2 Tips for Writing Exciting Non-Linear Movie Scripts in Film School

Posted on August 12th, 2016 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

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One of the first uses of non-linear story telling in cinema was in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, which uses four separate parallel stories, each separated by centuries. Although the film didn’t achieve great commercial success, the film heavily impacted the movie industry by showing movie makers that stories do not always need to be told chronologically. The non-linear movie script doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. Rather, it tells a story by rearranging events and trying to allow the structure of the film to better represent the psychological condition of the characters. For instance, many non-linear movie scripts will give audience members a peek into a character’s mind with the use of a ‘flash back’ moment.

Continue reading to discover two tips for writing non-linear movie scripts in film school.

1. Students in Film School Should Take some Advice from Tarantino; Focus on the Page

It could be said that Quentin Tarantino is a contemporary master of non-linear movie scripts. His films distort time and audience perceptions. From his directorial debut film Reservoir Dogs to the wildly popular Pulp Fiction, Tarantino makes chronological enigmas beautiful. His timelines make your brain tick, and gives audiences insight into characters’ histories to develop them more thoroughly. So, how does he do it? In an interview from The Hollywood Reporter, he provides some great advice for students in film editing school. Tarantino explains that he doesn’t think about the entirety of the movie while writing. He merely makes each page of script a work of art in and of itself. He wants each page of the script to be able to stand alone, and then worries about ‘climbing the mountain,’ as he says, or making the puzzle fit later on.

2. Students in Film Editing School Can Use Time Indicators to Link Stories Together

Director Jim Jarmusch explains that in art, “There are no rules. There are as many ways to make a film as there are potential filmmakers. It’s an open form.”

Not only does he preach this mantra, he follows it as well. Jim Jarmush’s film Mystery Train is written in a non-linear fashion. Three stories are told separately, at different times in the movie, but there are indicators that the stories are actually taking place simultaneously. The use of ‘time indicators,’ which are elements of the movie that show the stories are taking place at the same time, help to connect several different stories together. In Mystery Train, Jarmusch uses a gunshot, a passing train, and a radio announcement to help audiences recognize that the stories are happening simultaneously, even if they are being told in fragments.

When you graduate from your film courses and begin writing scripts that are fragmented and non-linear, try to incorporate ‘time indicators’ to let the audience know about the timing of certain scenes. This tactic is also done in Charlie Kaufmans’s non-linear film Synecdoche, New York, which uses time indicators by subtly showing shots of calendars and clocks to remind the audience of the time.

Whether it’s using time indicators or making each page be able to stand alone as a piece of art, writing a non-linear script is both an intense and rewarding process for film students.

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