Reader Question: What are three good ‘how to’ scripts to read?

Three essential scripts for learning the craft.

A question from Lee Jay Iddings:

If you could assign 3 scripts as “how to” scripts, which 3 would you choose?

Lee, I assume by “how to” scripts, you mean screenplays which are not only great stories, but also examples of strong screenwriting practices.

I am tempted to name the very first three I ever read because in addition to Syd Field’s book “Screenplay: The Foundation of Screenwriting”, they were the full extent of my ‘formal’ education in the craft when I wrote and sold the spec script K-9. Well, that and watching thousands of movies throughout my life. Those three scripts are:

  • Back to the Future
  • Breaking Away
  • Witness

At the time (1986), those scripts were relatively contemporaneous. While all three are excellent reads, since screenplay format and style has changed significantly during the last three decades, I think it would be wiser to recommend scripts from the last 5–10 years to reflect current screenwriting sensibilities. Although Back to the Future is a master class in the use of subplots, so if you want to zero in on that subject, read and break down BTTF.

If I knew your specific interests in terms of genre, that would help, but short of that, my instinct would be to focus on scripts which are strong in three areas: Character, Plot, Theme. So many other areas to learn such as dialogue, scene construction, transitions, pace, visual writing, psychological writing, subtext, subplots, cross-cutting, all of which punches a gaping hole in the very idea that there are three scripts which can teach a writer “how to” write a screenplay. Really you have to read hundreds of scripts as part of immersing yourself in cinema, along with watching, breaking down, and analyzing movies, writing pages, taking in interview with professional writers, and so on.

That said, I’ll give it a shot. Three movie script recommendations from the last decade or so:

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Michael Clayton. Little Miss Sunshine. Up. Each is a masterful script, a great read, and they get 10s across the board in terms of Character, Plot, and Theme. You cannot do wrong by reading each of these screenplays.

But Lee, I believe you have opened up a Pandora’s Box with this question, as I suspect people will have lots of opinions on the subject. To wit:

What three scripts
would you recommend
as essential reading
for someone
learning the craft of screenwriting.

I’d love to see what GITS readers have to say on the subject. Click Reply and head to comments to share your three script recommendations.

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