Screenwriting: Writing the Contemporary “Film”

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Intermediate—Spring

It seems the contemporary “film form” is changing, certainly in terms of scope and venue.  In the past, a screenwriter wrote “feature films,” television movies and/or TV series.  Nowadays, the landscape for the screenwriter is far different, with opportunities to write producible short films, YouTube® sketches and web series seen by millions of viewers, as well as long-form “films” or “movies” initially conceived for and destined for the “silver screen” – a screen that is seemingly changing in color, size and setting on a daily basis. The ubiquity of HD digital production has made the use of the term “film” nearly archaic, as fewer and fewer films are being shot on film stock. As screenwriter, William Goldman has said, “No one knows anything,” and that has never been truer as it relates to the motion picture industry today.  Digital video and the web have changed the film form forever.  The disarray of the current film industry has created confusion and opportunity.  Today, with the democratization of “film” production and the opportunity to create and have work seen by mass audiences, to say one is “writing a film” has less connection now to technical practices, and rather conveys a sense of the content therein and the ways and means of its intended consumption. The contemporary screenwriter then is often creating dramatic material for unique (and even multiple) platforms on screens as small as a cell phone and as large as an IMAX® panorama.  Further, screenwriters and filmmakers are finding that their “feature film project” may ultimately find life as a multiple-part web series, or vice versa.  The advent of writing screen-based material where “something happens” every five to ten minutes points to classic dramatic construction, regardless of the final venue. The baseline expectation in the contemporary narrative “film form” still remains: it is the expression of a character or characters progressing through a structured journey or series thereof.  This course is for the emerging contemporary screenwriter, including those creating a new idea, adapting original material into the screenplay form, rewriting a screenplay or web series, or finishing a screenplay-in-progress, for whatever screen or screens s/he aims to assail.  A review of screenwriting fundamentals during the first few weeks, as well as a discussion of the state of each project will be followed by an intense screenwriting workshop experience. Students are expected to enter the course with—at the very least—a strong idea, an outline or narrative roadmap of their project, possibly an existent screenplay or web series, as well as the capability of “talking out” the characters and story. The expectation is for students to finish a polished draft of a “long-form project,” be it a “feature film,” short film anthology or a web series. Published screenplays, several useful texts, and clips of films and web series will form a body of examples to help concretize aspects of the art and craft. Intermediate.