What Journalists Know & Screenwriters Need

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Summary: The skill sets journalists practice every day are essential to the screenwriter as well.

I am a huge fan of Hollywood writer, John August. He- and quite a few others as well- got his start not in film school, but in journalism, and hold that this background was instrumental to his transition into the Biz.

In light of that knowledge, we must ask: What is it about having this background that equips writers to craft such riveting screenplays?

Journalists have the ability to tell a good story well and within an economy of space and time.

They don’t have the luxury of fleshing out a story with flowery language and massive exposition. They have a picayune box on a newspaper or computer screen in which to insert their article. That’s it. That’s all they have to nab an audience’s attention, to make them care about what is written down.

Screenplays are similar. Unlike novels, they often can’t dive into each character’s thought processes. They can’t linger on Dickensonian details about setting. Screenwriters have even more of a handicap than journalists do, because their scripts are not meant to be viewed by the public, but rather to be pitched to a film crew, which in turn will build upon their idea like a blueprint.

So that is what screenplays are not. But what are they?

They are the Five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why? Who are my characters? What are they doing? Where are they doing it? When are they doing it? And why are they doing it?

Each scene must reference these questions, hit them hard and fast, and move on. (Giving leeway based on target genre and tone.)

When done right, the pace set by the screenwriter makes the audience yearn for the next scene, to feel, as the credits roll, like they experienced something they want to share.

I am an adventurer, still getting his sea legs in the wide ocean of Cinematica. The more I internalize this compass of thought, the better my scripts have become. So, I invite you to take this  idea and use it to explore excellence and shape stories that excite, inspire, and engage. Happy sailing!

Blessings to you in Christ,

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