May 23, 2013
by Christopher Boone
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, below.