Screenplaying

script analyst James Napoli reveals what films have to teach us about screenwriting

 James Napoli

Honor Your Premise

Honor Your Premise

Through analysis of Nocturnal Animals, Groundhog Day and Black Mirror, James Napoli explores how to fulfill the promise of your script’s premise.

Through analysis of Nocturnal Animals, Groundhog Day and Black Mirror, James Napoli explores how to fulfill the promise of your script’s premise.

 James Napoli

Dissecting The Lobster

Dissecting The Lobster

James Napoli explores the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Lobster, and reveals its surprisingly traditional elements.

James Napoli explores the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Lobster, and reveals its surprisingly traditional elements.

 James Napoli

Plants and Payoffs in Screenwriting

Plants and Payoffs in Screenwriting

Using Sergio G. Sánchez's classic horror The Orphanage as a case study, James Napoli explores the concept of Plants and Payoffs.

“Bad for glass,” mutters private eye Jake Gittes in Robert Towne’s Chinatown. When the statement is first heard in the story, it is merely Jake’s culturally insensitive remark about the inability of Evelyn Mulwray’s gardener to pronounce the letter “r.” It has no meaning to Gittes, who is–by virtue of his being an investigator uncovering […]

 James Napoli

Surprise or Suspense?

Surprise or Suspense?

James Napoli explores the difference between the use of surprise and suspense in screenwriting.

By James Napoli. I had an interesting experience while binge-watching the first two seasons of the beautifully acted and tonally flawless British television series Broadchurch. In an attempt to keep this article spoiler-free, I will simply say that the program, which concerns itself with the murder of a child in a small town, is exceedingly […]

 James Napoli

On-the-Nose Dialogue

On-the-Nose Dialogue

James Napoli explains that sometimes it’s OK to use On-the-Nose dialogue.

By James Napoli. Near the end of Richard Wenk’s screenplay for 16 Blocks (which became a rather entertaining and underrated film in 2006), the protagonist’s sister, a nurse, unloads a little diatribe about her brother, a washed-up cop who is on the run protecting a witness being hunted by a corrupt police force:   DIANE […]

 James Napoli

Flashbacks and Monologues

Flashbacks and Monologues

James Napoli comes to the defense of two often misused screenwriting techniques.

By James Napoli. Flashbacks Nothing provokes a more knee-jerk “don’t do it” reaction from screenwriters than the decision to include one or more flashbacks in one’s screenplay. We can, of course, understand this compulsion to remain linear, and the gut instinct that to tell the story from beginning to end is the only pure way […]

 James Napoli

Learning from the Master: Hitchcock’s Thematic Throughlines

Learning from the Master: Hitchcock’s Thematic Throughlines

James Napoli explores Hitchcock as a writer, examining his use of recurring motifs and themes in three of his classic films.

By James Napoli. One can accuse Alfred Hitchcock of being many things, but unintentional is not one of them. His films were constructions, designs of often epic thematic proportions that commented upon themselves even as they fooled us into being entertained. Donald Spoto, in his well-known text The Art of Alfred Hitchock: Fifty Years of […]

 James Napoli

Groundhog Day: Streamlining the Story

Groundhog Day: Streamlining the Story

James Napoli examines the differences between the screenplay and the final version of the film, and discusses why these changes were made.

There are many screenplays available online, but one in particular has some terrific lessons in it regarding the streamlining of a story, and what decisions are made between the page and the screen that can be particularly instructive to writers. That screenplay is Groundhog Day, the second revision by the late (and hugely lamented) Harold […]

 James Napoli

We Need to (Not) Talk

We Need to (Not) Talk

James Napoli discusses the use – and over-use – of dialogue.

By James Napoli. A funny thing happened when I decided to revisit the car chase from Bullitt. I found myself on edge in a way I could not quite define. I seemed to be experiencing more of a sense of tension and worry than I normally do in an action scene. Then, about three minutes […]

 James Napoli

Writers: Know Your Place

Writers: Know Your Place

James Napoli discusses what to do – and what not do to – when setting scenes in your screenplay.

By James Napoli. EXT. STREET – DAY A car is parked at the curb. Inside, a group of screenwriters wait at the corner of nothing and nowhere, failing to set the scene with any specificity and therefore failing to engage the reader into something resembling a cinematic experience. Every screenplay should be set somewhere. Forget […]

 James Napoli

From the Over Describer to the Compulsive Recapper: Eight Screenwriting Screw-ups to Avoid

From the Over Describer to the Compulsive Recapper: Eight Screenwriting Screw-ups to Avoid

Script Reader James Napoli gives us a run down of the most common mistakes he sees, and how to fix them.

By James Napoli. Many of the most common mistakes found in screenplays are also easy to rectify. So if you are working on a screenplay of your own, make sure that you do not fall into one of these types.         1. The Compulsive “We See-er” We see an eyeball staring directly […]

 James Napoli

The Fault in our Screenplays: Godzilla’s Missed Opportunities

The Fault in our Screenplays: Godzilla’s Missed Opportunities

The Unmerited Misfortune of Aristotle.

By James Napoli. Aristotle’s Poetics is most commonly known as the place from which we derive three-act structure, but his guidelines for what occurs as a character comes to a new understanding within that structure are also pretty awesome. Briefly, here is a paraphrasing of Aristotle’s basic recommendations for protagonists: They should have an “unmerited […]


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