Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Show, Don't Tell...Then Teach

It's that time of the year again...teaching time.

Today I begin another run at educating (or corrupting) young university minds about the craft of screenwriting. Sigh. This class is a toughie, in that even though I've been advised in the past to just cover the basics and keep it simple (like having a 10 minute script the goal of the course), I've always said damn the torpedoes and gunned for a TV half hour screenplay as the end result.


Well, the ten minute screenplay made sense to me if the plan was for the students to shoot said script say, the following semester. But when the department didn't want to sync up their class schedules and curriculum to accommodate this notion, I started thinking...what could the students leave with that would be of some value to them? Something tangible...for their portfolio, as it were.

(For the producing class, for example, I had them leave with a professional looking one sheet and polished pitch package and development plan/budget.)

For a screenwriting class, a half hour TV screenplay seemed like a good start. It's a piece of work that fits industry standard templates, can be shown to a producer or agent as a work sample, plus could even be produced and eligible for broadcast if good enough. And it's created following the stages the pros usually know, pitch/premise... beatsheet...treatment...first draft...second draft.

Problem is, this makes for a boatload of reading/note-giving on my part. Especially this semester, given that the department overloaded the class by 4 students (16 in total now) and I've got more kids begging to get allowed in.


Anyway, this fall I'm trying out this nifty little text entitled How To Write: A Screenplay by Mark Evan Schwartz.

The hook of the book is that it illustrates the basics of screen storytelling in the form of a ninety page screenplay. It's a riff on Dante's Inferno where struggling screenwriter Danny, who wants to win the heart of starlet Bebe, has an encounter with the mysterious Virgil who guides Danny through the netherworld in an attempt to produce a winning script. So the ins and outs of formatting are nicely integrated with examples of character, plot, theme, conflict, complications, etc..

It shows, not tells. Plus it's a quick read, like a hundred pages, which leaves a lot more time for the doing instead of the telling or reading.

I've drafted a mini-bible to steer the students in a specific direction, like writing for an anthology series. And I've set up the class like a writers room...with students pitching each other for approval and then reading scenes and treatments aloud for ideas and feedback, all the while I play exec producer to oversee and guide them to a final draft.

But I don't play nice.

I tell them first day this will be one of the hardest classes they ever take, but can be the most beneficial to them in the long run. They'll leave with a much better idea of how the 'real world' industry works, and be well on their way to getting to where they might want to be. Because we all know the fastest way to succeed after film school (write/direct/produce) is to have a script/story that others like and want to see get made. It can be your ticket, baby...don't drop it.

Should be fun, no? More like fun and a lot of work...which I guess it is and should always be.


Emily Blake said...

Two rules for making sure they remember what you tell them: don't be boring, and make them laugh. Good luck.

Jutratest said...

Sounds like a great class. I remember being so frustrated with film school and the slow pace of education. One year of production class to finish with an 8 minute Super 8 film?