You may have heard that writers read a lot. For novelists, it’s easy to recognize that other books can provide guidance on everything from characterization to world building. It’s the same for the aspiring screenwriter. Even though the finished form of the piece is a film, which is visual art, nearly every narrative film begins with a screenplay. Reading other screenplays will help you learn how to write them yourself.
The difference between watching a finished film closely and reading a script closely is that a whole film takes into consideration not just the story itself but all the other filmic elements that make the film what it is, from mise-en-scène to sound to editing. Done well, the form of the film creates the narrative. It transcends the script to truly become a visual art form. Reading a screenplay closely, the writer is left with nothing but the initial kernel of a story – what happens, in what order, and what is said (or not said). Even so, a screenplay can be an incredible piece of writing, and is absolutely necessary to make the film. In narrative filmmaking, it provides the foundation for the rest of the production. A bad script will generally lead to a bad film, so writing a good script is essential for the film to achieve success.
For the aspiring screenwriter, reading screenplays is an essential task for her growth as a writer and eventual entry into the film industry. Actively reading and thinking about screenplays is the best way to learn about the screenwriting format (font, margins, and indentations are standard for all scripts in the industry) and storytelling structure. After you’ve read enough of them, you will start to see how scripts succeed and how they fail.
But where can you find scripts?
Thanks to the Internet, screenplays for many, many films are online. Databases with a wide variety of screenplays include:
- The Screenplay Database
- The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDB)
- Drew’s Script-O-Rama
- The Daily Script
- Drexel University’s Screenplay Library
- The Blacklist’s “Go into the Story”
In some cases, like at Drew’s Script-O-Rama, there are multiple drafts of the scripts, so it is possible to look at the changes that were made throughout pre-production.
Reading scripts can help you understand genre conventions. If you want to write a romantic comedy, you may want to look at the screenplay for 10 Things I Hate About You (1999; written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith). Or if you have an idea for an emotional drama, check out the screenplay for The Piano (1993; written by Jane Campion). If your interests lie with comedy, take a look at the screenplay for Bridesmaids (2011; written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo). Try reading the script along with the film to get a sense of how the screenplay gave rise to the film itself in production.
Read as many screenplays as you can! Learning the craft by example is as essential for the aspiring novelist as the aspiring screenwriter. Simply watching films is not enough, and reading actual screenplays is a much better use of your time than flipping through a book on screenwriting.
Do you know of any other good script databases? Tell us below in a comment. And happy reading!
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