Screenplays are serious business: What it says in the script

Once Upon a Time“Pilot”. Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz.

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.
—  Robert DeNiro hitting it on the head about writers, at the 2014 Oscars
Podcasts, Videos, and Books for Screenwriters from Syd Field and Others

Syd Field is one of my (C) favorite screenwriting gurus. For those of you looking for some guidance with your screenplays, check out these references from one of American’s foremost screenwriting authorities!




I think we can all agree that Syd Field is pretty great, but he isn’t the final word in screenwriting. Take a look at these bonus videos to learn more about the craft and industry of screenwriting!


Favorite Endings Based on Screenplays —> UP final scene screenplay.

Here’s another one of my favorites, because its so heartwarming. The greatest part of this screenplay are the words “just as Ellie imagined it” because it makes me so happy to think that Carl finally was able to give Ellie what she wanted, and we also see that he is finally happy as well. And this has nothing to do with anything, but I love the word DIRIGIBLE for reasons I can’t explain. 


One of the first things I say when asked for advice on how to write screenplays is “Read them”. Read lots of screenplays. Lots and lots and lots.

You can learn so much from reading screenplays, so I think for the next few weekends I’m going to post links to whatever I’m reading at the time. Today I’m working on a new pilot, so here are 70 pilots for you to get your teeth into. I tried to give a mix of everything, so hopefully you’ll be able to find something that works for you. (Also, this took barely any time at all compared to finding 50 featuring women.) See the rest of my screenplay collection here.

30 Rock (2006)

American Horror Story (2011)

Arrow (2012)

Ashes to Ashes (UK, 2008)

Awake (2012)

Awkward (2011)

Bates Motel (2013)

Being Human (UK, 2008)

Breaking Bad (2008)

Bunheads (2012)

Castle (2009)

Community (2009)

Desperate Housewives (2004)

Dexter (2006)

Dirty Sexy Money (2007)

Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 (2012)

Elementary (2012)

Freaks and Geeks (1999)

Friday Night Lights (2006)

Fringe (2008)

Gilmore Girls (2000)

Gossip Girl (2007)

Grimm (2011)

Hannibal (2013)

Heroes (2006)

House (2004)

House of Cards (2013)

In the Flesh (UK, 2013)

Life on Mars (UK, 2006)

Lost (2004)

Masters of Sex (2013)

Merlin (2008)

Mockingbird Lane (2012)

Modern Family (2009)

New Girl (2011)

Nikita (2010)

Once Upon A Time (2011)

Orange is the New Black (2013)

Orphan Black (2013)

Parks and Recreation (2009)

Pretty Little Liars (2010)

Pushing Daisies (2007)

Reign (2013)

Ripper Street (UK, 2012)

Scandal (2012)

Scrubs (2001)

Sleepy Hollow (2013)

Smallville (2001)

Sons of Anarchy (2008)

Suburgatory (2011)

Supernatural (2005)

Teen Wolf (2011)

Terra Nova (2011)

The Big Bang Theory (2007)

The Borgias (2011)

The Fades (UK, 2011)

The Good Wife (2009)

The Hour (UK, 2011)

The Middle (2009)

The Millers (2013)

The Mindy Project (2012)

The O.C. (2003)

The Tomorrow People (2013)

The Vampire Diaries (2009)

The Walking Dead (2010)

Ugly Betty (2006)

Under the Dome (2013)

Veronica Mars (2004)

Wilfred (US, 2011)

Wonderfalls (2004)

Screenwriting Blogs and Posts

birds-in-my-sleeves asked: Any blog recs for screenwriting?

Here are some useful posts for you. (The first link even answers your question!)

Thank you for your question!


Screenwriters read screenplays - Musicals!

This took me far longer than I’d like to admit, but here are 25 links to a range of musical screenplays from 1933-2013. Enjoy!

See the rest of my screenplay collection here.

8 Mile (2002)


All That Jazz (1979)


Anastasia (1997)


Burlesque (2010)


Cabaret (1972)


Duck Soup (1933)


Frozen (2013)


Honeydripper (2007)


Labyrinth (1986)


Les Miserables (2012)


The Lion King (1994)


Moulin Rouge! (2001)


Nashville (1975)


Newsies (1992)


The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)


Nine (2009)


Pitch Perfect (2012)


The Producers (1967)


The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)


Singin’ in the Rain (1952)


Sister Act (1992)


South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)


White Christmas (1954)


The Wizard of Oz (1939)


As filmmakers one of the best resources that we have is the work of others. This work can come in many formats from classic films, to musical scores, to just about any other work of art that is relevant to this medium. For many of us though, the most powerful resource that we can tap into are screenplays. Reading screenplays not only makes you a better writer, but it allows you to have a deeper understanding of the rest of the creative process. It will put into perspective how every other element of the film fell into place as a result of the screenplay – for better or for worse. I’ve read some amazing scripts that ended up being terrible films, and to me this is one of the best ways of learning what not to do. Or conversely, I’ve read some terrible scripts that became masterpiece works of art thanks to changes that were made on set, great direction, fantastic casting, and a powerful score. 

Each year before the Oscars, studios go through the process of submitting films for consideration to the Academy, and recently some of those screenplays have started to pop up online and become available. I’ve made 8 of those screenplays available for download.

If anyone needs a monologue or has been looking for these scripts

These are full scripts. The ones that have an * by them are transcripts


Bad Boys


Boys N the Hood *

A Bronx Tale

Devil in a Blue Dress

Do the Right Thing

Enemy of the State

He Got Game

Higher Learning

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

Glory Road

The Great Debaters *

Jason’s Lyric


Love and Basketball

Malcolm X



Poetic Justice

Save the Last Dance

Sister Act

Sister Act 2 *

Soul Food *

The Wiz *

You can find more here and there

by Syd Field

At this moment in time, I think we’re in the middle of a screenwriting revolution, a time where screenwriters are pushing the form and craft in new directions. I firmly believe that the traditional way of “seeing things” has changed, and we’re looking for new ways to match our experiences and incorporate the new technology into our stories.

In terms of the contemporary screenplay, it seems like we want to get closer to the subjective reality of our characters. Take a look at Atonement, The Lookout, Babel, The Bourne Supremacy, Kill Bill I & II, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, and many others.

This revolution/evolution in screenwriting seems to be based on the new visual awareness of how we see the world. We know the popularity of screenwriting and filmmaking is an integral part of our culture. If you look at MySpace and other sites, everybody is, or wants to be, a filmmaker. Write a script, get a digital tape recorder, film it, upload it onto your computer, edit it with IPro Edit, add some special CGI effects, lay in some music, and you have a film you can email to your friends and family. With the dramatic rise of wireless technology we have certainly evolved, and are continuing to evolve, in the way we see things.

If you look at the way the flashback was used in a film like Casablanca (Julius & Philip Epstein), measure it against the fragmented flashbacks in Ordinary People (Alvin Sargent) and then compare both of these films with the fragmented strands of memory integrated into The Bourne Supremacy or Atonement, you’ll see a visual evolution in terms of style and execution.

The flashbacks in Casablanca show that magical time in Paris when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) met and fell in love. The flashback scenes showing them in Paris are simply a linear series of complete scenes inserted into the narrative flow of the storyline.

Comparing the cinematic language of The Bourne Supremacy, Ordinary People andAtonement is an interesting exercise. In cinematic terms, the visual attributes are impressive, and the way the action and the characters are expressed makes the films more of a subjective experience. As Tony Gilroy writes in The Bourne Supremacy, Bourne holds a gun to Nicky’s head “about to pull the trigger –SUDDENLY — FLASHBACK! a moment – a shard – A WOMAN’S FACE – backing away – begging – begging us – begging the camera – PLEADING FOR HER LIFE IN RUSSIAN – this awful blur of desperation and panic – fear – too fast – too panicked” and then we cut back to present time. This tone, this style, has become the new version of the modern screenplay. In Atonement, the flashback, or memory, is seen from two distinct points of view, the same thing Tarantino did in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill or Scott Frank did inThe Lookout.

Which raises the question, when is it appropriate to use a flashback in the storyline? I hear this all the time in many of the workshops and seminars I conduct around the world. When does it work the best and when is it the most effective?

Flashbacks are a tool, a device, where the screenwriter provides the reader and audience with visual information that he or she cannot incorporate into the screenplay any other way. The purpose of the flashback is simple: it is a technique that bridges time, place and action to reveal information about the character, or move the story forward.

Many times, a writer throws a flashback into the screenplay because he or she doesn’t know how to move the story forward any other way. Sometimes, the screenwriter decides to show something about the main character that could be better stated in dialogue, and, in that case, the flashback only draws attention to itself and becomes intrusive. That doesn’t work.

Look at the flashback as a tool that could be used to reveal information about the character or story that you can’t reveal any other way. It can reveal emotional as well as physical information; it can reveal thoughts, memories or dreams, like what happened in Berlin that Jason Bourne is trying to remember, or the drowning incident in Ordinary People or the memories of the Paris love scenes in Casablanca.

Flashbacks are really a function of character, not story. Waldo Salt, great screenwriter of Coming Home and Midnight Cowboy, told me that he thought a flashback should be thought of as a “flashpresent,” because the visual image we’re seeing is what the character is thinking and feeling at that present moment, whether a memory, or fantasy, or event; a flashpresent, he remarked, is anything that illuminates a character’s point of view. Take a look at the hockey scene in the first Act of The Lookout. What we see in flashback is shown through the eyes of the character, so we’re seeing what he or she is seeing, thinking or feeling in present time, at this particular place or time. The flashpresent is anything we see the character thinking and feeling in the present moment, whether a thought, dream, memory, or fantasy, for time has no constraints or limits. In the mind of the main character there is no time and the flashpresent could be a particular moment in the past or present, perhaps even the future.

Which brings us back to the basic question: when is it appropriate to use a flashback? The purpose of flashback is to either move the story forward or reveal information about the character.

You can use flashbacks for any number of reasons but its primary purpose is to bridge time, place and action to reveal a past emotional event or physical conflict that affects the character. Sometimes, it gives insight and understanding into a character’s behavior or solves a past mystery as in The Lookout.

You can also use a flashback to reveal why an event happened, or how it happened, or possibly flashforward to an event that may or may not happen in the near future. These all are ways of incorporating the flashback into your screenplay and make it work effectively.

If you do decide to use a flashback, think in terms of the flashpresent; ask yourself what is your character thinking or feeling at the present moment? If you can get into your character’s head and find some thought, memory, or event which reflects on the present moment try to show how it affects your character.

In this way, you encourage a greater sense of character making your work deeper and more insightful.


Favorite Endings Based on Screenplays —> 500 Days of Summer

Ok, I know this scene is cheesy, but I just like the message behind it. It’s kind of like life goes on like the seasons. After summer comes autumn, and so on. Plus, I love the (500) to (1) change at the end. Life goes on and starts again.  

Screenwriters read screenplays - For Your Consideration 2015

Awards Season is upon us, which means that studios are releasing scripts for some of the best movies of the year. Here are the scripts released so far. As always, I’ll update as more become available.

UPDATES: A Most Violent Year, Into the Woods, Big Eyes, Dear White People, The Imitation Game

A Most Violent Year - J.C. Chandor


Belle - Misan Sagay


Big Eyes - Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski


Birdman - Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolás Giacobone, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Armando Bo


Boyhood - RIchard Linklater


Calvary - John Michael McDonagh


Dear White People - Justin Simien


Get On Up - John-Henry Butterworth, Jez Butterworth, and Steven Baigelman


Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn


Into the Woods - James Lapine


Kill the Messenger - Peter Landesman


Locke - Steven Knight


St. Vincent - Ted Melfi


The Boxtrolls - Adam Pava & Irena Brignull


The Fault in Our Stars - Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber


The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson


The Imitation Game - Graham Moore


The Theory of Everything - Anthony McCarten


Wild - Nick Hornby


See the rest of my screenplay collection here.