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WHERE'S THE DRAMA?

The stuff that dreams are made of

     THE ART OF THE SCREENPLAY -  RECOMMENDED READS


The worlds of writing are as vast and as mysterious as the imaginations of those that work in them, whether they're writing novels, poems, journalism or screenplays. Which ever world you work in, if you're going to be a writer whose work any one is going to give a damn about, it’s important to know what kinds of stories you want to tell and to whom you want to tell them, and why.

A screenwriter is also a character, and, just like any dramatic character, is goaded into action by problems, interests and opportunities. Of course it helps to understand which particular stories are peculiar to you and where they are coming from.  The best characters never act without cause, and neither do the best (i.e.: enduring) writers.  Whatever sort of writer you choose to be, and I assume that you want to be a SCREEN storyteller otherwise you wouldn't be here, there are a number of challenges you will have to  confront and work through if you're going to produce something that is both satisfying and meaningful. 

For most screenwriters, the writing involves both the terror and the challenge commonly associated with dramatic action. It's not going to be pretty, and it will probably get very messy before it's all done, so don't hold on too tightly to your fastidious sense of respectability. You're going to have to get down in the metaphorical dirt where the real action is happening. You're on the trip of a lifetime, en-route to the unexpected, an odyssey fraught with danger and real stakes. Why are you going? Because you have to. You have to go where the drama is - and you have to  go there because that is where the story is and if you're going to write it you have to experience it. It's visual - you write what you see... and what you hear. And to hear it and see it clearly and with the degree of emotional intensity with which it is occurring, you have to be as close to the action as possible. Remember : it's call motion PICTURES!

The images and sounds (which also evoke vision) work not only in terms of their literal meanings, but - and often more significantly - in terms of the contexts in which they are presented. Fundamentally, cinematic images and sounds provide a symbolic - or totemic - landscape that operates metaphorically to contextualise all of the important narrative events that are enacted by the characters. What is the symbol system that is being employed?  What natural objects are operating as symbols, and how are these enhanced or illuminated by the vision and the choices of ALL the filmmaker/storytellers, whether they be writers, editors or even audiences? 

The process starts with a concept and is developed by a screenwriter every time he/she drafts a version of the story in the form of a screenplay. And for those that are obsessed and made enough to want to develop some skills in the writing of screenplays, there is no substitute for learning this most difficult art than to read as many good screenplays as you get your hands on.  Apprenticing oneself to the best writers often begins by reading what they have written. How else will you sharpen your instincts and develop the sort of taste necessary that will allow you to become ever more alert and sensitive to the way in which a good writer exploits and develops the emotional energies that reside within the characters?  What you'll discover will surprise, if you persevere, that is. 

Below you will find a selection of film and television scripts to get you started. As you read through, look and listen to the way in which the writer presents actions - notice how it is achieved. Pay special attention to the symbols and metaphors, and the underlying emotional logic that in concert provoke meaningful resonances between the characters and between the characters and their world.  

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               THE SCRIPT GUIDE'S LIST

 

                                       COURTESY OF THE SCRIPT GUIDE 

Spanning nine decades from classic Billy Wilder to the modern-day Coen Brothers, this comprehensive list will be the blueprint for your screenwriting study. The majority are final drafts, however, shooting scripts and earlier drafts are also contained when a final draft was not available. Non-English language screenplays translated into English are not listed here as I do not class them as an accurate version of the writers' work.


Adaptation. (2002) by Charlie & Donald Kaufman
All About Eve (1950) by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
American Beauty (1999) by Alan Ball
American Psycho (2000) by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner
Animal Kingdom (2010) by David Michôd
Annie Hall (1977) by Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman
The Apartment (1960) by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond
Apocalypse Now (1979) by John Milius, Francis Coppola & Michael Herr

Bad Lieutenant (1992) by Abel Ferrara, Victor Argo, Paul Calderon & Zoe Lund
Badlands (1973) by Terrence Malick
Barton Fink (1991) by Joel & Ethan Coen
Being John Malkovich (1999) by Charlie Kaufman
The Big Lebowski (1998) by Joel & Ethan Coen
The Big Sleep (1946) by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett & Jules Furthman
The Birds (1963) by Evan Hunter
Black Swan (2010) by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz & John McLaughlin
Blood Simple. (1984) by Joel & Ethan Coen
Blue Velvet (1986) by David Lynch
Body Heat (1981) by Lawrence Kasdan
Bringing Out the Dead (1999) by Paul Schrader

Carnage (2011) by Yasmina Reza & Roman Polanski
Casablanca (1942) by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein & Howard Koch
Chinatown (1974) by Robert Towne & Roman Polanski
Citizen Kane (1941) by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, Roger Q. Denny, John Houseman & Mollie Kent
A Clockwork Orange (1971) by Stanley Kubrick
Collateral (2004) by Stuart Beattie

The Deer Hunter (1978) by Deric Washburn
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) by Frank Pierson
Double Indemnity (1944) by Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler
Drive (2011) by Hossein Amini

Eastern Promises (2007) by Steven Knight
The Elephant Man (1980) by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren & David Lynch
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) by Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael

Fargo (1996) by Joel & Ethan Coen

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) by David Mamet
The Godfather (1972) by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather: Part II (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) by George Clooney & Grant Heslov

Heat (1995) by Michael Mann
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen & Sam Raimi

In the Heat of the Night (1967) by Stirling Silliphant
The Insider (1999) by Eric Roth & Michael Mann

Jackie Brown (1997) by Quentin Tarantino

Juno  by Diablo Cody 

The King of Comedy (1983) by Paul D. Zimmerman
Klute (1971) by Andy Lewis & David P. Lewis

Leaving Las Vegas (1995) by Mike Figgis
Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch & Barry Gifford
Lost in Translation (2003) by Sofia Coppola

The Maltese Falcon (1941) by John Huston
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) by Joel & Ethan Coen
Manhunter (1986) by Michael Mann
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) by Sean Durkin
Match Point (2005) by Woody Allen
Mean Streets (1973) by Martin Scorsese & Mardik Martin
Memento (2000) by Christopher Nolan
Miller's Crossing (1990) by Joel & Ethan Coen
Mulholland Dr. (2001) by David Lynch
Mystic River (2003) by Brian Helgeland

Network (1976) by Paddy Chayefsky
The Night of the Hunter (1955) by James Agee & Charles Laughton
No Country for Old Men (2007) by Joel & Ethan Coen
North by Northwest (1959) by Ernest Lehman
Notorious (1946) by Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock & Clifford Odets

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) by Joel & Ethan Coen
On the Waterfront (1954) by Budd Schulberg
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) by Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman

Paths of Glory  (1977)  by Stanley Kybrick and Jim Thompson

Peeping Tom (1960) by Leo Marks
The Piano (1993) by Jane Campion
Psycho (1960) by Joseph Stefano
Pulp Fiction (1994) by Quentin Tarantino

Raging Bull (1980) by Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin
Raising Arizona (1987) by Joel & Ethan Coen
Rear Window (1954) by John Michael Hayes
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) by Stewart Stern & Irving Shulman
Requiem for a Dream (2000) by Herbert Selby Jr. & Darren Aronofsky
Reservoir Dogs (1992) by Quentin Tarantino
Revolutionary Road (2008) by Justin Haythe
Rosemary's Baby (1968) by Roman Polanski

A Serious Man (2009) by Joel & Ethan Coen
Shame (2011) by Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan
The Shining (1980) by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) by Ted Tally
Sling Blade (1996) by Billy Bob Thornton
Some Like it Hot (1959) by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond
Strangers on a Train (1951) by Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, Whitfield Cook & Ben Hecht
Sunset Blvd. (1950) by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder & D.M. Marshman Jr.

Taxi Driver (1976) by Paul Schrader
There Will Be Blood (2007) by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Thin Man (1934) by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich
The Third Man (1949) by Graham Greene, Alexander Korda, Carol Reed & Orson Welles
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) by Horton Foote
Trainspotting (1996) by John Hodge
The Truman Show (1998) by Andrew Niccol
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) by David Lynch & Robert Engels

The Usual Suspects (1995) by Christopher McQuarrie

Vertigo (1958) by Alec Coppel, Samuel A. Taylor & Maxwell Anderson
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) by Woody Allen

Wild at Heart (1990) by David Lynch
The Wrestler (2008) by Robert D. Siegel

Zodiac (2007) by James Vanderbilt

                     LATEST ADDITIONS

12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight)

42 (Warner Bros.)

The Armstrong Lie (Sony Classics – documentary transcript)

August: Osage County (TWC)

Before Midnight (Sony Classics)

The Bling Ring (A24)

The Croods (DreamWorks Animation)

Despicable Me 2 (Universal – Click on “Screenplay”)

Enough Said (Fox Searchlight)

The Fifth Estate (IMG)

Frozen (Disney)

Fruitvale Station (TWC)

Gravity (Warner Bros.)

The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.)

The Invisible Woman (Sony Classics)

Kill Your Darlings (Sony Classics)

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (TWC)

Lone Survivor (Universal – Click on “Screenplay”)

Monsters University (Disney / Pixar)

Mud (Roadside Attractions)

Nebraska (Paramount)

One Chance (TWC)

The Past (Sony Classics)

Philomena (TWC)

The Place Beyond the Pines (Focus Features)

Prisoners (Warner Bros.)

Rush (Universal – Click on “Screenplay”)

The Spectacular Now (A24)

Spring Breakers (A24)

Wadjda (Sony Classics)

The Way Way Back (Fox Searchlight)

Rope    (Hitchcock, MGM)

 

CHECK OUT THE TOP 10 GREATEST SCREENPLAYS EVER

 

 Some links are for specific screenwriters, others are linked by theme or franchise, and some are screenplays directed by big name personalities (eg. Tim Burton). If there’s anything you’d like to see here then send me a message and I’ll see what I can do.

 

THEMED

Animation

For Your Consideration 2015

Halloween

Pilots

Pilots: 2014/2015

More Pilots

Musicals

Oscar Nominations 2015 - Adapted Screenplay

Oscar Nominations 2015 - Original Screenplay

Stephen King (adaptations of)

Valentine’s Day

Women in Film

 

AFI LISTS

AFI - Top 10 Classic Genres

AFI - Top 10 Fantasy Films

AFI - Top 10 Greatest Ever Screenplays

AFI - Top 10 Mystery Films

AFI - Top 10 Science Fiction Films

 

INDIVIDUAL SCREENPLAY LINKS

12 Years a Slave

Alice in Wonderland

Anastasia

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beetlejuice

Black Swan

Blade Runner

Bridesmaids

Cloud Atlas

Coraline

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Gravity

Inception

Interstellar

Into the Woods

Life of Pi

Little Miss Sunshine

Moon

Moonrise Kingdom

ParaNorman

Pleasantville

Short Term 12

Slumdog Millionaire

Spring Breakers

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Lion King

Thelma & Louise

Toy Story

Toy Story 2

Toy Story 3

White Christmas

Winter’s Bone

Withnail & I

 

FRANCHISES & TV SHOWS

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Friends

Harry Potter

In the Flesh

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

Supernatural

The Cornetto Trilogy

The Lord of the Rings

The Matrix Trilogy

 

MASTERPOSTS - SCREENWRITERS AND DIRECTORS

Aaron Sorkin

Abi Morgan

Alfred Hitchcock

Alexander Payne

Billy Wilder

Brad Bird

Bryan Fuller

Callie Khouri

Catherine Hardwicke

Charlie Kaufman

Christopher Nolan

Coen Brothers

Darren Aronofsky

Diablo Cody

Diane Thomas

Eric Roth

Gillian Flynn

Guy Ritchie

James Cameron

Jane Campion

Jane Goldman

Jennifer Lee

J.J. Abrams

Joss Whedon

Julie Delpy

Kathryn Bigelow

Kelly Marcel

Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah

Linda Woolverton

Lisa Cholodenko

Lucy Alibar

Martin Scorsese

Melisa Wallack

Melissa Mathison

Melissa Rosenberg

Moira Buffini

Nancy Meyers

Nora Ephron

Quentin Tarantino

Rian Johnson

Richard Curtis

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Shonda Rhimes

Sofia Coppola

Stanley Kubrick

Steven Spielberg

Steven Zaillian

Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio

Tim Burton

Tina Fey

Wes Anderson

Woody Allen  

         TELEVISION PILOTS & SCRIPTS


 

Alias

Alien Nation

 

American Gothic

 

Battlestar Galactica

Various episodes including Part One of Caprica, and Blood and Chrome
 

Breaking Bad

 

Dexter

 

ER

 

LA Law

 

Mad Men

 

Monk

My So Called Life

 

Night Gallery

Class of '99 Episode (2x07)
 

Nip/Tuck

 

Northern Exposure

 

Parenthood

 

Pushing Daisies

Pilot and Dummy Episode (1x02)
 

Rescue Me

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation

 

Suits

Pilot and Play the Man Episode (1x07)
 

Twilight Zone

 

Walking Dead

Pilot and Wildfire Episode (1x05)

Weeds

West Wing

 
 

           SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER

 

Always Write For Your Audience

Though this may not seem like a difficult challenge, it always amazes me how many writers never even think to ask themselves WHO they are writing for. To think about your AUDIENCE isn't difficult. We do it all the time when we write a letter or an email. No one would write an email to nobody, so why would you write a screenplay for nobody. Train yourself to imagine the person to whom your story is addressed, and then from time to time become that person and read what you have written from their perspective. Unlike the novelist, who is free to wander and explore the world she creates both mentally and visually, the screenwriter is limited to the latter. Exploring the world of story in a visual manner, because even though both the novelist and the screenwriter share the same audience in the beginning (a reader), the screenwriter’s story will eventually evolve into a visual rendition for a different audience — an audience that is watching actions on a screen.

Because the audience of the screenwriter is different than that of the novelist or poet, the screenwriter needs to approach the telling of her story differently.

 

Be An Observer First, Writer Second

In order to tell a story visually, you need to train yourself to see the world visually. Instead of going through your day as you have up to this point, watch how it works, watch as events unfold, see how people treat each other, look for moments normally hidden away or lost and take note. If you have an interest in screenwriting, it’s probably because you have an interest in both movies and writing. You might even be passionate about both. But interest, and even passion, don't automatically guarantee that you have a clear idea of how to tell a dramatic story visually, so you should always be exercising your skills as an observer. Pay attention to what people do, the ways in which body language reveals unspoken attitudes and beliefs, the little idiosyncratic habits of behavior that may provide clues as to the inner attitudes, fears, and needs of a person. Tune in to the non-verbal communication that is always present and readable if one allows oneself to become sensitive to it. If you're not used to looking at people and the world around you in this way, and are wondering how you might begin to transform yourself into a creative observer, here are a few pointers to get you get started.  — one trick I’ve picked up on personally is to spend a little too much time observing your subject … this will enable you to really see it as opposed to what others might see at a glance:

  •  Spend a little longer than might normally be the case observing your subject (this will enable you to see aspects and nuances that others would never notice at a glance.
  • Look at your surroundings.
  • Notice the weather.
  • Watch how people interact within different relationship dynamics.
  • See what people do when they don’t think they’re being watched.

While observing, imagine how you might frame the scene and present it to audiences.

 

SHOW What’s Happening

Once you start looking at the world as an observer, you can then show what YOU see as you imagine your story. If you’re still having trouble, think of it like this:

You’re always the director when you dream — you pick the angles and control how the story pans out, — telling a story visually is no different. You simply need to show (in visual language) what you see and hear from the vantage point from which you see and hear it.

If there’s a lot of camera movement, be sure to imply it by the shots you are showing us and the rhythm and pace at which they are coming to us. Good BIG PRINT conducts us into the world by approximating the speed of thought, or rather the speed of perception at which we take in what is there to be seen and heard and experienced. If little happens (say "you’re" in a meadow and "you’re" enjoying the sound of the wind and feel of the breeze), then you can imply little camera movement.

Before I digress into whether or not to include camera direction in your screenplay, let’s focus on the idea at hand — telling your story visually.

  • Focus on small moments between characters
  • Describe the setting
  • Reveal actions of your characters
  • Bring the reader into the action

Remember, your task as a screenwriter is to tell your story visually — the best way to do that is to describe what you see in your mind as you imagine your story.

    STRONG, WOMAN PROTAGONISTS 



10 Things I Hate About You (1999) - Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah Lutz

A Room with a View
 (1985) - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Albert Nobbs
 (2011) - Gabriella Prekop, John Banville, & Glenn Close

Alien
 (1979) - Dan O'Bannon

Aliens
 2 (1986) - James Cameron 

Alice in Wonderland
 (2010) - Linda Woolverton 

All About Eve (1950) - Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Anna Karenina
 (2012) - Tom Stoppard 

Annie Hall (1977) - Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman 

August: Osage County (2013) - Tracy Letts

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) - Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar 

Belle
 (2013) - Misan Sagan

Big Eyes (2014) - Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

Black Swan (2010) - Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, & John J. McLaughlin 

Bridesmaids (2011) - Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo

Bright Star
 (2009) - Jane Campion 

Burlesque (2010) - Steven Antin

Carrie
 (1976) - Lawrence D. Cohen 

Charlie’s Angels (2000) - Ed Solomon, John August, & Ryan Rowe

Coraline (2009) - Henry Selick 

Domino (2005) - Richard Kelly

Drag Me to Hell
 (2009) - Ivan Raimi & Sam Raimi

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) - Lona Williams 

Easy A (2010) - Bert V. Royal 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) - William Nicholson & Michael Hirst

Erin Brockovich (2000) - Susannah Grant 

Frozen
 (2013) - Jennifer Lee 

Gone with the Wind (1939) - Sidney Howard

Gravity (2013) - Jonás Cuarón, Alfonso Cuarón, George Clooney

Hanna (2011) - Seth Lochhead & David Farr

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - Woody Allen

Heathers (1988) - Daniel Waters 

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) - Kevin Williamson

Jackie Brown
 (1997) - Quentin Tarantino 

Jane Eyre (2011) - Moira Buffini 

Jennifer’s Body (2009) - Diablo Cody

Juno (2007) - Diablo Cody

Kill Bill (2003) - Quentin Tarantino 

Labyrinth
 (1986) - Terry Jones

Legally Blonde (2001) - Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah 

Little Miss Sunshine
 (2006) - Michael Arndt 

Made in Dagenham (2010) - William Ivory 

Maria Full of Grace (2004) - Joshua Marston

Mean Girls
 (2004) - Tina Fey

Memoirs of a Geisha
 (2005) - Robin Swicord

Middle of Nowhere
 (2012) - Ava DuVernay

Mighty Joe Young
 (1998) - Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner 

Million Dollar Baby (2004) - Paul Haggis 

Monster (2003) - Patty Jenkins

Moonstruck (1987) - John Patrick Shanley

Mother and Child
 (2009) - Rodrigo García

Never Been Kissed (1999) - Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein 

New Moon
 (2009) - Melissa Rosenberg 

Panic Room (2002) - David Koepp 

Philomena (2013) - Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

Pitch Perfect (2012) - Kay Cannon

Please Give
 (2010) - Nicole Holofcener

Precious (2009) - Geoffrey S. Fletcher

Pretty Woman (1990) - J. F. Lawton

Red Riding Hood
 (2011) - David Leslie Johnson

Rosemary’s Baby
 (1968) - Roman Polanski 

Salt (2010) - Kurt Wimmer

Save the Last Dance (2001) - Duane Adler, Cheryl Edwards

Saving Mr Banks
 (2013) - Kelly Marcel

Sense and Sensibility
 (1995) - Emma Thompson 

Sex and the City (2008) - Michael Patrick King

Short Term 12 (2013) - Destin Daniel Cretton

Sin Nombre
 (2009) - Cary Fukunaga

Sister Act (1992) - Paul Rudnick

Smashed
 (2012) - James Ponsoldt, Susan Theresa Burke

Spanglish
 (2004) - James L. Brooks

Spring Breakers (2012) - Harmony Korine

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - Evan Daughtery, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini

Still Alice
 (2014) - Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Tamara Drewe (2010) - Moira Buffini 

The Bling Ring (2013) - Sofia Coppola 

The Debt
 (2010) - Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughan, and Peter Straughan

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) - Aline Brosh McKenna

The Fault in Our Stars
 (2014) - Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

The Help
 (2011) - Tate Taylor

The House Bunny (2008) - Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah

The Invisible Woman (2013) - Abi Morgan

The Iron Lady
 (2011) - Abi Morgan

The Kids Are Alright (2010) - Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg

The Others (2001) - Alejandro Amenábar

The Parent Trap
 (1998) - Nancy Meyers, David Swift, Charles Shyer

The Piano
 (1993) - Jane Campion

The Queen
 (2006) - Peter Morgan 

The Runaways (2010) - Floria Sigismondi

The Ugly Truth
 (2009) - Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah, and Nicole Eastman

The Witches of Eastwick
 (1987) - Michael Cristofer 

The Wizard of Oz
 (1939) - Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allen Woolf

Thelma and Louise (1991) - Callie Khouri

Tomb Raider (2001) - John Zinman, Patrick Massett

Twilight (2008) - Melissa Rosenberg

Wadjda
 (2012) - Haifaa al-Mansour

Whip It (2009) - Shauna Cross

Wild
 (2014) - Nick Hornby

Winter’s Bone (2010) - Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Young Adult (2011) - Diablo Cody

Zero Dark Thirty
 (2012) - Mark Boal