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Ask Scriptologist: Letters to the Editor

Characters, Scenes and Visual Effects


I have been reading and studying various styles of screenplays from famous writers. My question is whether I should limit the number of characters, scenes, and other visual effects in my screenplay.  I understand that motion picture companies are interested in completing projects on budget and on schedule. Any opinions would be appreciated.                                 

—Alan J. Heekin
    New Jersey

Glenn Bossik, Editor-in-Chief:
It’s a good idea to use only a handful of characters in your screenplay. Every story contains secondary characters, but you should focus your energy on developing your protagonist (hero) and defining his relationship with his love interest and the antagonist (villain).

Remember to make your script a character-driven story. By focusing on events that have shaped the life of your protagonist, you will create a compelling story. You will also find it easier to eliminate unnecessary and expensive special effects. The majority of the scenes in films such as 12 Angry Men and Cube take place in only one location.

If you can limit all the scenes in your screenplay to one or two locations, you can shoot your own feature film. You’ll be able to complete the production and postproduction process on a fairly low budget. This is also the era of digital filmmaking, so live your dream by making your own film. You’ll be glad you did.


Acquiring the Rights to a Book


How can I acquire the film rights to a  book?  I am a first-time writer who would like to adapt an old, obscure novel that has never been translated for the screen. Should I  contact the book publisher, a literary agent, or someone else?  I would appreciate any advice you can give me!

—Eric Ehmann

Glenn Bossik, Editor-in-Chief:
Ask yourself whether you can set the events of the novel in the present time. It can be very difficult for an aspiring screenwriter to interest directors, producers, and agents in period pictures. These films require a large investment. If you believe you can successfully adapt the novel into a present-day story, contact the book publisher regarding the acquisition of rights. For more information about acquiring rights, you should read Alan Rosenthal’s excellent book, Writing Docudrama.


Screenwriting Classes


Are there any relatively cheap online screenwriting courses available? I have a lot of ideas for screenplays. Also, can you tell me which book would help a beginning screenwriter learn how to structure and plan a screenplay?

—Aidan Lucid

Glenn Bossik, Editor-in-Chief:
There are quite a few Web sites offering online screenwriting classes, including I haven’t gotten much feedback about the value of such classes, but I can recommend several high-quality sources of screenwriting information. Visit to learn more about the e-book, DVDs, and seminars offered by Screenwriter Chris Soth, writer of the hit film, Firestorm. You should also read David Trottier’s book, The Screenwriter’s Bible. And last but certainly not least is the Exercise Series, a step-by-step guide that enables screenwriters to master character development, plot structure, and dialogue.

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