How to gather ideas
Your life is a great source of inspiration whether it’s from your mum, somebody you overhear on the bus or an interesting headline you once read.
“Humour has to come from the character and from the situation.” – Benjamin Law
Watch: How to write Comedy
Use the activities below as a way of gathering stimuli for your screenplay. Keep in mind that your screenplay is an opening scene and will only require you to focus on one moment that may be inspired by your family or a fictitious family.
ACTIVITY: Photographic evidence
Option 1: Find a family photo that you associate with a particularly interesting event/situation. The photo may be posed or candid.
Option 2: Find a family photo from a magazine, brochure, advertisement or online. Think about all the awkward family photos that have been shared online.
Write down what happened just before the photo was taken, while the photo was taken and after the photo was captured.
For each person in the photo, write down:
one action that they would be performing before the photo is captured,
one thought that would be occurring while the photo is captured, and
one line of dialogue that each person would say after the photo is captured.
ACTIVITY : Social media status
Complete the following sentence as if you were updating a social media status:
1. That awkward moment when….
2. When you think …. and …. instead.
3. Remember that time when…?
ACTIVITY: Events and rituals
Step 1: List events and rituals that are unique to your family or a fictitious family. For example: wedding rituals, funeral rituals, coming-of-age celebrations, Sunday roast, family BBQ, family dinner/breakfast, cultural events such as Chinese New Year, Day of the Dead, Holi etc…
Step 2: From the list of events you have written down, write a short paragraph of a moment that occurred that was out of the ordinary.
ACTIVITY: Elevator Pitch
To help decide which idea to choose as an opening scene conduct an Elevator Pitch for each idea with a friend, teacher or family member to see which one is the best.
An Elevator Pitch is when you pitch an idea in a short amount of time. Pretend that the person you are pitching the idea to is an SBS producer and you are both going from the first floor of the SBS building to the second floor. The pitch should only last 20 to 30 seconds.
How to develop your own characters
Your characters should be multidimensional. In your screenplay, utilise visual storytelling to communicate the personality of each character. Consider how this is achieved in the opening scene of The Family Law.
ACTIVITY: Character analysis
Watch the opening scene of The Family Law and note the action, costume and object attributed to each character using this table.
The way a character moves, what they wear and how they engage with objects, or the symbolism of the object, can communicate personality traits without the character saying anything.
Your character descriptions should be more than a list that matches a police report.
Watch the clip below and find creative ways to describe each of your own characters. Write them down in this table or record them as a video or audio clip on your phone so you can come back to them. Keep these as a reference when writing your screenplay.
The way that a character speaks can reveal information such as cultural/ethnic background, socio-economic status, occupation, level of education, speech impediments or impairments, and emotions. You may also wish to include “in jokes”, family phrases or shorthand. Look at The Family law opening scene screenplay and consider how Jenny shortens words, mispronounces words or uses phrases that are unique to the way she describes Benjamin’s birth.
Unpacking The Family Law screenplay
Before writing your screenplay you may wish to further unpack The Family Law screenplay to get a feel of the tone of the opening scene.
What is the family moment/event?
List the universal themes that are explored
What makes it awkward?
Highlight character descriptions
Underline words, phrases, delivery of lines (this includes the use of subtitles) that are unique to specific characters. Think about character voice.
Circle actions performed by each character
What makes this story different to other Australian TV show or films?
How to start writing a scene
Watch: How to Start Writing
ACTIVITY: The Family Law story beats
Using The Family Law screenplay, can you list the story beats that occur in the opening sequence? Is there a rhythm or pattern? Consider cause and effect. Once you have had a go at writing them, compare your list to this one and consider how the story beats have been structured.
ACTIVITY: Your story beats
From the ideas you developed earlier, write a list of story beats for the event you are writing about for your opening scene. This can look like a list of bullet points or you may wish to use post-it notes or a visual flow chart.
When you have created the list, review the order or the beats and rearrange it until you are satisfied with the structure.
ACTIVITY: Scene breakdown
At this point, you can write an elaboration of the beats and this can include descriptions and dialogue. Review the structure again and rearrange the sequence of the story beats as required.
How to avoid writer’s block
Writer’s block is when you are finding it difficult to write. This may be due to your work environment, structuring your screenplay or coming up with ideas.
Ben’s Top Tips:
Get away from the screen for a while
Turn the internet off
Limit distractions so you can focus on the task
Useful websites/apps to limit online distractions: Freedom, Anti-social, Forest *NOTE not all websites/apps are free
Watch a lot of good TV and deconstruct how they tell the story, watch behind-the-scenes videos or special features such as audio commentary
Sign up to your local writers’ group
Screenplays for TV shows are available online for free