One of the primordial elements of filmmaking is conceiving it and subsequently documenting it. Before a film is produced, the detailed idea needs to be penned down in a piece of paper. This paper is known as a script or a screenplay and can be considered to be the blueprint of the movie. Before delving into the details, let us first understand as to what screenwriting, also referred to as scriptwriting, is all about. We shall keep our discourse limited to the medium of films alone as screenwriting is equally applicable for television and video games.
What Is Screenwriting?
Screenwriting is the process of writing the text for a movie. In simple parlance, the art of writing screenplays is known as screenwriting. While the Oxford Dictionary describes a screenplay as “the script of a film, including acting instructions and scene directions”, the Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “the text for a film, including the words to be spoken by the actors and instructions for the cameras”.
The screenwriters are the one who are primarily responsible for conceiving the movie in totality before the film is made. The creative aspect of filmmaking is greatly influenced by the screenwriters. Screenplays can be original when the screenwriter concocts the story and plot for a given movie. Screenplays can also be adapted when another piece of literature becomes the basis on which the film is conceived.
The Importance of Screenwriting
The meaning of a movie largely depends on how the screenplay is written and how the same is executed by the director. It is essential to understand here that the same person can be the director and the scriptwriter. While trying to deconstruct a movie into its constituent elements, it is very important to give the plot and narrative their due recognition.
While the other technical elements are extremely important, the preeminence of screenplay remains of paramount importance. In order to understand this concept, let us look at a movie like ‘The Apartment’ (1960) by Billy Wilder. The script for this movie was also written by Wilder. While the movie has all the other technical elements, it became a classic because of its excellent script. The plot is simple and the narrative is straightforward. Notwithstanding, the movie leaves an indelible mark on our psyche. As an integral ingredient of understanding cinema, the script of a film should be looked into carefully.
A screenplay can adopt a number of forms based on the output. For the moment, we shall restrict our discourse to films alone. The principal forms concerning films include:
- Feature Films: This type of screenplay is submitted to a major studio after it is approved. It takes a definite format depending on what the studio wants it to be. Generally, well-known screenwriters prepare such scripts. Most of the screenplays that we talk about belong to this category. Unfortunately, the leeway for inserting originality in this type of scripts is minimal as the requirements are spelt out before the writing process begins.
- Spec Script: A spec script or a speculative screenplay is usually a non-commissioned project that the writers sell to the open market. The format is usually decided by the concerned writer. There have been multiple spec scripts that have been later converted into complete feature films. Generally, such spec scripts are converted to feature film scripts just in case any of the bigger studios decide to. Spec scripts are way more original than commissioned scripts for obvious reasons.
- Documentaries: The screenplays for documentaries have a lot of voice-overs and follow a two-column format. Subject to the fact that a documentary can’t be planned to the last detail, the screenplay might undergo a lot of changes. Although a lot of documentary filmmakers completely discount the importance of scripts in making documentaries, the fact remains that a tentative schedule does help the conversion of ideas into specific actions.
- Telefilms: Telefilms also constitute a specific form of films in the current era. Consequently, there is a definite way of writing scripts for telefilms as well.
All said and done though, screenwriting is evolving with each passing day and the methods to decipher a screenplay are also evolving. One needs to be constantly on the lookout to keep in tune with the changing times.
Importance of Training and Education in Becoming a Screenwriter
Screenwriting, though, is an acquired skill and it needs training and skilling. It literally needs hours and hours of practice. As one should understand, one can’t become a screenwriter overnight. This is exactly where an educational institute comes handy. You might be a talented writer and you might have a flair for telling cinematic stories. However, the same doesn’t automatically make you an accomplished screenwriter. Screenwriting is contingent on a number of factors that can be learnt only at a media or a film school.
Importance of Networking in Screenwriting
In addition to the training requirements, there is another seemingly dirty word that determines an aspiring screenwriter’s eventual success graph. That word is nothing but networking. Being well-connected and having the people skills are distinct advantages that can take a writer long way in being a seasoned screenwriter. We might totally believe in the importance of talent. However, the fact remains that references are absolutely essential for the producer or the director (whatever the case may be) to listen to your script.
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