Film Riot - Learn To Write Screenplays For Film
5 Of The Best Movie Scripts To Learn From In Each Genre instant access November 11, 2015 As we’ve said before on this site, we believe that the one of the best tools screenwriters have at their disposal, are professional produced movie scripts. There is nothing else that gives you the practical experience of how it all comes together than reading a film script that has actually been produced. And not just the spec screenplay that was originally sold, although those are excellent resource points, but the actual movie script that mirrors the final film. But what are the best film scripts to read, and why? In this post we break down some of the best screenplays to read in each genre — Comedy, Drama, Action/Adventure, Thriller and Horror — and why you need to read them. And if you’ve already read them, why you need to read them again, as it’s only by not just reading scripts, but by really breaking them down, getting inside them and figuring out why they work, that you’ll get the most out of them as a writer. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at… Best Movie Scripts #1 – American Beauty Genre: Drama Writer: Alan Ball Alan Ball graduated from Florida State University with a degree in theater arts, went on to write for the theater and then television, penning the hit comedies Grace Under Fire and Although there are elements of comedy in American Beauty, for which he won the Oscar for best screenplay in 2000, it is overall a drama, and in our opinion a modern masterpiece of screenwriting. The script opens with Jane staring into the camera — a handheld device operated by an unseen man — nonchalantly discussing killing her father. We then cut to said father — a loser named Lester Burnham — and follow him as he begins another miserable day at the office, all the while hearing his Voice Over from beyond the grave. In fact the opening twenty-five pages are a masterclass in how to establish character, stakes and genre as the screenplay pulls you into a web of lies set in a suburban hell. There are some truly terrific examples of how to write a scene in this script and one of our favorites is the “cute meet” between Lester and his daughter Jane’s best friend, Angela: Alan Ball has a terrific visual style which you’ll pick up and imbibe into your own writing while reading and studying this script. There are no major formatting quirks in Ball’s writing, but the first thing you may notice when you open American Beauty is that he likes to underline his sluglines. Like we always say, there are no “rules” when it comes to screenplay formatting, but there are differences between a spec script’s style and a pro script’s style. For the sake of simplicity it’s probably best to keep things simple, and this means not underlining sluglines in your spec script. Alan Ball can do it because he’s Alan Ball. You’re not, so why give a script reader even the slightest reason to be turned off or distracted while reading your spec? Here’s the link to download the Genre: Comedy Sure we could’ve picked any number of comedy script classics for this section — Groundhog Day, Annie Hall, Some Like It Hot etc — but we thought we’d go with a little underrated comedy gem by the name of Youth In Revolt. Why? Because its a great modern comedy script and Gustin Nash’s writing is funny as hell. Nash broke onto the scene after writing nine spec screenplays with a comedy he wrote in four weeks called Charlie Bartlett. Youth In Revolt, Nash decided to adapt it into a screenplay. He said at the time, “ Here was a chance to take credit for writing something that was much better than what I’d come up with on my own.” Nash is being modest, as his take on Youth In Revolt is a blast and the movie is every bit as good as the book. If you’re an aspiring comedy writer, you’ve probably already been told to include more jokes, make the reader laugh (preferably out loud) and generally pack in as much humor in every line as you possibly can. Well, Nash’s film script is a perfect of example of how you do just that. Here are the opening few paragraphs: Note how from the opening page Nash has us laughing — how he introduces a protagonist in Nick Twisp who’s readily identifiable from his dialogue and actions. From there on in, the script is a comedy riot of teenage angst and sexual yearning, with a nice side helping of surrealism thrown in for good measure. Read it and see how consistent the tone is throughout — funny and absurd, yet with an emotional heart and great characters — and see the level your comedy spec needs to aspire to. Here’s the link to download the Genre: Action/Adventure Lawrence Kasdan was commissioned by George Lucas to write Raiders of the Lost Ark, but how it all came together was very much a group effort between Kasdan, Lucas and Steven Spielberg. All three worked on fleshing out the script during a series of now infamous story meetings in January 1978, the result of which was quite possibly the best action/adventure movie script ever written. Action/adventure movies are notorious for having great concepts but thin characterizations. This screenplay, however, is a wonderful example of how to elevate the hero’s personality above the paper thin cut-outs found in many. In fact, making Indiana Jones a compelling protagonist, was the first thing Lucas concentrated on in those early story meetings and by reading the movie script you get a great sense of how it’s done. For example, see how they partly achieve this by giving Indy a personal motivation to his quest in the shape of Marion. The Raiders of the Lost Ark screenplay is also a fantastic tool for learning how to create all those twists and turns required in an action/adventure movie. Kasdan achieves this by utilizing seven specific sequences, each one taking Indy alternately closer and further away from his goal — the Ark of the Covenant. (You can read more about how Kasdan achieves this in our screenwriting book “Master Screenplay Sequences.”) And reading the script will also give you the opportunity to check out one of the best exposition scenes in history — Indy’s blackboard scene with Brody and the army intelligence guys: Just studying this scene alone will tell you all you need to know about hiding on-the-nose dialogue. In short, this is an essential screenplay and film to study for all those wishing to write action/adventure. Here’s the link to download the Genre: Thriller Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen The other Best Screenplay Oscar winner on our list is the Coen Brother’s crime thriller masterpiece, Fargo. In 2006, the film was preserved by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and you’re not going to go far wrong by studying the screenplay. Much of the Coen’s work is described as “genre-bending” and the film script for Fargo is no exception, mixing elements of thriller and comedy to wonderful effect. Humor can be a powerful weapon in any genre but reading this script will give you an idea of just how powerful. From Jerry’s magnificent bumbling, to Marge’s ho-hum police procedural work, to Carl and Gaear’s squabbling, the characterizations all make superb use of humor to elevate the screenplay above the average thriller. Another factor that helps with this is the film’s theme, which shines through just as well in the screenplay as in the movie. And like in all the Coen’s scripts, the writing is terse but incredibly evocative. Check this description of Gaear’s execution of some passers-by, for how to convey so much with so few words: Like Alan Ball, the Coens’ like to mess around with sluglines, and in this case by almost dispensing with them entirely. Again, stick to the conventions on this one, but other than that copy, crib and steal as much as you can from two masters of modern cinema. Here’s the link to download the Genre: Horor Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes The Conjuring, written by twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, was something of a hit when it was released in 2013. The reason this specific horror screenplay is great, is because of the way the Hayes brothers make us feel the tension, the mood, the dread and the pacing throughout. By the end we are gripping the edge of our seats and don’t even realize it — something that’s particularly hard to do with today’s seen-it-all-before horror audience. The Conjuring also makes use of some interesting formatting, using CAPS and bold and underlining in ways that are so subtle, and so manipulative to our reading experience, it is like a visceral punch in the gut. You feel the visuals in this screenplay. You feel the air move as the hands come out beside you and clap from the darkness. You feel the dread in your chest with whatever is standing behind the door telling the young girl it’s going to kill her family. This is a masterful script when it comes to delivering a screenplay a director can cinematically see, because it is all there on the page. Like this one: (You read more about how to leverage suspense in your writing style in this post.) The best thing about this movie script is that it takes our main characters and brings up obstacle after obstacle, just when they feel like they finally have the upper hand. It also plays on the deepest possible fears of each character, and you don’t even realize it’s happening because the writing on the page just sucks your eye along at such a frantic pace, you can’t look away and even think of what else is happening. Here’s the link to download ### Once you’ve read our selection of the best film scripts once, and then gone back in and watched the movies, the most important thing is to study the screenplays. It’s like a detective at a crime scene. He or she doesn’t just take a cursory look around, make a few notes and go back to the station. No — they dig in deep, analyze the scene with a fine tooth comb, go over every possible angle. This is what you should be doing with a screenplay. Yes there are many screenwriting books out there on the craft, and screenwriting courses you can take which help to nail down finer tunings, as well as script coverage which adds another layer of knowledge for your screenwriting mastery. But the best movie scripts themselves have everything right there on the page. Taking a screenplay, studying it, breaking it down, seeing how you add tension in a way that is real and smart and so slick in its application that you don’t notice your hands are sweating until you flip the page, is such a powerful learning experience. It flows with such fierce speed that you can’t flip the page soon enough to see where his next obstacle will come up. This is what the best film scripts do. So read all of these scripts, study them, reverse engineer them, break them down, and then use what you learned and apply it in your own writing. Hire us to get your screenplay where you want it to be, get an agent and get sold. You can check out our script coverage services here.