Writing a Movie Script — Film Is Not Just a Visual Medium

If you are a comedy writer, one of the best things you can do to expand your film literacy and learn more about writing a movie script – and to really focus on the art of joke writing at the same time – is to, whether you’re riding on the subway or driving around in your car, just listen to the audio of a movie instead of watching it. This allows you to really focus on capturing the nuances of how people speak, which is something that a lot of beginning writers struggle with when writing a movie script. If we’re really being honest, even most experienced screenwriters will tell you that dialogue is the hardest thing for them to get down.

While I would primarily recommend this exercise for those of you who want to focus on writing comedies, it can also be useful if you want to work in a genre in which the dialogue is heavily stylized and supposed to “sound a certain way.” Think crime movies mainly – you wouldn’t think it was realistic if cops and criminals spoke the same way everyone else does, right?

To Commentary or Not to Commentary?
One of the best things that happened with the advent of new types of home media being available (DVD and Blu-Ray) is that, for the first time, we, as the viewer, were able to get some insight from actors, writers, and directors on what went into the creative process, including writing a movie script and how they ended up making the finished film that we just got done watching. The process became like a sort of informal film school lecture (provided your film school had working, big name directors who came to guest lecture there), and for those who were so inclined to sit through the commentaries or behind the scenes featurettes, there was a lot of information to be gleaned from the process. In fact, Robert Rodriguez has been quite successful when he does these features on his DVD’s, entitling them “10 Minute Film School,” of which he has done several.

Here is the main thing you have to consider when listening to the commentary – is the person who is speaking a writer on the movie you just watched? If not, the commentary may not be all that useful to you, and you would probably be better served by doing one of the other exercises that I previously listed. The reason that I say this is that is that there are more than a few directors (David Fincher and Ridley Scott immediately come to mind) who have never written a screenplay before, and so while their commentary may be useful to those who want to learn more about directing, you won’t actually learn much about writing a movie script from listening to those commentary tracks, because those directors don’t actually participate in that process.
In short, learning about writing a movie script is like, well, taking the time to learn about any other sort of skill – self-education is great, but if you can find an experienced screenwriter to act as a teacher in the form of a commentary track that they’ve recorded or a book that they’ve written about their process, even better.