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Screenwriting For Short Video Teacher Tutorial

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Screenwriting for Short Video Instructor's GuideHello fellow instructors!  We are happy to hear that you are ready to start a new, fun, and creative journey with your students.  

Screenwriting for Short Video is designed to systematically and creatively immerse your high school students in the craft of video storytelling. Students will explore the three-act structure, developing characters, writing dialogue and planning. Each student will work on a script idea of their choosing and see it come to life in the final "table reading." I hope that this course will provide you with a great way to test your students' imagination and writing skills!

In order to help you prepare to teach the tricks of the trade, creative thinking, shaping dialogue, creating fascinating personalities, and investigating conflict, we have developed lesson by lesson tutorials that I hope you will take advantage of.

Tips, hints, and just plain great ideas!


Lesson 1 – Get Your Act Together


Students get settled in and receive an introduction to the sophisticated form of writing known as the “Screenplay.” They’ll learn about three very important concepts of screenwriting: genre, theme and the three-act structure. Students will work on developing an idea that’s close to their hearts and experiences. Learners try their hand for the first time at movie criticism with the delightful short “Oscar and Violet.”

Prepare for this course by making sure that your classroom provides a comfortable space where students will feel safe and respected as learners and writers.  Encourage the students to use their journals as a place to reflect about the process that they are starting.  It will help if you have pre-screened the video clips that you will be showing in this course.  

Click here for Lesson 1 Tutorial.


Lesson 2 – What a Character!


This lesson explores character in a unique way in the film, “The Drum Set.” Characters make a student movie tell a story. In this lesson, students zero in on how to build compelling characters. Activities address characters’ habits, fatal flaws, catchphrases, quirks and physical attributes. Learners also explore what makes an audience care about characters, including heroes and villains, romantic leads and their foils, sidekicks, mad scientists and more.

You have been provided with your own score cards to fill out.  These can prove to be instrumental to your success in running Screenwriting For Short Video with future classes.  You may want to fill them out by yourself, or involve your students.  Take notes of good ideas and responses from students throughout the course.

Click here for Lesson 2 Tutorial.


Lesson 3 – Scene by Scene


All films—whether long or short—are built on a series of “scenes”: encapsulated depictions of action or exchanges of dialogue that take place in just one location. How many scenes does a 5-minute video need? In this lesson, students spend some time shaping their stories to fit a small time frame. Learners will laugh out loud at this lesson’s student film, “Dan and the Red Sea”.

Determine with your students if they feel more inspired to write with music in the background.  Or sitting on the floor.  Or having any other inspirational materials in front of them.  Assure them that what works for one, may not work for others.  

Click here for Lesson 3 Tutorial.


Lesson 4 – Storyboard


“Better Days”—an action packed film of family conflict—is a great example of a film that needs extensive storyboarding. Movie producers “get the picture” when screenwriters present their ideas in the form of storyboards—simple visual tools that provide the shorthand necessary to visualize the action. Students learn how storyboards help facilitate plotting as well as to help identify gaps in their storytelling plans.

It is critical that students understand the difference between scenes and storyboarding.  As you walk around, be sure that the storyboards are showing actions and sequence.

Click here for Lesson 4 Tutorial.


Lesson 5 – Let’s Start Talking: Dialogue I


Call it what you will—chitchat, blather, gossip, or yakking—dialogue reveals critical information, moves story action and shapes the ways in which audiences understand character. This lesson provides ample opportunities for students to experience the effect of voice (how does a doctor say a phrase differently than a hairdresser?) on character motivation and development. “Falling Asleep for Her” provides an instructive illustration of the lesson.

Mastering dramatic language without going over the top is very difficult! Try to remind your students to keep their characters real and believable.  

Click here for Lesson 5 Tutorial.


Lesson 6 – Where the Action Is: Getting Your Story Moving


Yelling “Action” sounds like fun, but learners come to understand action as a key component of moving their story forward. Action is not just about car chases, it’s what happens in a space of time that provides the audience with new information about the characters. In “The Kid and the Cone”, we see how a very small event can still hold a lot of dramatic value. This lesson also covers “complicating” action.

Challenge your learners to resolve their story conflict by moving both the characters' behaviors and by manipulating the circumstances in the plot.  Encourage them to come up with creative plot complications.  

Click here for Lesson 6 Tutorial.


Lesson 7 – Set Design and Story


“Sparks in the Night”—this lesson’s film, sets the stage with an elaborate gangster-filled milieu as students grapple with the meaning of “set design” …it’s not about carpentry! Students get briefed on how set design will determine the “look and feel” of their movie. They’ll use templates to “dress their sets” and see how the objects they choose in each shot will establish the mood of their video.

You may want to have some inspiration pictures or photographs available for this lesson on set design. Since students may someday want to film their finished screenplay, make sure that they are choosing set ideas that are both creative and realistically attainable.   

Click here for Lesson 7 Tutorial.


Lesson 8 – Talk Is NOT Cheap: Dialogue II


In this lesson, students return to the problem of creating dialogue. The film, “Transatlantique” highlights the special challenges of the use of a foreign language in film, and how hard dialogue must “work”—even when we don’t understand it! Most writers find that dialogue makes up the bulk of their creative work. Students also learn the old adage, “writing is re-writing”: how working hard to refine dialogue is a great investment for their final products.

Self review and editing is very important for your students to understand during this process.  Reassure them that true writers go through many versions before they are happy with their end product.  

Click here for Lesson 8 Tutorial.


Lesson 9 – The Buzz: Coming to a Theatre near You


Designing a publicity campaign for their own films helps students understand the broad scope of the movie-making process. A zombie fan favorite, “Brains,” perfectly illustrates the many opportunities for publicity, from the right title, to poster, to product placement. Students discover how knowing their audience helps shape their campaigns and converts interested consumers into the ticket-buying public.

Understanding your audience in key in this lesson.  Students need to use strategies that will entice particular groups of people to want to watch their film.  

Click here for Lesson 9 Tutorial.


Lesson 10 – Premiere Night


It’s showtime! In this final lesson, students both act and direct in portions of each others’ screenplays. Ballots for the “Frannie” awards (our version of the Oscars) will be distributed before our proud honorees step to the podium to accept their statuettes and thank their mentors. Parents and friends can also participate! This wrap-up activity provides great fun, feedback and a sense of accomplishment to all of the participants.

The success of today's class depends on you, the facilitator.  There is considerable preparation that needs to be done before this lesson in order to create a smooth enjoyable experience.  Read the instructions in your guide thoroughly.  

Click here for Lesson 10 Tutorial.


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