Some find the typical avenues for learning to become a professional screenwriter unappealing. Professors know the craft and can certainly pass on those fundamentals every writer needs to have in their repertoire. Yet, they speak mostly from an academic perspective with little crossover into the industry themselves and a basis of knowledge founded in the teachings and conventions of decades gone by. Similarly, the polished, attractive ‘Masterclass’-style presentations by industry insiders are typically run by the most respected and appealingly artistic of auteur writers. Hardly a practical source for know-how on making it in a media landscape fighting for the attention of a waning public.

Writing On A Time Crunch

Consider watching this video from Vanity Fair, uploaded on the 30th of April 2017, wherein the publication challenges screenwriter Emily Carmichael to write a full scene on camera within seven minutes. Carmichael is a writer working within the studio system, on the most stringently governed of mass appeal blockbusters, Jurassic World: Dominion (a film she was in the process of writing as this video was being recorded). However, for this experiment, Carmichael writes based on a basic prompt that illustrates how a professional screenwriting incorporates setting, props, character work, dialogue and action into a scene on a time crunch (remember a golden rule: the job of the first draft is not to be good, but to be written).

Her prompt reads:
1. The year is 2048.
2. The main character has to encounter her old colleague at her local protein depository.
3. There must be an object inside his jacket.
4. The scene must lead to a chase sequence.
The characters are Haley (35) and Glenn (66).

Beyond practical notes on how instructions are incorporated into a script (or how to reduce clutter for those reading your script, i.e. through parentheticals or simplifying lines into single, punchy sentences), Carmichael gives insights into how she maintains productivity in an artistic field. For one, she’ll often begin a writing session by listing her goals for the scene and/or day, and begin by fleshing the moment, image or idea she finds most interesting, before circling back to fill the gaps. This not only bolsters an early creative frisson, but brings a degree of satisfaction in visualizing your progress, rather than working uphill continuously.

After writing her scene over the course of seven minutes, Carmichael receives requests for rewrites, in an approximation of studio notes. Her second draft is dedicated to fleshing out her characters through action, sneaking in suggestions for communicating non-verbal character moments through her image system without directly instructing the director. Suddenly, the studio requests that a new character (the Doctor)
enter the scene to fulfil a contractual agreement. With three and a half minutes on the clock, Carmichael incorporates the character and introduces a prop that can be organically integrated into the chase sequence.

Carmichael makes swift work of the demands in this simulation, and, realistically, her example is one to follow for anyone with an eye for surviving the film industry.

Watch a Screenwriter Construct a Scene in 7 Minutes