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IMPROVISING SCREENPLAYS: The Dogme 95 Limitations Exercise

Writer and improviser Brett Wean provides an exercise based around the Dogme 95 movement of limitations to help screenwriters improve their scripts.

In Improvising Screenplays, improvisational actor Brett Wean shares how the concepts of improvisation can be applied to the work — and play — of writing your script.

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Ready to stretch your writing skills with another Improvising Screenplays exercise? This time out, I’m basing your challenge on the Dogme 95 movement. Haven’t heard of it? A quick few words of explanation:

In 1995, Lars Von Trier and a few other Danish directors wrote a manifesto against modern filmmaking’s over-reliance on gimmickry and effects. Centered around a set of ten rules referred to as a “Vow of Chastity,” Dogme 95 urged a focus on story and actors’ performances. Shooting must be done on location. Special effects are forbidden. Genre films aren’t acceptable! All sound must be captured in the initial filming, and not added later.


And so on...

As creative artists, we often make exciting new discoveries and push ourselves to new heights by giving ourselves limitations. Being allowed to write absolutely anything we want can ironically, be paralyzing.

I have come up with Ten New Rules for you to work around. Try this exercise out for a scene, a sequence of related scenes, an act of your choice, or even an entire screenplay. Feel free to pick and choose whichever “limitations” you’d like to work against.

Here’s your Dogme-inspired screenwriting exercise:

1. No exposition/explanation

2. No flashbacks

3. No flash forwards

4. No dream sequences

5. No voiceover

6. Every scene must include the main character

7. No telling. Only showing.

8. No summations of what happens off-screen

9. No genre or character clichés

10. No deus ex machina

Which of these crutches do you often rely on? What’s in your personal bag of tricks as a writer? What creative ways might you work around them?

Have any questions about improv, and how it relates to writing for the screen? Feel free to post comments below or send questions via Twitter @brettwean. They’ll be considered for a future installment.

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