Teaching Script Writing

This session led by Stuart Hoar was facilitated by Massey University for the Wellington Media teacher cluster. It focused on his experience of teaching script writing to students and what he felt, from his experience, are what young filmmakers need to understand.

Stuart regularly claimed how crucial it is for students to recognise structural paradigms in what they watch. They need to understand narrative paradigms, but not necessarily in order to follow them. This begins with the three act structure which recalls Aristotle’s three essential units of drama (beginning, middle and end).

He had many a point to make about narrative paradigms:

  • It is not a rule bound structure; it is instead grounded in principles.
  • The first draft should always be written without care towards these principles, but the review of this should always be through the lens of the paradigms.
  • The screenplay is written for the reader. The reader decides whether or not it will be made into something that is visual.
  • Tension = drama (dramatic stakes)
  • The audience wants to be engaged. We have dramatic expectations that can be capitalised on. We understand instinctively dramatic narrative; we have unconscious expectations of how this happens.
  • Genre and formula – our expectations get caught up by genre, we want surprise and comfort at the same time.
  • The dramatic structure is about what is happening to the characters and why
  • Act One makes a promise
    • It contains the ordinary world of the drama. By the catalyst, we need a perspective. We need to vicarious relate to the viewpoint. We must recognise that we are with that character.
    • Catalyst – inciting incident – sets something in motion and asks the dramatic question
    • Crossing the threshold – reaching the point of no return. Main character might refuse the dramatic question. But it is embraced by the end of act one. Audience must be engaged by 20 minutes in.
    • Sets the emotional tone, introduces the characters, takes us to the first TP – the point of no return.
    • Releasing the tension after the TP – how do you do this? Who knows. Write your script.
  • Act Two: complicates and escalates the action towards the next turning point
  • Act Three: answers the question.

Recommendations

Task: Use 2001 A Space Odyssey – first 12-15 minutes. The perfect one act structure – Kubrick not associated with Hollywood, but there is still structure. 

  • What is being set up here? Ordinary world?
  • Catalyst? Turning Point?
  • Climax and resolution? What is being paid off?
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