Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Yesterday I completed the rewrite of POINTING FINGERS, an original student script by Frank Mills.

Why you ask is a teacher rewriting a student’s script?

Don’t teachers just give critiques and simple suggestions and leave it to the student to make any changes, so that the script will continue to reflect the student’s actual level of development?

What about when you have a student just learning the basics of scriptwriting who can barely afford to pay for your low-cost 5 session class? What if it’s a student, such as Frank, who also works full time and has family obligations? Frank happens to be about 60, but if he was one of our 23 or 35 year old students, it would still be the same. He will probably never have the time or resources to devote to fulltime study of scriptwriting. But what if he has good story ideas, interesting characters, and important themes he wants to see discussed?

Filmmaking is a collaborative art. It is also an expensive and complicated undertaking. You make films from good scripts that not only have interesting stories but that also use all the visual tools of filmmaking. I always tell my scriptwriting students, it is common that a screenwriter will sell a script – and then the producer or director will bring in another scriptwriter to rewrite it.


What?! Hey that’s my script! How can they do that?!

First off, you need to understand what a script is. It is not a book. It is a blueprint – and yours is the first draft of the blueprint, not the finalized blueprint that they are going to build the film from. A film is guided by the director – it is the director’s vision (and sometimes a producer with a very strong opinion – and the $ – will also have the right to influence the vision).

In the BYFC “Intro to Scriptwriting: Blueprint for Making a Class” the students all write one scene, one location, short scripts that can be shot as low budget films. I often get students who come up with interesting situations that might have a twist in the end and/or they write great dialogue and describe interesting characters. They almost always write about people and situations that are close to their lives: family; police; school; work; relationships/sex; troubles; violence; – and now and then humor.

What the students usually don’t get is a deeper understanding of why their characters do the things that they do, and a clear understanding of how every character in the scene might be impacted by events. (Understandings the average person dealing with real life usually doesn’t have.) They also don’t know yet how to tell their stories through a creative use of location, set, props, wardrobe, and gesture. They usually have their characters telling everything through dialogue. So when a director and actors and production design team get the script they are going to say –

“Why does the character do that? What’s the back story on the characters and the situation? What daily tasks does the doctor, or the waitress, or the mother, or the prisoner actually do? How might the character’s daily routines be upset by the situation? Why can’t we have the character do something to show her state of mind rather than have her explain it in dialogue? Let’s make this character younger so we can market to that audience too. I think this story would really work well if we put it in a night club instead of a church – but that means we need to change….. ”

Unless you have worked on a scripted film, you won’t understand how the “word” (or script) often gets transformed (lost) in the active ingredients that go into creating a real world for the camera.


So it’s been great to be able to take students from working on rough written blueprints to actually making a film. We’ve developed our own SUNDANCE-like lab, where we workshop the script, having students act out the scene as everyone analyzes step by step, word by word, all the options of how a person might act or react.

I consider our script workshops to be vehicles for teaching people about life, and we start off with their stories. But ultimately working with professional writers and filmmakers, we hope to show them how their stories can be made into art – into good films – and into “teaching stories” for others.

STAY TUNED: We will give you a chance to think about the questions raised in our script workshop. We’ll be putting up soon the original student script POINTING FINGERS and asking you how would you solve some of the plot points and deepen the character development.


first said...

Fort Greene's family potential is on the rise. This community filmmaking project could make a real difference in some people's lives. - Karimah

theonlyone said...

It happen to me I joined Brooklyn's young film makers and my life changed over night. writing my scipt over several times became something I looked forward to daily. My ideas just seemed to pour out and my script came together like a piece of art. I was one of those students that first wrote a small novel. first lady