Peek into Screenwriting

21 Sep

As I mentioned last week, Gotham Writer’s Workshop (GWW) offered a set of free introductory courses in NYC on Sept 20th & 21st. The classes filled up quickly as I found out when I applied to attend a course on the 21st and was told in the next 10 minutes that it was already filled…along with almost every other course listed for that date. This place is popular and there is no shortage of writers in NYC & its periphery, so I suppose I expected it to be that hard to get into a class.

Well, in the end a friend of mine decided to take the Creative Writing 101 course on Tuesday night and I decided that I had done that already in my GWW Fiction 1 intensive last year, so I sprung for something out of my comfort zone – screenwriting.

Now, I am a movie addict. I watched ‘Titanic’ SIX times in theaters and cried every single time Kate Winslet wouldn’t let Jack on that perfectly large-enough-for-you-and-your-lover piece of debris. ANYWAY, I digress… The point I’m trying to actually make is that I love the medium of film but it had never occurred to me to write a screenplay. Sitting in this class, though, I can see myself eagerly transforming my novel into a screenplay and quite easily.

As per usual, GWW excelled in bringing a highly educated, smart, engaging teacher to this class. This time around, I had the pleasure of learning from screenwriter, novelist and director, Richard Uhlig. He attended NYU grad school and has his MFA in Screen Writing from the American Film Institute. Mr. Uhlig was very personable and in the 60-minute span had lots of insightful comments, suggestions and stories to tell. We worked through two different 5-minute writing exercises and everyone was engaged and there was great energy in the room. If I lived closer, I would definitely take his class just to learn something new. Today, in reading about him some more on his website, I learned he has also written 2 novels (covers shown below). You can read the first chapter of his second novel, “Boy Minus Girl”, on his site and it is very engaging an immediately I was transported into the life of this bored, horny teenage boy who desperately wants to hook up with his dream girl and flee Kansas as quickly as possible…and did I mention there’s a Charlie Sheen type Uncle that apparently takes him under his wing to learn the lay of the land of ladies? Oh yeah…I need to get this book asap.

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Anyway, regarding screenwriting… Here are a few tips Mr. Uhlig shared in class that I think are really useful. As a way to break some writer’s block, maybe take a step back from your project and turn a scene into a screen play to better visualize where you want your piece to go.

1) Movies are all about IMAGES. Iconic images that you remember forever. His one example was of the girl getting sucked under water by an unseen create as she swims through the water…aka JAWS.

2) In screenplays you can only write about what you can SEE and HEAR. The ‘internalization’ found in narrative can be adopted to film with voice overs, but they are what drive a movie.

3) The job of a screenwriter is to emotionally involve your audience using IMAGES. Dialogue is secondary. As with most writing, SHOW don’t TELL.

4) Screenplays are written in the PRESENT tense. “The girl is sucked under the water by an unknown creature.”

5) Visual images, songs, characters, conversations, places are all great inspiration for screenplays…and other types of writing, as well. Follow the inspirations you find and work with them to create your screenplay.

6) COMMIT to writing daily. Make a schedule. Be adamant about keeping fresh with your writing. As Mr. Uhlig said last night and I’ve heard time and again, “writing begets writing.”

7) Particularly with screenplays, DON’T write in the shots or micromanage actors. The shots are determined by the director and the actors will interpret the character as they see fit. You want to give both directors, actors and editors enough information to go on, but not too much as to stifle them.

As for me, I presented during on the five-minute writing pieces in class and I think it really is telling of my character in “Alternate Ending” so I’m going to roll with it…take inspiration where you can find it – it’s all over the place!

Happy Writing!

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