This course is an introduction to ethnographic/documentary fieldwork and the screenwriting adaptation process. Students will conduct oral history interviews with an individual and adapt their life story into an 8 page short film script.
First, writing teams will conduct a series of interviews outside of class, learn the basics of how to get “good tape” and transcribe their recordings. Next, teams will use these transcripts as source material for fictional stories and workshop their scripts in class.
Students will engage in short interview projects to learn the craft of interviewing, as well as writing exercises where they use existing oral histories to practice adapting the essence of a real life experience into a three-act structure. Through in-class writing exercises and writing assignments students will explore the process of adaptation and find their “take” on the essence of a situation in one person’s life.
Students will explore the basic dramatic principles of story, character and structure as well as analyze the structure and mechanics of scripts and short films and present their findings in class.
Since much of the work of screenwriting is done before the actual drafting, this class will focus on the process of screenwriting: from the initial premise, to treatments and step-outlines, then writing the first draft.
The craft of screenwriting is learned through the critical examination of other screenplays and films, ie: we watch movies to learn how to write movies, read screenplays in order to write screenplays. This workshop, then, will also hone your critical and editorial skills, and the application of those skills to your own writing.
The semester culminates with a pitch presentation, in which you and your writing partner reveal your collaborative creative process and bring us into the world of the film in a clear, concise, engaging visual presentation. The panel will consist of Deans, friends of the college, and local filmmakers. Each film project competes for the potential to get their film funded and produced by the College of Liberal Arts film production team and local filmmakers. Students will retain a writing credit on the finished short film.
Grading and Assignments
- Oral History Exercise: (5%)
- Students will prepare 3 different fictional takes on a pre-existing oral history and create loglines, outlines and step-outlines for their stories.
- Film Analyses: (5%)
- Students will analyze 3 short films from their filmography for structure, story and character.
- Script Analyses (5%)
- Students will analyze 3 short film scripts for character development and visual writing.
- Logline & Outlines (10%)
- Students will pitch a 1 sentence logline and one-page outline for both script ideas.
- First Drafts & Revisions (50%)
- Students will write two (2) first drafts and revise as necessary.
- Written Feedback (5%)
- Students will give classmates written feedback (forms provided) for each script and revision.
- Pitch Script & Visual Presentation: (10%)
- Collaborators will prepare a verbal and visual presentation.
- Participation at Presentation (10%)
Presentations focus on the collaborative process, the interview-subject relationship, as well as “selling” the world of the story to potential funders.
Making a Good Script Great- Linda Seger, The Screenwriters Workbook- Syd Field, The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction Into Film – Linda Seger, Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide – Mark Kramer, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Lee Gutkind, The New New Journalism – Robert Boynton, True Stories, Well Told – Susan Orlean, Lee Gutkind, The Journalist and the Murderer- Janet Malcolm
Web: The Lives Column in the NYTimes, Transom.org
Films: Stories We Tell, Close Up, American Splendor, The Beaver Trilogy, Bernie, Wild
Podcasts: Scriptnotes (http://johnaugust.com/)