structure – screenplays vs. plays

Do you find the structure limitations of screenplays limiting or freeing?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’m working on a new screenplay. And I’m excited about it. I’m keeping mum about the topic but I’m pumped. It’s been a challenge because my head has been in playwriting for so long. But the mental challenge of switching back is fun.

The last screenplay I wrote AND was happy with ended up getting optioned and never made. I was younger then and happy to have someone validate my work in a professional way, so it almost didn’t matter to me that it didn’t get made.

The screenplays I wrote after that didn’t seem to have the heart to really shine. They were okay, but they lacked an essential me-ness. I also became kind of jaded with the industry, as I was also working in marketing departments at Focus Features and Miramax. They were great people, but it’s a competitive world and advancing was political manuvering and posturing that I couldn’t stand.

I’m having a lot of trouble with the structure of this new screenplay because the world I’ve created seems too unwieldy to break into scenes and beats and all of that. It’s this strange sensation where the world seems too enormous to narrow down into screenplay scenes.

Yet, I’m creating entire worlds in both plays and screenplays, with rich, three dimensional characters (I hope!) but in plays, creating the world feels easier. I think playwriting is liberating for me, because I’m forced to drill down into conversations. With screenwriting, I have unlimited images and locations and characters to choose from.

It’s weird, because as a playwright – if you tell me – write a play about a two legged dog and a deflated balloon set in Siberia – I could do it. In fact, I’d be happy to do it! I’d love the constraints.

But if you tell me, put my screenplay idea and characters into a three act structure with a specified number of beats per act, I quiver in fear and cower in front of my blinking cursor.

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