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Screenwriting

First Acts: Art and Structure

Taught by Taught by James Breckenridge, MFA, Founder and Director, The PlayCrafters Group

For a film to be successful, it must accomplish several things to set the story on its proper track. This course explores the creation of a screenplay's first act in both principle and in practice. In examples from several films, both classic and recent, we discover how these elements have been successfully employed in a variety of genres.

A screenwriter is someone who takes us on a journey, one that we couldn't, or possibly wouldn't, want to experience otherwise. She or he is the chart-maker, the navigator, the original artist, and the person who stands behind the curtain. This course takes you behind that curtain to illuminate the dramatic elements found in a screenplay's first act; from the opening image to the first turning point.

In the end, participants will not only understand some of the mechanics involved in setting up the story, but will have seen them at work through the review of film clips from the work of several different screenwriters. If you love film and are interested in knowing more about the mechanics of successful storytelling, this course is for you.

Screenwriting Essentials

Taught by James Breckenridge, MFA, Founder and Director, The PlayCrafters Group

Have you ever left a movie feeling queasy? Perhaps the plot was stale, some awkward lines of dialogue were repeating, or the main character wasn't sitting well. You were probably thinking, "I could do better than that." Well now's your chance!

Learn the crucial elements you'll need to start your own screenplay in this course geared to the beginning screenwriter as well as those more experienced writers who may have lost their way. It covers screenwriting from first idea to well-structured screenplay, making stops at premise, story arc, scene building, and character development along the way. In addition to learning critical techniques and the building blocks of the form, students use the essential principles of dramatic writing to examine two films.

In screenwriting, there is a lot of ground to cover between being inspired and being done. This course gets you moving on that journey.

The Art of the Screenplay

Taught by Marc Lapadula, M.F.A., Screenwriting Program, Yale University

If you think of screenplays as the blueprints for the films produced from them, then it becomes easy to see the appeal of examining them to both the aspiring screenwriter and the cinema enthusiast. After all, not only architects and engineers enjoy viewing the plans for a skyscraper or the schematics for a bridge. Likewise, whether you long to write a screenplay, or just love the movies, you will enjoy breaking down films to see how they are first crafted on the page before being incarnated on the screen.

While sharing the tactics of writing and selling a feature-length screenplay, the instructor will provide in-depth analysis of such films as Psycho, Rebel Without a Cause, and Chinatown. Students will read exemplary screenplay manuscripts, and learn about text vs. sub-text, narrative structure, cinematic pacing, character creation, and film dialogue, among other topics. In addition, the course will cover professional screenplay format and marketing strategies, ensuring there is something for the screenwriting novice, veteran, and admirer alike.

The Building Blocks of the Screenplay (2016-Present)

Taught by Martin Leicht, M.F.A., Author and Screenwriter

Regardless of what many directors would like to believe, films do not spontaneously spring to life the moment the cameras start rolling. The first concrete step in making any film—good, bad, or ugly—is to write a screenplay. This is the blueprint the director, production team, and actors will use to create the world, characters, and story that come to life on the big screen months or years later. In this course, we will discuss how screenplays work on a micro level and learn the essential building blocks of a sturdy and engaging film narrative. Outside of class, students will view films like The Big Lebowski, closely examine the story “beats” that advance the narrative, and answer such questions as: “Who is the protagonist?” “What is his/her goal (i.e. what does he/she want)?” “Who or what stands in the way of the protagonist achieving this goal?” Using the answers to these questions and the lessons gleaned from the films, each student will produce original, focused scene work, starting small and building toward the final project: a screenplay for a short (ten-minute) film. Student writing will be read aloud and discussed in class to maximize the benefits of the workshop format. Please note: This course is limited to 8 students. Early enrollment is encouraged.  

The Building Blocks of the Screenplay—SOLD OUT!

Taught by Martin Leicht, M.F.A., Author and Screenwriter

Regardless of what many directors would like to believe, films do not spontaneously spring to life the moment the cameras start rolling. The first concrete step in making any film—good, bad, or ugly—is to write a screenplay. This is the blueprint the director, production team, and actors will use to create the world, characters, and story that come to life on the big screen several months later. In this course, we will discuss how screenplays work on a micro level and learn the essential building blocks of a sturdy and engaging film narrative. Outside of class, students will view films like The Big Lebowski, closely examine the story “beats” that advance the narrative, and answer such questions as: “Who is the protagonist?” “What is his/her goal (i.e. what does he/she want)?” “Who or what stands in the way of the protagonist achieving this goal?” Using the answers to these questions and the lessons gleaned from the films, each student will produce original, focused scene work, starting small and building toward the final project: a screenplay for a short (ten-minute) film. Student writing will be read aloud and discussed in class to maximize the benefits of the workshop format.

The Craft of the Screenplay

Taught by Marc Lapadula, M.F.A., Film Studies Program, Yale University

One of the fascinating things about filmmaking is the way in which so many facets of it reside at the intersection of art and craft. This notion comes to mind when thinking about acting, in which an artfully emotional performance arises from the surprisingly procedural “Method,” and cinematography, which requires both a technical understanding of optics and a painter’s creative perception of light and color. Something similar can be said of screenwriting.

This course builds on BMFI’s introductory screenwriting course, The Art of the Screenplay, to provide hands-on instruction in some of the more practical aspects of the form—the craft of the screenplay. The class begins with the close analysis of clips from a range of films, including The Verdict, John Sayles’s Matewan, and Groundhog Day. Workshop members will then write and present their own work that will be read aloud and discussed in class with the goal of crafting an effective opening scene or master sequence from the middle of a story (about 10 pages in length).

Please note: There are no prerequisites for this course, but participants are expected to already know professional screenplay format. Enrollment will be capped at 20.

The Foundation of the Feature-Length Screenplay (2017-Present)

Taught by Martin Leicht, M.F.A., Author and Screenwriter

Please note: This course is open only to those who have taken The Building Blocks of the Screenplay, and enrollment is limited to 8 students. What is the importance of a good screenplay? Put simply, a screenplay gives a story structure. By setting an order to the story’s events and the choices the characters make, writers create a solid and engaging plot. Without structure, stories devolve into chaos, or worse yet, boredom. In this workshop, writers will build on the concepts covered in the previous course to develop a structurally sound outline and begin work on a feature screenplay. Writers will be required to read the work of their peers and provide thoughtful notes to aid in workshop discussions. Each writer will present twice over the course of the eight weeks, ultimately producing the first third of a polished script. With the feedback given, writers will finish the workshop with a strong foundation for the continuation of their own original work.


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