Video production class weblog--Day 5--the writer's dilemma

"the artist rarely has a specific goal in mind when he begins work, so that the process of visualization is actually the search for a goal rather than the attainment of one."
---from Steven D. Katz's Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen

1) By the end of today's class, the students had shot, edited, and burned 5 short videos, and one student wanted to stay on after class to further edit the 6th. After only 5 days, the class has accomplished a remarkable amount, and I increasingly found myself obliged to stay out of the way as each group found its working rhythm in the course of the day. As they huddled around their computers, I idly practiced spinning around on the dolly/wheelchair.

2) Each group's quest to write up a working screenplay for a 8-10 minute film did present challenges. One student wrote up an early draft full of scenes the film "might" have. I told her to make them more specific and exact. Another group showed me a story with highly truncated scenes and brief pedestrian dialogue frequently punctuated by gunfire. I recommended that they include some more "natural" conversation about something unrelated to the story mechanics at hand, and they didn't know what to do. Talk about apple strudel, or Madonna as the gangsters do in Reservoir Dogs? As I walked in to find them checking their Facebook account or tinkering with the handmade steadicam, it occurred to me that they are far more comfortable either shooting or editing. Writing takes too much focus. I was bothered by the way they would just toss off the screenplay instead of realizing it was key to the eventual success of the film, and told them so.

3) I liked one conference about the end of the drug dealer story. In it, a successful drug dealer distributes marijuana in manila envelopes in the school's mailboxes, but a college administrator accidentally happens upon one of the envelopes. He's in his office with the drug dealer just when he's about to open the envelope. What then? I proposed that the dealer's two henchmen and his femme fatale girlfriend would leap into the room and wrestle the envelope out of his hands. They didn't like that idea. How about ending the film with the admin just beginning to open it? No, too disappointing. How about the dealer knocking out the admin and then making a run for it? They acknowledged that that would make for a good chase scene, but no. How about having the administrator open the envelope to find a small teddy bear inside? We considered that idea for a long time. Perhaps, after getting the bear back from the administrator, the drug dealer would then take the bear inside a bathroom stall and open it to uncover a bag of marijuana? No, too obvious. I went off to join another group. When I returned, they had settled on a Beanie Baby solution. Instead of the drug dealer opening the Beanie Baby, however, the group figured that one of the henchmen would ask "Why are we dealing Beanie Babies?" And the dealer concludes the film with "Look inside."

4) Overall, the week was a success. Any tips for beginning screenwriters?


Richard Bellamy said…
I agree. Getting them to write is the toughest part. Last year, only one of my filmmakers had a written script - for the 20-minute spy spoof. They followed the script pretty much and added a lot of improv.

Other students will jot down ideas or lines of dialogue in a notebook and just go with that. Writing - in the minds of teenagers - is a monumental task - something they try to avoid.

I provide Final Draft on the Mac so they can use real screenplay format! But no one has used it. They see copies of the screenplays for the Drama Club films - but I suppose that looks too regimented to them.

So, I guess, I was trying to lead up to some suggestions - but I don't know if I have any - other than making that a required part of the course. A possible activity might be - put the students in groups, tell them to write one screenplay page, and then say they have to film exactly what's on the page.

In my A.P. English class I have students write a screenplay page or two of a novel they are reading, pretending they are adapting it to film. They like that a lot.
Thanks, hokahey. I like your screenplay page from a novel assignment. I will try that out next year. Others have suggested that I don't allow students to use the equipment until they've written a good screenplay, but that seems too harsh.

One group just e-mailed to me a much improved screenplay for their 10 minute video, so perhaps it's all a matter of giving them more time to revise.