Monday, September 28, 2009


Students in a BYFC Scriptwriting Class

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf’s a flower.” - Albert Camus

I turned a calendar page a few days early and found that quote. As a winter depressive, it’s hard for me to think of falling leaves with joy. Autumn is a good time though for writing. It’s a time to retreat. Comedy, horror, sci-fi, you know what you love. You have your starting idea, you have your characters. You’re excited and you’re lost. You don’t know what to focus on or how to take the next step. Maybe you bought a camera and you’re dreaming about making your big idea into a film. You need to retreat from your ambitions for a moment. Big ambitions can cover up big fears.

Take time for learning. Real learning is hard to do after you’ve been pushed out into the world and have to watch your back, hurrying to the time clock and counting the dollars. Maybe you are not yet at the age where you’re legally allowed to go where you want, or maybe at your age you’re not physically capable of going wherever you want. You have people depending on you, or people who think you incapable. Maybe you feel like a fallen leaf about to be swept aside. Only through a retreat within yourself can you find the flower.

Our next “MAKE A FILM” Class Series starts on Wednesday with the “INTRO TO SCRIPTWRITING: Blueprint for Making A Film” Class. (for a complete class series listing: See page 5

On a practical level students in the first class session will learn proper script format and how it shapes the way a story is told. Visit the BYFC website for a lesson on how scripts are formatted Then download free screenwriting software at .

Students in a BYFC Scriptwriting Class

Next students will be introduced to the tools a Scriptwriter is given to tell a story visually: actors, gestures, little and big acts, props, set pieces, wardrobe and sound. (The storytelling visuals of camera and lighting are mostly left to the Director.)

The last part of the first class session is devoted to retreat. How do you retreat? From your ordinary world. You have the skeleton of an idea for a script. The next part is not a lot of writing – It’s a lot of “Prewriting” It’s brainstorming, talking with friends, interviewing, researching, drawing, mapping and in general Being Open To The World. Most people don’t know how to do this (in any part of their lives) or the value of doing it.

How do you find the living story -- the one that turns characters into people that the audience will think they know and find themselves caring about. Don’t do it! Watch out! How could you be so stupid! A writer is thrilled when the audience talks back to the screen.

The assignment I give students at the end of the first class session is to write a one scene, one location script with no more than 2 to 3 characters. And if they want the script to be considered in the future by Brooklyn Young Filmmakers for producing, it has to be makeable on a low-low budget.

In my post last week, I put up a link to Paula Philip's student script "THE WAITING ROOM", which was produced by our Spring 2009 "Make A Film" Class. After she brought the 1st draft to the second class session, which only had the 3 characters: Kimberly, Hilary, and the Nurse, I told her she could add additional characters if she wanted. This is a link to the 3rd draft that she brought in:

Paula’s storyline with its twist and strong emotional confrontations immediately got cheers from the other students in the class. But I gave the following critique:

1) The characters are one dimensional and have no sense of life beyond the immediate situation they have been put in. I told students that this will become apparent once you cast actors and they start asking questions about their characters. Why they do what they do and where did they come from?

2) Whose point-of-view are we following? Is there anyone we’re suppose to be rooting for? What is the message of the story?

3) The opening exchange between Kimberly and Hilary about the perfume gives readers an immediate hint of what is to come. How do you keep this exchange – but bury it in a larger context so the audience won’t immediately be suspecting the true situation?

By the 2nd class of our MAKE A FILM class series, Paula’s script was one of three we were considering for shooting. In the end her script was selected, in part because we were able to secure an appropriate location to shoot it.

In addition to being primary instructor, I took on a new role, director of the short film we were going to shoot. I told students that when a director becomes involved in the project the script enters a new phase of development. A film is a director’s vision. That means as a scriptwriter you have to be flexible and open to make changes in the script to make it match the vision of the story the director wants to make. The director might like the basic storyline of your script, but not all the characters or the details or the events.


Three different professional writers could take your student script and turn it into sci-fi, comedy, or tragedy. If you want your script produced you have to go with the version the director likes (or else produce the film yourself).

As Director, I told the class my vision for the film and what I wanted changed in the script:

1) We need to make a film that Brooklyn Young Filmmakers can show as a “TEACHING STORY”, so I do not want any of the characters to seem completely awful. If they are, then no one in the audience will want to admit that they can identify with any of the actions or motivations of the characters. Back Stories need to be created for Kimberly, Hilary, and Michael, so you can believe that they all started out as regular human beings wanting normal things – but something went incredibly wrong and they ended up in this horrible situation, maybe doing some things that are wrong. And I want story arcs created for all three, so you believe that they each learn something by the end.

I 86’d the character of the videographer who appears at the end of Paula’s script. I do not what the viewer to step out of the story to observe the characters. (Not that this could not be made to work. I just did not want to go that route.)

2) I want the Nurse character to be changed from a female to a black male. I want the Nurse to be a stronger figure, both comforting and protecting, rather than just an observer. Personally, as a black female, I like the idea of the black working class male showing more dignity and caring than the white upscale male. And it will make the story more saleable to a part of the audience we want to reach. Plus there’s a student in our class who would be great in the part (Charles Hightower, an MTA worker – he auditioned in front of the class and got the part.)

3) I want a mother and child added to the characters in THE WAITING ROOM for these reasons: a) It will give a visual reality to the underlying topic – having children b) We can cast participants from our host location, Brooklyn Child & Family Services c) It will help the gynecologist’s office seem populated

You as a reader now know the major script changes the Director has requested. As a writer, how do you revise the script? Come up with your own answers, then tune in next Monday, October 5th, to see the revised WAITING ROOM script.

Students from the Spring 2009 MAKE A FILM Class working on script revisions. Paula Philip, the student writer is 2nd from left

- Trayce

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