What Makes a Great Screenplay?

What Makes a Great Screenplay?

The first and most important element in the film industry is the screenplay. The script’s the thing, wherein we’ll capture the conscience of the king, suggests Shakespeare in Hamlet. And he’s not wrong!

Writing screenplays is very similar to writing books. Once you have the story, you then set about structuring it so that the audience are riveted to their seats at every twist and turn in the story. But what is the structure we should use? How can a professional reader recognise a well thought out, well structured screenplay, compared to an unstructured story written using just the conventional tools of screenwriting? The truth is, they can’t unless they are an experienced reader. But we don’t want to worry about that, do we?

Script and story structure has its origins in the works of Homer who planned a series of episodes constructed into what satisfies us in a story. The Odyssey and Illiad were performed theatrically over a weekend or so, and were presented as a series of sounds, music and oral communications interpreted by a story-teller or actor/s to capture the attention of an audience right to the very end. Clearly, audiences couldn’t concentrate continuously for 48+ hours, so intermissions were built in to allow people to refresh themselves in order to continue with the presentation.

Over time, it was understood that people were capable of remaining engaged continuously for a maximum of about two hours, and so consequently, stories were written and presented with this length in mind. Within this two hour framework, mini breaks were introduced within the plot with music, dance, mime and lyricism, all aimed at entertaining whilst keeping the viewer hooked into the storyline.

The culmination of this strategic thinking, was the torrent of theatrical presentations produced during the heights of Classical Greece which lead to the annual festival of theatrical plays at Epidaurus judged at how well they pleased this demanding and discerning audience. Aristotle was fascinated by how just one story or just one playwright could dominate desirability and the festival and win first prize nearly every time and so he used his phenomenal brain to analyse exactly what it was which people were going crazy over and how the scriptwriter was achieving this frenzy.

We at Media Courses recognise the structures strictly followed by successful film makers and adhered to by Hollywood and international distributors and have produced a course which focusses on these structures and it hopes to teach the methodology of this success to students of screenwriting who also wish to succeed.

We run this course from offices in Central Athens near to the Lyceum of Aristotle and we market the course as a three day “screenwriting retreat” where reflection should pay substantial dividends. As you might imagine the structures identified by Aristotle are the same structures which are consistently identified with success and so this will constitute the core study. After the September retreat, there’s another one at the beginning of February 2018 in London to help you with your New Year’s resolution of scriptwriting success, learning and understanding. The tutor also offers a complimentary copy of his magnificent translation of Aristotle’s On Poetics to students who attend his course. We look forward to seeing you either in Athens or London.