Professor Julia Keefer's Screenwriting Online


Course Objectives: Screenwriting II is a minimal course-- that is in terms of instruction, outside input and data smog. It is maximal in terms of your output, focus and discipline.You should already have analyzed film structure by reviewing films and reading screenplays, learned terminology, and become familiar with screenwriting software such as Final Draft. Now is the time to develop your story, listen to your imagination and create a style and structure unique to your talent that still conforms to the rules and regulations of the industry to which you are eventually selling.

The goal is to actually write a screenplay in one semester, although we will be happy if you just do a rough draft with the major plot points and an effective treatment. This is the time to develop confidence in your voice as a writer, to listen to what you have to say, to adhere to a weekly work schedule, however limited. Some of you will have the time and energy to complete a first draft; others may only get as far as a story with a few scenes and a short treatment. Although I can be very entertaining as a professor, this is not the time for me to entertain you: this is a workshop in the true sense of the word, a time for you to search your souls and come up with a story that is dying to be born. I have divided the 14 weeks into a schedule that gives deadlines for the various plot points so that you come up with a rough draft in record time. However, not everyone creates the same way so if your creativity pushes you into a different schedule, go with the flow, but try to submit an assignment every week, however small. If you are very busy and can only write one scene or a few pages of narrative, so be it, but write something every week. Learn to be tolerant of your imperfections and limitations while trying to achieve your loftier goals.

In terms of class participation, every student should go into the Digital Dropbox every week and mark up each of their classmates' scripts with red comments-- as if you were the teacher. At the end, write comments, suggestions and ask questions. When you submit your own work each week to the dropbox, include questions you want answered by the professor and your classmates. It is important for you to read each other's scripts and make comments every week. It takes time but it gives you a break from your work and allows you to see what works and what doesn't more objectively. I have a number of lectures on my world wide web site about various aspects of screenwriting. You can also consult Chris Vogler, Robert McKee, Syd Field, Linda Seger or any of the other required books which should be near your computer and your bed as constant reference manuals. If you are having trouble opening your script or constructing a crisis/climax, read these books again and again on those topics, let their ideas simmer, and then listen to your own voice until your own climax erupts. You don't have to blindly follow the rules-- just know them well, and then see where your imagination and will lead you.

If you are having trouble understanding what is involved in PP1 or some other landmark, ask the question at the beginning of your assignment submission and I will respond. Every week I will review all your assignments, make comments and suggestions, analyse the progress of the class in general, make suggestions for the next week's assignment, and do responsive, explanatory lectures on any aspect of screenwriting that puzzles you, in response to specific questions on your script. I will point to my internet lectures, chapters in the reference books, or specific scenes in the screenplays to help you. At the end of the semester, if there is enough interest, we will have a cyberperformance with readings of your turning point scenes and pitches of your treatments, a time to meet and bring what you've written to life in meatspace. In order to schedule a cyberperformance however, I must have enough interested participants and actors to read the scripts. Since many of you live all over the globe, we could also hook you up synchronously if there is time and interest and enough people in the Manhattan area.

This course from NYU's Digital College will be using Keefer web sites, NYU's Epsilen, Internet sources, screenwriting manuals, Final Draft or other software.

Course Requirements: This is a workshop where the final objective is a first draft of an original script; therefore the main goal is to make you spend as much lonely time as possible writing. Make sure you submit assignments every week, make comments on all of your classmates' work, ask questions, discuss problems, but let's not spend so much time chatting that we don't get down to writing!!

Screenwriting versus Personal Writing

Screenwriting Structures

Conventional Dramaturgy

Experiments in TimeSpace

The Biological Rhythms of Drama

Keefer's Advanced Sequencing

Collaboration: Shish Kebob or Bouillabaise? How many people does it take to sharpen dialogue, beef up dramatic logic, appeal to women and children, develop back stories, heighten suspense, and make the jokes funnier? Just you for now with criticism from peers and professor.

Course Breakdown

The course requirements are to submit scenes in Final Draft to the Drop Box before Thursday 9 am every week which will grow into your screenplay. In another document, submit your Growing Outline. A sample outline is in Resources. Read each others' scenes and outlines and then visit each others' blogs to comment on that week's work. The comments should be made some time over the weekend. The following ten-week program is only a suggestion. You do not have to follow this order because everyone works in a different way. As long as you are submitting scenes and the outline to the Drop Box and posting at least one comment in everyone's forum that is fine.

January 24: First assignment due.

January 31: Scenes and Outline.

February 7: Scenes and Outline.

February 14: Scenes and Outline.

February 21: Scenes and Outline.

February 28: Scenes and Outline.

March 7: MIDTERM. Revise and develop major scenes so that they fit together in one draft. Organize and edit your outline so far.

March 14: Peer Reviews, Self-Evaluation, Plans for Development and Research.

Spring Break

March 28: Scenes and Outline.

April 4: Scenes and Outline.

April 11: Scenes and Outline.

April 18: Scenes and Outline.

April 23: Scenes and Outline.

April 30: Review Scenes and Perfect Outline. Review peers' scripts.

May 2: Draft of Final Screenplay

May 9: Final Screenplay


Week ONE: Let's hear your story in whatever form it is simmering-- anything from a few pages of prose to a rough draft in Final Draft. Since this is probably your first attempt at writing a full script, jump in and go for it without finding all the things that could be wrong. The objective of the course is to develop the focus and commitment to visualize and write a full screenplay. Don't be too critical or perfectionistic. Just find a story you are dying to tell and then stick to it even if your ardor cools. That's where the commitment part comes in. After you submit your story, read your colleagues' papers and write down your responses.

Week TWO: Make sure you can write scenes with Final Draft or comparable software so that you are comfortable with screenwriting format. How does your movie open? Write as many of the first few scenes as you can, creating your world, so that we can see, smell, taste and feel it. Write SCENES up to the inciting incident and then describe its relationship to the crisis/climax in expository prose.

Week THREE: Now that you have some idea of your dramatic structure, let's really get to know your main characters. Let's see bios of at least 3 of them--protagonist and antagonists.

Week FOUR: Let's see your sequencing for at least one act. You can do preliminary drafts on colored index cards but put them into Final Draft or whatever software you use. Imagine the shot at the end of one scene and the first shot of the next, although do NOT do shot by shot technique. Vary the dynamics, rhythm, orchestration as if you were composing a musical score. Are you building successfully to your plot points?

Week FIVE: Now everyone type FADE IN and write the first 12 pages. How are you introducing the characters? Are you using images and sequencing to tell your story and dialogue to heighten emotion-- make audience laugh, cry, get frightened or turned on? Are you turning "exposition into ammunition" as Robert McKee would say?

Week SIX: Write down scenes for Plot Point One, Midpoint and PP2 so you have guideposts for the meat of your story.

Week SEVEN: Write your crisis/climax out in full and see how it relates to the inciting incident.. Step back, look at everything you have written, and write a longer preliminary treatment. What changes need to be made? It's better to change now, restructure and resequence instead of rewriting this script for the next ten years. Remember you are paid for your story and structure more than for your words.

Week EIGHT: Sequence as much of the second and third acts as possible, rewriting the plot point scenes.

Week NINE: Write your last act even if you have some holes in the middle.

Week TEN: Submit completed script or rough outline with plot point scenes and treatment. Review your colleagues' scripts.


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