The Absolute Beginners Screenwriting Workshop

Chapter One – Assignment Answers

 1. Find or purchase a screenplay (I have linked each of the three I will be using with a major book seller’s website) and take the time to read it. After you finish reading it, watch the movie while following along in the screenplay. Watch the actions performed and how they are described in the screenplay. Feel free to make any notes you would like. After you have read the script and watched the film, take thirty minutes and write a log line for the film. Break it down to its core. See where the character, location and action conflict is and ensure its hinted at in the log line. Now ask yourself, would you agree to read the screenplay if the writer recited your log line in a crowded elevator?

I read the screenplay THE KING’S SPEECH and watched the film. What I found best about film was its attention to details about the timeframe of the piece. Since the log line is a PERSON, in a PLACE, doing a thing, the timeframe of the film becomes very important as it is a period piece. So we need to determine who the hero is. Whose story is it? It’s Prince Albert’s story. He is the character with a problem and he’s the character whose life drives the story line. So we will begin with the Person part of the log line;

Suffering from a life-long speech defect, the King of England’s second son, Prince Albert…

Right away we see the problem and who the character is. Although in the workshop I state that it is often better to leave names out (as they can change) in this case the specific hero is very important to the story and must be named. Describing him as second son tells the reader that Prince Albert doesn’t expect to be king, but he is still royalty. It would be a very different story if it was about a commoner living in London in the 1930’s.

…is unexpectedly crowned the King of England during the late-1930’s…

We slowly introduce the problem in the second part of the log line, while at the same time speaking of the location and time period. At this time, Hitler was already building his army in Germany and preparing to march on Poland. The King of England would soon be dead and his first son will choose to walk away from the throne for the love of an American woman leaving Albert to King of an England on the brink of war. How do you translate all of this information into a single sentence that focuses on Albert rather than everything else happening around him? The film is about his overcoming his speech defect (as it was called throughout the film) not the war. Or his even becoming King.

…forcing him to seek out an unorthodox treatment for his speech defect so that he can lead his nation into war with Germany.

It’s not perfect but it is the film. So let’s put it together and see what we have, shall we.

Suffering from a life-long speech defect, the King of England’s second son, Prince Albert is unexpectedly crowned the King of England during the late-1930’s forcing him to seek out an unorthodox treatment for his speech defect so that he can lead his nation into war with Germany.

The purpose of this assignment was to get you to study an existing screenplay and break it down to its three core elements, the Hero, the Location and the Problem. If you’d like, use the comments area below to submit your own Log Lines for The King’s Speech or any other film you’d like. While this is easy with a screenplay / film that you can first watch from beginning to end, it gets more difficult when it comes to writing out the Log Line for your own screenplay before you even begin writing it, as you will see with question 3.

 2. Create your screenplay’s Working Title. At this point you may not have much of a story to go on, but you’ll need the working title right from the first word, since it will be the first word(s) you’ll write down. Keep it short. Make sure it peaks your interest. Would your reader ask any questions about the title causing them to turn to page one looking for the answer? Remember this is the title your film might go by for most of its life; you need to make sure it is unique, and easy to remember and say. Once you have your working title create a directory on your computer by that name. That is where you will save everything about your film over the next 12 months. Make sure you back up this directory often!

As I wrote about in this blog a little while ago, I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I’ve written this blog and the workshop, but that’s about all. The reason I created this blog was to write a new screenplay based on the workshop entries. That is the idea behind this entry. I’m going to write a screenplay using the Absolute Beginner’s Screenplay Workshop. As I work through my new screenplay I will be posting the answers to the Workshop’s questions showing you the reader how I develop the screenplay. Remember this is how one person approaches a screenplay. While you may get some ideas with the Workshop you may find that it doesn’t work for you and that perfectly okay.

I remember writing a blog entry last year about Write What You Know and I recently read another blog that said that your should write what you want to see. Using both of these pieces of advice I’ve decided that I’m going to write a Fantasy screenplay. I created a world years ago during my Dungeon & Dragons years and that world has never left me. The success of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Game of Thrones, the game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as well as the upcoming release of The Hobbit Trilogy (yes I said trilogy) it proves that there is a market for fantasy and it’s a market that is not explored every often.

The key with fantasy is not to lose oneself in the world, but rather in the story and characters. Sure they may be dragons and kings and evil castles, but it’s still about a hero and his goal. Like any screenplay, focus on the hero and everything will fall into place. I’ve envisioned a story about a small village’s smith who finds himself the sole survivor of an attack on his village. When he finds his new wife’s body amongst the rubble he vows to seek out Stroversai’s Forge and use it to return her to life. Stroversai is the name of the creator in the world and the story of creation involves Stroversai using his forge to make each of the living creatures from different materials found in the world. While I have some of the details sketched out, there are still some huge gaps that still need to be created. But this question is about the Working Title. This is an easy one, Stroversai’s Forge. It focuses on my hero’s goal and (hopefully) introduces the fact that it’s a fantasy story to my audience. With my title in hand, I’ve created the directory on my laptop and I’m ready to start creating.

3. Create your screenplay’s Log Line. Remember that it is a person in a place doing a thing. Word it in the form of a question. Make sure that each of the three parts of the log line includes conflict. It is from this conflict that we’re going to start developing the characters next month. Without conflict you have no story, without a story you have no conflict. Take some time and write out a list of the sources of conflict within your log line. There should be some character conflict, a little location conflict and a great deal of action conflict. Once you are happy with your Log Line, take a moment and write down (or print it) in large letters on a piece of paper and put it somewhere that you will see it daily. Memorize it; you never know when you’ll only have 30 seconds to get a producer interested in your story.

Now this is a difficult question. When you don’t know much about your story, this can be an impossible question, but it is designed to make you think about your screenplay. The first thing is to ask, who the hero of your story is. In my case it is a young blacksmith from a small village. In the second chapter of the Workshop I’ll give him a name and a history, but for now, I’ll simply call him ‘blacksmith’.

After the attack on his village and the murder of his wife, a young blacksmith…

We have captured the opening of the screenplay with this part of the log line. It shows that we have a strong hero who could be seeking revenge against those who killed his wife. But that’s been done before. My hero in fact will be looking for an artifact that is said to have the power to return her to life.

…begins a journey across a wild kingdom…

As the question says, identify the conflict in each of the three parts of your log line. Obviously the attack on the village is a massive conflict (and a really cool way to start a film) followed by the internal conflict of a husband losing his wife. The location conflict is hinted at by using the words ‘wild kingdom’. This leaves the door open for me to build the world around my hero to provide the story with enough conflict to create exciting moments on the big screen. I could create a race of creatures that the blacksmith could encounter. Of course, the attackers will need to make a second appearance in the film. Why did they attack? What were they looking for? The third and final part of the Log Line is to build up the story without giving away the entry.

…in search for a legendary artifact, Stroversai’s Forge, that is said to have the power to return the dead to life.

So let’s take some time to review the pieces of the log line and decide if there are any changes we can make now to improve it. I see that I really don’t mention a villain in the log line. Honestly, with the exception of the attackers, I haven’t given any thought to a villain. The best thing I can do is tie the attack in Act One with the blacksmith’s search for the Forge. That will help create a strong Story Question (Chapter Three of the Workshop) and connect the story into a complete tale. So, I do I rewrite the log line to include the mention of the villain.

First, in the second part of the log line, change the word journey to the word race. This puts a countdown clock into the hero’s travels. Maybe the blacksmith doesn’t believe in the forges existence, but the attackers do and attacked the village thinking the hero’s forge was the forge of legend. It’s a start. Or maybe someone in the village had information about the forge, such as a ancient book or scroll. Or maybe there was a tomb under the village’s church that contained a valuable clue to the Forge’s location. When you sit down and write out different ideas, the flow becomes a torrent and the story begins to develop.

After the attack on his village and the murder of his wife, a young blacksmith races across a wild kingdom chasing the attackers…

So now we need to look at the third part of the Log Line. This is the entire 60 pages of the second act and the first 15 pages of the third act all rolled into one sentence. As you learn in later chapters of the Workshop there are 4 specific plot points within this second of the screenplay. There are two obstacles, a midpoint and the climax. I call the first obstacle the point where the hero almost gives up. The midpoint is the twist of the story and the second obstacle is where the hero almost fails. Finally the climax is the confrontation between the hero and the villain. I see this happening over Stroversai’s Forge, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s rewrite the third part of the Log Line.

…as they search for a legendary artifact, Stroversai’s Forge that has the power of life and death with just a single word. 

This now introduces two new ideas to the story. The first is that the Blacksmith does just wants revenge but as he tracks down the attackers he learns what they are after. The second new idea to the Log Line is the idea of magic. While the hero can use the Forge to return his wife from death, it also has the power to kill. Who would the attackers be looking to kill, the King would be a likely target. Now along with the ticking stop watch, the Log Line introduces global jeopardy. The King is will be assassinated unless the blacksmith can stop the villain. Let’s put it together.

After the attack on his village and the murder of his wife, a young blacksmith races across a wild kingdom chasing the attackers as they search for the legendary artifact, Stroversai’s Forge, that has the power of life and death with just a single word.

There is clearly room for me to build the story which is great. As I complete the first draft of the screenplay (Chapter 11) I will sit down and rebuild this Log Line to match the first draft of the screenplay. But for now, I’m going to print this out and post it in my office so I can see it every time I take a seat at my laptop.

Next time I’ll go through and answer the three questions from the second chapter of the Absolute Beginner’s Screenwriters Workshop. See you then.

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