Thriller Movies are one of the greatest genres to write, produce and watch. Theses movies bring to life the very things that haunt us in our dreams. Yes, horror films are based on very scary situations that we all fear but what makes thriller movies even more heart wrenching are their real world implications and scenarios. Most of us have more of a chance of dealing with a not so friendly neighbor who takes property boundaries to far than finding ourselves on some island infested with cannibals. This everyday, real world fear is what thriller movies are made from.
Many authors out there write in the thriller genre. One of my more favorite authors, H.E. Joyce, has recently written two books that deal with real world scenarios. I consider him to write the best psychological thrillers. His first book, The Deadliest Game, is built around real world jealousy and a thirst for revenge. His most new book, Torment, takes place in a modern day setting, inside a mental hospital. Mental hospitals themselves can be considered very disturbing just based on the patient population, angry & rough staff, creepy sounds and unfamiliar odors. These are all elements found in good thriller movies.
As a writer, how does one go about putting his words to the big screen or at least to a 50” television. It starts with a properly written and formatted script.
It’s All About the Format
Format is by far one of the most important aspects to writing for video and movie production. A couple different elements should be addressed before taking on any sized script. The first element should be the actual writing of course. While novelists write with visuals, they also write with explanation of emotions and inner thought. Screenwriters on the other hand only write in visual pictures. This one area will quickly determine who writes screenplays well and who doesn’t.
The basement room was dimly lit. It was dank, soundproof and far from earshot of anyone. Beside which, the woman was strapped securely into a chair in the middle of the room, her mouth taped. Nobody would hear her stifled, terrified pleas for help.
The only source of light was a small desk lamp on the tale in front of her. It pointed directly at her so she could see nothing through the glare of the light. Classical music played mournfully on a loop, the sound filling the room from speakers in every corner. The woman’s eyes were wide with fear as they scanned the dark recesses: beads of sweat dotted her forehead and cheeks as she struggled in vain to release herself from the chair.
INT. Basement – Night
In the middle of a dimly lit room sits a woman strapped securely to a chair. Wrapped tightly around her mouth is a dirty piece of silver duck tape.
Classical music plays on a loop from speakers mounted in each corner of the room.
The only source of light comes from a small desk lamp on a table nearby.
The woman tries to examine her environment but can only see the bright glare from the desk lamp.
Her eyes are wide with fear as sweat drips from her forehead and cheeks. She struggles to release herself.
3 Things to Think About
Write in the present tense with only visual descriptions. Keep it as simple as possible.
When You See the Camera Move
Every time you see a new camera angle, move down to your next action block.
Only 5 Lines
Action blocks should never be longer than 5 lines.
Why do we write this way? This is a great question. Each page of a properly formatted script equals close to 1 minute of screen time. Depending on how elaborate each scene is, you can also time estimate how long each page will take to actual shoot. Usually you can bet on at least 1 to 2 hours of production. Again, this is all based on how well your cast and crew work and how picky your director is.
Obviously, there is much more to writing thriller movies but understanding this fundamental, descriptive, action block format can get you started. There are many, many books on the subject. Some favorite screenwriting books are The Screenwriter’s Bible, 6th Edition, The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field and Million-Dollar Screenwriting: Mini-Movie Eight which is a fantastic book. It unique value is in it’s approach to screenwriting with more bite size practices. Another one that many people recommend is Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.
It’s very apparent that there are many opinions when it comes to story structure and creativity but the format for screenwriting is a very standardized practice. Having a properly formatted script will also help you when casting talent and crew. The people you reach out to will immediately make a determination on how much they trust you based on what your script looks like.
The point is, a properly formatted script will help you in your planning and give a very close picture to what the final product will look like for your thriller movie.