Screenwriting: Some Practical Issues

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I watched a movie (a short feature) yesterday, made by one of my students, now an enterprising young filmmaker. His attempt is genuinely commendable, his idea and making style, and the pictures that he etched to tell the story demand spontaneous praise and critical accolade. I’m sure he wrote the screenplay himself before he made it into a movie. And he can compare now, what he thought he’d make while he was writing the screenplay, and what he has made out of the screenplay.

I took this sample to discuss the practicality in effectuating a screenplay to its optimal structural efficiency with my students at my Screenwriting Academy Studio ScreenWrite.In; and would like to share with you what came out of the discussion.

Screenwriter writes a screenplay with an objective to structuralize emotional content of the story he works on; and makes dramatic actions and dialogues to bring out those emotions. While the screenwriter writes, his entire concentration and story-telling instincts work toward optimizing the emotional value of the story. He writes with a purpose to convince the director to effectuate those ‘emotions’ audio-visually. What I mean to say here is, the screenwriter doesn’t write exactly for an audience of the film to be made, but for the immediate reader, so to say the director, who makes the film for an audience.

For the same reason, though the screenwriter writes the screenplay with an audience in mind, the audience becomes not directly connected with his writing, unlike a novelist or a poet. The screenwriter would inevitably need a medium called director to connect with the audience or viewer. I’m very definite about this statement even when the writer himself directs the movie, may be, eventually. That’s why it’s all the more important to differentiate, and define the role of screenwriter and director in the process of film making.

So, when the screenwriter gives the screenplay to the director to make it an audio-visual outcome, emotionally viable, and structuralized, the director may not have the mind to exclude or deviate certain crucial elements in the screenplay for the sake of logistic contingencies at the production level or histrionic limitations of actors. But he may be constrained to those conditions as unprecedented and/or unavoidable at the practical exercise of filmmaking. At the same time, he may not have the option to explain to the audience that this happened because of this and it could’ve been done that way had that problem not cropped up at that point of time during production.

And the plight for the screenwriter is that everyone would point a finger at him, because it becomes apparent to the audience as a problem with the screenplay than with any directorial or production glitch. What option can the screenwriter resort to communicate to the audience that it was not his mistake? Nothing. Not possible at all.

Another thing I generally notice among the young, upcoming screenwriters is the ambiguity of theme and character development.

Though the screenwriter is not supposed to indoctrinate at any point of time inside the screen time, s/he should persuade the viewer to instinctively identify a message, a quintessence of the entire plot. Somewhere down the line, the screenwriter has to relate passionately to a ‘core motif’ in the work of structuralizing emotions of the story. S/He cannot leave that as random exercise to the viewer to figure out for themselves. If that’s case, I’d say the screenwriter has failed to create the structure it should have been. I’m afraid many young writers confuse theme with genre.

And, many (novice screenwriters) think they need to work in detail just the protagonist. They either forget or consciously disapprove to make the antagonist as an inevitable necessity of the story. For that, what they need is not just schemed characteristics but a strong, seemingly invincible motivation factor. The motive of every character relevant to the story should have the same detail and character study as the protagonist.

Before I conclude, let me also remind the writer/directors about the importance of cast and rehearsals in voice acting before they roll their cameras for the principal shoot. Whatever is conceived as character and the kind of emotion you’ve been dreaming about through the excruciating labor of screenwriting will just vanish like vapor, if the actors don’t perform; and you won’t have the time either to correct them while they still err during the shoot.

The more of these I’ve just written can only distance the screenwriter from the ultimate viewer farther and farther.



3 comments:

Dave said...

For screenwriting structure, goto http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html

Palani Murugan N said...

I used to think "When script has every detail, why one need a director?" I took lots of time for me to realize power and boundaries of scriptwriter - the weekend course helped. Well, there are more things to learn... figuring out the right time!

John E said...

@Palani: Welcome anytime, Palani. :)

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