Teaching Scriptwriting by Pepa LLausas
One of the most difficult points is to find a manner to teach to understand the media, that is, how cinema transmits a story.
Students arrive to you with a very clear and concise idea about what script is: something similar to a form to fill in. And they usually do it using a very long dialogue. Nothing could be further from the truth. The first problem that I have to overcome is opening a window towards a new world, the world of the concepts, of non-verbal language, and, over all, the world of synthesis developped through the wonderful life of ellipsis. Movie language is not literal; it’s pretty synthetic and elliptical.
They, in fact, have never thought about how the cinema tells a story before. As a part of the audience, they remember not the film, they remember the feelings they experienced while seeing the film. It is curious to see once and once again how they are absolutely surprised, even skeptical, when they start to coolly analyze the films they love in an intellectual way. They seem to have lost something, as if the film had been shortened since the last time they saw it.
Scriptwriting has two very important parts. One is to build the story and everything required. The second is the point about how we are going to show, to reveal, to hold the audience’s hand and lead it through the experience of the film. So far, the experience of seeing a film is a linear experience. You decide what information the viewer gets, the quantity and the quality of this information and in which order. And this is the difference between a master piece and another story.
The cinema is an experience. The viewer wants to be surprised, excited and thrilled. We do not go to cinema to receive neutral information, we want to have an experience and this depends largely on how the story is told.
One of the main problems of scriptwriting students is how little they know about editing and other aspects that make up a movie. Showing them that a “script” is something more than a dialogue may become a fight. Having no idea of photography may be a practical problem, but knowing nothing about edition makes the task of the scriptwriter really surreal.
The script is the first step to construct an audio visual experience. It is a first step, a working document and a technical tool. They want to make a work of art from their scripts, but they usually make the mistake of thinking that the dialogue is the main part of it.
Like in a musical piece, in a film rhythm is all. And the rhythm is the result of a perfect combination of the scenes and the facts within, of the different feelings that you are arousing in the viewer and the level of action, of the moments to breathe, smile or be scare and the necessary moments to give information about the story.
Would “Pulp Fiction” be the same film if Tarantino had told you the story in a different way? Could you imagine your feeling if you would know Bruce Willis was dead at the beginning of “The Six Sense”? However, it would be a terrible mistake to think the point is to do the things always in the same way, to explain that the main character is dead always in the end of the film, for instance. Your ability as a screenwriter is tested when you prove that you know whether to start a film with the main character saying “today is the day of my death” as in “American Beauty” or in “Tangle” or not.
The beginning student is prone to thinking scriptwriting means to “fill in a form”. And, at the beginning, they want to start to fill it as soon as possible. As if I were a zen master, my first aim is to teach them how long the path is and how small this last point in your work as a scriptwriter is compared to the rest of the tasks you have already done.
Like everybody knows youth means hurry, but script is absolutely the other side. Edition, edition, edition; cut, cut, cut. Once you understand this, we can start to speak about making films.
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