Producers and audiences are hungrier than ever for stories rooted in reality, whether ‘based on’ real events or just ‘inspired by’ them. This course will give you the tools to develop a 'based on a true story' script for a feature film or a multi-part television series.
How do scriptwriters stay faithful to the facts while making the narrative work dramatically? How many liberties can you take before you have left reality behind altogether?
Encompassing stories of true crimes, financial and political scandals, historical injustices, space exploration, and biopics of everyone from Elton John, Marie Curie, and Brian Clough, to Laurel and Hardy, and Stephen Hawking, the ‘based on real events’ script is having a moment.
This short course is for anyone currently writing a film or television script based on real events, or anyone thinking about starting one and exploring scriptwriting. Previous scriptwriting experience is not a requirement, though it would be helpful.
Through a staged development process, you will explore techniques for representing the "truth" of a true story while at the same time creating compelling drama.
After choosing your story, and seeing whether it is suitable for adaption, you will identify your main characters and begin to develop them. You will learn about basic story structure, identify your main plot points, and create a detailed step-outline that will give you a scene-by-scene map of the story. You will learn how to work with images and dialogue and the basics of script formatting. Finally, you will discuss the next steps in terms of getting your script made.
At the end of the course, you will have a document that you can further develop into a finished "based on a true story" script, and a knowledge of how to move forward.
Delve into scriptwriting
You can remain at any stage of the process until you feel you have fully mastered the brief. If you want to stretch yourself further, you will be able to write Act 1 (the first 28-33 pages) of your script (or more) and submit it for written feedback.
At every stage, we will consider how these scriptwriting techniques are applied in true story adaptations. Some considerations may include:
- What are sources of possible true stories?
- How to decide on the appropriate format (e.g. feature film, TV), style (e.g. linear and naturalistic, experimental, and non-linear) and genre.
- How to handle exposition without boring the viewer.
- The role of research – how much is too much?
- The big one: How far can you deviate from the facts for dramatic purposes?
Classes will be a combination of lectures and in-class workshops. You will also develop your script editing skills by giving feedback on your classmates' work in guided sessions. We will also view and discuss dramatisations of true stories to see how other writers have solved true story-adaptation problems.
Goldsmiths offers a 15% concession rate on short courses to Lewisham Local cardholders.
We are committed to providing reasonable teaching adjustments for students with disabilities that may impact on their learning experience. If you require adjustments, please complete the relevant section on the booking form and also contact us at email@example.com so we can respond to your requests as soon as possible.
Please note our short courses sell-out quickly, so early booking is advisable.
If you have any questions about this course please contact shortcourses (@gold.ac.uk).
For information on our upcoming short courses please sign up to our mailing list.
Ellin Stein is an associate lecturer on the MA Scriptwriting program at Goldsmiths where she teaches screenwriting. She has also guest-lectured on writing scripts based on true stories at Birkbeck, University of London and the Byline Festival. A former script analyst for Zoetrope and Miramax, her own based-on-real-events short has won awards at numerous festivals and is in the collections of the BFI, Lux, and The Kitchen at the Getty. As a journalist, she’s contributed to publications including The Times, The Telegraph, Variety, Vulture, and Slate.
Week 1 – Choosing your premise
Overview of different types of true story films (Historical biopic, showbiz sagas, true crime, personal stories, historical injustices, political scandals, etc.), and the pros and cons of each. Finding how the story connects to you and what unique viewpoint you bring to it.
Assignment: Write up your script premise (one or two ideas, one paragraph each).
Week 2 – Character 1
Finding your protagonist. Whose eyes do we see the story through? Whose choices drive the plot? Use of unsympathetic protagonists; how to build audience engagement with characters; finding your antagonist; how to make characters convincing and believable; creating jeopardy.
Assignment: Write thumbnail descriptions and short (two paragraphs maximum) bios of your chosen premise’s main characters.
Week 3 – Character 2
How closely will your characters resemble their real-life counterparts? How will they be different? Avoiding character clutter – are there some real-life characters you will have to kill off or combine? Using the character's viewpoint to throw fresh light on a familiar story. Should you invent any characters?
Assignment: Write up how your main characters will be different from their real-life versions (paragraph each).
Week 4 – Structure 1
Three and five-act structures; plotting elements (set up, inciting incident, turning points, crisis, climax & resolution); the difference between feature and multipart structures.
Assignment: Identify major structural elements of your story and write a list of five to seven major plot points.
Week 5 – Structure 2
Scene structure and sequencing; How to deal with the timeline in your true story script (linear? Jump around? Collapse timeline or stick to actual length? Flashbacks?)
Assignment: Rework plot point list.
Week 6 – Research and exposition
What do you need to research? How much is too much? What to incorporate? How to incorporate exposition into the script without getting bogged down – Is narration OK? Are captions?
Assignment: Prepare a list of topics you might need to research. Start step-outline.
Week 7 – Images, dialogue, action paragraphs and formatting
How to use images to enhance your story; How dialogue in a script is different from real-life dialogue; how to write effective action paragraphs; script formatting basics.
Assignment: Continue/complete step-outline.
Week 8 – Avoiding traps, taking liberties
How to avoid preaching at the audience, and sending an obvious message; How far can you stretch the facts for dramatic purposes while keeping the truth of a true story? How "true" does your story need to be?
Assignment: Complete step-outline, or start first 15 pages of your first draft.
Week 9 – Tutorials
Individual one-on-one tutorials where students can discuss specific script questions with the course tutor.
Assignment: Write your first scene, or complete your first Act.
Week 10 – Next steps
How to take your project to the next level; sending your script out into the world; finding producers.
At the end of this course you will have:
• Developed basic scriptwriting skills. Less experienced scriptwriters will gain familiarity and confidence with effective scriptwriting techniques, while those who are more experienced will expand and polish their skills.
• Developed script editing skills. Through listening to and giving feedback on other writers’ work, you will learn how to analyze and evaluate scripts.
• Adapted a story based on real events into a dramatic narrative script. You will learn how to balance staying faithful to the historical record with creating an effective dramatic narrative. You will also learn how to incorporate essential factual context without getting bogged down in it, how to assess whether a true story is suitable for screen adaptation, and how to inject emotion without devolving into propaganda.
• Found your voice as a writer. The class will provide a safe, supportive environment in which to explore your particular perspective and voice, or take your usual approach in a new direction, and to give you the confidence to show your work to others.
• Developed enhanced film analysis skills. You will emerge with deeper insight into the films and shows you watch, especially those based on real events, through a better understanding of what choices the screenwriter made and how they resolved particular challenges presented by the true story.