How to Write a Film Script

DO YOU NEED TO KNOW THE TECHNICAL TERMS TO WRITE MOVIES? No. Not necessarily, and not at first. You need to improve your talent for putting together a good story and telling it in a visually appealing way – not explaining camera angles.
On the long term it’s good to know the technical terms flying through the air in the movie environment – and it’s fun. Just don’t stuff your manuscript with things like: we zoom in on his face, the camera pans over the facade of the house, and gives close-up of his open hand. The director and the producer might accept it. But maybe they’ll feel you’ve entered their territory. The camera crew definitely won’t like it. It is their job along with the director to structure the camera angles and shots of the manuscript. Your job is to provide them with the words to build those angles on. Writing a lot of technical instructions in the manuscript is poor style. An ear, a tear, an open hand showing something obviously needs to be filmed at close distance. It is unnecessary to mention.
I will go into how to linguistically add camera angles later on.
How to Write a Film Script p. 9-10
You and your film. This chapter talks about how to start, what to write about, and finding your own theme of life.
About Theme of Life:
Everybody has been exposed to something which matters more than other events in their life: divorce (of your parents), losing a close one, being let down or yourself letting someone down. You might have been incredibly lucky or unlucky.
Ingmar Bergman circles around the family drama: Childhood, love, close human relation. Woody Allen circles around sex, film production, moral questions of guilt and punishment.
If a Theme of Life is told directly as an autobiographical story, it will often lack distance and might lose the interest of the public. You have to make the Theme of your Life common ground.
The gay script writer knows something about identity. Pretending you’re someone other than people think you are. She or he knows what it might cost to show your true identity. The orphaned script writer knows what it means to feel neglected and let down and left, and maybe end up with a good life against all odds.
The abused script writer knows what it’s like to realize that the adult who should take responsibility to protect you, doesn’t do that.
A Theme of Life can also be a role, you have been given: the all sacrifying mom, the providing father, the oldest sister of several siblings, the youngest child in that same family, the unmarried old aunt.
Finding a symbol for your Theme of Life, and showing it with different characters in different surroundings gives you the option of making a story of common interest, without cringing out your private secrets: A divorce can be told as a car accident or a tempest, shattering everything. A devastating fire can be the symbol of the one who lost everything early on. A refugee story can be the story about you, arriving at a nursery home three years old, etc.
The difference between the theme of a film that I wrote about earlier and you own Theme of Life, is that you can use your own experience as say a gay person to tell many different stories.
Consuming your own Theme of Life Many writers sun away from pinpointing their Theme of Life, and just write along, draining the same unacknowledged source all their life – wonderful stories that we love. Some can write in that way all their life, while others slowly see the red thread in their universe. But it just might happen to the unconscious writer that he gets stuck, and he doesn’t understand what happens. He might believe he is dried out, maybe cannot write any more, which is not the case – he just finished using one of his life’s big themes and must find new layers in his subconscious, loaded with gold.
How to Write a Film Script, p. 58
Construction of fictitious characters As long as your characters work out well, everything is fine. If you get stuck, there are a few tools you can use:
Biography – write an extensive biography of your person: From outside: Looks, age, nationality, work, education, childhood, relations with closest friends and family, her/his daily diet, living quarters, religion or spiritual interests, hobbies, politics etc.
From inside: Ambitions, dreams, sexuality, emotional life, frustrations, inhibitions, faculties, talents, will power (what makes her/him tick and go forward),norms, inner contradictions, secrets, inherited illness. Relations with the other people in the story.
Make it clear to yourself, where your character’s most important conflicts are, what rooms s/he is in mostly in your story.
A Day in the Life of your character. From morning to night.
The dialogue in a film serves in several ways:
A: They characterize who is speaking.
B: They give us important (for the story) information.
C: The dialogue makes the action move forward.
D: Remember: in a movie, you can tell a story visually instead of with words.
If a father and son are looking forward to the big, juicy steaks, mommy promised after work/school, and we see them in next frame with a crummy burned take away meal on their dishes, we learn something about the mother/wife and the bad experience of that day – or maybe most days in that family.
If a characters describes his big expensive pent house and we then see him sleeping in his crummy van, we know he is trying to cover his situation.
Personal Dialogue
Each character speaks in her or his own special way. Terse, calm, with a full voice or a hoarse voice.
How to Write a Film Script, p. 90-110

The press wrote …

Henrik Vesterberg, Politiken’s Culture Supplement, March 13th 1998:

The book and its perky title might initially remind you of something like How to make your first million […] The many explicit writing exercises throughout the book however makes it something you need to write your way through rather than merely reading it in order to gather the advice and information. How to write a movie Script is strongly instructive all the way through. From exercises in visualization it moves on to scene construction and then leads the reader into the various stages of different Dramatic Structures and completes the project all the way to the writing of the final draft. […] Many of the fundamental questions of this method can be used to get your project back on track if it is seriously capsizing. The comprehensive check list for alone creation of characters, would heighten the quality and trustworthiness of many Danish fiction movies, were it to be used before the work was finalized.

Film critic Anja Hitz, Ekstra Bladet, February 3rd 1998:

The American book market is overflowing with the so-called how to-books. […] the Danish author Bente Clod has in her How to write a Movie Script created the first Danish manual following the American tradition. […] the visual sense is enhanced and you are constantly challenged to think visually instead of verbally. It is clear that the writer herself is actively creating and that she through her courses have had the opportunity to practice her exercises on loads of students.

Consultant at the Danish Film Institute, Ulrich Breuning, Filmguiden, August 1998:

Having the desire to write without knowing the technique is equivalent of having an engine without gas. Everything will inevitably seize up. But no worries. There is help to get if your brain is fumbling with ideas and your fingers itching to hit the keyboard. […] Bente Clod knows what she’s writing about. Being an author herself, educated at the scriptwriting programme of The National Film School of Denmark, and having led several work shops in the very same odd and difficult art of scriptwriting. […] When Bente Clod refers to various movies, they are classics or other well-known movies easily found. […] Happy writing!

The film magazine Scope (

The author, debater, writing teacher etc. Bente Clod, who is known among other things for her comprehensive creative writing classes, has fashioned a neat little guide about writing movies. Bente Clod is an educated scriptwriter from The National Film School of Denmark, and is highly professional in her approach in this book; the entire process of formation of movies is closely described, from the first budding idea, to pitch, synopsis, treatment and the final script. […] The book can be used as a correspondence course.