we like best, the ones that start to form a story. 

- This is Tim. Tim the Turtle.

- Tim is escaping his cruel owners

- He wants to go back to the wild where he was taken from

- He managed to get up that fence through months of intense, upper body strength training. Or something.

Ok great, we have the beginnings of a story. 

In our first online lesson we will turn this into a premise. A premise is where you take the idea and start to cement that idea a bit more. 

🔎 ✏️Activity: your turn! 

Go to this random picture generator: https://www.teachstarter.com/au/widget/visual-writing-prompts/ and find an image that you'd like to work with.

Come up with a question (or two if you like!) for each, who what when where how. Not all your questions you think of will fall neatly under one of those, so add extra questions under ‘other’. 

Who: 

What: 

When: 

Where: 

How: 

Other questions: 

Before Lesson 2 (online with us)

Now you’ve completed these few activities, look back over the ideas you came up with. 

Pick a favourite idea to work with. You can also include ideas you had already if you like. If you can’t pick a favourite that’s fine. 

Take at least one idea and answer these questions yourself to get kickstart your idea: 

- Who is my main character?

- How would I describe their world and their everyday life? 

- What happens to this character, or what happens in their world? (This could be a problem the character faces, a goal they want to or must achieve, or a complication that upsets their way of life) 

Have those ideas written down and handy for your first videoconference session. 

That’s all! 

In the first videoconference we will talk about: 

Premise and problems & story structure 

See you then! 

Lesson 3

Structuring your story

By now, hopefully you have been able to turn your idea into a premise.

You’ll also know a bit more about your main character and have your character diamond.

We also talked about Plot questions.

These will all help as we start adding more detail to our stories.

If you didn’t get time during the last lesson, spend some time finishing these off now.

In this lesson, we are going to look at how we flesh out more detail in the story. This is called a structure. It’s just like our house diagram. Imagine the premise is the foundation of the house, the characters are the walls, and now we are going to put the roof on.

Beginning, middle and end

(Sometimes this is also called Orientation, Problem, Resolution)

We know you’re probably familiar with these three words. We’ve all been listening to or telling stories since we were young. Most stories follow this structure. We have a structure so we can keep our audience entertained until the end! But most importantly, we want to take them on a journey with our characters.

What happens in the beginning?

We meet a character and their world or setting for the story.

What happens in the Middle?

A problem is established and the character goes about solving it

What happens in the End?

The problem is resolved, but because of the adventure or what the character has learned along the way, they are not the same as when they started.

Using a map

We use maps so we know which direction we are going in. The same applies when we are developing a script. Maps can be handy to keep your story on track. Now you have gathered all this great information, see if you can create a story map like ours below.

You’ll see that we haven’t fleshed out the whole story yet, but we definitely have the most exciting points mapped out.

Lesson 5

SCRIPT FORMATTING

A script needs to be engaging as a story, but unlike a book, it’s important to be brief, because it’s going to be going on a life of its own once it leaves your computer.

Films are packed with visual clues. The action can happen in multiple places and times too. The formatting helps make this information clear, so that everyone who works on a film can understand an interpret it, including but not limited to, cinematographers, art department, costumes, location scouts, makeup artists, actors and directors.

Luckily there is a range of software to help us format scripts. Celtx is free and easy to use, or you could try WriterDuet.

The font that we use when formatting is Courier New. But don’t worry too much about this- your software will do it for you. It will also help you with the formatting.

Take a look at our example in lesson 4 if you need a reminder of what it looks like.

WRITING (AND REWRITING!)

Here’s some helpful hints as you start writing your scripts.

Keep your story work handy

You’ve done all the background work, so this is where you get to bring your story to the page. Keep your story work next to you as you will need to refer to them to keep on track. So, that’s your:

  • character diamond
  • plot and character questions
  • story map
  • synopsis or outline

Scene Questions

When writing a scene, think of it as having its own structure. Scenes have their own beginning middle and end.

Keep these questions in mind as you write, so you can really captivate your reader and keep your characters and story on track.

  • Whose scene is it? (the protagonist or another character?)
  • What do they want? (this can be a smaller version of their overall goal)
  • What gets in the way? (an obstacle)
  • Moment of change (character decides to...)
  • Show or tell: we can say a lot by looking at something. Try describing what we are seeing rather than always having a character explaining through dialogue.

Writing is Re-writing

As you go, you’ll know more about your story and characters. It’s totally ok to change course. It’s all part of the process.

Once you have written your first scene, see if you can write another. Step away, and come back to it later or read it aloud. You’ll see what is working and what might need some more tweaking.

There’s a reason why it takes several drafts to refine a script. It’s all part of the process, so don’t worry about it being perfect. It takes time to master a new skill!

Read aloud

Once you have a draft, gather a group of classmates or ask some family and friends to read the scene for you. We call this a ‘table read’. You can do this in person or it works just fine on Zoom or your preferred video conferencing software.

Sharing and workshopping is very helpful for a screenwriter. You’ll be able to see what’s working and what needs tweaking.

Your voice is important

Doubts are always present in the creative process, but remember that only you can tell your story.

It’s important to give yourself time to let ideas flow. So give yourself time to experiment and follow your gut instinct.

Pitching (optional)

Pitching is the art of communicating your film idea.

If you have finished all your written stuff for this

As the writer you will know so much about the story already, so the trick is to pull out the parts that you think will draw your audience in. There are a few tricks to pitching, so keep reading!

  • The aim is to make the audience as excited about the film as you are!
  • The rule of thumb: don’t tell the whole story, just the most important bits.
  • Find the ‘hook’- this is the thing that will lure the audience into your idea. To find your hook, think about what makes your film idea original, or unique. Is it something about the character or where it is set? Is it the problem?

Types of pitches:

VISUAL PITCH

Images can help people visualise the film. This includes drawings, photos, or even a collage.

Make a mood board of whatever you think best shows the visual look and feel of your film.

The keyword here is mood - It's not about it looking nice, but how you want the audience to feel.

Think about including these elements:

  • The world or setting of your story
  • Your protagonist
  • General inspiration

Here's a basic mood board where we've gathered a few images around characters, settings, and other inspirations for parts of our project

Mood board basic

VERBAL PITCH

A verbal pitch can be a great way to show the audience your personality and your passion for your project.  The most important thing is to be yourself- the listener wants to know who you are and why this story is important to you. Try not to read from a page- engage your listener.

Have you heard the term ‘elevator pitch’? It’s a short pitch that should be no longer than the time it literally takes to travel in an elevator. Set yourself a challenge- see if you can pitch your story in less than 2 minutes!

Some things to mention in your pitch:
• What’s the film about? (the plot- where it is set, the problem and some important bits of action)
• Who is your protagonist? (some facts about your character)
• What would make someone watch it? (what is the hook?)

You don’t need to give your listener or reader the whole plot of your film. Come back to your synopsis and your story map- And don’t give away the whole story- keep them wanting more!

What we would like you to send us:

  • One-liner
  • One paragraph synopsis
  • Script sample (a page or two)

Optional- if you are a keen bean!

  • Your entire script
  • Story outline (no more than one page)
  • One of the three types of pitches.

Please send us your work by no later than Monday 30 November. Send as much as you like. Good luck!