What Filmmaking Taught Me About Screenwriting

Hey everyone!

First post for 2023! I thought I’d kick off this year with a bit of a different one.

If you’ve been to my About Me page, you’ve probably noticed I mentioned doing a film degree. Naturally, this meant I got to make a few films. Not only that, but my friends and I used to make videos in our spare time too.

While I’ve stepped away now to focus on my screenwriting, I look back fondly on most of the work I got to be part of.

But recently, I started thinking: What did all those films teach me about screenwriting?

Screenwriting is more than just putting words to the page. You’re also considering how it’s going to play out visually. You’re writing for an actor to speak and become the words you put down. A screenplay ultimately is a blueprint.

So, I went back and thought about all the things I learnt from each of the big projects I helped make during my studies, and I wanted to share just what those lessons were.

Don’t Do Drugs

This was one of the first times I wrote a screenplay in the correct format (that part is key) that was set in a very other worldly environment. The film doesn’t utilise much dialogue, so the screenplay had to rely heavily on big print. I needed to ensure this big print clearly described what people were seeing. Not just because that’s Screenwriting 101, but I also wasn’t directing this film. So, I had to ensure the story was clear for the Director.

Given this was a uni assessment, I also allowed myself to be very specific in what I was describing. One line: ‘A dynamic background of blue and black’ almost feels like a direction. I wouldn’t write something quite that explicit in my current screenplays.

During post-production, we changed the opening from linear storytelling to a montage. Given this was done after filming, the screenplay reflects the original opening. Even though we made the change, there was no need to go back and rewrite the screenplay or refilm because we already had everything we needed to make the change in post.

Boarded

This was a very different project to write for because it was a sound design project. In the back of my mind when writing the script, I had to consider that everything in big print needed to be conveyed through audio alone. There were no visuals to support them.

Once the script was done, part of our assessment was to go analyse the script and highlight the different forms of audio. Yellow for dialogue, green for foley, blue for ambience, pink for special FX and purple for music. Doing this process helped me gain a clear understanding of whether there was enough sound described rather than just the visuals. Overall, I was pretty happy with how my final highlights came up. It wasn’t sorely lacking in any sound information like it could have been.

At this point in my education, I had a pretty solid understanding of scriptwriting from my past projects. I was able to comfortably change to a sound-focused approach in my big print and the whole script flows pretty well reading it back today.

The World of Nathan

This was the first film where I was basically given an outline by the team I was working with and had to write out a story from that idea. Until now (and maybe ever since), I’ve always only written ideas and stories I wanted to. So, this was a new challenge.

The screenplay I wrote was read and reviewed by not only my tutor but two professional actors as well. And the feedback was great! Obviously, there were critiques here and there, but it was overall really positive. And getting that feedback made me feel great. It was a pivotal moment for me. Not only did I enjoy screenwriting, but I felt like I could do it well.

Getting that positive feedback, and continuing to get it, is probably what led me down the path toward this Space & Lasers blog. While I look back at this screenplay and do think it was good work, I believe I’ve refined my skillset a lot since. But the motivation to do that spawned from the feedback I received back then.

The Kyle News Network (KNN)

For me, KNN has always been a bit of blank canvas to experiment and play around with. And that’s no different when it comes to screenwriting.

In the super early days when it was ‘The Kyle Show’, I didn’t know anything about proper screenwriting structure. But even though the formatting was way off, I still see all those scripts as beneficial in developing my understanding of writing for the screen. It helped me consider direction and dialogue. And it was excellent early practice in guiding a shoot/the editing process. I may not have been doing any of the things well, but I was still learning important lessons.

When we made more episodes years later once I was in uni, the script area of our process was greatly levelled up. I knew proper screenplay formatting. I had proper screenwriting software. Now doing things the right way, I think screenwriting for KNN helped me continue to practice while studying. It was also great exposure to see these screenplays go through proper production processes with the cast and crew. I got a lot of helpful feedback from not only others, but also myself as the screenplay was put to work. Hearing the dialogue play out was very useful to help me better understand how to write it.

I also learnt a lot about writing for an evolving TV series. I would constantly make changes to scripts based on changing narrative directions. When we decided to end KNN with episode nine, I had to rewrite the ending because it originally launched off a whole new narrative.

Looking back over these scripts, I can see a lot of areas for improvement. Dialogue that could’ve been punchier, big print that could have been snappier… But it’s abundantly clear that I was getting better at my craft purely through doing it. It was also very clear the lessons I learnt from my screenwriting classes were paying off in later scripts too.

The Agent Killer

The Agent Killer was the first narrative screenplay I wrote using my own concept that went through all the proper steps to be made into a finished film. The feedback I received from my tutors for the screenplay was very encouraging and fuelled my desire to keep screenwriting after the project had finished.

This project taught me a lot about considering how something translates from the page onto the screen. There is big exchange between Nyles and The Agent Killer in the apartment. I focused only on the dialogue when writing and when it came to actually shooting, I realised it lacked direction. It made blocking it out hard. We were hearing a conversation but there were barely any actions to go with that dialogue. Even in the final cut, the scene feels very drawn out and tiresome to get through.

I also learnt that the Thriller/Mystery genre is a lot harder to write than my usual Sci-Fi/Action genre. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be clear before production, otherwise the story starts to fall apart when questioned. Not only that, but all the little nuances that build a Thriller need to not only be clear to a Director in the screenplay, but they also need to be clear to an audience when converted into a film as well.

Uni Man

Given this was my final uni project, Uni Man was a chance to tell a story I wanted backed by an awesome team. More than that, it was also a chance to showcase everything I’d learned. But it had to be incorporated organically into the screenplay and story, otherwise it might feel forced.

After experimenting with the darker Thriller genre in Agent Killer, I wanted to go back to my roots of being more comical. But I also wanted to keep things somewhat serious in the stakes and narrative beats too. With Marvel heading for its peak in 2017, I was inspired to tap into the superhero genre. A genre I definitely enjoy and feel inspired by.

Uni Man was an exercise in trying to tick all the important storytelling beat boxes within a small timeframe. It was the first time I felt I was truly able to balance ambition, budget and time in a way that was manageable – something I learnt from all the film projects that had come before.

The biggest lesson I got was from working with four very talented actors. We did things right with this film. We went through auditions, did rehearsals, blocked out the scenes in advance… Doing all this led to a lot of interesting conversations about motivations and dialogue.

Not only did I learn a lot about what actors need from a script, but also what happens naturally when the script gets into their hands. There’s no way to cover all your bases during the writing process. Feedback and thoughts from actors will always be invaluable to shaping and improving the story and characters. Not only that, there will always be impulsive changes or accidental discoveries that will make everything better in more ways than you could imagine.

Taking this lesson on board, I always strive to work my hardest on the screenplays I write for Nash and Highton Heroes, knowing they’ll never get made. But I also accept that perfection is unattainable when it’s just you (or kinda ever really). You need input from others. The actual production process will change things even moreso.

But knowing that’s all unlikely for my screenplays, I’m able to write much more freely. And that’s what makes it fun.


I hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane as much as I did. I thought it was super valuable to highlight some key differences that sets screenwriting apart from other written forms.

As you may have noticed, I’ve switched to releasing a blog post every other month so I have enough time to keep doing my screenwriting alongside other life things. So keep an eye out in April for my next post! Since I’m working on Nash II this year, I think it’s the perfect time to talk about sequels.

Til next time,

Dean


2 thoughts on “What Filmmaking Taught Me About Screenwriting

  1. You have come along way, mastered a lot of screenwriting and storytelling and its inspired my way of thinking. Keep going you will nail it and become famous I have that faith in you.

    Liked by 1 person

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