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It isn’t imperative that you learn the screenwriting craft in a formal institute. However, it is important that you LEARN it, and not believe that one can write by impulse. Intuition, on which all good writing depends, has to be honed. Moreover, screenwriting is a very demanding craft, as you’re discovering. So, respect it, appreciate its limitations, explore and expand its capacities to enable your personal expression to fit in it. For all this, it is essential for you to first discover what screenwriting is about and how it can actually be done. You have to have an attitude of a student for this, and that means, submitting yourself to the subject with an open mind. With the humility of ‘I don’t know, but I want to know.’ This is non-negotiable! Hence, work out a regimen for yourself and see how much of the below-mentioned you can do in a rigorous regular way.
1. "The Art of Dramatic Writing", by Lajos Egri (First published in 1943, this excellent book by a teacher of playwriting captures all the essentials of what constitutes good drama. Absolutely must read.) 2. "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", by Joseph Campbell (While this is not a writing text, it is a study of world mythologies which expose us to the rhythms of our characters' journeys based as this pattern is in a deep understanding of the human unconscious. A seminal and precious work for every screenwriter. Absolutely must read.) 3. “Writing the Character-Centred Screenplay”, by Andrew Horton (Desirable) 4. “Poetics”, by Aristotle (Leon-Golden edition. Strongly recommended) 5. “Tools of Screenwriting”, by David Howard (Interesting approach to writing; Frank Daniels’ method. Nice book.)
6. "Screenwriting 434", by Lew Hunter (Regarded as one of the most respected teachers of screenwriting in America, Hunter has adapted his course at UCLA, where he was the head of the screenwriting department, into this lucid book with a classroom approach.) 7. "Story", by Robert McKee (regarded as America's most influential screenwriting guru, McKee's understanding of mainstream Hollywood narrative is impeccable. Unfortunately, that is all that this is good for really.) 8. “Adventures in the Screen Trade”, by William Goldman (Enjoyable insights into the mentality of the film industry in Hollywood. Not terribly different from here!) 9. “Alternative Scriptwriting”, by Jeff Rush and Ken Dancyger (Interesting examples of departures from conventions. Not necessarily always useful, though.) 10. “Four Screenplays”, by Syd Field (Good format. Nice intereviews with the writers of those four films.) 11. “The Craft of the Screenwriter”, by Joel Brady (Detailed interviews with six greats. A good read.) Note: Around half a dozen books a year are released on screenwriting, most of them from the US. Reading too many ‘todo’ books can confuse you and undermine your free-thinking. (From the above, what I would recommend you definitely read are 1, 2, 3. Read McKee only so that you can dialogue with Hollywood writers and studios, as they depend on McKee very heavily. And, read 8 for pure fun! It’s the first book on screenwriting, so to say, that I ever read. And, came away with a lot of admiration for Goldman. He’s an entertainer alright. Apart from this, in-depth interviews with screenwriters are always useful.)
1. Chinatown (Dark theme, complex characters, tragic ending, difficult screenplay. But, one of the finest to come out of Hollywood)
2. Casablanca (Regarded as one of the best screenplays from Hollywood. So simple as to be almost elementary. Definitely worth studying closely.) 3. 12 Angry Men (A tightly-structured screenplay entirely placed in a single room. Notice the arcs of transformation of different characters.) 4. It’s a Wonderful Life (The reluctant hero, who is capable of exemplary heroism. And of course a compelling theme. Trivia: The idea for this script came from a Christmas greeting card!) 5. Fugitive (Quite a definitive thriller. Very clear structure and defined motives even as the intentions change with the growth of the character – including a definite mid-point where his response to his situation undergoes a sharp reversal. Disappointing action climax, though.) 6. Witness (Good combination of premise and theme.) 7. Zodiac (Another way of crafting a thriller, elaborate and open-ended, in a way.) 8. Amores Perros (Three separate stories linked only by their theme and by an individual incident.) 9. Children of Heaven (You don’t need a universally BIG premise for a touching story. It can be merely about a lost pair of shoes, but the effect of that on the characters has to be strong.) 10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Written by one of Hollywood’s most interesting contemporary screenwriters, this very unusual premise has been structured in a most energetic and involving way. See all of Charlie Kaufman’s films.) 11. Big Fish (Tim Burton’s experiments with narratives continues. What is fantasy, and what is reality? After a while, does it matter really?) 12. Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach’s touching, rousing and heartrending account of a boy in Ireland. See all of Ken Loach’s films.)
13. Dead Girl (Telling the story of one dead person from the povs of different characters who knew her, and how character is revealed thus.) 14.The Machinist (A character believes his delusions to be reality. Quite well done.) 15.Cronicas (A dramatic but incisive and uncompromising story about how media-persons manipulate reality with tragic consequences.) 16. No Man’s Land (An entire screenplay loaded with huge ethnic conflict depicted entirely in a narrow, tense space during a war.) 17. Amadeus (Powerful theme of envy, keeping your sympathies entirely with the envious protagonist who is an antihero. Excellent opening sequence.) 18. Verdict (Rather compelling script of how a character rises from the ashes to some glorious heroic victory.) 19. Battle of Algiers (A bold powerful and different way of telling a story. While it is made to look like a documentary, it is actually a feature film and was entirely scripted.) 20. Deewaar (One of the better-scripted Hindi films. Very good to study.) 21. Aakrosh (Notice the transformation of the character, as the plot intensifies. While telling the front-story of the lawyer and his case, the script brings out the exploitation of tribals so effectively.) 22. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (Once again, notice the arc of the character.) 23. Separation (I think it won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film and has been nominated for screenplay at the Oscars, am not sure. Worth viewing and studying. These Iranians know how to write, that’s for sure. Notice the dialogue, especially.) 24. And another 100 that you already know about or will discover. Watch as many films as you can!
Some other general recommendations: 1. Read at least one script a week. (You can download hundreds of scripts free from www.script-o-rama.com) 2. Transcribe the step-outlines of at least 12 films that you love over the next three months. Watch the film even if you’ve seen it earlier, switch the DVD player off, and then write out the whole step-outline, scene-byscene with scene headings and a paragraph to describe what happens in the scene. Having done this, compare it closely to the film, see what you’ve missed out, and why. Complete the step-outline, and then move on to the next film a fortnight later. This way you’ll learn how the written word translates into a picture, and you’ll also learn to appreciate the precision of the screenplay. 3. Some useful websites: www.creativescreenwriting.com i. ii. www.screenwriter.com iii. www.screenwritersutopia.com iv. www.mythworks.net v. The above are just a few interesting ones. If you google your choice of words, you ought to get hundreds of suggestions off the net. 4. There are many people who conduct workshops on screenwriting. People think it is easy to put together one. They don’t realize that one can’t teach screenwriting; one can only help the aspirant to learn, by giving him enough guidelines to help her use those principles, but leaving enough space for him to figure out how she wants to write her story. So, do keep your eye out for workshops, but be careful about who’s the main instructor. 5. And above all, read LOTS of literature, especially classics – in any language that you can.
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