4 Reasons Why Homeschoolers Should Study Screenwriting (and get English Comp credit for it.)

If you have a budding homeschool writer or filmmaker, they should be learning to write screenplays. Screenplays represent a unique literary genre that forms the foundation of one of the most influential forms of art and entertainment in our world today, movies and other visual stories.


I’ll begin with two quotes:

“Film is the literature of our age”  AND  “Those who tell the stories shape the culture”

script-tight

The first is by Steven Spielberg. I’ll reveal who said the second one in a moment.

These two quotes remind us how influential and pervasive stories through film have become in our culture. No one can deny the influence of these stories, whether told on a cinema screen or a mobile phone. My 30+ years as a professional filmmaker have convinced me of the importance of raising up a new generation of filmmakers and writers who will take us into the future.

So here are the four main arguments I’ll make to encourage you to consider screenwriting as an important field of study for your creative homeschooled student.

  • Screenplays are a unique literary genre, deserving disciplined study.

  • Screenplays make use of the major elements of all good creative writing.

  • Screenwriting is the foundation of a highly influential cultural expression, movies.

  • Christians can make better movies.

First, as Mr. Spielberg argues, screenplays made into movies are the pervasive form of storytelling in our modern culture. And, they truly are a literary genre unto themselves. They require discipline and study to master their unique form and storytelling conventions. For instance, did you know that screenplays are always written in the present tense? That’s because all we can write is what we see on the screen in front of us. We can’t make full use of inner thoughts of characters. A well-written screenplay reveals their choices through the ways they act when challenged. If you have a budding screenwriter, this is a great creative challenge.

Secondly, screenplays make use of the same storytelling elements found in other literary forms, such as short stories and novels. For instance, we must create interesting and dimensional characters, devise interesting plots with rising conflict, and draw our audience into the story with vivid descriptive language and compelling themes that touch our emotions while entertaining us.

Third, most people don’t understand the immense importance of the screenplay as the foundation of all movies. It has been said that it’s possible to make a bad film from a good script, but it’s impossible to make a great film from a poor script. It’s like the blueprint, foundation, and framing of a movie. Of course, movies–good and bad–exert tremendous influence in our culture.

That leads us to my final point

…making films that are powerful and influential and reflect a Christian worldview. I believe all Truth is God’s Truth, and that all Beauty reflects His Glory. I hope to envision and equip young storytellers to follow God’s call to speak powerfully to culture through many forms of films and videos. Most of us admit that few popular films that are labelled “Christian” exhibit the highest literary and artistic reach we are capable of. There was a time when the Church led the way in the arts. We should aim that high.

Now, to the second quote; “Those who tell the stories shape the culture.” It’s from Aleister Crowley, the famous British occultist in the early 20th century. His vision was to undermine the Christian worldview and values of his culture, and he argued for a takeover of popular storytelling to achieve his end. He saw the potential.

I have had the privilege of teaching many passionate and creative young homeschoolers who are learning to tell powerful stories of their own. I am so encouraged by them, and they give me great hope for the future. They are learning to tell stories that change the world.


For further reading: There are a zillion screenwriting blogs out there, but one I especially like is The Rabbit Room. They have a film section, plus many other forums that, to me, represent some of the best writing and thinking about the arts in the Church today.

Listening to Critique on Your Screenplay

Tools of the trade.

I’m soliciting feedback on a screenplay I’m working on. Today I’ve got a consultation with a guy who is a reader in LA. I really do want to know what people think, even if there is a lot still undeveloped at this stage of the process.

Storytelling is about communication. If I’m not communicating, then I want to fix it.

But receiving critique on creative work is usually difficult. As wonderfully wise and mature as I am, I still get defensive and frustrated on occasion. I honestly think that it’s not so much that I don’t think the advice is valuable (it might even be correct), it’s just that I am secretly afraid that I may not have a solution. And my story will be a dead end.

My experience has shown me that is usually not the case.

What’s your experience?

101 Greatest Screenplays – WGA list

If you want to write well, read well.

If you want to write well, read well. Here are just the Top 10.

1. CASABLANCA Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the play “Everybody Comes to Ricks” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

2. THE GODFATHER Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo

3. CHINATOWN Written by Robert Towne

4. CITIZEN KANE Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

5. ALL ABOUT EVE Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Based on “The Wisdom of Eve,” a short story and radio play by Mary Orr

6. ANNIE HALL Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

7. SUNSET BLVD. Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.

8. NETWORK Written by Paddy ChayefskyFACTS

9. SOME LIKE IT HOT Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond. Based on “Fanfare of Love,” a German film written by Robert Thoeren and M. Logan

10. THE GODFATHER II Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. Based on Mario Puzos novel “The Godfather”

via 101 List.

“THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC”

It takes an immense amount of discipline to resist spoon-feeding your audience. And it takes the same discipline to solve story problems by writing only dramatic scenes, not expositional scenes.

I read a post that talks about this topic this week on Go Into The Story, one of my current favorite blogs. Scott Myers collects an amazing variety of great screenwriting tips, scene analysis from famous films, and general wisdom from great screenwriters.

In this post, Scott re-posts a letter from David Mamet (if you don’t know him, you should find his stuff) that was written to his writing team for a television series Mamet was writing a few years ago. In the letter (there is some colorful language – it’s Mamet) he exhorts his writing team to be disciplined to write scenes and dialogue that serve to move the story forward dramatically.

It’s the bane of every writer to have to deal with collaborators (not the word Mamet uses to describe the network executives) who make suggestions. Often the suggestions (or orders) come in form of a request to make the story more clear, fill in blanks, flesh out characters, etc. And, too often, this results in dreaded exposition speeches by characters or the inane dialogue that spells out what the audience probably already knows and would enjoy discovering for themselves. Mamet colorfully outlines his criteria for what needs to happen in a scene for it to be worthy to remain in a script.

Go Into The Story: “THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC”.