What I Learned About Screenwriting From "A Beautiful Mind"

I recently read Akiva Goldsman's screenplay, A Beautiful Mind. The movie was already an old favorite, but as I read the screenplay, my respect grew rapidly. The written story was just as powerful as the film version. That night, I watched the movie again and was blown away by the organic process of filmmaking. I loved watching how an incredible screenplay became an even better story through phenomenal acting and well-crafted cinematography.

Reading A Beautiful Mind was an important exercise for me as a writer. The greatest thing I realized was how much power the screenwriter holds. He or she dictates everything that happens onscreen. In fact, the screenwriter IS the storyteller! That's a lot of responsibility -- but also a lot of freedom.

Below are a few more things I learned from Goldsman about the craft of screenwriting:

Screenplays can communicate visual ideas.

The very nature of screenwriting empowers writers to tell a visual story. Screenwriters decide what the movie looks like, not just what happens. A great example of this is below, where Goldsman uses a unique visual to communicate a passage of time.

EXT. –NASH'S DORM–ACCELERATED TIME

Within the window, time passes normally, Nash continuing to work. Outside, snow covers the building, then melts and tendrils of ivy snake up the concrete facade and bloom, all while Nash works on.

It's a beautiful sequence in the film -- and it was the screenwriter's idea!

Screenplays are a tool for actors.

Screenwriters shouldn't tell actors how to do their job, but they can give them the tools they need to succeed. Screenplays should help actors understand the significance of the dialogue and offer insight into the character's thoughts and motivations. This insight is what actors call subtext. Watch how Goldsman gives gentle cues about the emotions disturbing the surface of the dialogue.

NASH

You said God was a painter. At the party? Because of all the colors...

ALICIA

I didn't think you were listening.

NASH

I'm always listening.

She holds his eyes a beat, realizing. It's the simple truth. She stares at the small glass ball, fractured light hitting her face.

ALICIA

It's so beautiful.

Nash stares. She is. He drops to his knee.

Screenplays are a hidden treasure.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading a movie. Now I am convinced that the magic of a written story cannot be captured onscreen. The entangling beauty of Goldsman's words are hidden from the world, yet he crafted them lovingly. I hold my breath as I read them, like I am in on a wonderful secret, or standing on sacred ground.

ALICIA (CONT'D)

What if the part of us that knows waking from the dream...

(touches his head)

What if it isn't here...

(touches his heart)

What if it's here?

She reaches up and touches his face with the soft back of her bent fingers, like half a prayer.

ALICIA (CONT'D)

I need to believe... that something extraordinary is possible.

And he moves into her arms, his tears finally coming now in RACKING SOBS, two small souls holding on to each other for dear life.

This post has homework! Go find a screenplay, read it, and post your thoughts below.