As a Screenwriter, I Learn more from Reading Screenplays of Films I’ve Never Seen

Alexis Kirke
4 min readJan 3, 2023
Photo by Ron Lach :

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason movie screenwriters are largely excluded from the entire filmmaking process, is that there is so much of the filmmaking process that is not to do with screenwriting. Obviously hugely powerful writers and writer-directors are not included in this statement.

A simple way to prove this is to take a screenplay you’ve not seen made. Now imagine it done with a bright colour palette, or with a dark colour palette. Imagine a long slow take version, or a fast-as-you-can cut version. Imagine a version in which the lead is Nicole Kidman or the lead is Cate Blanchette. Consider a cinematographer who prefers natural light, or one who prefers highly stylised imagery. Or a director who likes long edits for establishing or scenery, and another who cares more about close-ups of faces and hands. Wait — we’ve not even considered the effects of soundtrack types and different composers (electronic, orchestral, experimental, minimal etc.)

Even with these broad brushstrokes, we could be talking about 10 very different feeling films coming from exactly the same screenplay. But within each of these broad brushstrokes, there are dozens of deeper options.

Furthermore (many newer writers aren’t aware of this), directors are often trained — when learning their craft — in script analysis. They are expected to analyse the script for its structure and scene structure from a directing (not screenwriting) point of view. Similarly, actors are trained to analyse scripts and characters. Then the director and the actors actually see the screenplay coming to life, and in that lived experience on set day-to-day, it changes their opinion of what should be filmed/acted and how.


I don’t know about you, but as a film screenwriter I have enough to worry about without becoming an expert in the above. Mainly how do I write from the heart with a reasonable budget something that means a huge amount to me and others, and make it not boring as sh*t over 90–100 pages. If I ever achieve that one thing to my satisfaction, I will be over the Moon. Ecstatic!

It goes without saying that aspiring writers should read great screenplays. And let’s consider the obvious: when I read a screenplay I’ve seen made, my memory inserts automatically the actors I saw, scenes I experienced and emotions I felt. I am unable to absorb the craft of the screenplay fully because my brain is imprinted with vast baggage concerning the production elements.

However, reading a screenplay I’ve never seen is a totally different experience for me. My brain is subconsciously forced to make up fuzzy faces and sets, and a colour palette and so forth. As a result my experience when reading a fantastic screenplay that’s not been produced is vastly more a result of the writing, and hence so is my learning experience while reading.

This is why I no longer read screenplays I’ve seen in film form. The only exception for me would be in the case I wanted to understand the relationship between the writing and the production. But if I want to deepen my understanding of story, character, and emotion from a writer's point-of-view, I stick to the ones I’ve not seen, the ones for which I have no imagistic baggage.

This is easier than it sounds. First of all, I have a huge list of movies from the last few years that I’ve not got round to seeing but which I wanted to see. So I’ve been making my way through their screenplays. There is also the Black List. Many of these screenplays get leaked. Also Coverfly and the Black List website and so forth have many highly rated screenplays (stick the very highly rated ones IMHO). You can contact the author to request a read (or even just download).

As well as these excellent screenplays, I’ve also found it good to occasionally read an OK or just-good screenplay. When I find myself becoming bored on the first page or first 5–10 pages, I ask myself the question: do I ever do this when I write? And my answer is often Oh God Yes I do. It appears that I am much more tolerant of writing good-enough scripts than I am of reading them — an important fact for me to know about myself! And as we all know, good enough is not good enough.

I spent a lot of time early on reading screenplays of films I’d seen and loved. It wasn’t a total waste of time — I learned about formatting and the difference between script and produced film. But now I rarely do this, there’s just too much fascinating and well-written stuff out there I’ve never seen onscreen!

Photo by Ron Lach :



Alexis Kirke

Alexis Kirke is a screenwriter and quantum/AI programmer. He has PhDs from an arts faculty and from a science faculty.