We've relaunched as a full community! Get the scoop:

May 16, 2013

Need to Improve Your Screenwriting? Check Out Screenwriting Fundamentals Course (for Free)

Literally thousands of people write screenplays every year, and for many of these writers, these screenplays are likely their very first efforts at screenwriting. For screenwriting newbies, several books exist that cover the basics of screenplay format and story structure, and more and more screenplays are available online for new writers to read and study. If you're just getting started with screenwriting or if you have written one or two screenplays and want to hone your craft, a new online course from lynda.com, Screenwriting Fundamentals by Mark Tapio Kines, may be just want you need. And the best part is you can check it out for free (and any other lynda.com course) with a 7-day trial subscription.

Mark Tapio Kines is a screenwriter and director whose first film, Foreign Correspondents, was the first crowd-funded film back in 1997 according to the filmmaker. His second feature film, Claustrophobia, was distributed by Lionsgate and his 60-second short The Closest Thing to Time Travel won the Grand Prize at the 2006 Getty Images competition The Next Big Idea.

Here's Mark Tapio Kines' pitch for his course:

And here's a sample of one of the course's videos that focuses on the desire of your story's characters to give you a sense of the overall course content:

Although Kines promotes this as a screenwriting course for all writers at all levels, the content is mainly geared toward people new to screenwriting as the title Screenwriting Fundamentals would suggest.

After reviewing the course in its entirety, I found a number of strengths:

  • The course covers the three-act structure of a screenplay in clear, concise terms with easy-to-follow examples.
  • Kines explains the importance of the various plot points throughout the screenplay structure in an effective manner.
  • The course does not overwhelm the audience with too many concepts. Instead, Kines repeats key concepts and builds upon them.  Kines uses some of his own jargon, but most of it is plain English.
  • The course is broken into bite-sized videos which makes it a good reference tool as you work your way through a screenplay.
  • Kines does a good job setting up the basics of story and character from a screenwriting perspective before jumping into the specifics of how to structure each of the three acts of the screenplay.

As for weaknesses, I think this course has two. First, the chapter on formatting a screenplay leads new writers down the path of formatting a screenplay in Microsoft Word, not writing their story. Writing a screenplay in Microsoft Word is torture, and while Kines demonstrates that it’s possible, I think it’s a disservice to encourage new writers to use a tool ill-suited for the job. New writers would be wise to use a free screenwriting software package like Celtx or Trelby, or spend a little money on Slugline or any of the other screenwriting applications available for under $50. New screenwriters should definitely learn the formatting standards of a screenplay and follow them, but they should also take advantage of applications that handle the formatting for them so they can focus on writing their stories.

Second, because of the very nature of the course – an online course on Screenwriting Fundamentals – Kines doesn’t really dig into what good scenes look like on the page. This may be an unfair critique because the course isn’t really designed to go in-depth this way, but understanding basic screenwriting three-act structure and knowing how to write individual scenes to flesh out that structure are quite different. This course does a good job explaining how a story should be laid out as a screenplay, but really only scratches the surface of the “how-to” screenwriting at the scene-by-scene level.

Overall, I would recommend this course to filmmakers from different disciplines (camera, sound, editing, VFX, etc.) that have a great idea for a story, but haven’t really spent the time learning how to write a screenplay to tell that story. I would also recommend this course to screenwriting newbies with no previous film experience as it won’t bog them down in a lot of minutia as they embark on their first scripts.

Like Kines says, people who take this course should also get their hands on as many scripts as possible (hopefully some similar to their own story or style) to learn by reading screenplays. This course would also benefit from some additional reading. NFS readers can find some helpful books on story as well as screenplay format on our film school on a bookshelf.

lynda.com offers a 7-day free trial, which gives you access to all of its online video tutorials, including Screenwriting Fundamentals. If you want access to Screenwriting Fundamentals or other lynda.com tutorials after the 7-day trial, the website charges $25/month with no long-term commitments.

You can also check out a few more videos from Kines' course without even subscribing to lynda.com, including:

Are you looking for an online screenwriting course to improve your storytelling abilities? Do you think this course would work for you? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments.

Link: Screenwriting Fundamentals by Mark Tapio Kines -- lynda.com

Your Comment

11 Comments

Golden advice. Buy just One book. Save the cat, then start writing. Don't masturbate yourself trying all screen writing software or buying books. That book and then go!

May 16, 2013

0
Reply

Please tell me that was an autocorrect fail.

May 20, 2013

0
Reply
Brian

The best advice I've been given:

1. Don't go to writing seminars unless they're free.

2. Buy "The Hollywood Standard." Look at it if you ever have questions.

3. Ignore everybody and read lots of scripts. Go online to Simply Scripts or some other free database to download and read successful Hollywood scripts. Read them. Break them down. Read more.

May 17, 2013

-1
Reply
David

I picked up The Screenwriters Bible by David Trottier. It's a good resource and covers formatting and structure, character development, etc. You don't need much else, IMHO.

May 17, 2013

0
Reply
Mike V

What i found a disgrace is the concept and the believe that a script must be made following the three act structure. I guess the only way to decide if take a screennwriting course or not is looking at this: if they stress the 3act structure if they even talk about it the course is worthless. (Please no hard feelings here) It's not just my opinion but Paul Schrader said that (taxi driver, Raging Bull etc..) , Scorsese, P.T. Anderson and so on. Personally when writing a script I found out that the only recipe to write a bad, two dimensional script is following a structure that says: "At page 30 there must be a twist and at page 90 there must be the climax" and so on.
I agree: what we should do as authors is read, read and read the scripts, the stories that we love. That's more than enough and prepairs has to write something interesting and be free while creating.
I'm Italian, I come from another background maybe but when Fellini, Rossellini, Pasolini and the rest of the bunch wrote they didn't even know that a movie should be written following a structure, and what boring structure too! They just put people first and then action. The 3act structure puts action first and then characters. I don't like that, is too easy and not truthful.
Anyway I would like to say that I love nofilmschool.com, a great place to discuss cinema, movies and tools. Just great, thanks. Ciao from Rome.

May 17, 2013

0
Reply
Pepe

Pepe: "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "There Will Be Blood" are just two of the many challenging, artistically significant films that faithfully employ the three act structure. It is not the enemy of the serious filmmaker.

My course is intended for all screenwriters. I do not focus on writing a "commercial" or "by the numbers" script. But I am trying to help independent screenwriters break away from common issues - spending too much time on scenes and dialogue that do not move their stories (or characters) forward - and focus on writing more suspenseful scripts. Suspense is at the heart of all good storytelling, and I believe all screenwriters can benefit from a stronger understanding of it, no matter their films' genre or their own professional ambitions.

Thank you, Christopher Boone, for your fair analysis of my course.

Mark Tapio Kines

May 21, 2013

0
Reply
mtk

A little off topic but it is kinda interesting to see the different amount of comments on different threads here on Nofilmschool. 5dIII Raw = 1 Billion comments. Compared to these more story based threads that people should really put their attention at. We don't need more crappy camera tests/shorts with camera x bla bla bla.

Thanks Christopher Boone for putting stuff like this here! :) keep it coming!

May 17, 2013

1
Reply
Dan

It depends on how you look at it. A budding screenwriter looking at nofilmschool might see this article and go directly to the videos, ignoring the comment section.

A camera enthusiast sees a post comparing X camera to Y camera and immediately heads to the comment section to see other people's opinion and to share/defend his own.

I don't think it's people not paying attention to the article. It's just a different audience.

May 17, 2013

0
Reply
David

Pablo - I teach high school students the fundamentals of filmmaking. The 3 act structure is GREAT because they have NO idea where to begin or what to do. They need structure. THis course is designed for the beginner, and is a great place to get started.

Plus, I always say that you have have to KNOW the rules before you can BREAK them; that way, you are breaking them for a reason, and you understand that reason.

May 18, 2013

0
Reply
Seth Chambers

That rationale actually makes quite a bit of sense. Its ironic really, I'm in high school...hehe

February 1, 2014

0
Reply
Miguel A. Garcia

I'd like to find out more? I'd love to find out more details.

August 26, 2014

0
Reply