Week 16, by Amir Scandar
WOW! It has been 16 weeks since the first scriptwriting class with our fabulous film mentors Scandar Copti, and Ritesh Batra. What an exciting intellectual experience rich with education, challenging talents, and creativity.
It is sad mentioning that this was the last session before the festival break as our mentors will get busy with other creative educational programs to spread film knowledge to the visitors of our BIG DTFF, but hopefully we will resume the classes after the festival with more tasks and creative challenges towards our aim to come up with professional scripts.
In this blog I will tell you about my experience with Scandar Copti in the last “one on one” session. I’m finally done with my logline, treatment, and step outline. Scandar emphasized the importance of figuring out the plot of the story in order to deliver the most important outcome: the philosophy of the film. In other words, as writers, we need to completely understand the point that we wish to prove to our audience. To be honest with you I was happy with my work and Scandar’s encouraging feedback on my work until it came to the “Philosophy” part. I explained to him that I’m still young to have a “Philosophy” behind my film, and he corrected me saying that this is a stereotype that people have towards the concept of “Philosophy”. He told me that “Philosophy” is the message or the point that you need to deliver and convince the audience with. He also mentioned that as long as there is something driving me to tell this certain story, and driving me to be excited about it; then there must be a message I wish to convey through it. I was convinced with his opinion, which means I’m embarking a new challenge that will help me understand my story and myself even more. He promised me that after I figure out the “Philosophy” behind my story and digest it, I will change my step outline to adapt to it which means new more interesting scenes reflecting my “Philosophy” will emerge. How enriching is the feeling of being a filmmaker with a “Philosophy”!
Out of the whole scriptwriting class, this “one on one” session was the most creative and hardcore. I hope I figure out the message of my film by the time the festival break is over, so I can resume writing to you about my interesting experience with the DFI scriptwriting class.
Week 14, by Maryam Al-Sahli
We are still figuring out the answer to the question our mentor, Ritesh Batra, asked us last class: What makes you the best person to write the story you’re writing?
To find out the answer we need to go back to basics!
What drives YOU to write this story?
There must be a specific message you wish to send to your audience. A good scriptwriter can deliver that message without making it sound like preaching.
So how do you do that, you ask?
No matter how noble the cause you are defending is, let’s face it, people don’t want to sit there for two hours to watch you make a point about something they probably already know. You need to make your audience feel for your characters and relate to them. You can’t just tell them ‘People in the world suffer…’ you need to make them feel the pain your character is going through in order for you to make your point.
Thinking about the purpose of writing a script leads us to discussing our own philosophies in life, and how our personal philosophies define the philosophy of our script. We need to think carefully about this philosophy and make sure that we have it in mind through the entire process of writing.
You don’t need to be writing a drama in order to have a philosophy. Every piece of good writing needs to have a philosophy, and a message, behind it. Even a simple sitcom series or soap opera needs to have a ‘Bible’; a detailed document of what the show is really about. Since many of these have multiple writers who work on different episodes, this document helps a writing team to stay true to the identity and spirit of the show that was initially designed by the creators.
These discussions we have with our mentors are really helpful. What we do in class is more than just learning how write scenes in a film; we are getting to know ourselves more as writers, and therefore know more about how to finally communicate what we want to communicate on screen!
Week 13, by Maryam Al-Sahli
Hello, lovely blog-readers!
Hope you all had a wonderful blessed Eid.
As you already know, we had a break from the lab last week. It has given us the chance to take some time off to think about what we learned so far.
For the past few sessions, we were dwelling deep into the process of sketching the narrative of our scripts. Our mentor, Ritesh Batra, was getting a little concerned. He wanted to make sure that we were not getting caught up with the narrative too early on. So, he told us to take a tiny step back.
He gave us an assignment. Before coming to class this week, we needed to think about, and write down, the answers to two questions he thinks are essential to writing a good script:
- Why do ‘you’ want to write this story?
- Why are you the best person to tell it?
It doesn’t matter how many layers the story has, or how big of a part symbolism plays within it, we should be able to strip it down to the basic emotions we want our characters – and audience – to feel.
Seems easy? Believe me, answering these questions is anything but!
Once you have completed the skeleton of your outline, it can be hard to detach yourself from the events you created to describe your story in terms of simple emotions connecting you to it.
The hardest part for me – and some of my classmates – was that we are not supposed to (a) mention the events that trigger the emotions nor (b) use metaphors to describe what our characters are going through. We have to put the exact key emotions that run through the story, and only use those to tell it!
Knowing these emotions will enable us to build that bridge that connects us to our stories, and will make us the best people to tell it because we can draw from our own personal experiences to evoke them in our films.
Even though these emotions will grow and develop as we go further on in the process, we should write them down at the early stages in order for us to go back to them when we need to.
The purpose behind this exercise is to help us understand the subtext of our film. The specific events and details that we write in our different scenes can change in the last minute while shooting on set. Yet, the emotions carried within the subtext of our scenes will always remain the same.
Week 12, by Maryam Al-Sahli
I knew we were bound to hit this stage, but I never thought it would be so soon.
We are already in very different stages in the process of writing our scripts.
The only thing in common is: every one of us now has a story to tell, and a structure we want to tell it in.
Some of us are struggling with specific characters, others are still researching for elements that will help them shape their scripts. For me, I thought I was ready to develop the relationships between my characters.
I thought it would be a good idea if I start writing out a couple of scenes in script format to get a feel of the world I want to create. As I sat down and started writing, I found out that instead of focusing on the relationships, I got more drawn into thinking about my protagonist.
I believed I had a clear understanding of her psychology at this stage, but as I continued writing, and then went back to read what I wrote, I felt that somehow I lost her. There were lots of situations happening around her that I felt compelled to focus on, which made her reactions to them seem less important.
So I came to class with a question to ask my mentors: How can I keep my character emotionally present in my script and not let her slip away in the chaos?
They advised me to take some time away from actually writing scenes, and give more time to writing detailed descriptions of my characters. They told me I should not just depend on my understanding of my protagonist, but I should document it in order for me to be able to go back whenever I needed guidance.
Events that happen in my script need to tell the audience something about this character, not the other way around. Every reaction she has to these situations needs to have a clear motive behind it. Even if that motive was not clear to the audience, as a scriptwriter, it should always exist in the back of my mind.
I haven’t based my protagonist on a real person. Since she is entirely fictional, they recommended I ask myself questions about this character and make sure that I know all the answers to them very well. I should be asking myself about her personality, her past, and how her past is affecting her present and future.
Next week, unfortunately, we won’t be having a class, but we will be continuing our sessions after Eid. The exciting thing is, our mentors promised us a special screening of a film that they think we should all watch. They insisted on keeping the name of the film a secret from us for now, so we have to wait and see!
Until then… Eid Mubarak Everyone!
Week 11, by Amir Scandar
So! In this week’s blog I will not start with a tip from Scandar as he requested to make this week’s blog about my educational experience in this session, rather than a web journalistic coverage of it. He believes that this blog should be an analysis of the concepts and ideas discussed in class. Well…this is a challenging mission, but I will try hard to share what I have learned, and analyzed, based on the following concepts:
- Learning the language.
- The elements of the story between emotions and functionality.
- The development stage of the characters.
- The characters power and contribution to the story.
Learning the language:
The most misunderstood concern I had regarding scriptwriting, was a concern that watching other films for research would pollute my vision, and turn my scripts into a collage of other directors works. I am learning that this is not true. It depends on the intent you have regarding the film. I now watch films, enjoy them, and analyzing them, and I believe that what I take from a film will belong uniquely to me. I will learn from it, but without copying thoughts or ideas. I think this is very important because, Scandar mentioned that film is a type of language that you have to learn in order to be able to speak. Whatever language we speak, we have acquired it from the surrounding community, and that doesn’t mean we stole it. It’s the same thing with films. Understanding Scandar’s point of view on this helped me watch more films, and learn from them. This has helped me better understand the process of scriptwriting, and understand better what is required to communicate my ideas to my audience.
The elements of the story between emotions, and functionality:
Deciding either focusing on the emotional or the functional side of the story is a heartbreaking process due to the big effort invested, and sacrifices made in creating the balance between emotions, and logic. According to Scandar when it comes to this part, emotions come first. It is worth mentioning again that scriptwriting is not mathematical, but an emotional medium between the scriptwriter, and the audience, which requires a generous amount of emotional investment. The audience doesn’t care about the logical journey of the characters as much as their emotional journey. The most interesting example of this to me is that sometimes a fantasy film will succeeded in anchoring me to a character emotionally, by making me feel happiness, saddness, or love towards a character. This approach often succeeds more for me than a dramatic film that has an interesting story or topic, but doesn’t create this emotional anchor. This realization helped me a lot with setting a clear emotional route for every scene I write.
The development stage of the character:
What I have learned regarding this is that understanding the character through developing their characteristics, and understanding their psychology, will help me to create believable characters that people will identify with. Understanding the way my character will think in certain situations helps me create a journey that is engaging and believable on screen.
This idea takes us to my last concept, which is: The characters’ level of power and
contribution in the story.
My understandings of Scandar’s definition of this concept leads us to the fact that the main story can be changed to the extreme and still make sense, as long as the characters are well built, and their goals are strongly identified. And this is what I’m almost done with regarding my script, at last!
Scriptwriting is not an easy process, people. Now I understand why they say that the magic starts from the script.
Week 10, by Maryam Al-Sahli
Our assignment from last week was to sketch the step outline of our stories… to think about the events happening to our characters that trigger the start of, and changes in, their emotional journeys.
We were fortunate enough to have both of our mentors, Scandar Copti and Ritesh Batra, in class this week, helping us with our own individual outlines and sharing with us their pearls of wisdom!
“Understanding our scripts comes from our understanding of life itself.”
Our perception of life is shaped from the moment we are born. The knowledge that we have of the world that surrounds us is a cumulative knowledge that we acquire with time, and this knowledge is exactly what we need to use to write our scripts.
Writing a good coherent script, where we understand all the events and relationships, boils down to our own understanding of life, and how deep or superficial that is.
The way we analyze things, situations and relationships in real life affects the situations we create in our stories and the links we draw between our characters.
“Research, research, RESEARCH!”
Although we have our stories now, this is when the real work on our scripts begins.
Research can include reading newspaper articles, novels, poetry, and short stories, but most importantly it should include psychological research. One-on-one interviews with real people who might have gone through the same incidents that our characters are going through can be considered research and a very helpful form of it as well.
“Film is a language.”
We learn how to speak at a young age, and throughout our lives we keep on adding new words to our vocabulary. All the words that we know are not originally ours. We don’t know how to speak the language unless we are taught how to speak it.
Film is very similar to language in that aspect. For writers to know how to speak ‘Film’, they need to be exposed to it. By that I mean they need to watch as many films as they can – films with the same ideas, same style, structure, or genre – in order for them to learn.
If we did not watch enough of it we won’t be able to speak it!
As you can probably tell, we are super excited about where this class is taking us. Writing a script can be a nerve-wrecking process. Thankfully, we have the guidance of our mentors, the feedback of our classmates, and the support from our wonderful blog-readers to keep us on track.
Week 9, by Amir Scandar
“There is no good or bad ending, but there is an expected ending and a surprising one” with this tip Scandar started the 9th session of the scriptwriting lab.
Honestly speaking, that session was more about discussing our scripts than learning new elements on scriptwriting.
As we already have been creating a sufficient background on the basics of script writing, and its elements, it was worth initiating a group discussion regarding our scripts and having a kind of one on one with Scandar supported with helpful comments from the participants.
So in that session it was Maryam’s and Alaa’s turn. Maryam started talking about her new script which caught the attention of the whole class. Scandar was very impressed with her story and how the circle of events is so complete. To make the story more believable and touching, Scandar gave her some advice that we all can consider for adding “Spice” to a story.
Scandar emphasized the importance of:
- Understanding the psychology of the characters, especially the main one.
- Doing more research on the subjects discussed in the script in order to cover the whole image of the conflicts and the goals set for the characters.
- Drawing a clear graph of the emotional journey of every character, and bearing in mind exposing the audience to its process in every scene.
Scandar also mentioned the reason behind the tips above, which is simply that the audience will love the characters because they see themselves in these characters.
Then we moved to Alaa’s story which is very interesting as well, and has that new twist-type of structure.
Scandar’s tips to Alaa were:
- Find the right hook that bonds the character and the audience together.
- Work more on the background stories of the characters.
- Set a clear shape for the relationships between the characters.
Last but not least, Scandar asked us to get ready for the next stage which is a deep research on the psychological, emotional, and environmental aspects of our characters.
For me the process is getting more and more complicated and challenging, yet it is getting more and more encouraging every time we see our efforts turning our ideas into professional “first drafts”. Wish us luck!
Week 8, by Maryam Al-Sahli
This week’s session of the workshop was interesting. Yes, we continued discussing the plots of our scripts, but that discussion led us to a very exciting topic: creating the reality within our films.
In film realm, the scriptwriter is the “ultimate creator”. He creates the logic of this world and the relationships that exist within it. He builds it, understands it, and should know more about it than anybody else.
It does not matter how crazy this logic seems: if it is complete and fully comprehended by the writer, it will work. They can make it similar to the real world, or take it somewhere completely different. The writer has the power to create a parallel universe, abiding to different rules, and is able to inject as many elements from reality as they wish.
Although scriptwriters are neither psychiatrists nor prophets, they must know everything about their characters psychologies and ways of thinking. The writer is the person inventing those characters, so must be aware of their feelings and able to predict how they will react to different situations.
Our Mentor, Scandar Copti, explained every writer has a difficult task in front of them: they have to introduce their characters, this world they have constructed, and narrate the events that happen within it in less than two hours. Therefore, they need to be efficient, and meticulously choose the exact events that occur in the plot.
The audience will find it easy to adapt to the logic the writer creates, no matter how fantastical it seems. ‘Avatar’ and ‘The Lord of The Rings’ are great examples that prove this fact: as long as the writes themselves are fully aware of every aspect of the world they are creating, the audience will believe it. If they do not wrap their heads around all of these elements, the audience will be able to tell, and will sense that there is something wrong in the film.
As writers, they must grab their audience’s hands and lead them through this new world they’ve created, while keeping in mind that the audience has the freedom to let go whenever they feel like it. All the writer needs to do is engage the audience emotionally so that they will happily continue going through this journey with them.
I like these blogs Amir and I write, because I feel like it might help communicate what happens in the workshop, and hopefully help you understand more about scriptwriting in general. But – and there is a but – I feel like it’s been a one-way street, so please feel free to leave your comments, or maybe your questions, or even topics you’d like us to discuss with our mentors in class.
Waiting to read those comments of yours! ‘Til next week…
Week 7, by Amir Scandar
Week seven has already passed, leaving us only two months to finalise our first draft. It was a bit stressful for me to realise this, but I’m hopeful that, with the excellent tips that we have been receiving from both our mentors during this workshop over the last seven weeks, I will be able to have a good first draft by the last session in two months.
Anyway, let’s talk about what happened this week. Scandar has returned from Tunisia, and we found ourselves riding a massive wave of scriptwriting techniques and tips from both of our fantastic mentors. The power of knowledge was duplicated: instead of having only one or the other, this session we had both Scandar AND Ritesh!
We started with the tip of the week, which was that the most intrinsic element to digest the features of your story’s journey is to be able to set up your characters’ emotional and psychological tracks.
We spent the first half of the class discussing the importance of being totally aware of what is happening to our characters with every single meaning of every single statement. We have to know:
- The emotional journey of every character;
- The psychological journey of every character;
- The objectives of every character (and remember: the main character should have the biggest objective); and
- The challenges of every character.
Now that we know the elements defining the features of our story, an important question imposes itself: how can we actually figure out the elements, as listed above?
Now we realise the necessity of writing a treatment before the step outline! (For those who are unsure what ‘step outline’ means, it is the chain of events that leads the characters towards their fate.) We should write the full story in two to three pages in the format of narrative storytelling. We should also bear in mind that we need to:
- Write the story in the simplest way possible; and
- Explain the idea of the story, which will help you focus on your story and nothing else.
We spent the second half of the class listening to each other’s treatments and jotting down precious scriptwriting tips from both our lovable mentors.
I hope that Maryam’s and my weekly blogs have been a helpful scriptwriting source for you. Wherever you are and whatever you are working on, we wish you all the very best of luck with your scripts, so stay tuned for next weeks’ tips!
Week 6, by Maryam Al Sahli
Finally, the moment we have been waiting for is here!
After a month and a half of general discussions about plots, themes, characters and emotional journeys, it was time for us to break away from the basics of writing and dive into our own scripts. We’ve had all week to think about the treatments we’d submitted at the beginning of the workshop, and how best to implement everything we have learned so far within them. As we already know from our Mentor, Ritesh Batra, all writing is re-writing!
Before we started sharing our stories with the rest of the class, we explored the craftsmanship of writing specific scenes. A scene is an event that happens between characters that react to it in a certain location at a certain time. The event that takes place should eventually contribute to the conflict and emotional experiences of our characters.
Determining the length of the scene depends on how important the event is to the journey of the character, but we always have to bear in mind the screen time that we have. Ritesh suggested brainstorming three different ways to start the scene, before trying to get into it as late as we possibly could.
Each scene consists of beats that increase the tension in the scene. How many beats exist within the scene should depend on the pace that we’re going for. If it is an intense dramatic scene, for example, it is going to have more beats than a mellow scene that gives the audience the chance to breathe and take it all in.
It is also better for us to ‘write off the page’, meaning to write as many scenes as we can because it helps us to learn more about our characters and get more emotionally involved with what happens to them. We shouldn’t, however, get too attached to each scene, as it may end up cut and on the floor in the edit room!
The process of writing is easy; knowing what to write about is the hard part. Now that we have learned the technicalities of it as a group, the following classes are going to be different.
During this session, each student got the chance to share the story he/she had written with the rest of the class. The wonderful creative premises I heard inspired me – I admit that I was planning to write this blog the very second I got home, but because I was so hyped, I worked on my own script for two hours instead!
Hopefully, as our blogs continue, you will get to hear about our individual scripts in more detail.
Hang in there guys – the fun is yet to begin!
Week 5, by Amir Scandar
If I have more than one protagonist,
who should my main character be?
The main character is the protagonist who suffers the most.
This simple conversation made me realise that the intrinsic element of choosing the main character is by evaluating his/her emotional journey. From here, you can start living the emotional journey of your main character, which will help you deliver your story in the best shape possible.
Ritesh emphasised this by explaining that if you are writing more than one script at the same time, all your scripts will end up in bad shape as you are not fully attached to the emotional journey of your protagonist.
After he explained how we can identify the themes of our scripts, the emotional chart, and the beats of our stories, he started explaining in detail how we should shape the emotional journey of our protagonist. We have to know the obstacles the protagonist goes through and how he/she deals with it. To make it easier for us, he designed a few questions to help us figure out the journey through our answers. The questions were:
- What is the next thing our character will realistically do?
- What is the most interesting thing that he/she can do? How can we get there logically?
- Where do we want the story to go next?
- Where do we want the story to finally end up?
- Does the scene we’re writing stand on its own merit? Or does it set up for another scene?
- What are the after effects of the scene? How can we maximise them?
By answering these questions, you will be able to visualise the features of your protagonist’s emotional journey, which will be the key tool in bonding the audience with your story and, more importantly, having them enjoy it.
Ritesh also pointed out that it is not easy to write what you feel, but the best way to be confident about your work is to write something that is really personal. I can understand this, as I have been facing challenges in writing my script – I write while I have a massive emotional jam, which makes what I write end up insufficient for me. Every time I write a scene, I just don’t like it. When I told Ritesh about my problem, he gave me pretty clever advice; he suggested that I break down the scene and analyse every line of it, until I find the flaw and readapt it to serve the emotional traffic.
This is my second session with DFI Mentor Ritesh Batra, who has an excellent academic perspective of scriptwriting, and it was these elements of scriptwriting from an academic vantage that he taught us this week. I consider this really interesting, and imperative to the journey of my script.
I enjoy being taught by, and learning from, two different mentors; one who works with us in practical ways, and the other who works with us on an academic theoretical level, thus enabling us to cover the concept of scriptwriting from both sides.
Week 4, by Maryam Al-Sahli
“Scriptwriting is not a science… It’s an art!”
That was the first thing our DFI Mentor, Ritesh Batra, said to us at the beginning of the fourth session of our scriptwriting lab.
As this was our first session with Ritesh, he began by telling us about his approach and the process he uses when writing screenplays, as every writer has their own unique way of writing. According to Ritesh, putting things down on paper and making them work on a page is the hardest thing to do, because every other aspect of filmmaking can be learned when you’re actually on set.
Ritesh continued by saying that although writing a script is essentially like telling a story, it is more similar to telling a joke than anything else!
I found that hard to grasp at the beginning, but when I think about it, jokes and scripts do share a similar structure – they both start with set up, then an obstacle, and finally a payoff (or a resolution in a script). In scriptwriting, we call this ‘The Three Act Structure’.
If we try to analyse any film, we will find that they all fall into the same structure. Yet, we shouldn’t obsess by thinking about this structure when we start to write so that we won’t limit ourselves. Believe me, though – when you read the finished product, you will see that this structure naturally exists in your script without you having to impose it.
What makes a script good is the same essence that makes a joke a great one: the logical, yet unexpected, payoff. We need to reach a logical ending our audience will be able to believe, but we have to make it unexpected and interesting so that they won’t regret sitting through the whole film when they knew exactly what was going to happen 10 minutes after it started!
As scriptwriters, we are taking our audience on an emotional journey through our characters, which means we have to chart out with the emotional journey of at least one of these characters. This journey is called a ‘Character Arc’, and it means that our character will travels from one emotional state at point A in the film to a totally different state at point B.
The character that goes through this arc is the ‘Protagonist’ in our story, and each change our character encounters is called a ‘Beat’. The protagonist doesn’t have to be the main character or the hero in the film, even though it can be, and most likely is.
Another point we discussed was ‘Theme’. A ‘Theme’ is the glue that holds the pieces of our entire script together. Ritesh emphasised one important note: if we wanted to write a script capable of touching people’s hearts, our theme should come from a very personal place. The more personal our theme is, the more we’ll care about finding different ways to express it, visually and verbally.
As you can probably tell, this session was packed with interesting information, and we were happily taking it all in. And guess what? This week’s assignment is to… watch a film! We have been tasked with choosing a film we like, watch it again and try to spot all the things that we learnt in this class. Watching a film as homework… cool right?!
Week 3, by Amir Scandar
So here we are in week 3 of the Scriptwriting Workshop. It’s been another exciting week, and another thrilling session with our DFI mentor Scandar Copti!
Personally, I really enjoy these sessions with Scandar, as I find that every element we discuss with him directly affects the structure of our scripts due to the practical methods he uses with us.
For example, he makes us discuss each other’s scripts so we can give feedback and help our classmates using constructive criticism. This helps in many ways, especially when it comes to discussing possible flaws or weaknesses in a script. It is always easier to spot a flaw in someone else’s work rather than in your own, so if you have similar writing weaknesses as your classmates and manage to spot theirs, you not only help them but help yourself too, as you can relate it to your own work. We accept the fact that we have flaws within our writing and must continue to work on it, putting our dignity and ego aside, which is the real aim behind this exercise. In the film industry this is known as ‘killing your babies’ – when you have a great idea, but it doesn’t work and you have to drop it. You accept your flaws, but learn from them and move on.
As you know, last week we focused on building up our characters and their backgrounds to make their reactions spontaneous, real and believable. This week, we continued working on building our characters, and we also moved on to discussing drama building.
Confusion can occur when you have many different characters in your film, and you have to choose the best character to lead the audience through the story. Scandar explained this by saying: “The story is about the person who suffers the most”, which I consider to be the tip of the week! Scandar continued by clarifying that telling a personal story is different from writing it, as we have to focus more on the balanced mixture between dialogue and scenario.
It is also worth mentioning his advice on writing stories, which is fantastic: he said telling a story about a person is different from telling the story of a person. For me, this advice is really important as while we write our scripts, it is easy to get caught up and drift away with events that are happening to our characters without considering whether they are actually related to the story line. We always have to focus on the events that lead the character and the audience through the storyline: from the beginning, to the middle, until the end. Furthermore, Scandar emphasised the importance of establishing the obstacles of our character in order to stimulate the audiences’ attachment to them.
The drama element of scriptwriting intrigues me too. Scandar reiterated the importance of knowing 100% the feeling we need to deliver to our audience with every scene, and to stop beating around the bush. He also said that if we are going to use the element of surprise in our script, we must not imply it – after all, how can it be a surprise if you keep giving hints to your audience about it?
I’m extremely happy that I joined this workshop as it is genuinely helping my scriptwriting. I hope that our blogs are successfully sharing our experiences from this amazing workshop, and that you can join us in acquiring insightful knowledge from such an interesting and giving filmmaker like Scandar Copti. Stay tuned for next weeks’ blog!
Week 2, by Maryam Al Sahli
INT. KATARA BUILDING 18. EVENING.
The clock on the wall points to 5 minutes to 5:00.
STUDENTS are sitting down, waiting.
SCANDAR (36) enters the classroom.
Hi guys. Welcome to the second
session of our scriptwriting lab!
Well, he didn’t actually say those exact words, but you get the point!
Last week we were given our first assignment, which consisted of writing about an incident we’d previously experienced that affected us emotionally. We were tasked with writing it in script format – which is apparently a mode I haven’t yet snapped out of – and then take the same incident and use a little imagination to transform it into something innovative and crazy. I was intrigued, so when I walked into this week’s class, I was eager to listen to what my classmates had written. We each took turns in standing up in front of the class and reading our scripts, and then discussed each individual script afterwards.
The discussion revolved mainly around an important element in any script: the character. How can we create a protagonist that our audience will identify with? Or an antagonist that they will despise? How can we make our characters so engaging and interesting that people will actually care what happens to them?
I learned that the answers to these questions are simple if you follow these easy steps:
a) Know your character.
You have to know your characters very well: know their past, their fears, their hopes and passions, their pet peeves, and, of course, their goals. Knowing this information will provide you with the tools to develop complex and unique characters, as well as help you to discover how a certain character would react in a certain situation.
b) Showcase the human side of your character.
The more you show the emotions and reactions of these characters, the more real and human they become. The events that happen to your characters shape them, and presenting these events as a lead up to their story gives the audience a chance to understand and eventually relate to your characters. If the audiences feel a connection between them and the hero, if they love and sympathise with this hero, they will most likely sit through and watch the entire film.
Unfortunately, as our mentor Scandar Copti emphasised, many scriptwriters take an easier approach: stereotyping. Instead of putting their time and effort into developing a character properly, they base the elements that define their character on preconceptions they know their audiences already have. This is why the heroine is always the prettiest girl on the block, and the bad guy is usually ugly, or from what is classed as a “minority”. To create characters audience will identify with, these scriptwriters design their leading roles to suit what members of the audience aspire to be – beautiful, smart and successful. In the past few years, however, the table has turned. Minorities are now being given leading roles in scripts because scriptwriters are realizing that their audiences expect them not to discriminate, and to be more culturally open. Plus, a perfect, flawless character is hard to relate to!
INT. KATARA BUILDING 18. NIGHT.
STUDENTS, with looks of concentration on their faces, are
listening and taking notes as SCANDAR, who is sitting in a chair
in the centre of the classroom, explains.
Now that you know what makes a good
character, your assignment for this
week is to think of a clip of an
emotional scene that got to you. Get
a copy of it, watch it, and think
about the reasons that make it
powerful in terms of action, dialogue
or even music. Then, try and write
the scene in the same script format.
And that is all the time that we have
for today. See you all next week!
CAPTION ON SCREEN READS: TO BE CONTINUED...
FADE TO BLACK
Week 1, by Amir Scandar
I don’t want to start my first blog on the scriptwriting lab with a complicated quote about scriptwriting or literary writing in general, as usually professional writing is a bit challenging. But I do want to say: “an excellent film starts with an excellent script”.
I learnt this during the Ten Minute Film Lab held by DFI last year, and I absolutely believe in it. When I decided to work on my first feature film, it was this saying that encouraged me to join the Scriptwriting Workshop that is being mentored by DFI’s Oscar nominated Director, Scandar Copti.
My first session was on Monday 6th June, and to be honest with you it was pretty thrilling! Don’t be mistaken though – it requires hard work and concentration. Usually scriptwriting labs and workshops focus more theoretically on styles of scriptwriting, but this workshop is different. Scandar teaches you practically, through teamwork, the essence of storytelling and the elements involved. He makes you actually manage to visualize it.
Scandar asked us all to put one personal item, but one that is relevant to every student, in the middle of the class room. He asked every student to pick one item, but without knowing who it belongs to, then he asked every student to write a short story about the item he/she had chosen. The goal behind this exercise was to refresh our creative writing skills, and to believe that from the very simplest idea, we can make interesting stories.
After this exercise, we talked about the style of American screenwriting: the process involved, examples of it, and both the strengths and weaknesses of it. Scandar asked us to pick our favourite American film and figure out the main American screenwriting points within it. While discussing this he mentioned an important note, which I consider to be the tip of the day – he said that the most important thing in a successful script is obstacles, and that you have to find at least one obstacle for every character in your film in order to make a good story. Interesting!
After that, we worked as a team to predict the important elements of a good script. Scandar wrote down every element we mentioned on a white board, and then, as a group, we discussed reasons why we thought they were important.
Finally, Scandar taught us the professional method of writing a script, and by this I mean the right format of writing at least one page of a script.
I have to say, after experiencing the first session of the workshop, that I found it very interesting and I’m intrigued about what will come next. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will help me to get my script into the best shape I can!