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Scenario Writing for the Movies

Apr 15, 2008
On the legitimate stage nearly every actor at one time or another writes a play. In the same way, in the movies nearly every actor tries his hand at scenario writing. In fact, many of the most successful playwrights and photodramatists have had stage or screen experience as actors. For this reason, although this series is designed more for those who wish to act than for those who wish to write and although we have already one book on "How to Write Photoplays" nevertheless, a chapter on scenario writing is not out of place.

There is a fine career for any writer in scenario writing if the writer will only take the trouble to study it seriously. There is technique in writing plots and still more technique in adapting those plots to the screen, by writing them into scenario form. Studio experience is of vast benefit to anyone who wishes to write movie stories; and that is where the actor has the advantage over the outsider who tries to write scenarios with no practical knowledge of how movies are really made.

First write your plot into a five hundred or thousand word synopsis, just as you would write it for a maga- zine. Make it brief and clear. Be sure it is based upon action, mental or physical, and try to give real character to your plot people. In choosing your story be sure it has the dramatic quality. It must not be rambling ; and it must have an element of conflict between opposing factors a man and a woman, a woman and her Destiny, or simply Good and Evil which leads up to a crisis in which the matter is fought out and finally settled. Stories which have not these qualities are suitable for novels, perhaps, but not for plays.

It is, as a general rule, inadvisable to try historical stories or stories which require elaborate scenes. Battle stories and stories of the Jules Verne or H. G. Wells type are also difficult to place. The great de- mand to-day is for sane, wholesome stories of modern American life, wherein character is the paramount interest rather than eccentricities of the plot or camera.

Send your story in synopsis form to the scenario editor of the studio which employs the star for whom you think the story is best suited. Send with it a stamped and self -addressed envelope for the return of your script, if it is not suitable for their use. Keep on sending it; don't be discouraged by rejection slips. You may write dozens of stories and then sell the very first one you wrote.

If the studio buys your story it is well to ask for an opportunity to help write the "continuity," or scenario form. This is a highly technical but very well paid task, and one which every screen author should learn. The chance to enter the studio and help work out the scenario of your own story is worth trying for.

Scenarios today are more in demand than ever before; but producers are still chary of taking chances on untried amateurs. The amateur author's greatest success is when he sells his first story. The road is comparatively easy after that. The price paid stories depends upon the reputation of the author and the standing of the company which buys them.

Published stories and novels, and plays which have had a run, bring enormous prices.
The highest paid workers in the movies today are the continuity writers, who put the stories into scenario form and write the "titles" or written inserts. The income of some of these writers runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It is extraordinarily interesting work and well worth while learning; but unfortunately the technical training for this sort of thing takes as much time as the training necessary to enter any other profession.

Scenario writing does not require great genius. It does require a dramatic insight and certain amount of training. It is the latter factor that most amateurs overlook. If you are to write scenarios, you must take your work as seriously as you would if you were trying to write music or paint pictures.
About the Author
Malcolm Blake has researched and written about movies and entertainment, including how to get the most from your Zune .
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