Showtime has been scorching the cable screen with dramas and comedies. This week, we will watch these opening episodes and use them as studies for developing your project into a pilot episode. If you do not yet have a screen project draft, you can use a short story or opening novel chapter.
A Brief Glossary of Screenwriting Terms: SimplyScripts
ACTION: The scene description, character movement, and sounds as described in a screenplay.
For example: The sounds of TYPING rise above all the rest as MAX sits at his computer writing his essay. He stops to sigh. Looks at what he’s written. Reaches over to the mouse. Highlights it all. And erases it.
AERIAL SHOT: Use only when necessary. This suggests a shot be taken from a plane or helicopter (not a crane). For example, if a scene takes place on a tall building, you may want to have an aerial shot of the floor the action takes place on.
ANGLE ON: A type of shot. This usually occurs in scenes taking place in large settings.
For example: if you’re at a playground and little Billy is playing in the grass while his sister Jenny is playing on the structure. To get from a detail shot of Billy playing to Jenny playing you’d use “ANGLE ON STRUCTURE” to suggest a new shot featuring Jenny. You’re still in the same location, but the director knows to point the camera a different direction. Note: this is often implied by simple scene description. Use ANGLE ON with good purpose.
BEAT: Many scripts will use the parenthetical “(beat)” to interrupt a line of dialog. A “beat” suggests the actor should pause a moment, in silence, before continuing the scene. “Beats” are often interchangeable with ellipses “…”
B.G. (background): Used to describe anything occuring in a rear plane of action (the background as opposed to the main action or attention is focused in the foreground). Always use this term in lower case initials or written in full (“background”). For example: two people talk as Bill and Ted fight in the b.g.
CHARACTER: In a screenplay, the name appears in all caps the first time a character is introduced in the “Action.” The character’s name can then be written normally, in the action, the rest of the script.
For Example: The limo pulls up to the curb. DAISY, an elderly woman sits in the car as MORGAN, the driver, steps out and opens the door for her. Daisy is dressed in evening-wear, ready for an Opera.
Character’s names always appear in all CAPS when speaking.
You’ve been a darling, Morgan. Here’s twenty dollars.
CLOSE ON: See also INSERT and SHOT. CLOSE ON is a shot description that strongly suggests a close-up on some object, action, or person (an expressive body part such as the face, or a fist). May also be seen as CLOSEUP or CLOSE SHOT.
CLOSER ANGLE: We move in for a new angle nearer to the subject. This is more of an editing term, but can be mentioned in the screenplay when necessary.
CONTINUOUS: Sometimes, instead of DAY or NIGHT at the end of a SLUGLINE/Location Description, you’ll see CONTINUOUS. Basically, continuous refers to action that moves from one location to another without any interruptions in time. For example, in an action movie, the hero may run from the airport terminal into a parking garage. The sequence may include cuts, but the audience would perceive the action as a continuous sequence of events from the terminal to the lobby to the street to the garage to the second floor to a car etc. CONTINUOUS is generally optional in writing and cn be dropped altogether. For Example…
INT. AIRPORT LOBBY - DAY JANET looks over her shoulder. The MEN IN BLACK are still after her, toppling innocent passersby and sending luggage flying across the linoleum floor. Janet faces forward again and nearly runs smack into a nun. She apologizes wordlessly, glances back one last time before pushing through the glass doors. EXT. STREET - CONTINUOUS Janet stumbles to the curb, stopping short of the honking traffic -- Los Angeles drivers. As a bus flies by, blasting her with wind, she steps out into traffic. A car SWERVES to avoid her! She GASPS, looks back. The men in black are there. FLASH Janet gets shot in the back by the men in black. BACK TO SCENE She shakes off the thought and hops up onto the curb opposite the airport. She enters the parking garage. INT. PARKING GARAGE - CONTINUOUS BANG! A shot RICOCHETS into the garage. Janet SHRIEKS, her steps faltering momentarily, but she recovers. EXT. STREET The men in black pocket their guns and enter the parking structure. INT. PARKING GARAGE They glance around. No one else is in sight. The men nod to each other and draw their guns. FOOTSTEPS in the distance. One of the men points at the stairs. SECOND STORY Janet, breathing heavily, makes her way to her car...
As you can see, I used CONTINUOUS for some of the sluglines (EXT. STREET – CONTINUOUS) and dropped it for others (INT. PARKING GARAGE). And it all represents no time passing between changes in location.
CRAWL: This is a term used for superimposed titles or text intended to move across on screen.
CROSS-CUT: Transition whereby the action cuts between two action scenes to suggest that the action is happening at the same time.
CROSSFADE: This is like a “Fade to black then Fade to next scene.” In other words, as one scene fades out, a moment of black interrupts before the next scene fades in. It is not to be confused with DISSOLVE, since CROSSFADE always involves a black or blank screen. (Note: I’m not sure if this term is still in common use)
CUT TO: The most simple and common transition. Since this transition is implied by a change of scene, it may be used sparingly to help intensify character changes and emotional shifts. The transition describes a change of scene over the course of one frame.
DIALOGUE: Very simply, this is what people are supposed to say according to the script.
DIRECTOR: The person who visualizes the movie based on the script, creates shots, suggests how the actors should portray their characters, and helps to edit the final cut. Basically, the person in charge of putting converting a script into a movie.
DISSOLVE TO: A common transition. As one scene fades out, the next scene fades into place. This type of transition is generally used to convey some passage of time and is very commonly used in montages such as seen in Bugsy.
DOLLY: A mechanism on which a camera can be moved around a scene or location. Simple dollies involve a tripod on wheels. Dolly shots are moving shots.
ECU (EXTREME CLOSE UP): Means the camera is placed very close to the subject or action. Generally, this term would be left out of a screenplay and left to the director to decide. Use only when necessary.
ESTABLISHING SHOT: A shot, usually from a distance, that shows us where we are. A shot that suggests location. Often used at the beginning of a film to suggest where the story takes place. For example, if our story takes place in New York, we might use a shot of the Manhattan skyline as an establishing shot.
EXT.: Exterior. This scene takes place out of doors. This is mostly for producers to figure out the probable cost of a film project.
EXTREME CLOSE UP (ECU): Means the camera is placed very close to the subject or action. Generally, this term would be left out of a screenplay and left to the director to decide. Use only when necessary.
EXTREME LONG SHOT (XLS): Means the camera is placed a very long distance from the subject or action. Generally, this term would be left out of a screenplay and left to the director to decide. Use only when necessary.
FADE TO: See also DISSOLVE TO: This is commonly used as a DISSOLVE to a COLOR. Commonly, you’ll see this as:
FADE IN:NEXT SCENE
This usually suggests it’s not the end of the movie, but it is the end of a major movement in the film. The “Next Scene” is often days, months, or years after the previous scenes. Sometimes titles will appear in the blackness to declare a passage of time. But this transition is often a sign of a major shift in time or emotional status for the main characters. It may also be used to suggest a character has been knocked out or killed.
FAVOR ON: A particular character or action is highlighted or “favored” in a shot. The focus is basically centered on someone or something in particular. Use only when necessary.
FEATURE FILM: In the olden days of cinema, people watched a series of short films. Then, as films became longer, they would watch some short films and one long film. The long film became the main attraction, hence the term feature film. Today, feature films are generally defined as any film at least one hour long that people pay to see.
FINAL DRAFT (1): As in all writing, this refers to the writers last rewrite of a script. Often the script will be changed or rearranged again by the director.
FINAL DRAFT (2): Very rarely, a script will appear as a Final Draft document. This means only people with a screenplay formatting word processor known as Final Draft or the appropriate Final Draft viewer can view the document appropriately.
FLASH CUT (FLASH): A transition where the screen flashes to white before entering the next scene, often used to transition into dream or fantasy sequences.
FLASHBACK: A transition denoting a sequence that happened in the past. This can be followed by BACK TO PRESENT DAY or PRESENT DAY as the time of day at the end of the proceeding slugline instead of just DAY.
FREEZE FRAME: The picture stops moving, becoming a still photograph, and holds for a period of time.
INSERT: When a writer pictures a certain close-up at a certain moment in the film, he or she may use an insert shot. This describes a shot of some important detail in a scene that must be given the camera’s full attention for a moment. Inserts are mainly used in reference to objects, a clock, or actions, putting a key in a car’s ignition.
For example: if there’s a clock in the room. I, as the writer, might have reason for the audience to get a good glimpse of the clock. I would use an insert shot to suggest the director get a closer shot of the clock at a particular point in the scene.
Note: often; writing important objects in CAPS will convey their importance in the scene and give the director more freedom and a greater feeling of importance. Use inserts only when truly important.
INT.: Interior. This scene takes place indoors. This is mostly for producers to figure out the probable cost of a film project.
INTERCUTTING: Some scripts may use the term INTERCUT BETWEEN. At this point, two scenes will be shown a few moments each, back and forth. For example, if Laura is stuck in her flaming house and the fire department in on the way, a screenplay may call for intercutting between the flames closing in on Laura and the fire fighters riding across town to save her.
Note: this is a style that can be written around with standard scene breaks. It’s more to prepare the reader for the upcoming slug line bonanza.
INTO FRAME: see also: INTO VIEW: The audience can only see so much through the window of a movie screen. Use this term to suggest something or someone comes into the picture while the camera stays put. It’s like a character or object coming from off stage in the theater. For example: Forrest Gump sits on the bench.
OLD WOMAN INTO FRAME. She sits next to him.
INTO VIEW: see also: INTO FRAME: The audience can only see so much through the window of a movie screen. Use this term to suggest something or someone comes into the picture while the camera pulls back (pans, etc) to reveal more of the scene.
IRIS OUT: see also wipe. Also written as: IRIS FADE OUT or IRIS FADE IN. Used at the end of Star Wars scripts, this term refers to a wipe from the center of the frame out in all directions. It’s as if the iris of a human eye were opening for dimly lit situations to take us into the next scene or the ending credits as is the case with Star Wars.
JUMP CUT TO: A transition. Imagine setting a camera down to film a person. You record him for five minutes. But as it turns out, you have only a one minute time limit on your project. You have no special editing tools, just a couple of VCR’s. But you realize that most of the important stuff is said in a few short moments. If you cut out the unimportant parts and edit together the parts you want based on a single camera angle, you will have what are called jump cuts. Transitions from one moment to the next within a scene that appear jarring because they break the direct flow of filmic time and space. This transition is usually used to show a very brief ellipsis of time. A good example of Jump Cuts can be seen in the movie Elizabeth when the queen practices her speech. The jump cuts make us disoriented and nervous along with the queen, giving us the tension and humor of the situation as if it were an out-take reel. Bad examples of Jump Cuts would be in B-movies like Mothra where they don’t have the money to get scenes from various angles, so they cut from one important moment to the next from the same angle.
LAP DISSOLVE: See also DISSOLVE: A transition between scenes that is achieved by fading out one shot while the next one grows clearer.
MATCH CUT TO: A transition often used to compare two completely unrelated objects. It’s film’s version of metaphor. This involves cutting from one object of certain color, shape, and/or movement, to another object of similar color, shape, and/or movement. For example, a circular saw to a child’s merry-go-round. A commonly studied example of match cutting comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The classic cut comes towards the beginning of the film. After the apes have used a bone as a weapon for gathering food, an ape throws the bone into the air. As it falls, we match cut to a space ship carrying nuclear warheads. Both the bone and the ship are of similar shape and color, and both happen to be moving towards the bottom of the screen. The cut relates all of technology to the development of weaponry as it cuts out all of human history.
MATCH DISSOLVE TO: See also MATCH CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO: This contains similar qualities to the MATCH CUT. A match dissolve involves two objects of similar color, shape, and/or movement in transition from one scene to the next.
For example: if Scene A is following (tracking) an arrow whizzing through the forest, I might match dissolve to a tracking shot, in Scene B of a bullet whizzing through the inner city.
MICROSOFT WORD DOCUMENT: A computer term referring to the digital format a script may be stored in. These files are in a word processor files and often require Microsoft Word 6.0 or higher to read. Microsoft Word comes with many PC’s or can be obtained with Microsoft Office 97, 98, and 2000.
MONTAGE: In film, a series of images showing a theme, a contradiction, or the passage of time. This film style became common in Russia in the early years of cinema. Russians were the first to truly use editing to tell a story. Some early examples of montage include City Symphony’s and Man With a Movie Camera. Modern day examples of montages can be seen in Kramer vs. Kramer and Bugsy.
MOS: Mit Out Sound (Original German) Moment of Silence (Made up English memory device). I’ve never seen this anywhere before, but maybe it has been used before, so, now you’ll know should you ever run into it.
O.S. or O.C.: Off-screen or Off-camera. This is the abbreviation sometimes seen next to the CHARACTER’S name before certain bits of dialog. Basically, it means the writer specifically wants the voice to come from somewhere unseen.
Pan: Camera movement involving the camera turning on a stationary axis. Imagine standing in one spot on a cliff in Hawaii. You want to absorb the view so you, without moving your body or feet, turn your head from the left to the right. This is the same effect as a pan. See Also: Swish Pan
PARENTHETICAL: If an actor should deliver his or her lines in a particular way, a screenplay will contain a description in parentheses to illustrate the point. Parentheticals should be used only in cases where a line of dialog should be read in some way contrary to logic. If used too often, actor’s and director’s egos get hurt, and things get messy.
I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.
PDF: This is a computer term referring to Adobe’s cross-platform portable document format. This file is created with Adobe Acrobat and can only be read by the Adobe Acrobat Reader.
POV: Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature. This can be used to bring out the personal aspects of a scene, or it can be used to build horror and suspense. An example of horror and suspense in POV can be scene in the opening shot of Halloween.
PRELAP or PRE-LAP: The dialogue from the incoming scene precedes the cut, and you hear the beginning of the dialogue in the outgoing scene.
We will work in the garden tomorrow.
INT. NEWSROOM – DAY
Rain in the forcast all day tomorrow
If is a sound:
PRELAP: GUN FIRE ERUPTS
EXT. BATTLEFIELD – DAY
PUSH IN: The camera physically moves towards a subject.
REVERSE ANGLE: Often used to reveal things for comic or dramatic effect. Could be described as a counter POV shot. Basically, the script suggests the camera come around 180 degrees to get a shot from the “other side” of a scene. For example, in the Something About Maryscript, Tucker is playing a joke on Mary in her office in one scene that the writers didn’t want to reveal right away. They use a REVERSE ANGLE to show that he’s got two tongue depressors in his upper lip to represent teeth. This reverse angle is used for comic effect.
ROLL: This is a term used for superimposed titles or text intended to move vertically on screen. For example, the text at the beginning of Star Wars movies.
SAME: Sometimes, instead of DAY or NIGHT at the end of a SLUGLINE/Location Description, you’ll see SAME. Basically, same refers to action that occurs in the same location, but not necessarily without any interruptions in time.
SCENE: An event that takes place entirely in one location or time. If we go outside from inside, it’s a new scene. If we cut to five minutes later, it’s a new scene. If both, it’s a new scene. Scenes can range from one shot to infinity and are distinguished by slug lines.
SCREENPLAY/SCRIPT: A written work by screenwriters for a film, video game, or television program. A fplay written for the screen.
SHOOTING SCRIPT: This is the truly final draft used on set by the production people, actors, and director to make the movie from the screenplay.
SHOT: One image. If there’s a cut, you’ve changed shots. Shots can range from split seconds, like in Terminator 2, to several minutes, such as in Secrets and Lies or the opening sequence of Halloween. Shots are generally chosen by the director although the writer can use capital letters to suggest where the camera should be. When a writer absolutely must have a certain shot at a certain moment in a film, he has a few options each described in detail elsewhere in this list: INSERT, ANGLE ON, and CLOSE ON.
SLUG LINE: The text in all CAPS at the beginning of a scene that briefly describes the location and time of day.
For example: INT. DAVE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Note: sometimes sluglines are abbreviated to something as simple as “LATER” or “BEDROOM.”
SMASH CUT TO: An especially sharp transition. This style of cut is usually used to convey destruction or quick emotional changes.
For example: If I were writing a horror movie but wanted to lighten the gore at the beginning, I might have the first victim trip and fall. The killer enters the forest clearing, taking a moment to savor this death. The victim shakes her head, as if begging for the killer to change his mind. But no, he closes in, a black cloaked arm raising the knife into the air. The knife catches the moonlight for just a moment before it races downwards.
SMASH CUT TO:EXT. WOODLAND HIGH SCHOOL COURTYARD – DAY
It’s a bright and beautiful morning and kids wander the courtyard on their way to class or to meet friends. And the students discuss the end of this example.
The sudden shift from a dark forest to a bright schoolyard on the first stab would convey the distress of the murder without showing it. For another example of a smash cut, see the transition to L.A. in Barton Fink.
Note: this transition is often a director’s choice. As a writer, use this sparingly if at all. Many script readers find this term unprofessional.
SPEC SCRIPT/SCREENPLAY: You won’t see this term anywhere else on this site. If a writer finishes his own screenplay outside the studio system (it isn’t an assignment) then sends it to the studios for consideration, it is a spec script.
SPLIT SCREEN SHOT: The space of the frame is split into two, three, or more frames each with their own subject. Usually the events shown in each section of the split screen are simultaneous. But Split screen can also be used to show flashbacks or other events. For example, two people are talking on the phone. They’re in different locations, but you wish to show the reactions of both simultaneously. Or, watch Run, Lola, Run to see another use of split screen.
STEADICAM: A camera built to remain stable while being moved, usually by human hands. Occasionally, seen in scripts to suggest a handheld shot be used in a scene.
STOCK SHOT: Footage of events in history, from other films, etc. Basically, anything that’s already filmed and you intend to be edited into the movie. For example, the Austin Powers movies use stock footage for comic effect. Some old B films use stock footage to keep their budgets low.
SUPER: Abbreviation for superimpose. The superimposition of one thing over another in the same shot. Sometimes TITLES are superimposed over scenes. Or a face can be superimposed over a stream-of-consciousness montage shot. It’s up to you!
SWISH PAN: A quick snap of the camera from one object to another. This high speed movement causes the image to go completely blurry. Imagine yourself in the center of a merry-go-round that’s moving really really fast. Aside from making you totally dizzy, the world becomes a blur, swished out in the movement, like a giant and constant swish pan. Cuts are often hidden in swish pans. Or they can be used to disorient or shock the audience. For a good example of Swish Pan, watch certain old episodes of The Twilight Zone.
TELEPLAY: A play for television.
TIGHT ON: A close-up of a person or thing. Basically, like the space has been squeezed out of the area between camera and subject. Not in common use. Use only when necessary.
TIME CUT: When you want to cut to later in a scene, you have the option of writing TIME CUT as the transition. For example, if two people walk into a restaurant and their conversation is important at first then veers off into topics not important to your story, then you might want to time cut from the drinks to the main course and then again to paying the check.
TRACKING SHOT (Track, Tracking): A tracking shot involves a camera following a person or an object. As long as the camera isn’t locked down in place by a tripod, for example, and is following (tracking) a subject, then it’s a tracking shot. For good examples of tracking shots, watch the one take episode of The X-Files or most any episode of ER. Star Wars Episode One has tracking shots galore during the pod race. And I’m sure most films have some form of tracking shot or another.
TRAILER: A theatrical advertisement for an upcoming film attraction. In the past, the advertisements for upcoming attractions were usually played after the end of the movie. Hence, the term ‘trailers’. However, as credits reels grew in lenth over the years, audiences would often leave before watching the advertisements for the next attractions, so the “trailers” were showen before the atrraction and became “previews”. NOw, the term ‘trailer’ has come to mean a preview of an upcoming attraction and is still in common use.
TRANSITION: Descriptive term for how one scene ‘transitions’ to another scene. Used appropriately, these can be used to convey shifts in character development and emotion. In other words, a CUT TO: is not required at every scene change. Some major transitions include CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO:, MATCH CUT TO:, JUMP CUT TO:, SMASH CUT TO:, WIPE TO:, and FADE TO:. Each term has it’s own entry in this list of terms. Occasionally a writer will make up his own transition. In these cases, the transition is usually self-defined (such as BRIGHT WHITE FLASH TO: suggests whiteness will fill the screen for a brief moment as we pass into the next scene).
V.O.: Voice Over. This is the abbreviation sometimes seen next to the CHARACTER’S name before certain bits of dialog. This means the character voices that dialog but his or her moving lips are not present in the scene. Voice over is generally used for narration, such as in the beginning of The Mummy. Or, as Austin Powers would say, a character’s inner monolog. The inner thought processes of the character said out loud such that only the audience will hear it. An general example of Voice Over can be seen (heard, actually) in Election or in the Sixth Season Finale of The X-Files.
WIPE TO: A transition in which one scene “wipes away” for the next. Imagine Scene A is water and Scene B is the substance underneath. A wipe would look like a squeegee pulling Scene A off of Scene B. These usually suggest a passage of time from one scene to the next. The most common and obvious example of wipes is in the Star Wars franchise. You can also watch The Mummy for more examples.
XLS (EXTREME LONG SHOT): Means the camera is placed a very long distance from the subject or action. Generally, this term would be left out of a screenplay and left to the director to decide. Use only when necessary.
ZOOM: The image seems to close in on a person or object making the person or object appear larger (or smaller) on screen. Technically, the lens mechanically changes from wide angle to telephoto or vice versa. Notice and recognize the difference between a zoom and a push in (camera moves closer to subject). Use zoom only when necessary. For an example of zoom, see Boogie Nights.
The Character Arc: In Medias Res & Opening with Conflict
If you think of a series episode as equal to a chapter in a novel, consider how important the first lines are. Introducing the main viewpoint and character is essential to gripping the viewer. For this reason, it is a good idea to throw the reader into the middle of things, in medias res. Watch the above opening scenes of each episode, again, and notice how we are thrown into immediate character conflict, both external and internal—i.e., character versus self. In each of the below openings and closings, consider how the closing mirrors the opening.
House of Lies
Opening: Marty wakes with his addict, ex-wife, naked in his bed. He is trying to hide from their child, that they got wasted and had sex the night before. Marty’s son is trying out for the part of “Sandy” in his school production of Grease. Marty’s father, a retired psychologist, impresses upon Marty the importance of accepting his son’s androgynous lifestyle. Marty is trying to make everyone happy, though, he is clearly conflicted about each area of his life. And he hasn’t even finished his breakfast yet.
Close: Marty negotiates with his son and the school so that he plays Rizzo in the production of Grease. He is unhappy about playing Rizzo and decides to undermine “Sandy.” Marty is both cautious and encouraging of his son’s scheme. It is apparent that Marty recognizes value in cut-throat behavior. At the play, Marty and “Sandy’s” mother have disappeared and reappear with their clothes disheveled. Cut to Marty shaving before his mirror, call from his co-worker, Jeannie. He begins to ask her what she thinks of him. It’s apparent he wants to know if she thinks he’s a “good man.” He holds back. It is apparent that this question of moral compass and whether he is a “good man,” “good father,” etc. is going to be an ongoing internal conflict for Marty.
Opening: We open with a montage conflict. Mickey, who we later learn is Ray’s father, is just getting out of jail. He drives immediately to a Catholic church and puts a gun in a priest’s mouth, asks him if he likes it, and shoots him dead. Cut to a man who wakes to find a dead woman in his bed. Cut to Ray Donovan in bed with his wife, the neighbor’s music is too loud and his wife is complaining in a thick Boston accent. We learn they live in California. Transplants. Ray gets a call from the man with the dead woman in his bed. Ray is the fixer. This is his life. These are his external conflicts. We spend the episode, and season, trying to figure out Ray’s moral compass and main internal conflict. He seems to be a normal husband/dad, and yet, he is an LA fixer for dead, drugs and more.
Close: Write the closing scene. How does this scene both mirror the opening and foreshadow further conflict?
Opening: We open with Carrie driving a car in what appears to be a middle eastern country. She is on the phone with a CIA authority who is in a tuxedo at a banquet. They are speaking about a terrorist bomb maker and Carrie is advocating on his behalf. Cut to prison guards testing the gallos. Her subject of interest has suddenly been sentenced to death. The threat is immediate. She is driving to the prison. This prisoner has intel on an imminent attack on US soil. Again, we are thrown into the middle of our main character’s immediate conflict. Carrie is passionate and persistent and it sometimes gets her into trouble.
Close: Write the closing scene. How does this scene both mirror the opening and foreshadow further conflict?
Opening: We open with Dexter trolling the streets. “It has to happen.” The atmosphere is eerie, dark. He speaks about mundane things: pork sandwiches. But he is “hungry for something different.” Cut to a boys’ choir and the choir leader, Mike Donovan. “He’s the one.” Cut to Dexter in back of Donovan’s car, strangling him from behind. They drive to a remote and dark place. Dexter is physically violent with Donovan, but Dexter’s voice is calm. Cut to inside an abandoned building. Dexter is telling Donovan to look. On the floor are several dead boys. Donovan starts praying and Dexter smacks him. It is apparent that Dexter blames Donovan for the death of the boys, probably more. Donovan finally confesses: “I couldn’t help myself…” He is crying. “Please, you have to understand.” Dexter replies: “Trust me. I definitely understand…children, I could never do that…I have standards.” Dexter is the righteous psychopath, serial killer. He painfully kills Donovan. It is apparent that he has a fine-tuned regimen for his killing. Again, we are thrown into the middle of our main character’s external and internal conflict. By day, he is a normal and charming forensics expert who works for the police. By night, he is a serial killer who stalks and kills serial killers.
Close: Write the closing scene. How does this scene both mirror the opening and foreshadow further conflict?
Opening: We have a multiple arc structure. The first half of the episode is Noah’s perspective. We open with him swimming at a community pool. An attractive young woman hits on him. He shows interest but she sees his ring. Cut to Noah bringing coffee to his wife in bed. They have sex. They appear to be happy. Kids calling them. Cut to Noah packing the car with luggage. He and his son are fighting. His son wants to stay home and go to camp. He doesn’t want to go to his grandparent’s house in Montauk. The son messes with the luggage and they fall. Cut to Noah at his bookshelf. We learn his first novel received bad reviews, “Derivative.” Cut to voice over of a deep authoritative voice interrogating Noah. Noah is searching the house for his son so they can get on the road. He’s disappeared. Noah finds him hanging in the bathroom. He lays him on the ground. He thinks he’s dead. But it was a “joke.” Noah and his son talk about how much they both “hate grandpa.” Cut to family in car. Noah does not tell his wife about their son’s “joke.” He holds secrets. He is a failed writer and public school teacher. He does not want to go to his father-in-law’s house for the summer. He is repeatedly being interrogated by some deep, authoritative voice in the background as his family readies for their summer vacation. At breakfast, his daughter almost suffocates. Their waitress, Alison, saves the little girl. Both conflicts resolve within scene, but the deep voice-over interrogation foreshadows that something very bad is going to happen. What? And how will Noah, a man who tries to handle it all and keeps secrets, handle it?
Close: Write the closing scene. How does this scene both mirror the opening and foreshadow further conflict?
Formatting Exercise: Puzzling the Script & Its Characters
Below is the opening scene text for House of Lies, Season 1, Episode 1: “Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments.” You are going to re-format the scene text into television script format using Final Draft One Month Free Trial.
House of Lies
Season 1, Episode 1
“Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments.”
[Upbeat music] Wake up.
[Snoring] Try this.
[Grunts] Oh, fuck.
[Gasps] Oh, shit.
Grandpa’s making French toast.
What’s mom doing here? Oh, your mother, she [Laughs] She had some work to do.
Why is she asleep? It was hard work.
Should I tell grandpa to make her French toast? Oh, absolutely not.
[Helicopter whirring] [Door slams] [Upbeat music] [Chuckles] Don’tEverFuck your exWife.
Monica, can you please get out of here? Where is here? It’s my place.
How many pills did you have last night anyway? [Grunting] Which flavor? Baby, this isn’t gonna happen again.
What did happen last night? What did you think happened last night? Oh, I smell French toast.
Yeah, but you can’t have any.
You have to get out.
After what you did to me last night Why not? Because you’re a sociopath and an addict, and I can’t even look at you right now.
Right back at you, sweetie.
[Laughs] Good-bye, boys! Bye, mom! Oh.
Hey, dad, sit down and eat.
Lost my appetite.
[Door closes] Bet you’re hungry, though.
Oh, yeah, I’m starved.
Auditions are today.
For what again? – Grease.
And what part are you auditioning? Sandy.
The part immortalized by Olivia Newton-John.
That’s great, bud.
Think you got a shot? Brittany Kauffman knows all the songs, but she looks like a pug.
Well, great, go for it.
I bet you’re gonna kick that little pug’s ass.
Dad – Damn right.
I gotta poo.
So I just– – Yeah.
Just like it was any part in any play.
Yeah, ’cause dressing up like a slut and trying to get John Travolta to fuck you, that’s just like trying out for the little league, right, dad? Oh, you wanna fuck him up about it, just lean on in, call him a Nancy boy.
He’s looking for me to push back.
He’s looking for a little positive attention.
All right, super shrink.
So why don’t you go play dominos or something and stop trying to tell me how to raise my kid.
Maybe I wouldn’t have to be here if he had one fit parent between the two of you.
[Chokes and laughs] Really? I mean ’cause you were an awesome parent.
All right, look, I guess your mother and I – could have done a better job.
I gotta go to work.
I actually have a real job.
Since when is management consulting a real job? Since it pays seven figures a year.
Hey, dad, are you gonna see a Broadway show in New York? I don’t think so, buddy.
I got a lot of work to do.
Well, when you get back, can we go shoe shopping? Yes, shoe shopping this weekend.
Love you too.
Writing Exercise: Formatting Your Script
Now that you’ve formatted a fully completed scene and episode, you are going to do the same with your project. Follow these directions:
- Cast your characters: Using Google, find actors to play the characters in your series episode. Keep a digital file of their faces or print them out and post them in your writing space. Allow yourself to change your mind on casting as you complete the following steps.
- Using different colored highlighters (either digitally or manually), highlight each character’s dialogue. Again, use a particular highlighter color for each character.
- Open Final Draft. Click FILE/NEW FROM TEMPLATE/TV SERIES/TV TEMPLATES. Choose the template that fits your project best.
- Copy and paste the dialogue into your chosen template. Final Draft is very user-friendly, but make sure to reference the Help Options and User Manual as needed and ask questions when needed.
- Give yourself a day or two to consider how the dialogue provides an framework for the entire episode. Where can you turn narrative into dialogue and scene for the screen?
- Study your draft and its opening. Does it begin in medias res, addressing both external and internal conflicts of the main character?
- Study your draft and its closing. How does the close both reflect the opening and foreshadow further conflict to come?
- Submit this episode for feedback.
- DUE DATE: The following class session.
- SUBMIT: Below forum.
- CONTACT: Please make sure to contact me directly with any questions regarding assignments and technology. There is also a FAQs section that covers a good deal of information.