WRITE A DRAMEDY SCREENPLAY

The 2016 competition has closed but you can still use the clips and tips below to write your own dramedy screenplay.

Creative Brief

Write a three-minute TV screenplay inspired by a funny/awkward family moment.

Your screenplay must:

  • be an opening scene for the first episode of a dramedy (drama/comedy) TV series;
  • be an original piece by one writer (aged 15-20 years) enrolled in an Australian Secondary school
  • be three A4 pages long (excluding the cover page);
  • be appropriate for an SBS PG audience; and
  • adhere to the industry-standard screenplay format.

 

What is…
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What is a screenplay?

A screenplay is a script written specifically for a moving-image production such as a film, television program or video game.
The key to writing a screenplay is to understand that you are writing for a visual medium with the intention of an audience viewing the end product on a screen.

NOTE: A screenplay is not a shooting script; it does not include cinematography cues unless it is absolutely essential to the narrative.

Download The Family Law opening scene screenplay here

Watch: What is a Screenplay?

What is dramedy?

The Family Law can be described as a dramedy, but what does that mean? Dramedy is combination of two genres: drama and comedy. Films and television shows have developed from slapstick routines and one-liner approaches to comic relief from the organic humour that comes from serious or even taboo issues.

"There’s a very fine line between tragedy and comedy… sometimes you look back on horrible things that happen in your life and you realise that there were some really funny aspects." - Benjamin Law 

What is an opening scene?

A scene is when an action takes place in a single location. An opening scene introduces the audience to the genre (in this case, dramedy), characters and, potentially, a conflict. The first three minutes of a TV show play an important role in hooking an audience in. Think about one of your favourite TV shows and the opening scene.

Watch: The Family Law Opening Scene 

What are ethics and creative license?

“Try to find a way where you might be able to include the emotional truth of the story without betraying anyone’s confidence in you.” – Benjamin Law

If writing work that is inspired by situations experienced in your life or people you know, you should always consider how you represent the situation and people. It is ok to draw ideas from your experience or from your own observations and expand on them into fiction. For example, you may be in the self-serve line at a grocery store and notice that someone is having an argument with the self-serve machine, or overhear a conversation about a family dispute due to a game of Monopoly. These observations could inspire characters for a fictitious family story.

In regards to creative license you may wish to change aspects of a person’s identity to uphold their privacy. If you know the people personally you should obtain permission to tell their story or receive approval of how they are represented in your screenplay. Whether your work is inspired by your experience or an observation, keep in mind that it does not have to be verbatim and you can take creative control. 

Read: Gettin' Loose with the Truth 

If writing a script depicting Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander stories or characters everything must be done to protect and honor the dignity and privacy of the subjects of your story. Seek consultation on your script to ensure it is realistic in terms of language, behavior and motivation. Involve indigenous consultants/ key community members in your editing process. Always keep in mind that, in respect of Indigenous customs, stories of any deceased person or any person who has died subsequent to the script being written may need to be edited out.

Watch: How to write about people you know

How to...
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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…?
4. ….#growingup
5. …#tbt

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.

Character voice/dialogue:
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.

ACTIVITY: 
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

Final Draft
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Formatting your screenplay

Now it’s your turn to write a three-minute TV screenplay inspired by a funny/awkward family moment.

When writing your screenplay it is important to submit it in industry-standard. This means that the screenplay can be easily read by editors, producers, actors, directors and film crew.
A detailed template can be found at:

Screen Australia 
Or you may wish to use software:
Celtex
Adobe Story 
Final Draft 

Download a list of industry abbreviations to use in your screenplay HERE. 

Editing your screenplay

Step 1: Write a first draft early. Complete your first draft before the deadline to give you enough time to edit the work.
Step 2: Print your first draft and read it out loud. Pencil notes on the screenplay. Go back to the story beats in the planning stage of your work. Is there anything missing? Make changes where necessary and save this as a new document. It is always a good idea to save different versions.
Step 3: Ask a teacher or a trusted friend/family member to review your work. This may be a good opportunity to check that your family is ok with the work that you have produced, if the screenplay is inspired by them.
Step 4: Apply the constructive feedback and save this as a new document.

Watch: How to Polish your Script

A Winning Script
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Watch: What Makes a Winning Script? 

 

The 2016 competition has now closed, view the winning scripts here

 

Curriculum Links
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The Family Law Screenplay Competition and Teacher Resource is aligned to the Australian Curriculum in the following Learning Areas: English and Media Arts.

English 

Year 10 

ACELY1749: Analyse and evaluate how people, cultures, places, events, objects are represented in texts, including media texts, through language, structural and/or visual choices.

Stage 1 – What is Creative License?

Stage 2 – How to develop your characters

ACELT1639: Compare and evaluate a range of representations of individuals and groups in different, historical, social and cultural contexts

Stage 3 – Unpacking The Family Law screenplay 

ACELY1750: Identify and explore the purposes and effects of different text structures and language features of spoken texts, and use this knowledge to create purposeful texts that inform, persuade and engage.

Stage 3 – Formatting the screenplay

ACELT1815: Create literary texts with a sustained ‘voice’, selecting and adapting appropriate text structures, literary devices, language, auditory and visual structures and feature of a specific purpose and intended audience.

Stage 3 – Formatting the screenplay

ACELY1776: Use a range of software including word processing programs, confidently, flexibly and imaginatively to create, edit and publish texts, considering the identified purpose and the characteristic of the user.

Stage 3 – Formatting the screenplay

ACELY1757: Review, edit and refine students’ own and others’ texts for control of content, organisation, sentence structure, vocabulary, and/or visual features to achieve particular purposes and effects.

Stage 3 – Editing the screenplay

ACELA1571: Refine vocabulary choices to discriminate between shades of meaning, with deliberate attention to the effect on audiences.

Stage 3 – Editing the screenplay

Media Arts 

Years 9 & 10 

ACAMAM073: Experiment with ideas and stories that manipulate media conventions and genres to construct new and alternative points of view through images, sound and text.

Stage 2- How to gather ideas

ACAMAR078: Evaluate how technical and symbolic elements are manipulated in media artworks to create and challenge representations framed by media conventions, social beliefs and values for a range of audiences.

Stage 2 – How to develop your characters

ACAMAM076: Plan and design media artworks for a range of purposes that challenge the expectations of specific audiences by particular use of production processes.

Stage 2 – How to start writing a scene

Stage 3 – Formatting the screenplay

Stage 3 – Editing the screenplay