By Shaffique Jamal
If you’re looking for a list of page numbers or beats, there are many books/websites/podcasts to choose from, you’ll find the thing(s) that work for you. I’ll be keeping it simple; you start at the beginning, you end at the end and the bit in the middle is well, the middle.
More than likely you’ve seen a lot of films but what you’ve read have mainly been novels and news articles; so rightly, we keep being reminded that film is a visual medium, it’s also an audible medium. The first instinct can be to write a novel/screenplay hybrid but that’s not a screenplay.
A screenplay is a blueprint, film is collaborative, so I guess the shooting screenplay is the blueprint, the spec screenplay is a prototype schematic, which after input and multiple drafts leaves us with a working model but still aways away from the finished product.
There are times that I’ve watched the film I want to write (in my head and it’s gloriously cinematic) it flows well from beginning to end, I just have to commit it to text; it’s then that I realise that it wasn’t real, it was just a dream and like recalling a dream there are chunks missing and it just doesn’t make sense when it’s exposed to the world. Then the hard work (overwriting) begins.
It’s the writing process getting in the way of actually writing.
In school, the feedback I frequently got was, “Your answer’s too short” or “you should have written more,” I’ve never liked adding the fluff; I didn’t see the point, you have a succinct answer.
Overtime I must have evolved, or devolved depending on your perspective; I now write a longer draft and then whittle it down. Although it’s satisfying when detail emerges from the lump of text, between that and filling in the blanks of ‘the dream’ this leads to too many drafts without any real forward momentum, I’m running in-place.
In the interest of producing this visual/audible screenplay and making it easier to get the dream on the screen (LCD, not silver) I thought I would document the Moments Method. The secret is, it’s nothing new, you already know it; some of you will already work in this way. It’s not something I’d tried but, I think it’s logical.
STOP. If you were skipping past the fluff, this is the science bit. We have to put action, dialogue and sound into the container of a screenplay, why Moments? At a basic level I want to join a series of moments, what I need to get across the essence & intention, without the fluff; there’ll be time to do a little sprucing later.
Think of it as a word storyboard for your screenplay, different from a Beat Sheet, each line is a line on your page; it’s your screenplay in short.
- fade in
- over black
- sports event related sounds
- hindsight perspective through VO + stats
- the globe from space
- narrow down to the world to his world / intro changes
- future sports stars from around America – positive
- high-board diving
- football Frank Cushmen / client
- golf potential star – negative
- meet Jerry
- who he is, what he does
- Work is his life
- Jerry’s work-family
- changes in his world
The above example is the first 2 and half minutes of Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire.
Nowadays who doesn’t carry a mobile phone capable of note-taking or email, fancy software or syntax not required.
How quickly could you plot out your screenplay in this manner? You’re waiting in a checkout line, add a few more lines to your list; you’re waiting for public transport, pick out some more moments and add them to the list.
You can easily fit it in around your day because you’re not stuck in the minutia of writing, you’re just capturing moments and they add up over time. Moving elements around becomes easier.
Adding joining elements to the sporadic dream story becomes as simple as inserting line above/below and adding a word.
If you do like to plot out various acts just add a few separating lines in your list and when your done you can easily see which area looks a little light.
Don’t be lazy and write a capture-all moment because you’ll be missing interconnecting moments and you’re not capturing everything as you want it to appear on screen.
If you have to right a few bits long for now because that’s the only way to get it down, it doesn’t matter but just remember to go back before you finish and distill it down.
Just like you could give the same screenplay to 10 different directors and end up with 11 different versions (one guy had to make an additional director’s cut), you could give this list to 10 different screenwriters and end up with 9 different versions (one writer swears another stole their idea). – This could be an interesting exercise to see how tone and voice make a difference.
Now you have your list, this is where the fun starts because you have everything you want to put in the screenplay, you just have to expand it slightly so it makes sense to other people too. The tone of the screenplay will already have fed into the screenplay. While expanding you can now focus on letting us hear your voice and expand on tone though word and formatting choice.