Osmosis Screenwriting

In 2015, I joined a business course that included a copywriting module. The teacher recommended to hand copy great sales letters in order to learn the skill.

Right after I had started the course, and totally unrelated, I was teaching in Sweden, where the head of the school told me about the technique of hand copying screenplays. He had heard about it from Blake Snyder’s successor at Save The Cat, and knew that Steven Spielberg also recommends the method.

When I told my Australian students, one of them mentioned that filmmaker Alexander Mackendrick is known for using the same technique.

At first, the thought of hand writing anything didn’t really appeal to me.

Once I started doing the copywriting exercises, it dawned upon me how powerful the approach really is. With minimal intellectual effort, you learn a skill simply by doing it.

Fountain Syntax

Because the screenwriting format is so specific in terms of its margin and tab settings, it may seem to make sense to copy the formatting. However, while you’re writing a script, you never need to think about these layout issues as the software takes care of it for you.

So I thought for a long time about what the best written format would be. Ultimately I decided to settle for Fountain. In its written form, Fountain is hand-writing friendly, as it doesn’t waste a lot of white space on the page, and it allows you to learn a syntax that will help you when you are writing creatively.

Once you master the Fountain syntax, you don’t need any screenwriting software any longer, as any simple word processor will do. A text written in the simple Fountain markdown language can be converted easily to Final Draft, or even straight into a ready-to-read, properly formatted screenplay.

I hope you will enjoy the experience of learning the screenwriting format and style by copying a great script.

While you are copying, see if you can find some of the serenity and peace the monks must have experienced in the mediaeval scriptoria.

3 Comments

  1. Emilia Vinarova August 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm #

    Does the script Nightcrawler is suitable for this method, given its formatting. It seemed a little strange to me.
    English isn’t my first language, so please excuse any mistakes.

    Reply

    • Karel Segers August 6, 2016 at 11:29 pm #

      I deliberately kept NIGHTCRAWLER outside the course, more as a teaser.
      It’s one of the finest scripts of recent years, but also one that breaks with conventional style (Gilroy gets away with it).

      I wouldn’t recommend NIGHTCRAWLER for the Scriptorium. At least not in the early days.

      I hope this answers your question!

      Reply

      • Emilia Vinarova August 7, 2016 at 12:17 am #

        Yes, thank you.

        Reply

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