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Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Lesson 1 of 18

Why Focus on the First Draft?

Hal Ackerman

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Hal Ackerman

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Lesson Info

1. Why Focus on the First Draft?

Lesson Info

Why Focus on the First Draft?

Welcome to screen writing with how ackerman I'm your host vanessa for this course I have house standing here next to me how are you feeling verywell thanks are you I'm great. Thank you so much. Grass king so how for those of you who don't know has over thirty years of experience teaching screenwriting to students at the university of california in los angeles how you've actually sold material and scripts to broadcast networks you're a well authored writer and I mean it's amazing to have you here and be able to teach us all that experience how what what is it that we're gonna be covering today? Well today we are going to have eight steps to take people from an idea that they may have in their mind to actual first draft that that's going to be held in front of them awesome why don't we go ahead and delve into that but we'll take a c and we'll get started let's do it all right. Okay, so hi folks, you all here we're going to do something today that has never been done before ready for that...

on that is we're going to give birth to something that has never existed. It always gives me a lot of excitement when I work with new writers because there is in front of me right now five potential screenplays that are not yet written and what we're going to do for this workshop is go through eight steps that will lead you and any other writer from where you are right now toe having for having an idea that is in your mind that actually having a full first draft so why it is important to have a full first draft because there is an immutable law of physics that says that you cannot write a second draft until you've written the first draft that a lot of people try to avoid that but it can't be done so what this course is going to do what we're gonna do this afternoon and mourning is we're gonna have eight steps that will lead you from an idea that is in your mind have a kind of I hope coherent road map that will take you from an idea to a viable first draft and then talk a little bit about after that of what to do with that first draft will have a set of matches uh we'll uh we'll give you an idea of what to do with it of howto you bring it to a second draft but also how to get it out into the world and start you all living your writer's life, which is which is what you all want to do um the way I started I saw the musical camelot on dh they got very, very excited I said I want to do that I began as a playwright and I started the very next day to write my very first fulling broadway type musical at queens college. I was a playwright in new york for a bunch of years, and they wrote a lot of plays that we've done in the off off broadway circuit and then came out to california. Teo prostitute myself and become a screenwriter. When I first came out, they were no great books like mine to learn from, and there were no fantastic courses like this to learn from. So basically, I had to teach myself there is kind of the myth of the self taught the paradox of the self taught, which is you can only teach us hope what you know, and since you know nothing, you know, what does that do for you, but that's one of their big, great valleys of having courses like this, which never existed before, that there is a road map in front of you. So I I have been working as a writer for some while, uh, over here, you might see a ah, a picture of myself and the person who turned my hair grey. Uh um, you can see it wasn't great before her she's gloating, she's, she's, she's looking to the future and knowing what she's going to do to me, I am I wrote a lot of different forms I I write novels right now I have about three four books that are out in the world one of my favorite moments was doing a reading at the harvard coop where my book was being sold and michelle obama's book was being displayed and I think I mentioned I sent a letter to the white house along with a picture of my book and hers and accused her of riding on my coattails but I've written two of those books I've written a lot of plays I've written a couple of one person plays one for somebody who have been arrested and spent about fifteen years in prison for something he didn't do and I wrote a play about my own self is a picture up there that has a word across my forehead I sometimes think this is my student evaluations but is actually a play that I wrote about my own unfortunate experience of having prostate cancer and I spent a year doing some kind of alternate treatment where instead of surgery because who wants that this may be a little bit more information than you want to hear but I spent a year basically is a chemical you nick on dh so the story was really about what it means to be a man when the thing if he finds manhood has gone and sometimes picture a cz tootsie but with prostate cancer instead of address but the the purpose of all of that is the idea that we could derive stories from our own lives, even if it's stuff that you know that is somewhat painful to us on by use of delay. I probably have worked with probably thirty years. I've probably worked very closely on about a thousand different scripts and less closely on a lot of a lot more s o much students have been gigantically successful sasha gervasi who's holding my book in this picture upside down pamela gray house on the left road, a walk on the moon and conviction nick griffin who's standing there, wrote a matchstick men sasha wrote hitchcock and directed a fantastic documentary called and bill if any of you like a heavy metal but the idea is that all of these people all of their stories, they came out of personal experience many of them now have, uh, high paying hollywood jobs, but all of them and I just had a dinner with pamela gray the other night and she's living in a lovely house in santa barbara, but they all still use the other devices that we talked about in class on dh all of them have the most meaningful experience that all of them have had come from stories they derive from their own personal experience and that's a lot of what we're going to be talking about today

Class Description

The most overwhelming, yet critical step for the screenwriter is the first draft. Staring at a blank sheet of paper can induce "writers block" faster than any other challenge facing a screenwriter. Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft will equip you with a roadmap for tackling your initial draft and guide you to the next steps on the scriptwriting journey. 

In this class, Hal Ackerman will teach you how to jumpstart the writing process and complete a written first draft of your screenplay. You’ll learn how to:
  • Organize your ideas into scenes and acts
  • Approach character development and dialogue
  • Take next steps after the first draft is complete
Hal has been teaching screenwriting to students at UCLA since 1985. He has sold material to all the broadcast networks and authored well-known books on the art of screenplay writing and selling In this class, he’ll offer actionable insights on developing your concepts and turning your ideas into a compelling and complete script.

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft is your opportunity to learn how to conquer one of screenwriting’s greatest challenges and get your ideas developed and down on paper. 

Check out our complete collection of filmmaking classes here


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Hal Ackerman is the Man!!! Loved this course and will be watching it again. Mr. Ackerman is one of those people who truly wants to help you get better at your craft. He's encouraging yet realistic about what it takes to write a great screenplay. I highly recommend this interesting and helpful class.


After taking a number of other screenwriting courses, I can tell you that Hal Ackerman's course, The Art of the First Draft, is the BEST EVER!! His methodology of teaching is fantastic. He takes you on this journey from start to finish in a way that you WILL KNOW how to write a script by the time you finish this course. I liked how he used examples throughout his training to help you better understand screenwriting. If you really want to learn how to be a good screenwriter, then I would highly recommend taking Hal's course. You won't be disappointed.


I've read a lot of books on the subject and I've been to a few seminars. Hal Ackerman's class is genuinely one of the best and the most helpful classes I have experienced. What makes the class so great is that every concept has you putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard right away. Ackerman really has tools that are called to be used. Thanks for the wonderful resource.