In honor of all of the students cramming for exams, I thought I would talk about the importance of studying. But this isn’t the late night cram session just before the test. This is constant learning, this is tapping into the resources around you and gaining a new insight.
But before I get into all that, I have a pet peeve I want to discuss. The world “the” in titles. I used it last week, I called Blog the 23rd, “The End” which was my second choice for a title. I wanted to call it, “Ending it All” but I was worried that it could be misinterpreted. So instead I settled. To date I have only used the word “the” to start a title 3 times. “The End”, “The Space Between” and “The Festival”. So I think I’m doing fairly well.
The reason I don’t like “the” in titles is because it’s not original, and on top of that it’s bland. I understand why it’s used, it’s simple, it’s descriptive and it’s effective. The AFI just released their top 10 films of 2011 and 4 have “the” as the opening word of the title. It’s just too common, it’s uninspired. I always strive to write something new, something different, so why would I want a title that doesn’t reflect that sentiment. Strive for something more than “the”. Find something original.
Alright, after that little rant, let’s get back to business.
Life is about learning. All through your life you learn. No matter what age, you are always experiencing new things and learning from them.
No one knows everything about writing and if you think you do, then you’re in trouble. There is always more to learn. Writing is an art, there is no perfect way to do it, there is no series of steps to reach the goal. You have to find your own way, develop your own style and create your own works.
So continue to learn.
Read scripts. This is a no brainier. If you are writing scripts, you have to read scripts. You need to see what has already been done, you need to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked. You have to see what styles exists, what methods exist.
But you can’t just read scripts, you have to learn from them. Take a critical look at them. Break them down, see how they work. Find the structure underneath, see how the character develops, see the story arc, take note of how it all comes together. Take note of how visuals are formed, how pace is kept, how dialogue sounds. Take a look at everything and see what will work for you. See what ideas you can take and use in your own writing. And use them.
Read books. Not just novels (they tie in with scripts above) but books about screenwriting. Scripts have structure so find out what that structure is. Find out what tricks of the trade have been found, find out how a plot arc works. Find as many books as you can and read them, and then reread them till they become second nature.
The first book I ever read was “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier. It may not talk in depth about story, but it talks about the basics, about action, sluglines, formatting, plot points, arcs etc. It is a great starting point for any screenwriter. I also have in my arsenal, “The Fundamentals of Screenwriting” by Syd Field. An in depth look at story and structure with a lot of references to movies to bring the points home. And “Save the Cat” by Blake Edwards which is full of little pieces of information which will save you hours of struggling to uncover what’s wrong with your script. I’m now looking to continue my library and get “Story” by Robert McKee because I have heard only good things about it.
You don’t have to treat these books as the be all and end all. Their words are not carved in stone, they do not give the perfect way to write a script. But they offer ideas, they offer help and whether you find them useful or not, you have still learned from them.
Watch movies. You’re writing scripts that will be made into movies, so watch movies. For the last 3 years I have averaged 180 movies a year, and I still have barely scratched the surface of the trove of movies that exist. But don’t just watch movies, analyze them. Sit down and figure out what makes each movie tick. Figure out what you liked, what you didn’t like. Be a critic. I don’t write reviews of movies, but I write them in my head. Then if someone asks me what I thought of the film, I can give them a critical and well thought answer. I can explain what worked and what didn’t work. I can explain why I liked it or not. And if you can explain why a film works, then you understand how it works and that means you can use this understanding to make your own film work.
All of these resources are at your fingertips. You just have to use them, and be critical of them. As I said, writing is an art and you have to find your own path to it. So be critical of everything you read and watch, find out how it works and create your own theories and ideas.
Keep studying, keep learning. Analyses what you have around you, don’t let it go to waste.
Because your exam is coming up soon, the deadline for the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition is December 31st. So get to work, study, learn and polish that script (though there is still a deadline after that, January 31st)