Module Outline - University of Warwick

Department of Film and Television Studies
BA Film and Literature
BA Film Studies
FI 329
Autumn term 2015
Module Leader: Lee Thomas
This module provides an intensive introduction to screenwriting through a
combination of reading, writing, and analytic viewing exercises. The
premise of the course is that you can learn the craft of screenwriting, but
that the art of it is best mastered through application and practice. The
course mainly focuses on film, although discussion and clips may well
include television drama.
You will discover and explore the basics of how to tell a story for the
screen by watching and analysing carefully selected film clips and regular,
practical written exercises, which will be discussed in the seminar. Your
learning will be enhanced by developing ideas and then writing an
assessed short film script (15-20 mins. length). Week by week, you will
come to understand and appreciate the critical and functional elements of
a screenplay and how different screenwriting tools can be used to
dramatically craft a ‘story well told’.
No previous knowledge of scriptwriting is required, though focus and
engagement with the form is essential. Students will understand the
techniques of screenwriting and be able to apply them in their own
creative work.
Module Aims
You will be able to identify and recognise the visual language of
dramatic construction, and tell a story through the use of
uninflected shots and action.
You will be able to demonstrate your understanding of basic
dramatic structure by writing a scenario with a defined character
(protagonist), and a goal, some obstacles (internal and external)
and a resolution.
You will be able to identify the various dramatic functions of
dialogue in a screenplay, and demonstrate this in your own short
film script.
You will demonstrate an understanding of characterisation through
You will be able to identify and understand the uses and potential
abuses of foreshadowing, and its usefulness for your own short film
You will be able to identify and understand how to set up, exploit
and pay off a dramatic irony or series of dramatic ironies in your
short film script.
You will develop the ability to pitch ideas clearly and to condense
and marshal ideas into a dramatic step outline form.
Thursdays: screening either 10-12 (A0.26) or 4-6 (A1.25)
Fridays: combined lecture and seminar (A1.27) either 9.00-10.30 or
11.00-12.30 (A127)
A note on readings
Seminar discussion will include close analysis of the required reading - see
week by week guide for details. It is essential that you come to the
seminar fully prepared.
Key Readings will be placed in Short Loan Collection for photocopying and
overnight borrowing. Demand for materials is always high so please be
considerate to your fellow students.
Readings marked * are also available to download at:
Writing Exercises in weeks 3 and 5
Draft step outline for discussion in seminar of week 8.
Draft opening of the short film script for discussion in seminars of weeks 9
and 10.
There will be an opportunity to have individual feedback on drafts directly
after the seminars in weeks 8-10. I will be available to give individual
feedback on drafts directly after the seminar in Weeks 8-10 in Dr. James
MacDowell’s office (A0.17).
1 x step outline for a short film script (30% of the total mark).
1 x 15-20 minute short film script (70% of the total mark).
Both pieces are to be submitted by 12.00 on Monday of Week 1 (Spring
term) to the Undergraduate Secretary, Dr. Adam Gallimore (Room:
A step outline is a technical document that some writers / commissioners use
test the dramatic strengths of an idea;
revise and rewrite the story in a shorter more manageable form before
writing a complete script
It consists of 3-5 pages (for a 15-20 min script) with scene headers and an
account of who does what, to whom, and what we learn. It’s about verbs –
actions by characters. There is normally no dialogue at this stage. Examples will
be provided during the course.
A Short Film Script is 15-20 pages of dramatic action written in standard
screenplay format (examples to be provided). Usually there will be a clear
beginning, middle and an end, with characters we can identify with going through
some kind of dramatic experience or journey. The script can be any genre, for
live action or animation, and is intended to see how well each student has
managed to assimilate the various dramatic constructs and tools explored during
the course,
Week 1: Introduction to the key functional elements of a
screenplay – writing for the screen.
Screening: The Sheep Thief (Asif Kapadia/ 1997)
Required Reading: ‘On Storytelling’* (Chapter 1) pp. 1-9 +
‘Countercultural Architecture and Dramatic Structure’ (Chapter 2) pp. 957 in David Mamet On Directing (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).
Themes: Close analysis of a film script in order to appreciate the visual
language of dramatic construction. Thinking through how to go about
telling a story visually.
Week 2: Introduction to dramatic structure and the language of
Screening: The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980).
Required Reading: Asif Kapadia’s The Sheep Thief script (copy to be
Themes: A look at the 3 act structure and Frank Daniel’s definition of
drama as “Somebody wants something badly, and is having difficulty
getting it”, and how this relates to Aristotle’s 5 movements of drama. An
examination of the difference between objective and subjective drama
through clips from key films such as Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972), Die
Hard (John McTiernan, 1988) Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and Ridicule
(Patrice Leconte, 1996).
Week 3: Managing Conflict: a closer look at protagonist, goals,
obstacles and emotions
Screening: The Warrior, Asif Kapadia, 2001.
Writing Exercise: Write an opening scene with no dialogue which clearly
establishes a character who is in some kind of trouble with an external
Themes: Building on last week’s session, we will look more closely at
Character and Task, and what design and actions make a credible
character for film. We will examine the ways in which action defines
Week 4: Introduction to dialogue
Screening: Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino, 2012
Required Reading: Terri Rossi’s article on “The Task”
( and reexamine Asif Kapadia’s The Sheep Thief as well as The Warrior’s opening
Themes: Using a variety of key examples from Deliverance (1972), The
Doctor (1991), Django, Pulp Fiction (1994), and Blue Jasmine (2013) we
will consider the multiple dramatic functions of dialogue: to convey
information, develop character, and drive drama. We will also discuss
what distinguishes good dialogue from bad and the pitfalls of over-reliance
on dialogue in scripts.
Week 5: Creating believable worlds: The use of foreshadowing
Screening: Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984).
Exercise: Write a dialogue scene (following instructions from previous
Required Reading: ‘Screenwriting Tools’* in Howard, David and Mabley,
Edward. The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and
Elements of a Screenplay, St Martin’s Press, NY, 1995, pp. 41-74.
Themes: A discussion of key examples taken from Alien, The Apartment
(Billy Wilder, 1960), Four O’Clock (Alfred Hitchcock, 1957) in order to
consider the major uses of foreshadowing in screenplays.
There is no formal teaching this week but you are invited to make
an appointment for an individual 15-minute tutorial between 9.00
and 12.30 in A1.27
Week 7: Managing Audience Point of view: Dramatic Irony
Screening: There’s Something About Mary (Bobby and Peter Farrelly,
Required Reading: ‘Screenwriting Tools’* in Howard, David and Mabley,
Edward. The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and
Elements of a Screenplay, St Martins Press, NY, 1995, pp. 74-99.
Themes: Using clips from key films including The Apartment, There’s
Something About Mary and Frenzy, we will discuss diverse ways of setting
up, exploiting and paying off dramatic irony. We will also address the
pitfalls of the overuse of this technique.
Week 8: Pitching short film ideas: the step outline.
Screenings: A series of short films including: In My Shoes; Wet & Dry;
The Voorman Problem; Inside Out.
Writing Exercise: First draft of step outline that will ultimately be
submitted for summative assessment.
Themes: The focus of this session will be story-TELLING… it will include
ideas on how to structure a pitch. You will prepare a first draft of your
step outline of a short film and be prepared to share this with others in
your seminar.
We will cover how to give constructive feedback to a writer and how to
receive it from others. You will receive constructive oral feedback from the
module leader and from your peers, and will also provide your peers with
useful feedback.
Screening: The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960).
Writing Exercise: First draft of the opening of the short film script
that will ultimately be submitted for summative assessment.
Themes: You will deliver the draft opening of your short films script to 23 fellow students in advance of the session. Each will read each other’s
work and be prepared to ask useful questions about the screenplay during
the session. You are encouraged to use the seminar space to discuss any
questions arising about your draft or other issues arising with your
proposed film script.
Screening: TBC
Writing Exercise: First draft of the opening of the short film script
that will ultimately be submitted for summative assessment.
Themes: This is a continuation of week 9, dealing with any issues that
come up and time for Q&A and further discussion.
Reading List
Core Reading:
There are many and varied 'how-to' guides about the process of
screenwriting, but reading a wide range of scripts and watching a diverse
range of films will offer you a broader, more instinctive understanding of
the craft. That said, these foundational texts will provide a useful technical
understanding to build on. All titles listed on this page are stocked in
the university library and copies will be made available in the
Short Loan Collection.
Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, (Third Edition),
Bantam Doubleday Bell, 1998.
Howard, David and Mabley, Edward. The Tools of Screenwriting: A
Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay, St Martins
Press, NY, 1995)
Mamet, David. On Directing, (ISBN: 9780140127225 Penguin Books Ltd;
Reprint edition)
Scher, Lucy. Reading Screenplays, Creative Essentials, 2011.
Additional Reading:
These titles offer interesting and useful broader frames of reference for
your screenwriting and can also inform your developing responses to the
aesthetics of film. How you watch a film can play its part in how you write
a screenplay.
Aristotle. Poetics, Penguin Classics, 1996.
Goldman, William. Adventures In The Screen Trade: A Personal View of
Hollywood, 1983.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Hodder & Stoughton,
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