As a writer and teacher I am often asked – do I need to take a course? Why? I watch movies all the time… I see how they work, isn’t that enough? The answer is kinda obvious but needs to be put in perspective sometimes. Training is training… we don’t ignore acting training, or training for a marathon or for anything else – why?
Because training makes the task itself easier – it provides technique, knowledge that others have acquired over years and have written about or can demonstrate, that gives us short cuts.
So, yes, analyzing films and TV is always useful but without any training you could take years to understand their structure, how they really work – or fail – and the best kinds of questions to ask yourself before you even begin attempting to write a screenplay or dramatic piece of any length.
Structure is a very tricky beast to get right, some people are great on story and plot but have to work very hard on their dialogue (often actors are strong on character and dialogue because of their acting training) whilst others know what they really want to say and so are strong on theme. It is very rare that any writer is brilliant at all of these.
Writing for the screen is HARD. No question about it. I would never have written a feature – or finished one to any standard at least – if it hadn’t been for my screenwriting MA. It gave me deadlines for 2 years and a hundred exercises, books to read and films to watch in a totally new way to the way I had watched them as an actor.
I gleaned dozens of tips, information and invaluable writing tools by studying this very tricky thing that is both an art and science. Equally, I went on other much shorter training programs that taught me excellent stuff, real gems of wisdom and alternative approaches which gives you a broad and varied pool of knowledge from which to draw and to find certain methods that resonate for you personally.
The purpose of this one night intensive I will be teaching at Studio C this week is to give as much as possible to the students in a very short and affordable way. It’s an end in itself but it’s also a taster for those who may want to continue their training and improve their writing.
As a produced professional screenwriter I continually access writers’ groups for feedback, other courses and the services of script consultants, despite the fact I teach and work as a script doctor myself. We NEVER have the perspective on our own work that we can give to others. It is also very important to be able to ask questions of someone who is actually out there doing it – who has had work optioned, made, and work which failed to get made! – if you are to understand the nature of the business in the professional world.
Most courses require a serious commitment in terms of time and especially money. There are some very good ones – UCLA and its extension; Writers Bootcamp; On the Page; MA’s at various colleges and film schools but all require weeks, months or years… and a lot of cash.
There are one day intensives by well known script consultant ‘gurus’ like Robert McKee and Michael Hague – usually very informative but also very expensive and an awful lot to take in at one time with no further class of fellow students to get support and feedback from. And of course there are hundreds of self-help screenwriting books – many of which are very useful and I have my favorites but often are a difficult read and simply not enough on their own. Again the resource to a class of real people and real Q and A is utterly invaluable and in my opinion, even if it’s only a writers’ feedback group, essential to anyone wanting to take their writing seriously.
I cannot fit 2 years of an MA into an evening, (though we are going to give it a damn good try!) but by focussing on the short form and the growing world of the web series we can cover an awful lot of the key principles and analyze several short films and webisodes which will leave you with a clear direction for your piece, the promise of finishing that script and hopefully the inspiration to continue to work on your craft. And – of course – a group of like minded people from the class with whom you may be able to form support groups with.
Whichever way you choose to pursue your writing, consider taking a class or two and getting all these benefits. Happy writing!
Pippa Hinchley’s one-night only workshop on Writing For The Web & Short Film will be held at Studio C Artists on Thursday, September 12th starting at 7PM.