Lessons in Screenwriting

March 9, 2010 in Study by pacejmiller

Tonight’s screenwriting class was pretty interesting.

First we discussed the readings for the week and did that round table thing where everyone eventually gets picked on (I hate that shit).  Luckily, the readings were actually quite interesting.

One of the articles discussed the poor quality of Australian screenplays, which tend to lack character transformation.  According to the author, the central character’s personal journey and ultimate change is what makes the audience relate to the film.  I don’t totally agree.  Of course, there are other elements to a film other than just a character’s transformation – it really depends on the type of film, doesn’t it?  And there’s also the budget issue.  Australian films usually always have difficulty finding financiers, which tend to channel Australian screenwriters into producing screenplays that don’t require a big budget.  The result?  Lots and lots of boring dramas.

We then watched the intros of Michael Clayton (2007) (starring George Clooney as a corporate lawyer) and the award-winning Australian flick Somersault (2004) (starring Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington), about 10-15 minutes of each.  Both were excellent, and left me wanting to watch more.  Actually, I’m itching to watch Michael Clayton right now, especially since the intro clip ended on a cliffhanger and I still don’t know what the heck the film is about.

Next, we studied the intros of the Michael Clayton screenplay (by Tony Gilroy) and the Little Miss Sunshine screenplay (by Michael Arndt), just a few pages each.  Reading and contrasting the two was useful – helped us realise that each screenwriter has his or her own style and ways of describing characters, locations and solving problems.  While there are a number of industry-accepted conventions, there is plenty of room for creativity.

At the end of the day, it’s all about hooking the audience (or in the case of a screenplay, the reader and potential producer).  But that’s always easier said than done.  They can teach us what makes a screenplay good and what makes a screenplay bad, but there are no set rules for what will make a screenplay work, or ensure that it’ll be a success.

I’ll have to start working on my own screenplay soon and I still have no idea what to do or where to start.  Whatever.  It’ll be fun.  Hopefully…