What Can You Learn About Screenwriting By Watching Good (Or Bad) Films?

A Screenwriting Minute With Jurgen Wolff

Attending good workshops is a great way to learn the art and craft of screenwriting, and you also can learn a lot by watching good and bad movies.

Watch once for enjoyment, then once or twice more for analysis. Here are some of the questions to answer:

  • How does the film pull in the viewer in the opening scenes?
  • How soon do we understand whose story it is? How is that conveyed?
  • How soon do we know the basic dramatic conflict? How do we know it?
  • How soon do we meet the opposing forces? What makes them more complex than just plot devices?
  • What do we feel about the protagonist at the start? In the middle? At the end? If this changes, how does the script achieve that?
  • What revives or renews our interest in the middle of the story?
  • What emotions does the film arouse and how?
  • If there’s a strong subplot, how does it relate to the main plot?
  • When the film is over, what are we still thinking about? How does it create that lingering interest?
  • When a film fails to do one of these well, consider how it could have been done better. This process becomes your never-ending film school.

(Jurgen Wolff’s screenwriting blog is at www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com, where you can sign up for his free monthly Brainstorm creativity e-bulletin. His most recent books are Your Creative Writing Masterclass and Your Writing Coach, both published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other booksellers.)



Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and creativity consultant. In the United States, he wrote for sitcoms including Benson and Family Ties. He wrote the feature film, The Real Howard Spitz, starring Kelsey Grammer and directed by Vadim Jean. He was a script doctor on the hit film, Mannequin and others starring Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, and Eddie Murphy. For Germany, he co-created the comedy series, Lukas, which ran for 65 episodes, and an original comedy series called Krista. He also wrote nine episodes of the series, Relic Hunter. He wrote two TV movies for the Olsen Twins, and several the German TV movies including, On Top of the Volcano, starring Maria Schrader and Sebastian Koch (2007). His play, Killing Mother, was produced at the Gorky Theatre in Berlin, and he’s also had plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

As a writing and creativity teacher, his courses include Beyond Brainstorming, Create Your Future, The Creative Breakthrough Workshop and the ground-breaking Script Coach Series developed exclusively for Raindance. He has presented his courses at the University of Southern California, the University of Barcelona, the Skyros Institute, many films schools, and groups and organisations including The Academy for Chief Executives, Egmont, Grundy-UFA, and Columbia-Tri-Star. For eight years he was a visiting lecturer for the Pilots Program in Sitges.

His books include Your Writing Coach and Your Creative Writing Masterclass (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), Creativity Now (Pearson), Do Something Different (Virgin Business Books), Successful Scriptwriting (Writers Digest Press), Top Secrets: Screenwriting (Lone Eagle Press), and Successful Sitcom Writing (St. Martin’s Press).

He has written for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Broadcast Magazine, and he is the editor of Brainstorm, the creativity ebulletin.