Most movies are divided into sections or "acts". The three-act
structure is commonly used in feature films. Television movies often have
seven acts that correspond with commercial breaks.
Adaptation A screenplay or film that has been transcribed from a
pre-existing work of another medium (e.g., novel, stage play, news article).
Examples: THE CIDERHOUSE RULES and MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE.
The emotional transformation a character undergoes during the course
of a story or film.
A broker, paid on commission (generally 10%), who sells stories and
talent to studios and production companies.
The bad guy or villain. A force or person who stands in the
way of or opposes the hero's goal or success.
A term in reference to having a celebrity, director or
producer involved or interested in a project.
An important moment in the structure of a story when the conflict
produces a change.
Based On True Story
Refers to a story that originates from real people
or events. Examples: THE HURRICANE & THE PERFECT STORM.
The person who purchases the rights to a story. This may include
producers, publishers, production companies, magazines, studios - anyone.
The zenith or high point of the film's dramatic action or conflict
in which the entire story reaches its ultimate confrontation.
Appealing to a wide audience with common themes and a
Studios often hire readers to assist in reading and
scripts. A reader's report or "coverage" gives a synopsis of the story with
a recommendation to either buy or turn down (pass) the script.
Credit List of individuals and their involvement (writer, director, costume
designer) as pertains to the production of a film. Credits usually appear at
the end of a film, as opposed to titles, which are listed at the beginning
of a film.
Specific groups of people that are the focus or target
audience for a film. Example: white females aged 18-25.
The preliminary process that a movie undergoes, beginning
with the acquisition of an idea, through the writing stages and ending with the
onset of filming. Lots of ideas, work and money are put into development in
the writing, rewriting and revising of a screenplay.
Directors Guild of America: the union that governs directors in film
and television industries.
The document negotiated in 1987 between the DGA and
signatory production groups.
A company that signs theater chains to show a film,
providing them with a print of the movie in return for a percentage of ticket sales.
A non-fiction film or television version of a story.
Material that is fresh, hip, unexpected is edgy. This term is often
Creative groups of people such as stars, directors or
producers who have "attached" themselves to a project.
A promotional tag that describes a feature film or
movie with a big star, big budget or big time special effects.
A film made to be released in motion picture theaters.
A source who funds the production cost of a film.
This term protects the production of a film from any
interruption or interference with the preparation, production, completion or
distribution of a film caused by forces beyond the control of the studio or
producer. Including, but not limited to, fire, flood, epidemic, earthquake,
explosion, accident, war, blockade, embargo, act of a public enemy, civil
disturbance, labor dispute (or threatened dispute), strike, lockout,
inability to secure sufficient labor, essential commodities, necessary
equipment or adequate transportation facilities, any applicable law, any act
of God, or the incapacity or unavailability of the director, a principal
member of the cast, or the director of photography of the picture.
A style of story. Various genres include:
- Action : A high energy, quick paced film that often includes
fights, chase scenes and overt conflict. Examples: DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON.
- Adventure: A movie depicting exciting, unexpected and sometimes
dangerous undertakings. Can include a romantic subplot. Examples: ROMANCING THE STONE
and JURASSIC PARK
- Animation: A film that contains some or all cartoon (animated)
Examples: FANTASIA and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.
- Biography: Film based on the true events of a living or deceased
life. Examples: THE HURRICANE and ERIN BROKOVITCH.
- Comedy: A movie or story designed to make the audience laugh.
DUMB & DUMBER and CADDYSHACK.
- Drama: A movie or story that focuses on conflict between characters.
Examples: RAIN MAN and ORDINARY PEOPLE.
- Family: A movie or story appropriate for all ages that usually lacks
sex, profanity and violence. Example: MARY POPPINS and MRS. DOUBTFIRE.
- Fantasy: A highly imaginative film that deals with characters,
worlds or events beyond the realm of our reality. Examples: THE NEVER ENDING STORY and
THE WIZARD OF OZ.
- Horror: A story designed to scare the audience, focusing on a
often kills or destroys people. Examples: HALLOWEEN and SCREAM.
- Musical: A film in which characters break into song and/or dance
the course of the story. Examples: ANNIE and GREASE.
- Period: A film set during a specific historical time period or era.
Examples: DANGEROUS LIASONS and REMAINS OF THE DAY.
- Romance: A film focusing on the love story between two lead
characters. Examples: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and TITANIC.
- Science Fiction (Sci-Fi): A movie or story that focuses on people or
elements that are uncommon, futuristic or not of this planet. Examples:
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and INDEPENDENCE DAY.
- Teen: A film staring young actors and focusing on the issues or
lives of young adults. Examples: SHE'S ALL THAT & 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU.
- Thriller: A movie or story that keeps its audience in suspense of
the actions and motivations of the characters. Example: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and
WHAT LIES BENEATH.
The buzz and hype surrounding a piece of material, often created
prior to it being sent to producers and studios.
When producers, directors, actors and/or
writers sign exclusively with one studio or network that covers their
overhead. They must then produce all their projects with that studio or
network for the duration of the deal.
An event that occurs early in a story, propelling
the story into greater conflict.
The right given to a writer or producer to make a film from
an actual person's life story.
A place outside the studio soundstage where a film is shot.
A one-line description of a story idea that creates interest
in the project. If you read TV Guide most broadcasting is condensed into a log
Written material prepared for publication.
Merchandising Rights Rights given to buyers allowing them to license,
manufacture, distribute and sell merchandise based on characters, designs,
names, likenesses or any other materials appearing in or used in connection
with any part of your story.
The protagonist's or hero's makeup which determines his
goals and patterns of action.
Material is often tailored to the demand of a specific area
or interest - its niche market.
Term used to describe the analysis of a story often given by
professional readers or critics that details the story's strengths and
weaknesses. Readers examine the plot, characters, dialogue, concept,
structure, voice and rhythm, often suggesting improvements.
A dramatic hurdle our hero must overcome to accomplish his
or her goal or mission.
Open Writing Assignment
A production company or studio will often hire a
writer to rewrite an existing screenplay or script an idea, novel or true
story that they own.
Legal expression for a contract or deal between a writer and
producer by which they agree to work together on a project and the producer acquires
exclusive rights to the story for a period of time.
The process of adding creative elements (actors, director,
producer) to a project to make it more attractive to a studio or financier.
A television episode produced as a sample to interest an exhibitor
or sponsor in ordering additional episodes for a series based on the pilot.
A term for a sales pitch during which a writer or producer meets
with a studio executive to sell a story idea.
The storyline. The journey that the hero takes in order to attain
his goal or the goal of the film.
A dramatic event that changes or alters the direction of the
The focus or moral of the film.
Principal Photography The actual filming of a movie.
The person or company who takes overall responsibility for a
movie from its initial idea to its final distribution at the movie theater.
The period of time during which a movie is filmed.
A piece of literary material such as a screenplay,
treatment, book or idea that forms the basis for a film.
The hero or primary actor who drives the movie and story.
The focus of the film.
Person hired to write "Coverage" on a story or screenplay. The
reader relates to the producer or publisher what they believe to be the
strengths and weaknesses of a story.
The final act or scene in which the plot or conflict of the
movie is concluded.
The moment in a story or film when a previously hidden plot point or
mystery is exposed to the audience.
Screen Actors Guild: the film and television actors union.
A piece of material (typically a script) written by an author and
sent to an interested buyer as a representation of that author's skills.
The building block of a story or movie. Need more…
Short for speculative scripts or scripts written without a
commitment to be purchased. Thousands of spec scripts are written and
produced into successful movies. LETHAL WEAPON was written on spec.
A credit that indicates a movie is based upon the idea of a
person who did not (in most cases) write the screenplay.
Studios Hollywood includes seven major film studios: Sony Pictures (formerly
Columbia), MGM, Disney, Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers and 20th
Century Fox. These companies produce feature films, television series and
television movies for networks and cable.
Sending your material to a buyer for consideration.
Subplot A minor storyline or plot woven into the main story that is
different than the primary goal.
A summary of a movie or story idea in 250 words or less.
A 10-20 page account that describes a movie in detail. A
treatment is often written in lieu of a full-length script after a pitch has been
An unexpected turn of events in the story.
Your voice will sell your idea. It is your style, your tone, the
manner in which you express yourself.
Writers Guild of America: a writers union that protects their
The document negotiated in 1995 between the WGA and
signatory production groups.