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< Part 12 | Introduction | Part 14 >

The Videomaker's Journey: part thirteen
Story Writing / Screenplays / Copyright.

Use the links in the text to move between sections.


Story Writing


Copyright in Australia

There are various methods of making movies viz. how the production is planned and how the director handles his job. I strongly advise beginners to use my system for their first movie. After that you can vary the system to suit what you want to do. If you feel a bit nervous about it at the moment - that feeling won't last. In the early days, the first time I completed a storyboard a calmness descended onto me. I thought I knew what I was doing. In fact I had a plan and it worked. On drawing a storyboard you will find yourself going back and amending your screenplay and shooting script. You have then analysed your screenplay and shooting script.


How to find stories and ideas.

A large number of home movie makers get their stories from jokes. The Serious Joke Book by George Coote is an old book that is the best one I have seen - try the second-hand bookshops. [It turns up now and then on eBay - Editor.] Watch the other magazines and the newspapers. I get some of my ideas from events that have happened in real life - I have read that this is one of the best places to find them. I have recently spent a lot of time trawling through the internet - I found some really good jokes, not many, but it was worthwhile. The best option is to think up your own ideas and write your own stories. I have half a dozen friends who are very good at this and they are very quick at it. I was new to this - I put a lot of time into learning how to think up ideas, but I am much slower than my friends. I am a plodder, but I manage very well. Several stories only took me 15 seconds to get the complete story - others took me 2 hours, 2 days or 2 weeks. Most of the stories we use are original ideas.

Story writing for short movies.

  1. How to get started on writing.
    • Find a conflict.
    • Think of a solution - do not let the audience expect the outcome - provide an unexpected resolution to the conflict.
    • Now think of a way to start the story.
      First you must know the ending - next the beginning - and finally the actions that twist the story at various points - before you start writing. This prevents writer's block.
    • For movies that are 5 minutes or longer the hero finds the challenge to be too much for him and steps back from the problem. A messenger or a mentor comes to his aid and gives him a kick start.
    • For longer movies add someone who foreshadows an event that will affect the ending - or introduce a troublemaker.

      Learning how to make up stories can be easy for some people, I learnt how. I studied a lot of books on the subject - you don't have to do that, I am showing you what you need to know when writing simple stories.

      I also attended a screenplay writing course. The text book was "Making A Good Script Great" by Linda Seger (Samuel French, Inc; 2 Rev Ed edition 16 Dec 1994) and the movies we studied were Witness and Tootsie.
      [In late 2007 the book was available from www.amazon.co.uk for £7.59. There is a DVD version of the course from www.writersstore.com for $99 - it is only available in NTSC region 1 format. The feature films are readily available from hire shops. The best prices I found to buy region 2 (i.e. suitable for Britain) DVD versions were Witness £4.95 and Tootsie £5.49 both from www.dvd.co.uk - Editor.]

  2. Write it down.
    • Write your ideas down - otherwise you will forget some of them as new ideas come to mind.
  3. Avoid getting bogged down.
    • You can avoid this. You will think of other ideas as you write - note them on a separate piece of paper. At this stage, don't alter your story line - don't get side tracked.
    • The alternative ideas can be explored at a later date as you re-write and edit the screenplay.
    • It is important to complete a draft of the story - otherwise you may get bogged down and never complete anything.
  4. In longer stories the characters should gradually change from one type of mood or behaviour to another type.
  5. The three act structure and the two act structure.
    • The three act structure is the proven system of story construction for longer stories.
      French movie makers use a two act structure where the movie ends on a happy note with hope for the future. The audience is left to think as to how the story might end. You Can Count On Me (dir. Kenneth Lonergan, USA 2000) [www.amazon.co.uk £4.97] is a good example of this system.

      A brief description of the three act structure used in longer stories. Just read this so that you know about it - but concentrate on the simple rules I have listed above.
      • Act 1 the set up - the beginning.
      • Introduce the main characters.
      • Reveal the problem that has to be solved.
      • Where is the location?
      • Turn the action around in a new direction, raise the stakes, this will bring the story into act 2.
      • Act 2 the story development - the middle - the confrontation.
      • Concentrate on keeping the story moving, maintain momentum.
      • Turn the action again, moving the story into act 3.
      • Act 3 the story rushes towards the climax and resolution - the end.
      • Try to provide an unexpected ending and push some emotion onto the audience.
      • Subplots are used in very long stories.
  6. Movies to watch.
    I look at this list to remind myself of various elements in these movies.
    • 15 Amore - (dir. Maurice Murphy, Asutralia 1998) This is a good example of how a low cost easy to make movie could be made. It was a story about two Italian prisoners of war living on a farm in rural New South Wales during WW2. [Only available as an NTSC region 1 DVD, www.amazon.com listed copies at £5.30.]
    • The Dream Life of Angels - (Erick Zonca, France 1998) A French movie, a very good example of how to inflict extreme tension onto an audience - I came close to walking out of the theatre - it was nearly to much for me. Dangerous machinery was one element that was used. [www.amazon.co.uk £9.97.]
    • The Shipping News - (Lasse Hallström, USA 2001). A very good example of how to create a strong emotional effect on the audience. The born loser finds happiness and hope for the future. [www.play.com £4.99.]
    • The Straight Story - (David Lynch, France/UK/USA 1999) Here is a good example at the end of how a director can put an emotional effect on the audience. [www.amazon.co.uk £13.99.]
    • Generally French movies finish at the end of the second act - these usually end on a happy note - with hope for the future.
    • You Can Count on Me - a two-act story that ended on a happy note and hope for the future. [Details - see above.]
  7. Hidden at the end of Part 18 "Producing and Directing the Movie" is list of books to read and study. This is for those who wish to learn more after they have completed their first movie. Those who wish to make a living at making movies should attend a film making school.


A typical screenplay.

A lot of home movie makers don't draft a screenplay or shooting script - they only draw a storyboard . But if you use actors from a repertory theatre it is normally essential to have a screenplay so that the actors can decide whether to join the cast and learn their lines.

By the way - I didn't invent this system - I trawled through various books and got it all together from there. I then adjusted the system in the light of my experience. I have made about 40 short movies - 15 of them with more than 30 actors from the repertory theatre. You will discover ways of doing things you have never read about - but it has all been done before.

Notice how the screenplay is spaced out. Also the action is divided into several lines which represent each individual shot. Now this is guesswork at this stage - but once you have had a lot of experience most of it is largely pretty right.

An explanation of the elements in the screenplay.

This is similar to the industry standard in Australia. I have varied it so that director and the actors from the repertory theatre can quickly grasp the situation as we conduct the shoot.

The industry standard does not use bold letters or italics. The first time a character's name appears in the stage instructions all capitals are used - after that only the first letter is a capital. I use all capitals every where, but not in the spoken dialogue. The industry standard requires specific margins at the top, bottom and on each side.

I notice that some of the books from overseas have a similar system to mine.



The number
of the scene.
interior or

Denotes the location.

Denotes the time of day. The industry standard just says "Day" or "Night"
but this confuses some actors who think this is "Day One" or "Day Two".

Dressed To Kill
Screenplay by Col Tretheway



MARTHA is looking in the mirror, applying makeup.
She shifts her wedding ring to another finger.
She turns to leave.
She is dressed to travel, she picks up two suitcases and walks out of the bedroom and starts to walk down the stairs.


MARTHA walks down from the landing to the bottom of the stairs.
Her husband GEORGE is eating spaghetti with a fork and reading a newspaper, that is tightly rolled up.
MARTHA enters carrying the suitcases.


George, I'm leaving you.

(ignores her)

Can you get some more butter out of the fridge love!


I'm leaving you!


I heard you the first time - what about the butter!


Don't you care?


Care? Why should I care. Pass the pickles will you.


When I walk out that door, I won't be coming back. My bags are packed and there's nothing
that can change my mind - nothing!!

(looks up from reading)

Oh really where are you going to live my dear (sarcastic).


It's confidential.


Uh - oh - pass the remote will ya!


The material on this website under the heading of "The Video Maker's Journey" may be published by movie making clubs and other amateurs in their newsletters and on their own websites, provided they attribute me as the author of the work. They are not to communicate my work to another publisher or another publisher's website.

I have written, in "The Video Maker's Journey", about what I actually do to make movies - if I haven't used a particular method or idea - I have dumped it from my writings. It should be safe for others to copy my work, that is listed in "The Video Maker's Journey", into their own newsletters.

A Brief Look at Some of the Copyright Rules

  1. Most countries are parties to two international copyright conventions - the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (this one sets out all the nuts and bolts of the copyright regulations so that all countries basically have the same system) - and the Universal Copyright Convention (this one provides overseas protection to all.) China is not a party to the copyright conventions.
    [The current text of the Berne Convention can be read at www.wipo.int. The 1971 revision of the Universal Copyright Convention can be read here.]
    • The first mentioned convention is now party to the second one - so they all belong to both, whether they like it or not. The various countries may make minor amendments to the rules, provided they do not stray from the spirit of the Berne Convention.
    • The Universal Copyright Convention states that to be sure of protection in all countries you must place the symbol © (then your name) and (then the year of first publication) on the document. You will later see that some people say this is not necessary but I see large corporations marking their documents as copyright. This is because there are a few minor countries that refuse to recognise copyright unless the document is so marked. The Australian Copyright Council also recommends that material on a website that is important to you be marked as copyright. This is to differentiate it from other material that is not copyright.
    • As soon as you write something on a piece of paper or save it to a computer disc it is copyright. You do not have to mark it as copyright - but I mark my work as copyright in the hope that ignorant people will think about it before they take an unwise step towards infringement of my copyright.
    • Because a mixture of various types of information appear on websites, some of it copyright and the rest of it not copyright - the copyright rules recommend that copyright material on a website should be labelled as being copyright.
  2. When I started reading books from the libraries at about the age of ten years, I quickly learned the meaning of copyright, it is shown just inside the front cover of the books - that was about 70 years ago. It is obvious that the owners of copyright have complete control over what happens to their material.
    • There is no excuse for anybody to pretend they don't understand what copyright means with regard to author's "work". This also means you cannot publish the copyright holder's work by email or on a website without their permission. This was obvious to me before I read about it - it is commonsense, but it is also obvious people are ignoring this fact. These days the copyright statements often include the words "no part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic or mechanical".
    • On of the activities that require copyright owner's permission is communicating the material to the public by making it available from a website, bulletin board or chat room.
    • If a publisher sends an article to another publisher's website to be published again - then that other publisher is required to check that they have the permission of the owners' of the copyright - this is required by the copyright rules.
  3. Also take note that attributing a work or part of a work to its creator does not remove the need to get permission from that creator to use their work. There are exceptions to this - but you need to know what you are doing.
  4. How to use copyright material without having the author's permission.
    • Normally ideas and information are not copyright but the work that went into how it is put together is copyright protected. Simply rewriting it in your own words will get you into trouble. Also, "titles" and "names" used in a substantial way to label elements in story writing as used by authors of books on screenplay writing - are copyright.
    • Rewrite the work using your own words - you must also have a different plan as to how you present the work.
    • An insignificant portion of the work may be used without infringing the copyright -but if it is insignificant, it's not worth using.
    • A summary of a book - keep it short. This is one system I previously used. I took care not to infringe the copyright - but I also did not allow my work to be published on a website so I would not be harassed by unwarranted litigation.
    • A review of a book - this requires a special skill - I am unable to do this, I cannot specify how it should be done.
  5. Copyright on "titles and names".
    • Titles and names are copyright when they are a "substantial part" of the article. How do we know when a title or name is a substantial part of the work? We don't. It depends on the attitude of the authors of the work. I read that even copyright lawyers are sometimes unable to decide where the divide is between "substantial work" and "not substantial work". It might need a court case to sort it out. I have noticed that the authors of books on "how to write screenplays" rename "titles" and change "names" so as to avoid litigation.
      The names "The Hero's Journey", "The Hero Myth" - and "Turning Point", "Action Points", "Point of Attack" illustrate the extent of the problem. I see other examples where each writer uses alternative titles and names.
  6. When submitting screenplays to publishers and movie producers etc. confidentiality is implied until such time that the works are published. A movie is published when it is shown at a public screening.
  7. Accidental infringement of copyright.
    • If the copyright infringement is caused by "ignorance" or "carelessness" it can be called an "accidental infringement" - but if the party causing the infringement refuses to correct the situation, then it becomes a "deliberate infringement".
  8. Take care not to authorize an infringement.
    • Anyone who sanctions or condones an infringement then also become guilty of the infringing conduct.
  9. These notes are only a partial explanation of the copyright law. It is my understanding of what I need to know to about the subject.

For complete detailed advice on copyright in Australia visit www.copyright.org.au (Australian Copyright Council), click the "Copyright Information" tab, then select the "Information Sheets" you need.

[For advice relevant to Britain visit www.britishcopyright.org (British Copyright Council), click the "Information" option on the top menu and start there.]

< Part 12 | Introduction | Part 14 >

© copyright Arthur Bullock, 2007

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