The Anatomy of a Produceable Screenplay: Page One


The Anatomy of a Produceable Screenplay: Page One
Donald L. Vasicek

When you watch a movie, what do you usually see in the first minute? A bunch of people jumping around? Or perhaps running? Or a headstone in a cemetery? A slinky woman’s naked cadaver silhouetted against a light? What about the one that skims you over a body of water with the skyline of a city ahead? Whatever you see, has meaning, at least in screenplays that get produced.

There are at least eight elements that should be on the first page of your screenplay if you want to hook your reader into your screenplay, enhance your chances of selling it and having it produced. Learned eyes look for these elements on page one of your screenplay. If they aren’t there, you’ve already got a strike against you in the mind of the reader. What are these elements and how can you write them into the first page of your screenplay?

If you first come up with a metaphor that describes the main theme of your screenplay, then the seven other elements will drop into place much easier. A metaphor that describes the main theme of your screenplay must be visual since film is a visual medium. You don’t want to bore your audience by unleashing talking heads to the audience unless you can pull it off like Billy Bob Thornton did in his Academy Award-winning screenplay, “Sling Blade” and some excellent acting by Billy Bob Thornton and J. T. Walsh.

For example, on page one in my screenplay, “The Crown”, which was produced, the main character, a gangly boy of 12 with a red kerchief as a headband cleans his mother’s headstone in a cemetery. The inscription on the headstone shows the years of her birth and death. A butterfly flutters about the headstone and main character. A shadow creeps over the main character. The butterfly flies away. The main character looks around. He sees a pretty woman. She frowns at him and says, “You have to let her go, Justin Freeman.”

The metaphor (element one)shows a butterfly flying (element two)(movement to draw your audience into the movie) away from a headstone. The metaphor shows the theme (element three) of the movie which is “letting go” which is also stated by the woman. The main character (element four) is introduced. The main character shows what his foremost problem in the movie is going to be by cleaning his mother’s headstone (he will not let go of her)(element five). The setting (element six) the main character is in is a cemetery. We have a sense of direction by knowing where “we’re” starting out in this movie. The time frame(element seven)of the movie is shown by the inscription on the headstone. Now, we have an idea about when this movie is taking place. The main character’s name is given (element eight)when the woman speaks to him. We know now who Justin Freeman is.

These eight elements, metaphor, movement, theme, main character, main character’s foremost problem, setting, time frame, and main character’s name defines “The Crown.” All of this takes place on page one of the screenplay. Translated into movie minutes, this means in the first minute of “The Crown”, eight elements are shown that hook us into the movie.

The first and second elements, the metaphor and movement, cause us unconsciously to wonder why the butterfly is present, is, then exits, means. Something to muse over. The third element, the theme, gives us a subconcious idea about what “The Crown” is going to be about because we see this butterfly hovering over a headstone and a boy, and then fly away as though the spirit of the body in the grave left the grave. Letting go is something the boy is going to have to do if he is to grow as a human being. The fourth element shows us who the main character is. What does the red kerchief wrapped around his head as a headband mean? Is it some kind of identity statement? Perhaps a social comment? We want to learn more about him. The fifth element shows the main character’s foremost problem, he’s into cleaning his mother’s headstone. We know it’s got to be something loving about his connection to someone in the grave. And we know that he can’t go on like this, he’s only a boy. The sixth element, the setting, a cemetery, also is metaphorical. A cemetery is a place where human beings bury human beings who have died. It is a final resting place for them, freed from the bonds of life. The seventh element, the dates on the headstone and name, give us some idea of the time frame of this movie and who is buried in the grave. Being made aware of that visually gives us a source of reference to the main character. The eighth element, the boy’s name, helps us put a name with the boy and link him to the person in the grave. The last name, “Freeman”, also gives a hint of the theme, letting go.

So, the next time you watch a movie, look for elements that hook you into the movie. Make notes. Analyze them the next day. You’ll be amazed at how subtle, but yet, how informative the first minute of well-written movies are. Write your screenplays with the same art and craft and you’ll increase your opportunity to sell and get your screenplays produced.

“The Blue Man”

Hello Everyone!

“The Blue Man” is a film produced and directed by Istanbul
Producer/Director Utku Celtic. It is a story about a man
who sets out to save himself after he is imprisoned for
being a spy. Facing execution, he races the clock to
prove his innocence while handcuffed to a bed.

I was a writing consultant on the film.

You can watch the short teaser. It is chilling and
suspenseful to say the least:

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
The Zen of Writing & Screenwriting
“The Blue Man”


“How To Get Into Screenwriting”
Donald L. Vasicek

Getting into screenwriting requires a variety of steps. Step one is to learn how to write scripts. There are a number of books in book stores and online that show you how to write scripts. Most bookstores and on online sell some of the more popular books that teach you how to write scripts. They include “How To Write A Movie In 21 Days” by Viki King, “Screenplay” and “The Screenwriter’s Workbook” by Syd Field, “Writing Screenplays That Sell” by Michael Hague, “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier”, “Screenwriting 434” by Lew Hunter, etc.

Many local colleges and universities have scriptwriting classes that teach how to write scripts. Major colleges and universities like New York University, UCLA, the University of Southern California and the University of Colorado have curriculums which give the prospective screenwriter classes on screenwriting. Scriptwriting groups, associations and organizations exist in many cities that can help you learn the basics of screenwriting. Check with your state and/or local film commission to find a list of these gatherings.

Step number two is to write the script. Study movies that interest you because it is likely those are the kinds of movies that you are going to be writing and if you want to sell your scripts and get them produced. Rent movies. Outline each scene. Learn the genre format of movies that have been produced. Incorporate this format into your scripts. If you have problems doing this, it is possible that your movie idea would better written as a short story or a novel.

Plan on rewriting your scripts until they fit the passion you have for what you are writing. In other words, look inside of yourself and find out why you are interested in writing the script you want to write. Answer the questions, what brought this idea to your mind, who was involved, where were you at the time, when was it and how did you come up with the idea? You must honestly answer these questions so that you can get your characters, the story and your passion for the character and story down right in the script. Once you have convinced yourself that you have rewritten your script to the best of your ability, then go to step three.

Step number three is to hire a script consultant. You can find script consultants online as well as in the library in film directories and publications. Be sure and hire a professional script consultant, one who has had experience being produced as a screenwriter. If you are writing a screenplay (movie scripts are usually referred to as screenplays) make sure the script consultant you hire has a background in feature movie screenplays. If you are writing a teleplay (television scripts are usually referred to as teleplays), be certain the script consultant you have has a background in television. Script consultants can cost $150 and up.

Step number four is that once you have your script as fine-tuned as possible based on your work with the script consultant, then register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America and/or have it copyrighted with the Library of Congress. You can find information on how to contact these organizations in your library or online.

Step number five is to market your script. Get a copy of “The Hollywood Creative Directory for Agents” and “The Hollywood Creative Directory for Producers.” You can find these publications in your library, online and in film publications. Call the agencies, ask them if you can pitch your script to an agent, or if you can send them a query letter. If they ask you to send them a query letter, make sure you get someone’s name you can address it to. Call producers simulatenously as you call agents. Ask them if you can pitch your screenplay to them. They will tell you what to do from that point forward. Should agencies and/or producers ask to see your script, send it to them. Give them one month to respond to you. If they don’t respond in one month, call them and ask them if they received your script and for an update on it if they did receive it.

Step number six is to network. Check film production companies and producers locally, in Los Angeles (Los Angeles is the heart of the film business in the world), and in New York to see if you can get a job in the mail room (working in a film production mail room creates the opportunity to meet people who can be helpful to your scriptwriting career)or another entry level job. You can also work as an intern for most film companies which is an excellent way of meeting people in the film business. The film business is a people business, so networking is vital. You can also find scriptwriting seminars, workshops, conferences, etc. listed in references in your library that you can attend to learn about scriptwriting as well as meeting people who work in the film industry.

As you can see, there are a variety of methods you can employ to get into screenwriting. The fine point of getting into screenwriting, however, is you need to be creative, ambitious, possess a willingness to work hard, be professional and have a hard shell as a protective covering for the emotional peaks and valleys that you will experience. That is the nature of the film business.