Tuesday, 28 June 2016

My Experience at a Screenwriting Workshop

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Literally Short Film Festival, hosted by Literal Magazine here in Houston. For the 3rd consecutive year, this festival allowed filmmakers from all over the world to share their work, with the opportunity to win various prizes and screen their projects in a platform intended to bridge all cultures through artistic expression.

As part of its 3rd year, Literally Short hosted 2-day seminars, including a screenwriting workshop. I looked at this as a GREAT opportunity to not only learn more about the scripting process, but also collaborate and share my experiences with other people in the industry. The workshop was led by Ben Wiggins, a Los Angeles-based producer and screenwriter who originally entered the production world in Houston, while working on commercials and music videos. Some of his work includes co-writing and producing three episodes of Take One with Justin Nichols, and co-writing Devious Maids episode #310: “Whiplash”.

I truly enjoyed learning about his writing process from start to finish, including how to collaborate with a writing partner and the ins and outs of writing for the film and TV business, specifically in LA. We had the chance to ask him many questions regarding his particular workflow and development, and had the opportunity to work on some live scenes with the acting workshop attendees.

Here are some of my highlights and takeaways from the workshop:

The screenwriting process can be divided into four different steps-

1. Story breaking
This is the brainstorming part of the process, designed to come up with and develop the IDEA behind the project (film or TV episode). During this stage, Ben identifies the primary elements of the story:

  • Inciting Incident: an event that throws character out of balance and forces him/her to take action. 
  • Progressive Complication: a sequence of events that obstructs the character’s process and forces him/her to consider other alternatives.
  • Crisis: a specific moment when the character is forced to face a dilemma and make a decision.
  • Climax: events crescendo after character makes that decision.
  • Resolution: end of the character’s journey, where we show how the character has changed and resolved the conflict.

Ben’s story breaking method involves using a magnetic white board and colored index cards, in order to build a grid and visually keep track of these elements. He organizes acts vertically, adding one card per scene, and color codes cards per storyline, character, theme or type of conflict. He also uses a second board for character development, where he includes columns for the character, drive, backstory, and conflict.

2. Drafting
This is when the actual writing begins. Ben recommended a screenwriting software called Final Draft, which is considered the industry standard, despite its recognized limitations.

We also discussed industry standard screenwriting lengths:
  • Screenplay: 100-120 pages
  • TV Pilots: 53-55 pages
  • On-going TV Episodes: 51-52 pages

3. Internal Revisions
After finishing your first draft, also called the “vomit draft”, you enter the revisions stage. This is when you continue to review and re-write your script, while using the boards as a visual map.

Keep in mind:
  • First drafts are almost NEVER good. And it’s okay, remember writing is re-writing, and it never ends!
  • Each scene must serve the story and its characters. And each line of dialogue must serve the scene.
  • Our main character should drive the story- be careful with inactive protagonists.
  • Storylines should follow the primary elements of the story (Step 1), as well as the characters development and overall arc.

4. Feedback & Notes

Once the script is ready to be shared, Ben recommends sharing it with your A-team or closer circle first, before letting out into the world.

After the script is revised and finished (including external feedback and notes), the process can go both ways:
  • In film: the writer hands script to the director and he/she takes it from there.
  • In TV: the writer continues to be involved in the production and post-production process, especially for table reads and on-set revisions.

Besides discussing the steps involved in the scripting process, we also talked about the economy aspect of screenwriting:
  • Specificity is KEY, especially when writing dialogue parentheticals or intentions, which should be no longer than ONE line.
  • When it comes to dialogue and parentheticals, it’s important to have the right balance between giving the actors enough direction, while giving them freedom to develop their characters.
  • Limit dialogue to about FOUR lines. More than that is considered a “speech”.

Finally, Ben recommended the following books on screenwriting and storytelling:
  • Story by Robert McKee.
  • Screenplay by Syd Field -You can also review one of my previous posts about Syd Field’s scripting structure!

So tell me, what’s your favorite part of the scripting process? Do you have a particular workflow or technique that you consider helpful when developing a story? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need any help with developing a script and tell your story, our team is happy to assist you! Go to our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592.

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