Screenwriting: The Art and Craft of Film-Telling


How do you write a screenplay? One word at a time, articulating the action (the “doing”) of the characters and thereby revealing the emotional moments of recognition in the characters’ journey. Pursuing the fundamentals of developing and writing narrative fiction motion-picture screenplays, the course starts with a focus on the short-form screenplay. We’ll explore the nature of writing screen stories for film, the Web, and television. The approach views screenwriting as having less of a connection to literature and playwriting and more of a connection to the oral tradition of storytelling. We will dissect the nature and construct of the screenplay to reveal that the document—the script—is actually the process of “telling your film” (or movie, Web series, TV show, et al). In film-telling, the emerging screenwriter will be encouraged to think and approach the work as a director; because until someone else emerges to take the reins (if it is not the screenwriter), the writer is the director—if only on the page. With the class structured as a combination of seminar and workshop-style exchanges, students will read selected texts and produced screenplays, write detailed script analyses, view films and clips, and, naturally, write short narrative fiction screenplays. While students will be writing scripts starting in the first class, they will also be introduced to the concept of “talking their stories,” as well, in order to explore character and plot while gaining a solid foundation in screen storytelling, visual writing, and screenplay evolution. We will migrate from initial idea through research techniques, character development, story generation, outlining, the rough draft, and rewrites to a series of finished short-form screenplays. The fundamentals of character, story, universe and setting, dramatic action, tension, conflict, sequence structure, acts, and style will be explored, with students completing a series of short scripts and a final written project. In-class analysis of peer work within the context of a safe environment will help students to have a critical eye and to develop skills to apply to the troubleshooting of one’s own work. Overall, the student builds a screenwriter’s toolkit for use as various projects emerge in the future. In conference, students may research and develop a long-form screenplay or teleplays, develop a TV series concept and “bible,” initiate and develop a Web series concept, craft a series of short screenplays for production courses or independent production, rewrite a previously written script, adapt original material from another form, and so forth. Research and screen storytelling skills developed through the course can be applied to other writing forms.