When I read my first script for the “Screenwriting Fundamentals” course, The Duck, and the last one I wrote – Crush, I could see how much progress I had made. The Crush (also) brought me President’s Creative Writing award in the Screenplay category, thanks to everything I learned in previous and this class. So what does a whole-year 2nd year screenwriting course look like?
The “Screenwriting Fundamentals” course teaches prof Ingrid Veninger, and what I like about her is that she is doing great movies that do not have a big budget. So early in the class, she taught us how to think about the final product and write something feasible that does not require much – which puts importance on the story and the structure. And that is important. The other day I was listening Scriptnotes podcast made by John August and Craig Mazin, and one of them mentioned that he wants to write screenplays that will be produced. Prof Veninger was also an actress (I realized I watched her in Nikita decades ago), so when I wrote that my character cries, she gave us the actor’s perspective on that – think carefully about what you are asking actors to do. Prof Veninger has many angles on writing and making movies, which is a huge benefit of this class.
“Screenwriting Fundamentals” is a course that goes through the fall and winter semesters. My assignments were to write/rewrite four screenplays for short movies, in which we had some limitations: the first was without dialogue, the second was a monologue, the third was on one location and so on. There were many other things in between, and I pulled the best I got from this class:
The feedback I got from the professor improved my screenwriting. It does sound like – of course, it should – but, It improved it in a way I did not expect. Every feedback and point taught me how to be a better writer and to recognize where there is space for improvement in the rewrite. This last part – good rewrite – I needed to improve.
Getting feedback from my super-talented colleagues goes to the top of the list. I read and listened to their pieces and learned a lot. The fact that we talked about our work helped. Some screenplays I wrote were challenging emotional journeys, and the writer’s room is supportive and helpful to go through all of that.
How to pitch?
I wrote a whole blog post about this fantastic experience, but to sum up, going through the pitch process was extremely useful. We practiced, discussed, listened to each other pitches, and we pitched to the jury. For me, it was stimulating, and my movie was one of those that was greenlit for production.
Early on in the class, the professor told us that people who read screenplays often – as they have a pile of them – decide which to read based on the logline. Logline is a crucial part of the screenplay – your movie/TV is summed up in two sentences. In this class, we learned how to write them.
Outline, structure, characters
We learned the outline, conflict, obstacles, characters, and what moves our story forward. This topic was something we did from the first to last week, as it is one of the crucial elements of the screenplay. This is the craft part that means so much. I know some writers don’t do outlines; some do – I love to plan. The Screenwriting Fundamentals course gave me a sharp awareness of those elements in my work.
We were on several lectures and) roundtables with different guests from the film industry. One of the most interesting was Aaron Hillis – filmmaker, curator, and critic- who owned Video Free Brooklyn, a DVD and Blu-ray rental boutique from 2012-2018 (which is the least interesting fact about him). He gave us great networking advice. We listened to Carolyn Taylor, showrunner of Baroness von Sketch Show, went on a roundtable with Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) COO Beth Janson, HBO MAX Sort Of star Amanda Cordner, Obsidian Theatre Creative Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, and acclaimed film and television producers Laura Friedmann and Jennifer Holness. This one was my favourite, as I learned firsthand how the Canadian film/TV industry works.
The Way of The Screenwriter
In a big part of the course, we read the beautiful book The Way of The Screenwriter; I wrote about it here. The book enlighted me; I loved it. What I also loved is that we shared in class every chapter 3 thing that we loved. It was great to hear my classmate’s perspectives and how they connected.
We did many other things – screenplay breakdowns, screenings, writing dialogue, Meisner Repetition Exercise, Crew Fair – DGC Indie Film Workshop, watching student films and reading scripts – it was a rich intensive course.