Script Structure and Story with Sean Hogan

Take the seed of a story and develop it through the initial stages of creating a screenplay: from synopsis to beat sheet to treatment.

Your Instructor: Sean Hogan, screenwriter and filmmaker.

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: October 8, 2019 - November 5, 2019


Price: $325

Class Description

Screenwriting is structure.

You'll often find screenwriting compared to carpentry, or to architecture. Why? Because first and foremost, screenwriting is structure. Forget all the witty, pithy dialogue and the evocative visual descriptions – if you don't create a solidly-crafted blueprint for the film, you have nothing.

And yet, inexperienced screenwriters often struggle with structuring their stories. Perhaps they're more used to prose fiction, where narrative digressions are often the norm. Or theater, where dialogue drives the show. Whatever the reason, early attempts at screenwriting are commonly rickety, overlong things; badly paced and poorly constructed.

Faced with what can be a bewildering form, aspiring screenwriters often turn to the innumerable “How-To” guides that litter the shelves of bookstores everywhere. But there is no miracle screenwriting formula, nor should there be. You can tell a screen story in many different ways – and we'll examine some of them – but there are certain core principles to help guide you through the process.

In this class students will study techniques that will enable them to take the seed of a story and develop it through the initial stages of creating a screenplay: from synopsis to beat sheet to treatment. A finished screenplay may be just a blueprint, but if you want anyone to produce yours, you'd better make sure it's clear, concise and a compulsive read. That all begins with nailing the structure.

There will be no didactic formulas to learn here – we're not interested in so-called screenwriting gurus and their magic tricks. We'll consider some different approaches to telling your story and find the right one for you. 

Above all, we're interested in the practical – if screenwriting is indeed akin to carpentry, then this course is intended to help you assemble the best toolkit for the job.

Sean Hogan has been working as a professional screenwriter for the past fifteen years, in which time he has directed several of his own scripts (including The Devil's Business and We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea), written a number of screenplays for other directors, and also worked frequently as a script doctor (most notably on the critically-acclaimed UK production The Borderlands).

What This Class Covers

Week One: What's The Story?

Let's look at how some varying types of films are constructed. How does a plot-driven film work differently from a character study? By breaking a narrative down into its constituent beats, we can begin to gain an understanding of film structure, and techniques of pacing, characterization and exposition.

Assignment: Choose an existing film (from an assigned list) and break its narrative structure down into a beat sheet.

Week Two: Knowing The Rules And Breaking Them

Should we be beholden to the three act structure and Hollywood notions of narrative? What useful lessons can we learn from these conventions and what can we disregard? Do other modes of filmmaking have things to teach us? We'll also consider the audience – how much should they affect how we choose to tell a story?

Assignment: Write a one-page synopsis of an original feature script idea.

Week Three: How Much Story Is Too Much Story?

Literature has always provided a steady flow of source material for cinema. But often, films run into problems when they try and fit too much narrative into a relatively-limited framework. Let's think about how story functions best in film and how that affects notions of structure. We'll also look at questions of surprise vs suspense — is there a difference between a plot reversal and a twist?

Assignment: Expand the synopsis from week 2 into a detailed beat sheet.

Week Four: Who Are Your Characters And What Do They Want?

Film narrative is often defined in terms of what the characters want. Can a passive character be interesting? Do we need to fully understand what a protagonist wants? What about antagonists — how important are their desires? Is there such a thing as character POV in film? How does all of this affect structure?

Assignment:Take the beat sheet from week 3 and use it to create a feature film treatment (approx 5+ pages).

Goals Of This Class

  • Study existing films and apply these lessons to your own work.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of screenplay structure and how it affects the story you want to tell.
  • Practice telling your story — to yourself and others.
  • Learn how to pace yourself — efficient planning can save on wasted pages and overlong scripts.
  • Analyze whether this is the right form for your story — what are the strengths/weaknesses of film as a medium?
  • Think about how film point of view works.
  • Look at questions of plot vs character — what kind of story are you telling?
  • Consider techniques of exposition — exactly what do audiences need to know and when do they need to know it?
  • Develop your pitching skills, so that you can effectively put your story across as both a synopsis and full treatment.
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