Keys to the Craft: Read Scripts

Essential to read screenplays to study style, tone, feel, structure, pace…

If you want to learn the craft of screenwriting, here are five practices you need to adopt:

Think Concepts. Watch Movies. Read Scripts. Write Pages. Live Life.

Monday, I wrote about Think Concepts.

Yesterday: Watch Movies.

Today: Read Scripts.

Look, I get it. I know you don’t like to read scripts. I experience a monthly reminder of this every time we do a GITS Script Reading & Analysis where it’s largely empty echoes, whistling winds and tumbling tumbleweeds around these here parts.

I’m pretty damn sure you don’t want to hear me yammer on about this subject.

BUT YAMMER I WILL!!!

Why? Because there may be no single more important practice to learn the craft of screenwriting than reading scripts.

  • Classic scripts: A great place to start: The WGA 101 list. For a wider range, there are sites like SimplyScripts.
  • Spec scripts: It behooves you to read and analyze spec scripts that have sold within the last year or two in order to stay on top of narrative and stylistic trends.
  • Any scripts: Unproduced, even bad ones. You can learn something from all scripts, even amateur ones.

When you read scripts on a regular basis, you start to intuit narrative patterns. You pick up a sense of how to write scenes. You mature your ear for dialogue. You see a variety of different writing styles. You get ideas of your own. You learn how the pros do it. And in the case of recent selling spec scripts, you track what Hollywood is buying.

There is real value in reading scripts.

And now it’s time to bore you with an Old Fart story.

Before I wrote the spec script K-9, I read four things: Syd Fields book “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting,” and three scripts: Witness, Back to the Future and Breaking Away.

Apart from having seen thousands of movies in my lifetime and a couple of cinema courses at UVA, that was the extent of my screenwriting education.

When Universal bought K-9 and I officially broke into the business, I knew I had a lot of catching up to do if I had any chance of staying in the business.

One thing I did: Get my hands on every script I could to read and analyze.

Now back in those days, there were no PDF scripts. The Internet was orange juice cans, a series of tubes, duct tape and dial-up modems powered at 28.8 bps.

If you wanted to find a script, you had to go out and search for it. Physically. Like actual feet on ground, hand to hand.

My main resources: Assistants and writers. The former I sweet talked for the latest specs and production drafts. The latter like a cult, meeting at coffee shops and street corners, swapping scripts like semi-holy relics. Once I got hold of an actual screenplay, I had to take it to a Kinko’s and have it copied, then return the original.

Okay, there was no trudging five miles through thick snow, fending off wolves. But still, do you have any idea what a pain in the ass that was?

Cut to today where you can find almost any script you want online with a few keystrokes.

So if there’s an edge to my post today, it’s this: Writers today have it so easy. Therefore why is it so hard to get them read scripts?

Needless to say, I will continue with my yammering.

Read. Scripts. Damn. It.

Tomorrow: Write Pages.

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Keys to the Craft: Read Scripts was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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