January 5 we celebrate the folks who write movies, television shows, video games, and other such. Although in one sense a writer is a writer, when you write for the screen, there are different challenges. When you write a novel, everything is done through the power of words and imagination. In writing for the screen, words and visuals work together to make the story. Also, of course, the several media all require something different from the writer. Writing a television show with established characters is very different from a standalone two hour movie, which is very different again from the complexities of a video game. Another difference is that the writer is not writing to please him or herself, but must work closely with others to create a shared vision for what the finished story will look like, and what the budget can handle.
Those who write for the screen face some other challenges. One of them is that the story must fit the rhythm of the show, particularly for television. Each show is put together in a different way. For instance, a particular show may have a few minute teaser before the beginning credits, then each act will be a certain length between commercials. The writer must get the story across in approximately 42 minutes for an hour length show, and approximately 21 minutes for a half hour show and most of that will be dialog. There is also a particular style of putting the story together using particular words and ways of writing. For instance, you may begin a scene with the words INTERIOR SUSIE’S LIVING ROOM.
So next time you watch your favorite movie or television show, give a thought to the talented folks whose imagination created the story that gives us so many hours of enjoyment.
Quotes about screenwriting
To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.–Alfred Hitchcock
Scripts are what matter. If you get the foundations right and then you get the right ingredients on top, you stand a shot… but if you get those foundations wrong, then you absolutely don’t stand a shot. It’s very rare–almost never–that a good film gets made from a bad screenplay.–Tim Bevan
There’s nothing more important in making movies than the screenplay.–Richard Attenborough
Film’s thought of as a director’s medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It’s that stupid auteur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot—the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they’ve had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve.–Billy Wilder
Once you crack the script, everything else follows.–Ridley Scott
Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.–George Cukor
What has always been at the heart of film making was the value of a script. It was really the writer who could make or break a film.–Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
There’s no question that a great script is absolutely essential, maybe the essential thing for a movie to succeed.–Sydney Pollack
Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t, but it should be.–Hugh Laurie
I could be just a writer very easily. I am not a writer. I am a screenwriter, which is half a filmmaker. … But it is not an art form, because screenplays are not works of art. They are invitations to others to collaborate on a work of art.–Paul Schrader
You can dress it up, but it comes down to the fact that a movie is only as good as its script.–Curtis Hanson
The script, I always believe, is the foundation of everything.–Ewan McGregor
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