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A pedagogy for teaching screenwriting Film-making is a collaborative process.

Actors work with each other, a director, a director of photography and a legion of technical support workers whose jobs range from lighting the set to keeping donuts on the craft services table. But behind all the interaction that unfolds in pre-production, a rehearsal room, a sound stage, a location or an editing room, the screenwriter, like all writers, tends to work in solitude. Yes, there will be meetings and note sessions and too many cooks trying to stir the broth, but from the beginning, and until the actor walks on stage, the writer usually works alone to create a blueprint of the creative machine that will roll into action once the words are on the page. In this pedagogy, I am going to concentrate on process. The elements of drama and the particular demands of writing for film should be introduced early of course, but pedagogy seems most helpful when it is about how and why. Content can only be carried on the process road. Because of the solitary nature of a writers creative process, its critical that writers learn what interaction is about while they learn about screenwriting. In order to help the solitary writer gain perspective and respond positively to the input of colleagues and the demands of the structure that is so critical to good story telling, it is essential to create a learning environment that is collaborative, builds trust and allows for constructive criticism. Creating a culture that is supportive but critical becomes everyones responsibility and treasure when teaching moves beyond the top-down instruction of the knowledge keeper (the teacher) and becomes a give and take, not only between teacher and students but between students as a working collaborative. Striking a balance between dictating the right way to write and the chaos of opinion free falls becomes self-perpetuating and renewable once students begin to experience input that is exciting and relevant to their work but does not punch them in the creative heart. Process lies at the heart of this balance. Observations about a students work should begin with positive support. What is strong about the piece? How has it progressed since its first incarnation as a log line or a synopsis or a treatment? Start with broad, general remarks and then more toward specifics. Be generous with support people have put their souls on paper in front of you but be sure you can validate your positive observations with specific examples in the work. Raise criticisms in terms of questions whenever possible. I dont get it, is not helpful. Ask what the authors intentions are in difficult or vague passages. Refer only to what is on the page, being careful not to interject what you know about the writer his/her background or worst of all whether or not it really happened that way. When you talk about a writers writing, only the words on the page are real. Nothing more.

Unless you are discussing the most basic concepts of genre, avoid comparisons with other work. Analogies to other writers work, other films, in the context of what is already on the page, usually dont bear fruit because the comparisons are invariably about films that are already films, not incubating ideas, incomplete characters, clunky dialog, wobbly structures, and flawed actions that are the lifes blood of a student work in progress. In additon to intimidating young writers, comparisons to completed work in the same medium encourages the already endemic malady wherein art imitates art instead of reflecting life. As with praise, criticism needs to be backed up with specific references. If you are confused by a writers ambiguities, make specific reference as to where and possibly how characters, settings, actions, dialog, transitions confused or distracted you from the flow of the story telling. Its important, in the spirit of creating a trusting give-and-take, that students be given ample opportunity to voice their observations and (within the guidelines of the workshop that demand kindness and support) critique. Often it is best if the instructor wait until all students have given BRIEF but well-thought out critiques. An instructor can always vary this pattern once it is established, but letting students go first often pushes them to generate and support their own opinions, rather than react to the instructors critique. Teach progressively. By that, I mean building from the most basic elements and using the simplest forms. Getting a log line to say who and what the film is about forms the basis for an expansion that cannot progress until the basic ideas are clear to the author and acting as audience the other students and the instructor. In screenwriting, a methodical progression of developmental steps from log line to synopsis to treatment to step outline helps beginning screenwriters build on what has been established, revised, and re-established until it can support the expansion included in the next step. Without a strong synopsis for support, it is near impossible for most new writers to develop a treatment that expands and explains character, action, dialog, and story development. Without a strong narrative flow, breaking out a new story into beats, shots, scenes, and sequences usually creates a film script tower where the walls come tumbling down, assaulted by questions and contradictions and loose threads that could have/should have been dealt with earlier. Once a strong step outline is in place, even a beginning author is free to create with less of the schizophrenia that occurs when a writer is trying to invent and organize at the same time. # # #

(1) creating a natural learning environment in which students learn process via authentic content that they find fascinating and relevant to their own lives; (2) holding and receiving student interest through interactive teaching strategies; (3) placing emphasis on the learning process, not the content being taught (although this sounds paradoxical, careful application this principle leads students to pursue knowledge, rather than sit, waiting to receive it); (4) create egalitarian teaching contracts, agreements between students, teacher, and other students that the entire classroom subscribe to tenets of classroom collaboration;