This week’s posts have been about the craft of screenwriting. Screenwriting is primarily a visual medium; its main goal is to translate the text into visuals for the screen. This means that technically, a person should be able to watch a film without sound and have a general idea about what’s taking place.
The Exercise – Part One
Find a movie you’ve never seen – thousands are on all the streaming services, and YouTube has movies free with ads – and watch the first 30 minutes of the movie WITHOUT SOUND. That’s right. Mute that TV or device. You’re just watching the visuals presented on the screen.
Write down what you see and what you think the story is.
Who are the characters? Can you tell what their relationships are based on their body language and performances?
What’s the location of the story (if you’re given a graphic that tells you where the setting is, what visual cues make it clear that that’s where the film is set?)?
Can you figure out what the basic premise of the story is after the first 30 minutes? What’s happened in that time? What has changed for the main character or characters? Was it clear based on the visuals?
Based on what you’ve seen in silence, do the visuals make you want to keep watching?
Now, watch again with the sound on. How accurate were your notes? Were the film’s visuals effective and strong enough to convey the story, setting, and characters without the audio elements?
Watch the rest of the movie – hopefully you picked a shorter film and not an epic – muted, taking notes and working to see if you can discern how the rest of the story unfolds through the visuals only.
Then, watch the film with the sound and see how accurate your notes were.
We watch movies for the visual experience, so it’s important as a screenwriter to understand the impact that quality visual description can have on the final produced product. By writing and crafting a strong visual narrative, you can then use dialogue to enhance the story rather than carry it completely.
Remember: You want to show the audience the story, not tell them about it.
Happy viewing, and I’ll see you next time!