There is a common misconception that screenwriters only write dialogue. That's like saying that doctors only apply Band-aids.
Writers make up an entire story in their heads, creating a universe that becomes a movie. Even if it's adapted from source material, writers write everything that happens onscreen — explosions, gun fights, chase sequences or just two people sitting in a room talking.
It's a different art form from writing a novel, with its own set of parameters. And like everything else, there are good screenplays and bad ones. The good ones hopefully become good movies. Academy Award nominees for best picture usually snag a nomination for best screenplay (but not always).
Thanks to the Internet, we can now judge for ourselves which scripts should win an Oscar. Most of the nominees in the Academy Award writing categories are available online, you just have to know where to look (many studios set up "awards consideration sites" for industry voters). The Oscars will be presented March 7.
Here are the writing nominees and where to download the scripts online (you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the PDF files). Go to www.kansas.com /entertainment for direct links to these sites.
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, "District 9"
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, "The Messenger"
Here are some commonly used terms and abbreviations found in screenplays.
INT — Interior scene
EXT — Exterior scene
(beat) —Short pause
CU — Close-up
ECU — Extreme close-up
SFX — Sound effects
Standard script format
* Scene headings are in all caps and establish settings (INT. PRECIOUS' BEDROOM - DAY).
* Action lines are below the scene heading and tell us what's happening. "Precious, beaming, is at the mirror combing her hair."
* Character dialogue is centered on the page. When a character is first introduced in action lines, the name is in all caps. Action and sounds will sometimes be in all caps, as well.
* Numbers in the margins are scene numbers and not a part of the story.
* Editing transitions will be in the lower right-hand corner (fade out, dissolve to, etc.). If no transition is mentioned, it's generally understood that a scene will "cut" to the next one. Transitions are used by writers mostly to set a tone or rhythm.