May 27, 2010 by David Gillaspie
I met a high school writer going to college for screenwriting, not an English degree with a screenwriting certificate or emphasis. Meeting just one kid with that idea is enough to make you think high school gets it done.
But what makes someone want to go to college to learn screenwriting? Apparently she doesn’t know the Syd Field clip on Final Draft is the final word on scriptwriting.
She didn’t laugh either.
So I explained Final Draft and Syd Field with as few words possible; screenwriting book author and formatting savior all on one disk. It’s very convenient, very LA in a good way.
She already looked LA with a winter tan. I said my wife grew up in LA.
“Why would she ever move away?”
“Something about her junior high school, the old middle schools that included grades seven through nine, under a flight path for LAX.”
“Same thing. Her LA street was tough. The pimps, the hookers, the cruisers.”
“Where she lived?”
“Mostly on the walk to the Lennox High campus.”
“Now it’s called South Central.”
“Where is that?”
“Probably not by your school, unless it’s USC.”
“I’ve seen the Loyola sign from the freeway.”
What’s a screenwriting student need to do before the first class? What do they need to bring? Hmmmm…
I met a man at Trinity College in Cambridge, England who once tutored Prince Charles. He was eighty-something. He dated my wife’s aunt so we got to go behind the scenes, which meant walking on the grass where signs said “Stay Off The Grass.” I asked Mr. Marion what sort of students come to Trinity?
“We, well, Trinity, and most of the colleges in Cambridge actually, look for students who are already working on academic projects. They are already years into their intellectual curiosity with something to show for it. They bring a portfolio, if you will, of their interests and what they’ve done. Cambridge is not a place to find oneself; you must know that before admissions, which is as it should be.”
I felt smarter by just listening. It’s what I told the writer going to LA.
“Have you written a screenplay?”
“The people I interviewed with said if I could tell a story, they’d teach me all I need to know about screenwriting.”
“You’re a storyteller?”
“Actually a dancer.”
“A dance tells a story.”
“That is so right.”
“Okay, you’ve heard of Robert McKee’s “Story?” It’s about screenwriting. A movie called Adaptation written by Charles Kaufman is about scriptwriting and has a Robert McKee element. So that’s one book and a movie. There’s the “Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier. It’s like a workbook.
“One last thing. The next time you watch a movie, put it on the clock. Take some notes on what happens at thirty minutes, at sixty, at ninety, at the end. Then watch it on the clock again and note what happens at three minutes, ten, fifteen, and every fifteen after that; which way the story bends, the positive or negative results to each new encounter and how the support the story. Do that a few times with Casablanca and you’ll be set.”
“Casablanca? Is that new?”
“I would say it’s always new, but not that new. Humphrey Bogart era.”
“I’ll write it down.”
She handed me a flyer with a blank back.
Along with everything else, I wrote the numbers thirty, sixty, thirty, and under the first thirty wrote “Beginning”‘; under sixty I printed “Middle; and “End” under the last thirty. Then Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.
“Now you know everything I know. All you have to do is tell a story. Easy, right? You’re a storyteller. This is what you wrap it around.”
I handed her the paper.
“Yeah, you said that. Your welcome. Listen, you get to do what most people never do. A Los Angeles screenwriting degree? Do the work while you’re there. This is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Out-of-town-girl as Movie Mogul, and you’re going to college before you take over. That’s beautiful. Mike Rich, move it on down t he line. Just remember the acts break on the numbers. Run a stop watch on the next movie you see and you’ll never experience one the same again.”
“Check it out. See you later, LA.”
Will she make it there? If she does, she can make it anywhere.
Frank wouldn’t lie.