3 Lessons from the 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles' Screenplay PDF (Free Download)

'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles'
'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles'Credit: Paramount
Read and download one of the best screenplays ever written. 

There are not many Thanksgiving movies out there, so crowning Planes, Trains and Automobiles the best of them seems trite. Instead, I want you all to know that I think it's one of the greatest screenplays of all time. 

Written and directed by John Hughes, the movie stars Steve Martin as a character desperate to make it home for Thanksgiving. Along for the ride is John Candy, a shower ring salesman, who drives Martin's character a little crazy. 

The movie has laughs and a whole lot of heart. It's an instant classic you could watch at any time of year, but it's especially perfect for Turkey Day. I thought this would be the perfect time to look at the lessons derived from the script and see how it can help us improve our own writing. 

Let's examine it together. 

3 Lessons from the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Screenplay PDF 

1. Always fulfill the promise of the premise.  

The whole idea of writing is to promise the audience some kind of journey based on the genre, tone, and tropes. This movie delivers in the title and throughout.

We are promised a road movie and certainly get that, with every method of transportation exhausted by the end. The hijinks here are clear—these men want to get home and the only thing standing in their way is a traffic jam of other travelers. 

When you write your own scripts, think about the obstacles promised and make sure the audience is having the most fun reveling in them. Are you fulfilling what you promised them? 

2. Comedic characters can have painful stories. 

The first time I saw this movie I was laughing so hard that when John Candy gave us his moment of clarity and pain it totally threw me.

Suddenly I was watching this deep, soulful performance that turned my stomach because of the way I had judged him. I had hated this guy, and now he was the most important person to me. That's the same feeling Steve Martin has in the scene, and we identify with his character so much. 

This second level to the comedy, bringing in the wife who passed away, gives us a nice break from the hilarity and creates a deeper character. It explains every reason why this guy would act this way and grounds the movie in the theme of family. 

Does your script echo the theme within the character? Do you have another level outside of laughs or even outside of drama? 

3. A Time of Year Can Be a Character 

We talk about place as a character, like New York City in a Scorsese movie or the hill in Antz, but a time of year can be a character too. While we usually see it in a Christmas movie, Thanksgiving fills in nicely. It has a universal pressure behind it. We all know traveling will be terrible and there's an inherent foreboding in the choices the characters make. 

What time of year is it in your screenplay? Is there a way that time of year can be a character? 

Adding these tiny details can take you from good to great. 

What's next? Get our free screenwriting eBook

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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