How to Write Movie Scenes

Ransom Riggs

Ever wondered how screenwriters do their thing? Lots of people have, and there's a whole genre of books out there devoted to helping up-and-comers understand the arcane art of movie-writing. Despite all the screenwriting panels and workshops and books and DVD commentaries in the world -- all the billions of words printed about screenwriting and how it's done -- when it comes down to it, most writers are relatively private about the nitty-gritty of their process.

That's why I love reading John August's blog. August's credits include Big Fish, Go, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Prince of Persia and Corpse Bride, among others (so he's definitely not one of the many screenwriting book authors or teachers with flimsy/ancient credits) and one of the best things about his blog are the videos he's been making. They're essentially long-form screen captures of John writing or editing scenes, and talking as he does it. It really gets you into the mind-flow of a writer to watch what he types as he types it -- mistakes and all -- and I think it's often better than any screenwriting book/class/whatever. One of my favorites is his most recent, in which he takes a scene from a screenplay written by a fellow at one of last year's Sundance labs (in which promising young folk come and work on their material with bigshot industry mentors) and makes it, to my mind anyway, better. (The scene was written by Lance Edmand, from a yet-unfilmed movie called Bluebird.)

So here's how to take a good scene and make it better. It takes eighteen minutes -- that's fast for a scene rewrite! But hey, that's why he gets the big bucks.

Writing better dialogue from John August on Vimeo.