Notes from the test run of my screenwriting class.

So I’ve been teaching a screenwriting class via Google Hangout/video chat.  It’s a four person class, and it lasts for an hour.  It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, and I’ve learned a lot about how to teach screenwriting and how people approach the writing.

CLASS ONE – Intro to Story
In the first class I assigned the following reading:

The class focused on the nature of story versus world building or genre.  We broke down the movie Avatar, and we focused on telling it in other settings: ex. Jake Sully is a cavalry soldier who must use his dead brother’s reputation to live among the Sioux, Jake Sully is a privateer who inherits his dead brother’s pirate ship, etc.  Students took turns pitching Avatar in different universes, and in doing so explored how the specifics of a story can be shifted from universe to universe.

The homework assignment was to write a logline of their project using a specific structure, writing a handle of their story, and then telling that 200-word version of their story as a western and as a fairy tale.

CLASS TWO – Setpieces and Second Acts

Students brought in their homework.  Overall, they did a very good job.  I noticed something interesting, though: when forced to tell their stories in 200 words, everyone in the class ended up mislabeling the first twelve pages (opening scene to “inciting incident”) with act one and then ended up calling the rest of act one act two, and then short changed their second act.  This prompted a lively discussion about the difference between inciting incident and plot point one (I have to type it up, but basically the inciting incident sets up the premise, the break into act two begins when the protagonist takes decisive action re: that premise).

As every act two was truncated, we then covered the difference between act two pre-midpoint and act two post-midpoint and how to use different thematic tones to differentiate those acts (example: If Act 2a is about trying and failing, act 2b might be about succeeding, but ironically failing anyway).

In reviewing loglines, I found that everyone had a tendency to skip over the visual means used to accomplish the story goals.  This contributed to why the second acts were a little undercooked, and is making me reconsider how I explain second acts in general.

I assigned the following homework to the class:

  • Rewrite three versions of your handle, and tell me which one you think is the best.
  • Rewrite logline and really stress the means part of it.
  • Use your “means” to generate 8 fun visual ideas or setpieces.
  • Create a grid to track things from act to act (more on this later)

All in all, it was a great class with some talented students, and I can’t wait to see what they bring in next week!

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