Things to Remember While Researching for Your Screenplay
Pro Tip: Start with a logline
We get a lot of screenplay ideas in a day but some ideas are not easy to write on, they could be complex, have a lot of history attached to them or we might not have any knowledge on the topic but just passionately feel about it. In such case, it gets difficult writing screenplay dialogues or just penning down the whole concept. For example I might feel inspired by the personality of Winston Churchill and would also want to write a story on him but I don’t know a lot about Churchill, extensive research would be required if I intend to draft a story based on this particular character.
Researching on a topic is an art too, surfing a few screenplay website or history articles only won’t be counted as authentic research. On the contrary one has to spend hours reading, collecting and dissecting material. There are multiple ways to conduct a comprehensive research and there are multiple platforms as well. It is upon a screenplay writer to decide which medium he wants to choose and in which manner he wants to use it. At the end of the day, the goal should be to craft a well-researched character and story, something which is based on facts rather than mere opinions.
What are some of the essential that you need to remember in all cases while doing research for your next screenplay? Well, here are a few pro tips.
1. It’s not JUST about collecting facts
A lot of writers assume that they just need to collect the correct facts if they are writing a screenplay on a historical or mythological character. Writers participating in a screenplay writing contest often choose to collect facts quickly and craft a story around them because they are short on time. This could turn out to be a grave mistake. Merely collecting facts will never make your storytelling interesting. Let’s take the example of a writer who wants to draft a story on the after math of World War 1. Just collecting facts around World War 1 such as when did it happen, how many people died, how many families were separated etc. will not make a strong story. Don’t people have enough information on this already?
If you have attended any screenplay exercises then you must be familiar with a fact that a key to writing a good screenplay is to establish an emotional connectivity with audiences. Presenting facts in a chronological order is highly boring and nobody will watch such a film therefore while researching don’t just look into the facts but understand the context, character and the environment. If you are writing a story on a certain character then explore aspects which have not been known before, this will intrigue the audience.
2. Avoid adaptation unless you have the rights
Screenplay writers read a lot of books and some books are so good that you immediately want to adapt those and make it into a film. What writers tend to forget is whether they have the copyrights with them or not. Never jump into something without getting copyrights. Conduct your research after you have acquired the rights otherwise all your hard work will go down the drain.
Many books offer exclusive rights and there could be a lot of trouble if you adapt them without acquiring proper rights. Biographies are a tricky area so be particularly careful with them.
3. Organization is key
If you want the process of research to be a swift one then one easy way is to be organized. Make sure that the information is correctly segmented, there are separate files made for each chapter or each aspect. For example character traits could be one file, order of events could be other, and personal life could be another. The more organized you are while conducting your research, the easier it will for you to incorporate your research into your work. If you have written messy notes in an old notebook which even you can’t find later then you shall be wasting your effort. Organizing information is key! If you are tech savvy then you can even use some apps in your mobile to sort out the information. This way your research will be with you round the clock.
The important thing is that how relevant your information is, you can do all the research in the world but if the information you collect is not relevant then you might not be able to write a strong story.
4. Don’t undermine research
Don’t ever think that you can get away without doing research, no matter what you are writing, collecting some background information is always helpful. It opens up your horizons and makes you realize about some of the mistakes you could have conducted, at a very early stage. Most of the research you do helps you to define subtle elements of your characters and plotline. One can easily differentiate between a well-researched script and poorly researched script because the command over a particular subject is very easily visible to the audiences. Remember, you cannot fool the audiences.
5. Your story should not be driven by research, it should be backed by research
Writers often fall into a trap and that is they center their story on the research instead of just using the research smartly to strengthen their narrative.
A film is a complete experience and nobody goes to the cinema to read a history book, they go there to have a fulfilling experience. If your screenplay is purely based on research and you have forgotten to develop an attractive narrative then your screenplay is not fit for a film. Remember research is done to add strength to the script; the whole script cannot be solely based on research work! A good screenplay needs to have a lot of layers and nuances so that it appeals to people!
Hopefully, now the process of research will be a swift drive for all of you!