Scriptwriting: Art of Teaching, Art of Learning by Pepa LLausas
It is very easy to think that rules are the problem. “I am too much creative to follow any structure”. We often make the mistake of believing everything written about cinema up to now is wrong. Those who have been called “The Big Ones” are definitely wrong and know absolutely nothing about cinema. Finally, to make a movie is a question of talent, you have it or not – but rules, who needs them?
Although it sounds sad, I have sometimes realised that the real problem is in the teacher not in the matter. Interest is the key. When students are motivated, they are ready to listen everything you can explain. You will exhaust your knowledge before they finish their questions. It is a dream for any teacher. So, I guess, we should start waking up their interest.
“You know what you know”; it might sound stupid, but “you do not know what you do not know”. How can you be interested about things you know nothing about and you have no reason to ask about? Sometimes I wonder if the problem is we throw the subject at the students instead of listening to them. Like Ariadne’s ball of thread, we sometimes follow a tip to reach the ball. I have a little tip to find the ball: hear them. They believe they want to be screenplayers because they love cinema or they love some TV series. Which films or series are those? Which sort of stories? Which kind of characters they actually love and why do they love them? This is the point. There is a history behind each character, story or way of structuring a script, a whole library full of information which they have no idea about.
And I say “history” because you cannot understand in deep John McClane (Bruce Willis in Hard Die) if you know nothing about Philip Marlowe (the detective of The Big Sleep which Humphrey Bogart give life) or Harper, (Paul Newman) or Dirty Harry, (Clint Eastwood), just to mention some of them. You cannot understand Tomb Raider is you have never seen Alien and you have no idea about who and how Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is, or you have never, never in your life, heard anything about Lauren Bacall, for example.
Each film, each character offers a point of view of life and this point has a very, very concrete link within a historical moment, a geographical situation and a social, economic and political context. We re-write a thousand of times about all of those situations because we are part of a dynamic society.
Now, “Hotel Transylvania” is about to open. It is an animated comedy, a new version of Dracula who uses his famous castle to make a hotel for monsters to rest. It is new, but to do it their creators have done and incredible documentation work about each character in the film. You cannot work with Dracula if you know nothing about Nosferatu.
Behind each film, each character and each archetype there is a whole history because they are only a reflection of us and as writers we need to know it in the same way we need to understand our time and our society.
The character needs a story, a background but they have a history before you create them because they are your children and you have a previous historic background. The referents existed in the collective unconscious before you were born and you cannot do your work properly if you do not understand this untouchable but very real phenomenon.
My work consists to give you the opportunity to understand this amazing phenomenon because this is the land where your characters are going to have a life or die.
They usually think their favourite character or film is incredibly original, different, and unusual. The point is showing them that this “secret”, wonderful, private and amazing character could be richer and more interesting, when you know his story background, and how big is the world of the referents it has. Now you are going to be smarter talking your friends about It because you have information that they have not.
As communicators we should not forget that “the medium is the message”. How we can teach about script if we can’t prove how amazing are the connexions which allow us to reach new creations, if we can’t show how creative we are and how trusty the old masters are?
We must be fun, expressive, serious, dramatic and theoretical. In short, we must be more creative than them. Being a writer is a combination of knowledge, talent, creativity and passion and we have to show why all of these things are necessary.
When Georges Lucas had the idea to write Star Wars, he started going to Joseph Campbell’s classes, the maximum expert about comparative religions and mythologies at that moment. He had written “The hero with a thousand faces” and he knew nothing about cinema, but he knew all about hero archetype.
When George Méliès started making films he brought with him the only one thing that he actually had: the knowledge about how to create a magic atmosphere and unexpected tricks in theatre and he invented the fantastic cinema, the beginning of Sci-Fi and special effects just when the 20th century was still starting and cinema was still mute.
When Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were asked to think about a film about pirates, the first thing they did was go to the library and search about real pirates before writing a single word of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Being creative is a combination of different jobs and to do so you need to have pieces to join.
Teaching screenplay sometimes means forgetting the book, sometimes it means wondering and asking the others to do the same, sometimes it means to observe, and at other times it means to take the newspaper and give your students exactly five minutes to make a story. And sometimes it means to go back to the classics and understand the rules are not good or bad.
The point is not if they have to manage our life as a writer or not; the point is they are tools, a tool among the thousands that you need to make scripts. The question is if « the medium is the message », as MacLuhan said, am I a good enough “medium” to teach script or the problem is I forgot how to make a story of each minute of my life long time ago? And are you ready to understand what “learning” means?
Because “learning” means to trust too, trust people who have walked the path before you and drew maps about it, not that you would not have to draw any more maps but you have a help to draw your own map.
My grandma used to say that “learning” and “teaching” are two different words… there must be some reason for it.
Pepa Llausas is a spanish screenwriter living in London, with a degree in Audiovisual Communication and a Master in Scriptwriting for Television and Film.
She has been teaching Screenwriting for years as well as Creative Writing, Creativity and Editing. She has been an instructor in Concepts & Ideas For Animation for students of the Master of Art in Image Synthesis and Computer Animation, in Visual Narratives or Therapeutic Application of Fairy Tales.
While working on her own projects for cinema & animation, she now teaches online for Kreativefont School and collaborates with Phil Parker at NYAC as screenplay consultant.
You can follow her on twitter @Masqueprincesa