Comedy Do’s and Don’ts

Scriptwriting is a completely different ball game when it comes to comedy, one that is often mistaken as easy, particularly if the gags are simple. But writing funny is different from speaking funny. Just because you’re good at cracking jokes or sprouting wisecrack comments, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have that same knack when it comes to transferring these onto paper. At least, not without practice.

The comedy genre is one of the hardest to crack, without even taking into account the fact that within the school itself, lie a whole network of subcategories. There’s black comedy, cringe comedy (an example which springs to mind is Borat), situational comedy, mockumentaries, spoofs, rom-coms, sketches… well, you get the point. Listed below, you’ll find a few rules, a list of do’s and don’ts if you will, to consider if you’re focusing your script in one of these areas.

Black Comedy

Defined as a sub-genre of comedy and satire, black comedy gravitates towards the taboo head on, covering subjects that are considered too dark for normal conversation in a fearless, humorous way. Needless to say, it’s not for everyone, as it can often make light of serious topics which, in turn, can be a lightning rod for criticism. Get it right, however, and you’ve got some high-quality entertainment.

Don’t be dark for the sake of it. Don’t try to shock your audience with your edgy appeal just to gauge a reaction. A great storyline is above all, the most important aspect of any script, comedy or not. The comedic appeal or risqué aspects can always be inserted later, but don’t revolve your entire script around dark jokes.

Do collaborate. It takes a long time to get the punchline of any joke right, and it helps to have someone else scratching their head besides you to bounce good ideas off one another. Classic examples of black comedy include the Coen brothers’ Fargo or Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Then you’ve got modern versions, like Edgar Wright’s Hotfuzz. Speaking of collaborations, Hotfuzz was a product of combined genius between Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who wrote the script together.

You can really tell that their combined senses of humour, the insertion of red herrings, the Agatha Christie mystery style and dark comedy really come into full excellence as a result of their collaboration.

Romantic Comedy

One of the most popular comedy genres ever, romantic films focus on the development of a relationship between two main characters in a light and humorous way, with plenty of humorous situations thrown in to disrupt the hero’s ultimate goal of finding love. There are a lot of rules to take into account when writing rom-coms, as these comedies are very structured.

Do your research beforehand. Look at plenty of rom-com aspects like the meet-cute, the embarrassing gesture or other narrative patterns that define the romantic comedy genre, as inserting these naturally will increase the quality of your film.

Do repeat yourself. Comedy elements are usually repeated three times to get the most laughs – it’s the rule of three- You set up an expectation, you reinforce it, then you break it down to get the most out of a punchline.

Don’t lose your audience (execs, producers, agents etc) by taking too long to start incorporating jokes into your script. It generally takes only one page – that’s one minute, folks – of screen time, so by the time they reach the end of the page they need to know whether or not they’re going to turn to page two.

Do consider misdirection as a feature in your storyline. Subterfuge and deceit might not get you far in real life, but they’re the backbone of rom coms. Deception, usually caused by the characters themselves, plays a big part in these types of films. The hero usually hides his or her secret from the other main character, either to protect themselves and this leads the climax. In the Silver Linings Playbook, Pat deceives Tiffany into thinking that by the very end, he still wants to get back with his ex-wife, when in reality he’s fallen for her too. Vice versa, she deceives him by forging a letter from his ex-wife.


Sitcoms, otherwise known as situational comedy, aren’t written as films, but for TV. They are the defining and most enduring forms of entertainment, and now, what with the rise in popularity of Netflix, they’re all the rage with everyone. And also extremely hard to get right, as sitcoms are built on a number of unbreakable rules.

Do be familiar. Familiarity is your friend.  The running gag definitely belongs to the sitcom comedy. Take Barney’s actual job position never being defined in How I met your Mother, or Rachel and Ross’s “we were on a break” gag in Friends, to Leslie Knope’s inexplicable lifelong hatred of libraries in Parks & Recreation, running gags are hilarious ways to make your script stand out.

Don’t think comedy scripts are the same as stand-up comedy. Your script won’t get very far if it’s a long line up of running gags and joke after joke without any plot line. Every successful comedy has at its core a deep and meaningful story, a high concept, one that is interesting and intricately thought out. Take Gavin and Stacey, or Red Dwarf even, they’re both hilarious and the jokes are what seem to make the shows stand out, but really, both the plots are extremely detailed. One is profound and family-focused, the other is a high-concept sci-fi, a unique idea.

Don’t be scared. Writing sitcoms is no time to be shy.  Programmes nowadays are edgy, a lot of risqué topics are covered: narcissism, murder, alcoholism, sex. The 21st century is definitely not a time to hold back.


The TV Pilot Starter Pack

Writing a TV pilot is just about one of the most exciting ventures in the writing world, and if it’s comedy well, it just adds six feet more of pure, unadulterated fun to the mix.

But because it’s not all party crackers and knock-knock jokes, and the process itself can be murky terrain, it helps to have a checklist to guide you through the battlefield. If you’re looking to send a spec pilot out for the first time, and the terms tag and premise plot sound like something that belong behind the closed doors of stuffy exec offices, you might want to pay attention. This pilot checklist is for anyone looking to send out a spec pilot for the first time and needs a bit of background to create some… well, perspective.

The Pilot Checklist

Cast of Characters

Any show that’s become successful has done so as a result of three-dimensional, complex characters. If you think about it, every pilot that has gone on to have a successful run of seasons has at its core a cast of characters to pave the way to greatness.

Your pilot needs a goal that’s not just driven forward by the overall world introduction, but also by your character’s overarching goal and episode goals. And to understand these? You need to understand your character.

A character board is a great way to keep track of all this, by scribbling down names, physical descriptions, backgrounds and likes. Create a gigantic pinup extension for your wall that makes people fear for your sanity. This board should include main, recurring and extras – and have your entire cast well thought out before you move onto the next part.

Maybe not something quite a drastic and Carrie Mathison however…
‘Homeland’ – © Showtime

Your characters sell your concept. So whatever premise you’ve set out to explore, your characters need to fit in with your world-building concept.

What makes them unique? What are their quirks? Create a rich backstory and make them as complex and three-dimensional as possible. It always helps to offset certain personalities with polar opposites. If we look at BBC’s Gavin & Stacey, for example, Gavin is kind and romantic, Stacey sweet and naïve. What truly gives the show comedic value, however, is not the protagonists specifically, but Smithy’s and Nessa’s anti-heroic qualities and quirky traits.

The actors will bring your characters to life on screen, but it’s up to you bring them to life on paper. You can’t just create a one-off cast of recurring and secondary characters for your pilot, and then change these in your episode outlines: everything has to match. Producers need to see that you’ve thought about every single character in the show and to do this, you need a long-term game plan before you start writing your pilot. That way your cast introductions can be made accordingly.  It’s all about creating credible characters who clash, opposite personalities.

‘Gavin and Stacey’ © BBC

Character Intros

Character intros in pilots are tricky, volatile things, but they can be done. Channel 4’s Fresh Meat for example, sets up the first five minutes in a way that the characters all meet on-screen for the first time in the most awkwardly memorable way possible. Yet, if you watch closely, everybody’s defining characteristics are peppered throughout the entirety of the pilot, so it’s not overwhelming. If your characters aren’t meeting for the first time onscreen, however, introductions can be trickier, and a more creative approach is required. For example, in CBS’s Two and a Half Men, Alan and Charlie interact with one another in such a way that they describe themselves to each other, though really, they’re transmitting these ideas to the audience. The best thing to do is study characters’ introductions of other shows and you’ll see a formula start to develop, one you can apply to your own pilot.

Structure: the A & B Storyline

The pilot kickstarts a journey you will be taking over an extended period of time, at least for the length of one season, and as such, you’ll need to look at the different types of structure and format that make up a TV sitcom.

First, the pilot will contain a main storyline that stands on its own, while also expertly threading through potential for many more episodes throughout the first season. Every single comedy episode contains the following:


  • The teaser: This is an opening joke, a mini act that sets up the episode and relays the problem ahead in a comedic way. In the Gavin & Stacey plot, the couple talk over the phone and the premise of the episode is portrayed in the opening minute: After six months of distance dating, the pair will meet in London for the first time. It works across all pilots. In Friends, Rachel barges into Central Perk- and the friends’ lives – in a wedding dress, and the rest of the episode is focussed on Rachel’s integration into the group and her new independence. This teaser gets the audience hooked before the opening credits.
  • Story A is the main storyline, the principal focus of the episode. In Gavin & Stacey, it’s their meeting, and in Fresh Meat, it’s the gang getting used to living with one another.
  • Story B is the side story, the one that runs in parallel to Story A. It contains the more secondary characters and breaks up the A story with comedic gags. In Gavin & Stacey, it’s Nessa and Smithy’s mutual hate and hook up, and in Fresh Meat, it’s each of the student’s individual hang-ups and fears (take Oregon’s desire to be popular or JP’s loneliness).
  • The tag is the bookend scene, that comes before the final credits and is 1 to 5 minutes long to show the aftermath of another storyline following the episode’s resolution. You see it all the time in comedy shows like Friends, the Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother.

The Bible

The Premise

Every pilot needs a premise. This consists of a log-line and defines your entire series in one or two sentences. It basically summarises the main hypothesis of your series. So before you do anything else, you should try to define your series idea as succinctly and as cohesively as possible. Regardless of its misleading size, log-lines can be the hardest part of your bible treatment.  Think about it. You’ve got three or six lines to provide the setup, your world, setting and of course your overarching style. The best ones are always the simple ones. For example, Gavin & Stacey’s premise is: a boy from Essex and a girl from Wales meet and fall in love – joining two very odd families from very different backgrounds. For Fresh Meat it’s: Six students miss out on student halls and live together in student housing for their first year of university – and hormones cause havoc.

The premise is essentially, the summary of your entire show, compressed into a few sentences. But you also need to take into account a few other details for your premise.

Will your show be multi-cam shot or single-cam shot? The difference is that single-cam shot shows are filmed on different sets much like a film. Examples include Gavin & Stacey, Modern Family and Arrested Development. Multi-cam shows on the other hand, involve those which are filmed in front of a live audience, and as such the dynamics of the comedy and acting are very different. Examples include the Big Bang Theory, Friends and Two and a Half Men.

You then need to figure out if your show will be a premise plot or a non-premise plot. Premise plots are those in which the pilot establishes a new circumstance and event, where a main character meets the other for the first time, for example, so we see that it’s the beginning of something. Exactly like Fresh Meat, as before the pilot none of our characters know one another. A non-premise plot is the opposite, it’s like a day in the life of the show, no one is introduced because the characters already know one another. A good example of this is the Simpsons.

The premise breaks down the barriers of your show and reveals to the audience/reader exactly what it is you’re trying to do, with who and why. It’s a summary of everything you know about your show.

Treatment – episode outline

So you’ve written your pilot and it’s ready to be sent out. Congratulations. But… have you written your episode outlines yet? Executives or producers need to see evidence that you’ve thought about the rest of your first season, and not just a one-off, random pilot episode. Breaking down the events of each individual episode with a quick log-line helps people see that there’s enough material to go the distance. It will definitely help the right people invest their time and their money into your show.

In three to six lines you’ll need to provide a summary of approximately 8-12 episodes more. This short statement should include a mention of the principal Story A and Story B as well as the outcome of your episode. You don’t need to write out the script of each episode just yet, but it’s really important to have everything laid out and written down, even if it is just the idea. Producers will want to see the potential of a whole season, so dedicate all your efforts into this. It’s all about seeing your story material on a general basis – a guarantee, if you will, that your series is well thought out, and viable.  I assure you that every series out there at the moment has gone through this process, and you’ll be a better writer for it.

BSC Expo 2018: Show Highlights

The BSC Expo took place last weekend for another year, and did so repeating venue due to the success of the last edition at Battersea Evolution.

The show, which is organised by the British Society of Cinematographers, is a staple event in the industry where the latest advancements and trends in professional equipment for TV and film productions are announced, and the latest technologies and innovative products and services are showcased. Attended by top-tier manufacturers, high-profile professionals and enthusiasts alike, the event is the perfect occasion to network, keep up to date with information about the industry and even expand one’s knowledge.

This was especially possible thanks to the seminar programme that took place over the two days, where cinematographers and technology specialists covered different topics in both creative and technically-driven presentations.

Relative to the former, the highlight event was the seminar hosted by John de Borman BSC which included a panel comprised of world-class cinematographers Barry Ackroyd BSC, Guillermo Navarro ASC, Jose Luis Alcaine AEC and Mátyás Erdély HSC, who discussed their approaches to the craft and how their nationalities and upbringing may have influenced their work and vision.

Another very interesting and informative seminar was the conversation hosted by Vanessa Whyte with cinematographers Kate Reid and Petra Korner, who talked about their creative approaches to shooting drama, both for TV and feature films, their preparation routines before a job and their working relationships with other key production members, such as the director or producer.

The seminars and masterclasses related to technology and technical aspects included presentations from ARRI, Panavision, Fujifilm, FilmLight, Sony, Zeiss, RED, Mission Digital and Mytherapy.

It was precisely on one of these talks where ARRI gave in-depth details about their new large-format camera system, unveiled at the beginning of the first day.

The Alexa LF (Large Format), their first 4K camera, has a slightly larger sensor than full frame and comes with the new LPL mount (Large Positive Lock). According to ARRI, these two features open an array of possibilities. With the large format sensor, the camera can record in three different settings. The first, LF Open Gate, uses the full size of the sensor and records in true 4K. ARRIRAW is therefore available, though this requires a Codex drive due to the large amounts of data this mode produces, making it also tough to handle it in post. The next mode –in 16:9- informally dubbed “The Netflix mode”, records in 3840×2160, the minimum resolution admitted by Netflix as 4K. With this mode, ARRI intends to join the competition to have their new cameras working on Netflix productions, which are becoming more and more popular, against the cameras that are being used currently from manufacturers such as RED and Panasonic. The last mode, perhaps the most interesting out of the three, is in 2.39:1 and allows for anamorphic recording without the need of a 4:3 aspect ratio or image de-squeezing.

This system is also comprised of a new set of lenses, the ARRI Signature Primes, whose selling point is a shallower depth of field with an improved bokeh due to the LPL mount, that makes faces look better. Thinking of maintaining compatibility with current lenses from third-party manufacturers, ARRI have designed an LPL to PL adapter, allowing to continue to use both Super 35 and Full Frame PL lenses. In addition, the camera has completely functional built-in wireless, ready for monitoring and lens control. ARRI accessories stay perfectly compatible with this camera and so do the current workflow solutions for post-production. All of these advantages come at a price of course, one of the camera’s main disadvantages with the camera rounding £80k for purchase, along with its heavy weight around 8kg.

16 large-format ARRI Signature Prime lenses

But ARRI weren’t the only ones displaying large format. In fact, this could be identified as the trend that the industry and camera manufacturers are likely going to follow, according to what could be seen at the show.

Panavision also unveiled a new full frame camera, the DXL2. The camera, built in conjunction with RED, features RED’s 8K Monstro sensor and includes all of the REDCODE recording codecs. This camera offers a dynamic range of 16+ stops, a native ISO of 1600, a wider colour gamut, and ProRes 4K up to 60 fps. The camera comes with a built-in Preston MDR, which readily facilitates lens control. It is also possible to introduce flare with spherical lenses thanks to its anamorphic flare attachment (AFA).

Despite of their collaboration with Panavision, RED brought their newest Weapon cameras to the show, exhibiting them with all three different sensors: the Monstro 8K Full Frame, the Helium 8K Super 35 and the Dragon 6K Super 35. The body of the Weapon, much smaller in size in comparison to the DXL2, allows for easy mounting onto gimbals, drones and other types of handheld shots. Much like the LF, the Weapon also comes with built-in wireless peripherals and control and offers an array of lens mounts to make it as compatible as possible.


Sony, the last of the full frame competitors at the show, also had their latest Venice camera on display, unveiled long before ARRI’s LF and Panavision’s DXL2. This 6K camera, similar in size to the latest REDs, offers several recording modes such as full frame, anamorphic, widescreen spherical 2.39:1 or Large Format Scope, as well as Super 35 17:9 and 16:9. The camera also features a Dual Native ISO of 500 and 2500 and a high speed readout sensor which minimizes “jello” effect.

Even though full frame developments mainly “stole” the show this year, other highlights included Hawkwoods’ Mini V-Lok batteries, Bright Tangerine’s products -mainly showcased as accessories on other products as they didn’t have their own stand- and Kino Flo’s LED tubes prototype lighting.







Finding Voice through Words

Voice is an odd concept. It’s elusive, slippery, hard to hold between two firm hands and define. It’s even harder to describe. Yet for scriptwriters, it’s everywhere. It’s tossed about in blog posts, praised (or condemned) in film reviews and loosely referred to in interviews. Voice is clearly a determining factor in every writer’s style, something that can make or break you, but… what is it?

Going back to basics, voice doesn’t refer to our actual spoken voices. It’s more of a metaphor to represent our individual style and tone as a writer. It’s something distinctive that no amount of mimicking or studying can truly replicate. Voice is your own distinctive personality that shows up through your writing – it could be inherent, it’s definitely environmental and purely exclusive. Put it this way, if you gave three writers the same plot device, the same character and antagonist and told them to write out the same idea, three very different stories would still emerge. Be it vocab choice, technical prowess, sentence structure or dialogue, those three voices would differ to the point of opposition.

This is because everyone’s voice is different.  The following are steps to develop your voice.

1. Be Honest and Experiment

Honesty is an important factor. I don’t mean that everything you write should be honest to the point of memoir nonfiction, but you should write from experience. If you tap into your own emotions for fictional situations, your writing will be powerful- it usually is when a writer’s experience filters through, it’s noticeable in the quality. Even if it’s just a sentiment that you empathise with your protagonist because you’ve experienced it, the reader will sense the power behind your words and feel the punch it packs. Your imagination will fill in the rest of the gaps for you.

2. Know Thyself

This goes hand in hand with the whole honesty thing. If you want a distinctive voice, you need to know what you care about. You must take note of how you notice the world, your own perspective, your own beliefs about things you might not even have thought about noticing before. What is your take on religion? Or death? How do you think people experience betrayal? How would you experience betrayal? Thinking about your own reactions to situations that don’t arise in everyday life will help you develop your voice.

Your voice will be most distinctive when you’re writing about something that fires you up. Take Gillian Flynn, for example, writer of Gone Girl and its film adaptation. Her infamous cool girl description, which she admitted to writing as part of an exercise to clear her thoughts, was something that came from within and poured out of her in a moment of deep reflection. She developed her voice by writing what she truly felt, what she knew.

The actual passage goes a little something like this:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool  Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding.

Flynn’s voice focusses on the darker aspects of humanity through a very casual, conversational style which is at once readable and thrilling.

3. Be Inspired by writers

It’s okay to mimic your favourite writers’ style because you love their voice. Chances are, you like them so much because you share certain aspects of voice. This is an excellent way to outgrow a certain style and create your own distinctive voice, by moving beyond what you loved about them.

Write out a passage of someone you love, try to understand the dynamics of that sentence. Is it the structure, the length, the vocab choice? All those things? Analyse and maybe write something that is similar in tone and voice. Frank Darabont, for example, loved horror when he was younger – inspired of course, by Stephen King, and this shared passion helped him develop his own voice in drama.

His love of the author’s work was a defining turnstile when it came to voice, as he went on to adapt Stephen King’s short story into the Shawshank Redemption. He even broke the golden rule of show, don’t tell by using Red to narrate. This technique was a driving force of the story, and a real defining mark of Darabont’s writing voice.

RED (V.O.)

               I must admit I didn’t think much of

               Andy first time I laid eyes on him.

               He might’a been important on the

               outside, but in here he was just a

               little turd in prison grays. Looked

               like a stiff breeze could blow him

                over. That was my first impression

               of the man.


               What say, Red?



               Little fella on the end. Definitely.

               I stake half a pack. Any takers?


               Rich bet.


Darabont’s voice, portrayed through the characters is immensely rich and distinctive– it takes talent to write like this, and a unique voice to portray something so realistically.

4. Voice through Collaboration

Collaborating is not everyone’s cup of tea. Especially if you’re shy or self-conscious about your work. But it is true that collaboration is a fast-track ticket to developing your own voice, in more ways than one. First, you use your real voice to agree, disagree, voice your thoughts so that all in all, you become a more critically aware writer. You end up knowing what you like, what works for you and what doesn’t.

Even if you’re two writers with two very different voices and you end up clashing, the process will still have been positive. At least now you have a more defined awareness of your voice, whereas before you might not have been able to pinpoint it. Besides, if you know your writing partner well, and there is a certain degree of trust between the two of you, then harsh criticism and constructive feedback can be some of the most effective solutions to developing voice.

Wes Anderson, for example, developed his unique voice and style through his collaboration partners. He wrote Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums alongside actor Owen Wilson, with whom his decades-spanning friendship produced a great number of projects. After this, Anderson’s voice was further punctuated in Darjeeling Limited, blew fans away with Moonrise Kingdom, both of which he wrote alongside Roman Coppola. His latest and perhaps most popular script, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was written alongside close friend Hugo Guinness, so it’s easy to assume Anderson’s voice is forever flourishing and developing throughout this collaborative process.


The nine other guests of the hotel each observed from a respectful distance: a frail student; a fat businessman; a burly hiker with a St. Bernard; a schoolteacher with her hair in a bun; a doctor; a lawyer; an actor; and so on.


What few guests we were had quickly come to recognize one another by sight as the only living souls residing in the vast establishment — although I do not believe any acquaintance   among our number had proceeded beyond the polite nods we exchanged as we passed in the Palm Court and the Arabian Baths and onboard the Colonnade Funicular. We were a very reserved group, it seemed — and, without exception, solitary.


As you can see, Anderson’s voice is delightfully debonair. It’s quirky and idealistic. Classic and polished. Some say his voice speaks five degrees beneath reality, but isn’t that what makes him so appealing?

A unique writing voice is something that makes your script stand out – it’s as natural as your own personality, rare as your own individual imprint. Voice takes time and effort to develop, but it’s something (the main thing, really) that your readers, viewers and future fans will learn to recognise. To familiarise themselves with. And to crave.


On-Set Etiquette

You have been scouring the Internet in search of opportunities for a first job in the film or TV industry. You have been applying for many of them and finally, it happened. You got that email, the job is yours.

Landing your first on-set job in film or TV is a very exciting time. However, how to behave, what to do, what to say and even what to wear might be some of the questions going through your mind. Hopefully this article will point you in the right direction and put you at ease so you can go off to a wonderful first day.

Chances are your first job will be that of a runner-like role, be it camera, floor or otherwise. If for some reason this is not your case, I’d like to encourage you to read on as you might still find the rest of the article very useful. There are things stated below that might sound very obvious, however they don’t always come across as such.

General behaviour

Being as helpful as possible is a no-brainer, but you should also be aware that sometimes too much assistance can be considered interfering. Sometimes we want to be so helpful that we get in the way of other people, which is evidently not well-regarded. Along the same lines, you should only speak when you are spoken to. Don’t try to look or sound smart by demonstrating your skills and just focus on completing the tasks you are given. One thing to keep in mind is that a production always runs against the clock so everyone is always very busy doing their part and no one has time to waste.

Be proactive about offering help if you don’t have anything to do at a given time and never do something you haven’t been asked to do or touch anything you haven’t been asked to touch. Conversely, always ask about things if there’s something you don’t understand or if you are not sure about how to do something. It is much better to ask again and get it right than not asking and getting it wrong. If you do make a mistake anyway, apologise, try to find a solution for it and move on.

It’s also very important to always be jolly, polite, respectful and never complain. Shooting days can be very long (sometimes even 12 or 16 hours) and occur during the so-called “unsociable” hours. Therefore, you will normally spend a very long time working with the same people. This can be great if people get along but also uncomfortable if you have to put up with someone unpleasant for so long. For this reason, many would go so far as to say that they’d rather work with someone nice that doesn’t know as much than someone who is a tech wizard but not likeable.

The same goes for complaining. You will get tired and possibly hungry and thirsty. In any case, keep it to yourself and never complain. No one likes a whiner.

Nevertheless, don’t think that you have to do everything you are asked to without question. For instance, if you are told to go buy lunch with your own money and they will reimburse you later, it’s okay for you to politely decline if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. There might be reasons why the company hasn’t sorted out some of the meals, however it is not included in the runners’ duties to financially take charge of this.

Also, don’t attempt to lift anything that looks too heavy for you just because you have been told to do so. It’s perfectly fine for you to state that a determined load is too heavy for you and ask for help.

In the same way, it’s okay to admit you don’t know something if you’re asked for technical advice or told to do something beyond your knowledge or that you have never done before. The important thing here is to not try to “save the day”, especially if you are going to go about something by guessing. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Along these lines, never overestimate your skills by suggesting that you are able to do something beyond your duties. For example, if you are a camera runner, don’t walk up to a camera assistant and ask if you can pull focus on the next take. Anything like this would be considered very rude, even if you can pull focus.

Productions are organised in a very hierarchical way. Always be respectful of everyone but especially more so the heads of department and talent. Try not to be nervous around talent, they are normal people too and are pretty much in the same boat. If you know who someone is without having met them before, don’t talk to them unless you have to or if they approach you.

What to wear and carry

The dress code may vary from production to production, but it will be usually indicated on the call sheet if there is one. Take the weather into account, especially if you are going to be working outdoors. Since weather can be unpredictable (particularly in the UK) it’s a safe bet to wear a waterproof jacket and shoes. The latter should be as comfortable as possible, so a pair of nondescript trainers would probably be a good call. Also think in terms of temperature, you don’t want to spend the whole day shivering or sweating.

In regards to the rest of your attire, a normal pair of jeans or trousers and a basic t-shirt should do the trick. Tracksuits can be a grey area, but it would be safe to say that most of the times they will be considered as “too casual/comfortable”. Just make sure that the clothes you’ve chosen are not noisy when you move.

In terms of colours, you can never really go wrong with dark clothes –except for maybe those occasional hot days in the summer.  However, don’t wear light or bright clothes as these cause reflections on the actors, scene, or sometimes in windows.  The plainer, the better, and it is best to avoid wearing big logos. This can cause some trouble depending on the nature of the production, so best to make sure this is alright or avoid it altogether.

A torchlight can be very useful – the one on your phone should be alright but remember to silence it! – and if you want to be extra helpful always carry a couple of Sharpies and pens, even some blank paper sheets and some gaffer tape.

What to expect

You have to be aware that “runner” is the lowest of the roles in a production. This isn’t anything bad, it’s just a matter of hierarchy. Don’t be offended if someone explains something to you that you already know, just listen and learn. Practice makes perfect, so hearing about something one more time can never be a bad thing.

As a runner you won’t be (shouldn’t be) treated any differently. However, you might find yourself having to carry out what might seem like menial tasks, such as breakfast/lunch runs, making tea and coffee, fetching objects or water and conveying messages. Again, this is not a bad thing. There is always something to learn from everything and completing allegedly easy and boring tasks in a timely manner with efficiency and a good disposition will eventually get you noticed as a hard-working, reliable and pleasant individual, which can earn you good references that will lead to roles with more responsibility in the future.

Another excellent skill to have on set is the ability to remain calm when something goes wrong –it will happen, more than you would think. In these situations, people get nervous and stressed and therefore you can expect to be yelled at as a result of high stress. If this happens don’t take it to heart, just carry on with your tasks and be as helpful as possible. However, if by any chance you had a truly unpleasant encounter with anyone that shouldn’t be ignored, leave it for the end of the day and make sure to report it to the head of department.

In terms of food, it depends on the arrangements that have been done for the day. You can expect at least one catered meal and complimentary water throughout the day.

In terms of working time, as I stated before you should expect to work long hours and to have some breaks during the course of the day. How many will depend on the intensity of the work and the schedule.

Last but definitely not least, you should always get paid for your work, unless it’s clearly stated beforehand that the role is not paid but you still decide to do it. Unpaid jobs however, are luckily becoming more of a rarity. In any case, always go on a job having clarified compensation matters beforehand.

Do’s and Don’ts

Here is a list of some additional do’s and don’ts that can help you on set:

  • Be polite, respectful, pleasant and helpful.
  • Never sit down unless you are on a break. In this case, make sure to stay away from the set and any busy areas.
  • Don’t carry copies of your latest script/film to show people, especially not to heads of department or the director, producer, etc.
  • Don’t ask for anyone to let you do anything beyond your duties/capabilities.
  • Never brag about your past work and preferably don’t mention it unless you are specifically asked about it.
  • Always keep receipts if you buy anything, whether it’s for yourself, the production or someone else.
  • Never give your opinion about the work that is being done unless you are asked to. If this is the case, always start with something like: “I’m not sure, what do you think?”
  • Use your common sense.

Five Writing Habits to Finish your Screenplay

As the end of December rolls around, most writers vow to write more in the year ahead, even when juggling busy schedules. They’ll work less, go out less and make more time for script-writing. It’s a resolution that’s made in firm belief (and perhaps champagne-induced) it’s unbreakable. But if you’re already feeling stuck, overwhelmed and bogged down with post-Christmas gloom, there’s a way to beat the January blues and keep your New Year’s resolution to boot.

As well all know, writing is a solitary act and unless there’s a specific deadline strapped to the brief, it’s very much a “I’ll get to it when I get to it” scenario. It’s time to readjust that mindset, and there’s no better month than January (grey and cold outside, anyone?) to get to it.  There are a series of writing habits you can incorporate into your weekly schedules, habits that are easily achievable and useful even to those who are juggling full-time jobs and don’t have time to spare.

Call it a wake-up call or a writer’s Godsend, here are several tips and tricks award-winning script-writers recommend:

1. Read a Screenplay a Week

Any writer, be it a novelist, fiction-writer, non-fiction writer, blogger, scriptwriter or even content writer, knows that in order to write you must read. You simply cannot achieve one without doing a lot of the other. You need to read to write. It’s as simple as that. There’s a reason that Scott Myers (writer of Trojan War and Alaska) recommends this on his own blog, Go Into the Story. Reading scripts is useful for all sorts of reasons: you get to see how pacing is timed, how many pages are needed per scene, how dialogue works, how characters unfold, how tension is built through dialogue or action. Format is displayed correctly—and there’s no simpler way to learn format than by seeing it—plus, you’ll really get a feel for your favourite films on paper (well, in this case on PDF). By reading one screenplay a week and critically analysing it for all the above factors, you’ll notice a vast improvement in your own writing. Good writing really does rub off.

You can find a whole bunch of links to scripts here:

2. Watch a film a week

This doesn’t mean watching a film at home a week. This you should do as much as possible anyway (yes, watching films really IS a justifiable means of research). What I mean by this is actually going to the cinema once a week and watching a film in the same genre you’re writing your script it. It’s an opportunity to put out your antennae to your audience and gauge their reaction to the dialogue, the plotting and the action scenes. Does the audience laugh at all the right beats? Do they yawn through the slower parts? This all helps you understand what it is people respond to in a film and whether or not it’s working for them. After all, films are all about the entertainment, so it’s good practice knowing if your own target audience is entertained or not—what makes them tick.

Then at home carry out an actual analysis of the film you just saw. Better yet, do a scene by scene breakdown and figure out how the script’s structure works. This is sure to shed some light on your own script, and may even give you ideas how to lay out your story according to good story building.

Going to the cinema once a week might not be within your budgetary means, but at least try and catch two films a month—chalk it up to research funds, even if you don’t need a penny to write a script, it does help if you have an assigned budget for research, material, courses and even events. Treat your project as a business, and your business will eventually become lucrative.

3. Write 15 pages of Story Prepping/World-Building a week

One of the most enjoyable processes in screenwriting, world-building is something that should never be left at the wayside.  Try writing fifteen pages of world-building a week. Just pick an afternoon/evening after work on a day during the week and you’ll see it’s easy enough. For better results, choose ONE subject to focus on every week. This could look something like this:

Week 1: Your Protagonist: Motivations, Background, Friends, Family, Physical Appearance.

Week 2: Secondary Characters. Relation to your protagonist. Backgrounds. Roles in script. Physical Appearances.

Week 3: Your Antagonist’s role.

Week 4: Plot A. Your main story line. What happens?

Week 5: Plot B. What else is happening?

Week 6: World Building. Where is your story set? If contemporary or historical setting, what research do you need to carry out for realistic portrayals? If fantasy, what are the rules of your made-up society?

4. Write a Scene a Week

Writing a scene a week is again, perfectly achievable. If you think that one scene roughly amounts to five pages of writing on Celtx, this is about an hour or two of writing, depending on how much research you need to incorporate into the actual writing process. But if you’ve done your world-building homework a day or so before you begin your scene, you can coordinate the themes so that the scene you’re working on will incorporate your world-building research.

John August for example, writer of Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie’s Angels to name a few, aims to write five pages a day and by barricading himself away, can come up with forty decent pages from one session. That’s serious dedication to his art. You can read about his habits here:

5. Home Time is Work Time

Finally, there is no successful journey without some degree of personal sacrifice. In order to achieve the above rules, you’re going to have to set aside a few evenings a week and at least one day out of your weekend, if not both.

But because you love writing, none of this will feel like work and it will be worth it in the end. Steven Pressfield, writer of Above the Law and Separate Lives, writes six days a week and is at his most productive on the weekend. You can read the interview on writing routines here:

Careful scheduling is the only way to achieve maximum results. We probably have all fantasized of the bohemian scriptwriter who, after knocking back a few shots of absinthe, sits down and completes an award-winning, revolutionary screenplay in a night. But usually, it’s down to a scriptwriter’s sheer force of will and strict personal culture.

It also helps to turn off the internet and silence your phone whilst you do all this. Living in the age of instant-messaging and online distractions is (unfortunately) not script-writer friendly.


While there’s no secret formula of success for screenwriting, there are ways to tighten your schedule and become more productive over time, increasing the odds of finishing a high-quality screenplay and breaking free from your full-time restrictions. As John August himself says, for the most part writing is just a slog, one you’ve got to traipse through on a daily basis. But oh, so worth it in the end.

Plus, look at it this way: if you write five pages of solid screenplay a week (which isn’t that much considering) and a feature is usually 120 pages long, then in approximately five months you’ll have your first draft. That’s the hardest part, the rest is editing.

Dialogue that Sings: What Dialogue does for your Script

Dialogue is one of the elements that showcases a writer’s talent in a matter of minutes, portraying time period, plot, setting and characterisation. It also reveals the subtext and context of your film. Because it’s so difficult to do well, good dialogue demonstrates your unique voice and style in ways that bring your characters alive from the page, and shape an actor’s performance. Good dialogue is that which (perhaps ironically) doesn’t represent real-life conversation because it’s full of buts and ums and repetitiveness. Sometimes we don’t even realise just how much so. Dialogue needs to emulate the sense of what real conversations sound like, but eliminating those fillers we pepper our talk with.

This is because in a script, you’ve only got a few pages to get your character’s point across, so everything the characters say must move plot along as well as being poignant. This is probably why real-life conversation can go on for so long, because none of us have any plot to develop in a page!

When you’re writing the first draft of your script, don’t worry too much about getting it perfect, just get it down on top of a solid plot line and seamless characterisation. As long as you’re on a roll, that initial splurge is all about laying down the foundations of your story. Good dialogue itself is all in the rewrite. During the editing process, you won’t be so concerned with plotting, and you’ll have the time and the creativity to ‘listen’ to your characters and imagine how each of them talk, adding poignancy and quirks you might not have considered the first time around.


The things people say in real life reveal their traits, personality, education, and their background. In a way, the same goes for the characters in your script. Dialogue has to sound completely natural to your main character; there is no way out of this. We need to hear/see that the characters’ voices are different from one another, because in real life, nobody uses the exact same expressions, or displays the same kind of wit, sense of humour, accent or any other traits that are undeniably personal.

Powerful dialogue can show your character’s very personality through their words. This is why so many screenwriting moguls recommend you know your characters (and at the very least your protagonist) inside out. That you become them if necessary, if only to imagine exactly how they sound. There’s no use portraying your protagonist as a criminal drug lord from the Bronx, if he is then going to speak like a British politician (obvious, perhaps, but you get the point).

There are accents to be considered, slang words, expressions, what’s taboo in your character’s culture, what’s not, how their background shapes the way they speak, their speech patterns, tone, sentence structure, dialect, things they leave unsaid, and so on.

Casablanca is a good example. This is how Rick’s character is portrayed through dialogue.

Major Strasser

We have a complete dossier on you.
Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot
Return to his country. Reason a little
Vague. We also know what you did in Paris, Mr.
Blaine, and also why you left Paris. Don’t
Worry, we are not going to broadcast it.

(reading dossier)

Are my eyes really brown?

Straight away we can see he’s a bit sarcastic and unruffled in the face of potential threat, and mostly through another character’s speech, which is genius, as we’re also handed his background, intriguing and mysterious, in a matter of seconds.

Plot Development

A good script is all about balance. A good balance of exposition, dialogue and scene changes. It’s about variety, but not so much that you get confused, and believable, poignant dialogue, but not so realistic it gets strung along for hours. No dialogue should go over the five-minute mark in one same scene without some exposition to break it up. The audience is expected to get bored if the development stays in one scene for too long. Your characters must tell the audience what is going on (in a very subtle way)

Nine times out of ten you won’t need these long explanations clogging up your script; the audience will understand it if it’s been put into the narrative, or a brief hint is always better than over-selling a character’s point. This is one of the biggest issues new writers learn to overcome: exposition and on the nose dialogue that explains all the plot points and essential developments when it is unnecessary, not to mention it hinges on the show-don’t-tell techniques so many new writers end up boycotting.

Dialogue can move your plot along by exposing backstory and plot (via flashbacks for example) and by building tension through climactic scenes (dialogue in action—does your character keep their cool in the face of danger, or do they squeal like a stuck pig?). Dialogue creates action by revealing a character’s decision, or portraying a relationship and/or connection between characters. This often helps the plot move forwards by creating and building tension towards the final plot resolution. A great example of this is in the film A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin, when tension is built between characters Jessup and Kaffee in the final court scene, in which Kaffee desperately tries to extract the information from Jessup that would end the case. Jessup’s outburst effectively heightens the tension and moves the plot forward by revealing the truth.

You want answers?

I think I’m entitled to them.

You want answers?!

I want the truth.

You can’t handle the truth!

And nobody moves.

Son, we live in a world that has
walls. And those walls have to be
guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna
do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I
have a greater responsibility than
you can possibly fathom. You weep
for Santiago and you curse the
marines. You have that luxury. You
have the luxury of not knowing what
I know: That Santiago’s death, while
tragic, probably saved lives. And my
existence, while grotesque and
incomprehensible to you, saves lives.
You don’t want the truth. Because
deep down, in places you don’t talk
about at parties, you want me on
that wall. You need me there.
We use words like honor, code,
loyalty… we use these words as the
backbone to a life spent defending
something. You use ’em as a punchline.
I have neither the time nor the
inclination to explain myself to a
man who rises and sleeps under the
blanket of the very freedom I provide,
then questions the manner in which I
provide it. I’d prefer you just said
thank you and went on your way.
Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a
weapon and stand a post. Either way,
I don’t give a damn what you think
you’re entitled to.

Did you order the code red?

I did the job you sent me to do.

Did you order the code red?

You’re goddamn right I did!

Silence. From everyone. RANDOLPH, ROSS, the M.P.’s, they’re
all frozen. JO and SAM are likewise. JESSEP seems strangely,
quietly relieved. KAFFEE simply takes control of the room

Exposition/Narrative Balance

There are ways of integrating exposition into effective dialogue by mixing both narrative and exposition together. You can always have your characters talking about a specific issue whilst they’re doing something active, or have your main character as oblivious as the audience, so that the character finds out alongside the viewer, and things are explained to them, or exposed to them.

Bad expository dialogue is that in which the character is telling the character something he or she already knows for the benefit of the audience. It breaks the fourth wall in an unintentional and clunky way, breaking up the realism of the story. The rule of thumb to avoid this, is to ask yourself, does this make sense realistically? For example, picture a scene between two characters in a room together.

I can’t believe you’re doing this.
Doing what?
You know what! Divorcing me, a forty-five-year-old neurosurgeon who works long hours and doesn’t take the weekends off to help you bring up our four-year old son, Mattie!

As you can see in this (false) example, the exposition is off the roof. It’s terrible. There are far better ways to seamlessly integrate all this information through dialogue and the description. In pilots, this is done a lot, but in a way that is not so on-your-nose storytelling. See the conversation between Joey and Ross on Friends, in the pilot:

Really, everyone.
I hope she’ll be very happy.
No you don’t.
No I don’t, to hell with her, she left me!
And you never knew she was a lesbian?
No! Okay? Why does everyone keep fixating on that? She didn’t know, how should I know?


This is a good example of integrating exposition into dialogue. Joey asking something that has probably already been explained to him before doesn’t make a whole lot of sense realistically, but the script still gets away with it because sometimes the audience do need plot points spelled out for them. You can still twist it in a way that is subtle (and you must).

The Festival Run

Finishing a film is always a great accomplishment. It is very rewarding to see an idea come to fruition through the coordinated effort of people working in team to achieve the representation of that idea. However, the last step to make that effort complete is to show the results of the hard work. And as if making the film wasn’t hard enough, showing it is likely almost as difficult, if not tougher. It is all very nice showing it to family and friends, but that won’t exactly yield any sort of professional recognition or prospects of career progression.

So, who should I show my film to and how? – you might be wondering. The answer is “festivals”.

What are film festivals?

Film festivals are events that provide the opportunity to showcase new talent and productions in the film industry. They are also great places to do business, network, stay head about new developments and even learn new things through Q&A sessions and workshops.

Simply put, a festival can be thought about as a film market. Filmmakers submit their films looking to catch the eye of people working in the industry. Executives, producers, directors, actors, distributors, press, critics, agents and many others attend to look for new productions, new deals in terms of rights, ideas or distribution agreements, opportunities to collaborate and uncover new talent.

Generally, it is possible to also attend festivals even if you don’t work in the industry or if your submission hasn’t been selected. You can buy tickets for most of them, however the more popular and prestigious, the more expensive and difficult it would be to get a pass. This can be nonetheless worth doing for big festivals, since these are a very interesting window to peak through to see how films are actually bought and sold. It is also a great experience and you never know who you can end up meeting.

Reasons to enter them

The main reason for filmmakers to enter festivals is therefore to get exposure. No one is going to come looking for you or your film, especially if they don’t even know you exist and make films. This is tied-in with trying to win awards, another reason to enter festivals. These are the main places to do so –even cash prizes- and this normally translates into recognition and press attention. Depending on the prestige and popularity of the festival, there can be high career development prospects – like getting on the radar for big productions or projects, or maybe having new opportunities for higher funding. Awards also look great on any personal filmography, and you might want to consider listing them on your CV since this could provide you with a boost that takes you to the next level.

Even if you don’t win any awards, most would consider getting accepted into any category of any respected festival, a great success. You can still get recognition and press attention just for being selected – and there could be as many prospects if your film appeals to the audience even though not so much to the jury.


The process for the festival run starts by planning it right at the pre-production stage. In my previous article “Starting Pre-Production” I mentioned providing an allocation for festivals when preparing the film’s budget. This budget would be for submission fees, as most festivals are not free to enter, and in most cases, for preparing a submission package.

In order to get an accurate figure about how much to spend in festival submissions, it is necessary to carry out research that determines which festivals you are going to submit your film to. Knowing exactly this will save you a lot of time, money, effort and disappointment in comparison to just winging it.

Bear in mind the time that it will take to complete your film, not to overlay it with any deadlines. If you are thinking of submitting a film that is already finished, you don’t need to worry about this –however, you will need to check festival’s guidelines to see that your film is not too old to be submitted. Normally festivals have several deadlines: early bird, regular, late and sometimes extended. It might be an understatement, but the later you submit, the more expensive the fees will be, therefore you would want to aim for the early bird deadline especially if you are concerned about saving some money.

The next thing to do, as I mentioned above, is create a package to present your film when submitting – a requirement in many festivals. This would normally include a synopsis that talks about the film and its meaning, as well as a Director’s statement (you can check out this article on how to write one: The Director’s Statement: What to Write). You would also need to talk about the team, their aspirations and motives and what they have done so far previous to your film, especially about key roles such as Director, Writer, Producer or DOP and the main cast. You would also want to consider spending some of the budget for this package in still photographs both from the film and production, a poster of the film (or a few) and even some marketing and promotion efforts and distribution plans.

The last thing is applying and forgetting about it. This is where blunt honesty comes into play: it is very difficult to win at festivals, but not impossible. It might sound very bleak, but the safest –and healthiest- tactic to follow is not to expect to win or to even be considered. However, if it does happen, the reward is immense.

It may seem like a lot of effort for nothing in most cases, but the only certain way not to win anything is never submitting. You’ve got nothing to lose – you should consider your festival budget allocation as a loss if you hadn’t done that yet.

What festivals should I submit to?

Yes, there is nothing to lose, but no one said you cannot play it smart and possibly stack more odds in your favour. The way to do this is to be truly honest with yourself about your film, especially in terms of the end result and its level. By doing so and researching festivals, you will find that there will be festivals of the same level of your film, where it will be most suited. This way, you will definitely increase your chances at winning.

So don’t be discouraged if your film isn’t at a professional level or the level you wanted it to be – there’s nothing wrong with this since there will still be festivals out for there for you.

Another tactic is to browse festivals by genre – some festivals are broad and others are specialised. If your film is a particular genre, like sci-fi or horror, you will find that there are many dedicated festivals where your chances of winning might be greater. This also includes student or independent festivals.

Opposite to that, there are broad, very prestigious and popular festivals like Cannes or Sundance where it is almost impossible to be considered – for starters you most likely need to know someone in there to even have your film looked at and have a shot at being within the 0.74% acceptance rate. My recommendation is not to bother entering very famous festivals at first, but best of luck if you decide to!

So, how to research for festivals?

There are great websites like FilmFreeway, Withoutabox, Reelport or Shortfilmdepot where you can browse for festivals and apply directly – some will in fact, only let you apply through these websites.

A word of warning to conclude, make sure to include as part of your research some time to verify the legitimacy of festivals. An accurate rule of thumb is to check the festival’s website – see if it doesn’t look weird – the number of editions the festival has run for – the higher, the better. It is especially questionable if it is running for the first time – that it is organised by a trusted and reputed organization and even the location. Believe it or not, scammers also target festivals aiming to get hold of enthusiastic filmmakers’ money by setting up “festivals” which end up taking place in their living room or in the middle of nowhere!

Understanding Antagonists, Beyond the Archetypes

A good villain is one who stands in the way of the hero’s goal, but an exceptional antagonist is someone who can exploit the protagonist’s greatest weakness. Although an antagonist is meant to serve the purpose of the protagonist’s journey, forever throwing a wrench into your protagonist’s honourable objectives, this doesn’t mean you should just create a one-sided pawn with a limited character profile to serve his/her purpose. You need to breathe life into the antagonist’s character, making him as realistic and as three-dimensional as your protagonists. Evil for the sake of evil has been overplayed and overdone in films, so complexity is key in the creation of a chilling villain.

If done right, an antagonist’s reasons for doing what he’s doing (usually in direct conflict with the protagonist) can be one of the most emotionally compelling parts of a story. We don’t have to like what they’re doing, but we do have to understand their motives, on an empathetic level at least.

The following are the most common types of antagonists in film, and though we’ve categorized them into a list, be warned that these are still just a blueprint, and it’s up to you to develop them further to make them really stand out.

The Villain

Villains are all your human antagonists, the ones who go out of their way trying to foil your character’s plans, and if you’ve written a three-dimensional antagonist, it will be because their own plans are also crucial to the plot. In other words, they’re not corrupting the protagonist just for the sake of it (Unless that’s your intention, of course).

Within this department there are a whole lot of different types of villains.


First, you’ve got the anti-villain, where antagonists have some redeeming or likeable qualities, even if their actions are questionable or criminal. Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction fall into this category, or Magneto from X-Men.

Authority Figure

After this you’ve got the Authority Figure who the characters ridicule or spend the majority of their time trying to avoid, like Richard Vernon in the Breakfast Club, or Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. These characters are often persistent to a fault, and are portrayed as stereotypes representing the law.

The Bully

Bullies are usually portrayed in a pretty straightforward manner, in direct contrast to the heroic/good nature of the protagonist, but often bullies are the way they are due to the way they’re treated, and often instigate some feelings of empathy in the audience. These include Johnny Lawrence from Karate Kid, or Fletcher from Whiplash.

The Corrupted

These used to be authority figures who turned to the dark side, often betraying their comrades in the process, be it for power, money, glory or revenge. Notable examples include Colin Sullivan from the Departed, or Steve Frazelli in the Italian Job. After this you’ve got the deranged villain, like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, or Annie Wilkes in Misery. The Mastermind is usually a genius antagonist who devises an intricate plan, complex and diabolical, to achieve what he wants. A good example of this is Goldfinger from James Bond.

Not all villains, of course, are people. Some of the best films have villains that are so intriguing because of exactly that. They’re not human.

Mother Nature

Films that feature mother nature as their villains are pretty terrifying, because beating the odds of destruction at her hands is pretty difficult. Not only is she unbeatable, but who can stop a twister, or a hurricane or a tsunami (or an iceberg)? You can run, but you can’t hide. Tsunamis, hurricanes, storms, viruses, these usually feature in disaster flicks, and the best your protagonist can hope to do in the face of such villains, is wait it out. Some examples include The Perfect Storm, the Day after Tomorrow, or the Impossible.

The Beast/Creature

This one pretty much speaks for itself, but imagine any film that revolves around the fear of a beast that is out to eat them. They might stumble upon it in unknown territory, like the Amazon or out to sea, or it might be a mixture of beast meets human civilization. Such examples in film include the shark from Jaws, the rabid dog from Cujo, and of course the deadly serpents from Snakes on a Plane.

The Supernatural/Monster

These include antagonists who aren’t humane, or perhaps even redeemable because of their very nature. These are the villains from nightmares and horror tales bent on death or blood, and include vampires, werewolves, evil wizards, angry spirits, ghosts, warlocks, trolls, and basically any other species that wants to kill you–usually in creative and imaginative ways. Antagonists like these that spring to mind include the demon in Paranormal Activity, Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th, the Poltergeist, or Count Dracula from Dracula.

Of course, what makes these characters all the more interesting is the fact that they’re not completely consumed by their evil objectives, nor are they blind to their own faults. After all, it’s not Dracula’s fault he needs blood to survive, nor was Jason Voorhees at fault for the way he was raised. What they can change, however, are their murderous tendencies. But that’s what makes an antagonist so complicated. Perhaps they can’t, or won’t. Perhaps that’s all they know.

The Extraterrestrial

There’s nothing like the unknown to put the fear of God into you. And what is more unknown than aliens? Often, the aliens featured in films are the antagonists, because their main intention is world domination, or abductions where the victim will be subjected to weird and painful experiments, at the cost of his life. They’re portrayed as evil, because they are unknown and so foreign to everything humanity knows.

Brilliant examples of aliens as antagonists invading Earth include: The Fourth Kind or War of the Worlds, in which their intentions are always malignant. Other times, aliens are antagonists because humans have invaded their territory, such as Alien or Pitch Black.

The Machine

Best represented in the Sci-fi genre, machine villains are so terrifying because they’re the most ruthless of antagonists. They literally express no emotions, and feel no empathy, because it’s not been built into them. It’s not their fault, per say, but they follow what they’re programmed to do, regardless of anything else. They’re the most obedient of soldiers ever made.

They have no concept of fear, or pain, and so they never stop. There’s not much room for complexity, unless you create a wonderful being like Sonny in I, Robot, capable of feeling human emotions, or David from Artificial Intelligence, the first robot boy programmed to love. But remember these are protagonists, so they’re meant to have a redeeming feature. But you could create a truly memorable antagonist by giving your machine the same sort of redeemable qualities.

Examples of ruthless machines include Ultron from Avengers, or Roy Batty from Blade Runner, and of course, the Terminator.


So there you have it, the most popular–and standout–types of villains and archetypes within the field of antagonism.

The secret to these characters (or at least most of them) is that they’re not lacklustre or cliched, they’re not predictable, they won’t roll over to make way for your protagonist without a fight (and that fight’s got to make your protagonist sweat), they’re equal to your protagonist in terms of intelligence, wit, strength–sometimes they’re even more powerful and clever, or they’re the ones that raise the stakes.

The reason behind their desire to cast down your protagonist has to be credible. No matter the type of villain you choose for your script, the key thing to remember is that they’re flawed, wonderfully wicked, and complex characters.

If you’ve already created a character profile for your protagonist, the best thing to do is now write one for your antagonist and place them side by side so you can see what links them, and what divides them.

Getting The Most Out of Your Storyboard

The storyboard is a vital pre-production document that serves a range of uses throughout the pre-production and production processes. Arguably the most important reason to storyboard is to establish for yourself, as director, your vision for the scene in its finished state, but it’s also a very useful aid to ensure everyone on the production team are on the same page.

In its most basic form, a storyboard is a series of drawings which illustrate the sequence of shots in a given scene. In the process of translating the script into images, you begin to take a critical approach to which shots tell your story most effectively and economically. Doing so also helps to anticipate issues of blocking and scene geography which may require script re-writes or certain location requirements. These boards can be refined and revised as you move through pre-production and you begin to nail down locations, cast members and which pieces of kit you’ll have at your disposal.

Though some directors engage the services of a storyboard artist as part of this process, you needn’t be a good artist to do it yourself. Many directors take a fairly rudimentary approach to illustration, using stick figures for the characters with arrows to indicate movement and eye-lines. The most important thing is clarity in demonstrating the shot size, the placement of the actors and any camera movement. In moving shots, you can use multiple images to show how the camera will move between framings (see images below). The quality of this document is especially important in collaborating with your DOP, whose ability to bring your ideas to fruition hinges on you communicating with clarity.

Top: Two (rather messy) storyboard frames illustrating the starting and finishing frames of a single shot. Bottom: The finished product.

Other details that are helpful to include are the lens and mount type. In addition to providing a more specific idea of what you’re after visually, this information can really save time on set. Do you have a sequence which alternates between 20mm Steadicam shots and 50mm close-ups on a tripod? Rather than constantly swapping lenses and having to re-balance the mount, it might make sense to get all of the Steadicam shots in one go before changing. Beyond that, you may choose to include notes on other aspects which clarify the intention of the shot, including performance notes for the actors, lighting requirements or any other details the production team might find useful.

It’s worth noting that not all directors use storyboards. Some directors – David Lynch and Terence Malick to name two – prefer the more spontaneous approach of figuring out the scene on the set with the actors, with a minimal idea of what shots they want beforehand. It should be noted, however, that these tend to be seasoned directors with many projects under their belts and a very solid understanding of the form. The Coen brothers by contrast are detailed storyboarders, and their long-standing collaboration with artist J. Todd Anderson is a key part of their pre-production process. They have noted in interviews that knowing precisely which angles they’ll end up using means the production can be run more economically – if only two walls of a room are going to be seen in the final shots, the set-builders can save time and money by only building what will be seen.

The storyboard can even be a valuable tool in the process as early as the fundraising stages of your movie. Having a clear illustration of your ideas can really help potential investors understand your vision for the project. During pre-production for Alien, Ridley Scott had his budget doubled by 20th Century Fox when he storyboarded the entire film to demonstrate the project’s potential to be much more than the B-movie the studio had envisioned.

When the storyboards are complete, they can be scanned for easy distribution among members of the production. Having the storyboards in hard copy on set can be invaluable as well for quick and easy visual reference for how a given shot fits into the overall scene or sequence. Of course, no matter how well you plan there will always be unforeseen factors when it comes to shooting. Rather than sticking slavishly to your boards, it’s best to view the storyboard as the prepatory groundwork which allows you to be flexible on the day and accept better ideas that come along.