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377464: Writing the First Screenplay II
SCRIPT-X 410.2

  • Winter 2021
  • Section 1
  • 3 Credits
  • 01/06/2021 to 03/16/2021
  • Modified 09/15/2020


This second in a four-part sequence in writing a feature film script has you hit the ground running. You begin by pitching your story based on your outline and revising it to make sure the premise can carry the entire movie. Armed with a workable outline, you then flesh it out into either a beat sheet or treatment (at the instructor's discretion) and begin writing your screenplay. Personalized feedback along with mini-lectures on key craft points, including character development, story structure, and conflict, help you to meet the course goal, which is to write Act I (approximately 30 pages). May be repeated for credit.


  • Students will learn how to write a scene.
  • Students will gain a deep understanding of the elements that create the First Act of a feature length screenplay, including all major plot points.


  • Students will leave the class with an expanded outline (beat sheet)
  • Students will leave the class with the first 30 pages of their feature length screenplay (Act One).


Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writer’s Program

  • Author: Linda Venis
  • Publisher: Gotham Books (Penguin)
  • ISBN: 1592408109
  • Availability: Campus Bookstore or Amazon
  • Price: 18.00

This book is required reading for our class.



Your grade will be determined by two main factors.

  1. Participation in weekly discussion boards
  2. Completion of Assignments



Each week, students will participate in a discussion board conversation. You are required to post your answer to the prompt, AND comment on a peer's response.

Each post is worth 2 points, for a total of 4 possible points per week. 

These discussion boards, in total, are worth 40 points, or 40% of your total grade.



Written assignments vary in points, but all assignments combined are worth the remaining 60% of your grade. For a breakdown, see the chart below.

Beat Sheet 15 Points (15%)
Pages 1-5 5 Points (5%)
Pages 5-10 5 Points (5%)
Pages 10-15 5 Points (5%)
Pages 15-20 5 Points (5%)
Pages 20-25 5 Points (5%)
Pages 25-30 5 Points (5%)
Act One  15 Points (15%)

All written assignments will be graded on participation/completion EXCEPT the Final Draft of Act One. This assignment will break graded qualitatively, will a focus on the inclusion of all elements discussed in class. These elements include:

Opening Image

Status Quo

Inciting Incident

Act One Catalyst

As well as all character development, world building, etc.


Discussion Board Etiquette

This class is utilizes a workshop format, and feedback must be delivered according to the following guidelines. Please remember that this is a public venue, and behave accordingly.


First, I must state that you, your peers, and I retain all intellectual property rights to any work posted on the boards.This means that you cannot use, share, modify, or otherwise utilize the work of another person without their permission. Do not "borrow" ideas from other writers. Part of our mission in this course is to help you tap into your own voice, because that's the only voice you will ever execute better than someone else. Just like your peers, I'll be sharing my own writing to the boards in order to show you examples from a professional working writer. Some of these are live works in progress, and just like the work of your peers, may NOT be used, copied, or distributed outside of this class. 


My number one priority in opening up our work to discussion is giving you the opportunity to practice applying concepts from our lecture of the to a real-word example. If your peer's work is excellent and there's nothing you would change, simply point out the things they did that connected to our concepts from our lecture and why that choice was effective. If there are areas they could grow in, suggest adjustments that connect to our lecture. These suggestions must be made constructively and positively.

When you comment on a peer’s work, always first mention the things you LIKE about the piece. Then, you may mention an area where you feel the work could grow. Try not to present criticism without pointing out the positives as well. It is important to let writers know what their strengths are. If you like a piece, say so! Everyone needs encouragement, especially when they’re just starting out.

When we discuss one another’s work in this open way, there is great opportunity to discourage another writer, even if it’s completely unintentional. We are here with the inention of helping one another become better writers— not to discourage or judge.

If you are offering feedback on an area that needs work, try also to offer solutions or ways in which the problem could be solved. This well help you grow as a writer as well. Everyone can find problems… it’s a rare person who can come up with solutions. Many writers have built careers on the ability to fix what isn’t working. Practice this with your peers, within the context of the lesson plan itself, not just opinion. The discussion forums exist to give us a space where we can practice what we’ve learned.

Below, I've included some example discussion board comments so you can see what I mean:


“I loved what you did with utilizing the hero’s journey in Act One! You aligned your protagonist's arc with all the beats we discussed in class. Really excellent work. The only comment I might make is that this piece could benefit from a deeper all-is-lost moment at the end of Act Two. Maybe instead of finding the magical key and the losing it, Indiana Shmones accidentally destroys the key completely in the fire scene. Then, he faces a bigger obstacle in his quest to save the world, and the audience really feels the payoff for this wonderful, complex hero you've created.”

“I thought the third act was boring.”

In the above examples, finding solutions and providing positive feedback is MUCH more useful than offering a generic feeling. This brings us to our next point— Feedback is most helpful if it highlights specific, tangible things. It’s least helpful when it deals in generalizations. For example:

“The scene where Debby decides to cut the wires on her husband’s electric lawnmower offered such great character information! It told me so much about her as a person without her even saying a word. It really brought to life what we talked about in this week's lecture on visual thinking.”

“Debby’s cool.”
“It didn’t work for me.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Nice work.”

These examples are weak and uninformative, because they leave the writer nothing specific to work on or to acknowledge as beneficial. Writers need to know what works and what doesn’t work so they can see why people respond well to some pieces and not to others. Overall judgments like this are usually not helpful in revision (especially if they're negative).

Again, because it’s so important it needs to be said twice: Please try to bring up a writer’s strengths as much as possible and tie everything back into lecture so we practice the concepts we've discussed. It is best to start your feedback by stating what worked… then, work on addressing what didn’t.

If you make a suggestion to a peer to enhance their work, understand that you are "giving" that note to the writer and they are free to use it anyway they please. This does not give you any ownership over their work. For example, let's say you suggest to classmate, "... maybe your villain needs a stronger backstory, as discussed in lecture. Could you make him someone who felt betrayed at a young age? " If your classmate then integrates the concept into his/her work, this is perfectly appropriate and not a violation of our IP policy above.



Late work will not be accepted.

No partial credit will be awarded for late work.

The only acceptable reasons for missing an assignment are serious medical illness of yourself, a close relative, or a pet; a death in the family; or a birth in the family (maternity / paternity leave). 

If you have one of the above issues, reach out to me as soon as possible for a reasonable extension, preferably BEFORE the assignment is late. In general, I advise not leaving your assignments to the last minute. Computer malfunction, unexpected events, etc. can happen, and it's better to make it a custom to submit the day before.


Resulting grade and related performance levels
Grade Range Notes
A+ 96%-100%
A 93%-95%
A- 90%-92%
B+ 87%-89%
B 83%-86%
B- 80%-82%
C+ 77%-79%
C 73%-76%
C- 70%-72%
F 69% or less

Course Policies

The Writers’ Workshop

Instruction in the Writers’ Program follows the guidelines established by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) guidelines for the teaching of creative writing, which include a “challenging writers’ workshop” as a hallmark. They define this as

…a seminar in which students critique one another’s work under the mentorship of an accomplished writer-teacher. The workshop is writing intensive, offering each student multiple opportunities for submission and revision of creative work. (AWP)

This method of instruction is considered the gold standard for developing writers at all levels of expertise, and workshopping is a key learning tool in nearly every course offered by the Writers’ Program. Workshopping teaches you to read and respond to written work from a variety of perspectives, and hearing critique of your own writing will help you understand how successfully your work achieves your goals. Every student is expected to participate fully in workshopping activities as defined by and guided by Writers’ Program instructors.

Scope of Work for Instructors

Each Writers’ Program instructor has signed an agreement to teach the curriculum in their course, following a syllabus of their own design with approval by the Writers’ Program director. Instructors are never obligated to read, review, critique, respond to, or otherwise address student work that has not been developed for their course or in response to specific assignments in their course. Individualized instruction like this falls into the categories of Consultation and Mentorship, which are separate services your instructor can provide through special arrangement with the Writers’ Program.

Late Work

Late work will not be accepted unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances (death in the family, birth in the family, hospitalization from sickness, etc.). If any of these instances apply, please reach out to me as soon as possible, preferably before the deadline has passed, and I will do my best to accommodate you with an extension.

Underage Students

As UCLA's principal provider of continuing education, the majority of UCLA Extension courses are designed for the post-baccalaureate professional-level student. Enrollment is therefore normally reserved for adult students 18 years of age and older. The Writers’ Program may consent to enroll younger students based on special academic competence and approval of the instructor. Minors who enroll in a Writers’ Program course without first receiving permission from both the department and the instructor are subject to withdrawal.  To request approval, please contact the Writers’ Program at 310/825-9415.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Service for Students with Disabilities Office at (310) 825-7851 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, 1145 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

Course and Instructor Evaluation

UCLA Extension values your feedback on course and instructor evaluations. We ask all students to take a few minutes to complete an end-of-course evaluation survey. Updates to the course and instruction are influenced by your feedback. Understanding your student experience is essential to ensure continuing excellence in the online classroom and is appreciated by your instructor and the UCLA Extension academic leadership.

Your participation in a survey is voluntary, and your responses are confidential. After instructors submit grades, they will be given an evaluation report, but this report will not contain your name.

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    To download all your assignment submissions in Canvas, please refer to the online support guide. for more information or contact Canvas Support via the help menu within Canvas.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Instructional Design and Learning Support
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:


Course calendar and related activities
When Lesson Notes
Week 1
From Outline to Script: What to do Before You Write

In this week's class, we'll cover the tools and resources you need to start writing. 

  • Tools & Resources
  • Review of existing outline
  • Screenplay Terms & Formatting Basics
Week 2
Dialogue & Voice

This week, we'll talk dialogue, voice, and how it relates to character.

  • What makes good dialogue?
  • The importance of subtext.
  • Creating a beat sheet. What is a beat sheet, and how is it helpful to us?

ASSIGNMENT: Submit an expanded version of your outline (beat sheet). You will be working from this document not just in this class, but in later classes. Consider it your map to your screenplay.

Week 3
Action Lines

Action lines are an important part of your script, giving you the chance to tell your story visually.

  • Making Action Lines Sing
  • Character Introductions: the Most Important Actions Lines You'll Ever Write
  • Examples of Well-Written Action
Week 4
The First Five Pages

Your first five pages are your chance to make a great first impression on your reader.

  • Opening Image
  • What Your First 5 Pages Need to Achieve
  • Introducing the World

ASSIGNMENT: Submit your first 5 pages of your screenplay.

Week 5
Anatomy of a Scene

We'll break down the anatomy of a scene, from star to finish.

  • Beginning, Middle, End
  • Get in Late, Leave Early
  • The Power of a Button
  • Character Objectives

ASSIGNMENT: Write the next five pages in your script, pages 6-10. please submit the entire document, not just the new pages. This goes for every following week as well.

Week 6
Leaving Bread Crumbs

It worked for Hanzel and Gretel... well, kind of. This week, we'll discuss leaving bread crumbs for yourself in Act One that you can later use to your benefit in Act Two and throughout your entire script.

  • Problems are Your Friend
  • Character Problems; Internal and External
  • Inciting Incidents
  • Runners
Week 7
Status Quo vs. The New World

This week we'll focus on the portion of Act One in which your character is leaving his or her existing world-- the status quo-- and heading for the new world, where we'll spend most of Act Two.

  • The Old World vs. the New World
  • Refusal of the Call

ASSIGNMENT: Write the next five pages in your script, 15-20. 

Week 8
The Act One Climax

Here we'll discuss the peak moment in your Act One, typically referred to as the Act One Catalyst-- the moment that pushes you into Act Two and starts the rest of the action.

  • What's at stake?
  • Heroes vs. Villains

ASSIGNMENT: Write the next five pages of your script, 20-25.

Week 9
Screenwriting Life & Revisiting the "Why?"

This week, we'll evaluate why you want to tell this story, and why you are the person to tell it. Act One is your chance to focus on those elements that support your overall theme/vision for the story, and reflect why it's important to you on a human level.

  • Why this Project? Why this Writer?
  • Themes, Character Archetypes, Relatability
  • Elevator Pitch

ASSIGNMENT: Write the next five pages of your screenplay, Pages 25-30. Note: some of you writing shorter genres (ie., comedy, family) may already be moving into Act Two at this page point. This is totally fine. Keep writing.

Week 10
Writing is Rewriting

Writing is Rewriting, so this week, we'll polish what you've done so far, allowing you to leave with a clean draft of Act One.

  • How Did Act One Change from Your Outline?
  • How Multiple Passes Can Help Your Work

ASSIGNMENT: Submit your final draft, edited and polished, of pages 1-30.