Thursday, January 14, 2016

Three Essential Lessons a Professional Screenwriter can learn from this year’s Screenwriter Oscar Nominees

Congratulations to all the Professional Screenwriters nominated for both Oscars and WGA awards!

There were many thoughtful reactions gathered by Variety this morning from screenwriters who were nominated for awards. I wanted to highlight three quotes that struck me as potentially insightful for the Professional Screenwriter (or fledging writer)... 

Nick Hornby Adapted Screenplay: “Brooklyn” 

The novel is beautiful and muted but you can't do that in a movie, you have to get much closer. I felt we could make a successful work of art out of something that was already a successful work of art,” Hornby said. “I could absolutely imagine (that) with a little bit of tweaking it could be something that really messed people up emotionally.” 

I believe Hornby means by the word “closer” is trying to establish more of a creative connection with an audience that is watching a movie based on the source book. 
What works as a Novel (or any prose – novella/short story/magazine article/etc.) is often problematic when trying to tell the same story as a screenplay. 
In theory, the adaptation can be done by the author of the original work, but often times it doesn’t work out that way. Here’s why – there are at least two essential requirements one must possess when successfully adapting another work into a screenplay - 

1 The Professional Screenwriter must very clearly see the beauty and flaws in the original work. 

2 And the Screenwriter must have a Creative Vision to clearly see what the original source CAN BECOME as it makes the transition to a screenplay/production.  

Matt Charman Original Screenplay: “Bridge of Spies” 

“Two things came to mind when everybody came on to this project. First — I’m never going to have a film school like this again so I should really soak this up,” Charman said. “The second was that I don’t know if all these guys will ever be in the same room again so I really wanted to take in the entire filming experience.”   
You will learn more during the production of a movie you’ve written than what you’ll learn about your craft on that one production than you will learn writing two or more scripts in isolation. 
Make a movie based on something you’ve written. 
Forget that the Professional Screenwriter quoted above was involved in a studio film. It doesn’t have to be a major production for you to learn your craft in a way that you simply cannot learn by remaining behind your computer. People often lose sight of this essential fact — a screenplay is a form of writing meant to be produced.  

Make something that has at least these two components – 

1 A production based on something you’ve written. 

2 A production that involves more than a few people, including actors. 

Do not let any impediments stand in your way, just shoot something, no matter what it is or what you end up with when you are finished. The end goal is to go through the process of writing something and making it come to life in front of a camera. 

 Josh Singer Original Screenplay: “Spotlight” 

"As a Jewish kid growing up, you have books of Jewish heroes and Marty Baron would have been in one of those,” Singer said. “(‘Spotlight’) is this great story of this Jewish editor coming into this Catholic town, an outsider and first Jewish editor, and on his first day says 'We're going after the church.' That's a pretty ballsy move.” 

DEFINE YOUR LEAD CHARACTER, not only who he/she is, but be sure the character expresses themselves through action. 
It sounds essential and straight forward enough, but its amazing how many writers fail on this one critical creative element. It's actually shocking how many writers stumble in trying to describe (not only verbally, but on the written page) just a few key elements of the leading character in their screenplay --

1 What is an essential characteristic of the principal protagonist, something about the character that exists even before the screenplay begins. 

2 And perhaps more importantly, what does the character do during the screen story? 
The screenwriter nominated for an Oscar above manages to have both elements in his quote. He makes it look easy.

Often times a screenwriter will fail in a different way on this essential creative element by having a character description that is boring or hackneyed, which doesn't invite... the listener of the pitch/ reader of the script/audience in the theater or watching at home to ask - So what happens to the character next?