Melissa Compton explores the options to begin your journey in Scriptwriting.
If you attend any of the many screenwriting festivals or conferences, you would find it crammed with new scriptwriter’s trying to sell their scripts to directors: so, in a world where everyone thinks they can write – How do you get noticed?
Daniel Evans is a second-year undergraduate student, studying Media and Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University, who aspires to write film scripts and direct films when he has completed his degree. He says, “On that course, we had a little jokey section where we made little movies: one of them was a crime noir. I actually really liked the style so the second I got home, I got to work writing my own little neo noir. I tweaked and refined it over the next two years. My grades were awful, so I knew I’d not get into uni with that, so I rang and asked if it was possible to submit my script to see if that would get me onto the course. I received an unconditional offer 3 days later.” The course Daniel is referring to is a training course run by The British Film Institute. The script he wrote was: “A neo noir detective drama/comedy set in New York. It’s about a detective trying to stop the Mafia kidnapping women” A neo noir film is a film with a dark or twisted theme, often with dark wit filmed with a stylish Hollywood flare, films such as Sin City or Chinatown are considered typical neo noir films.
James Dawes, who is a second-year Undergraduate student studying English and Creative writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University, aspires to be a scriptwriter. He researched which famous scriptwriters had degrees in scriptwriting, telling me: “Out of the five screen writers I admire the most: William Goldman, Robert Towne, Aaron Sorkin and Shane Black, only one has a degree and that is William Goldman and that’s not even in scriptwriting.” William Goldman received a Master of Arts degree in 1956 from Columbia University. The script for Chinatown, a neo noir film previously mentioned, was written by Robert Towne, a screenwriter James researched who does not have a degree, but the film remains his most notable work.
One thing that was apparent was that a degree in Scriptwriting is not necessary, but a degree in English, which could be joint with creative writing would form a solid foundation. Beth Banks, who is also a second-year undergraduate student studying English and creative writing at Cardiff Metropolitan and aspires to be an Editor, suggests: “I think it is better to have a basis in Literature than it is to have a degree in scriptwriting. Mainly because you need to understand how to form words than how to display them.”
Mr Dan Anthony is the current lecturer on the scriptwriting module delivered on the second year of Creative writing degree and delivers a Writing Stories module at the university. He has also previously written for the BBC and has published several Children’s books. When asked if he felt a M.A Scriptwriting qualification was necessary to be successful in the industry, he said, “A lot of people me included started studying in universities after writing a lot of material. So, I wrote for the BBC, I wrote a lot for radio, I wrote a lot of scripts and other material before deciding to go to university and have a look at what I had been doing.”
I think the common advice would be to just write, after all, practice makes perfect. One of the easiest ways to begin is the 3-act model. Simply defined, it is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. You can learn this model through free online courses. It is a standard model used in most scripts. Unfortunately, sometimes this does not produce a good script; Truby had the following to say: “Because the 3-act structure gives you absolutely no map to the middle. Unlike the one-size-fits-all approach of the three act structure, this professional approach is always unique to your particular story because it uses a map that details your unique hero” (Truby, J. 2013). The professional approach Truby is referring to uses story structure mapping the character’s journey and allowing the character to drive the story forward, instead of using a standard plot point system or set of acts. Students on Creative writing degrees are taught these skills, which would make such a degree an ideal starting point though not essential as there are many books on story structure. Dan Evans had the following to say about the three act structure: “I think it’s definitely used by most films, I don’t necessarily think it has to be used, I look at my scripts and if I’m honest I think you could feasibly say some of them have four acts and there’s films like Mad Max Fury Road where we essentially start the film in the second act.”
It is helpful to have an idea what medium you would like to base your career in. For example, a scriptwriter wanting to write films would be better placed looking at training with the BFI. However, if you want to base your career in Television, you would be best placed to join the BBC’s Writer’s Room on their website.
The BBC writer’s room is a great place to start. They have different sections like the drama room, and each of these rooms have windows [time periods] throughout the year where you can submit your script. The BBC writer’s room have also just [December 2018] opened their competition for a residency [check their website for details].
The best parting advice would be: it is all about exposure, contacts and joining associations. Social media pages never hurt and entering competitions such as those on sites like submittable.com are always worthwhile. I contacted The BBC Press Office for comment. They did not reply in time to be included, in the article.