Creative Global Network for the Visual Arts

Careers' Advice for Screenwriters:

The only way you'll find yourself working in a bank will be with a balaclava on.  The only way you'll make money writing is with ransom notes.

The Optimist's Guide to Screenplay Structure.

Memory & Guilt.

You can write to a formula - Truby, Field, Frank Daniel etc - but why would you?

Did you become a writer to fill in the gaps between turning points, to hit beats in a paradigm, to break everything down to sequences based on Want & Need?

I don't believe you did.

Valery said: 'il n'y a pas de vrai sens d'un texte'.  What any formula must ignore is intuition, endeavoring not to explain the spontaneity from which any good writing comes, replacing the aesthetic with the rational.  The whole becomes less than the sum of the parts.  Analysis of theme, structure, image and rhythm - and their interpretation - become so important that they determine what is, and what is not, a screenplay.  Tonio Kroger says: 'what an artist talks about is never the main point; it is the raw material in and for itself indifferent, out of which with bland and serene mastery he creates the work of art'. To analyse the screenplay is to analyse the work of art by what the artist says.

Realism is a deceit. Art is a symbol of reality.  The form of the work itself is a symbol. Nothing is free from context.  A work of art is an object which reveals what it is - an object.  Let me quote Joyce in Stephen's Hero:

   First we recognise that the object is one integral thing, then we recognise that it is an organised composite structure, a thing in fact: finally, when the relation of the parts is exquisite, when the parts are adjusted to the special point, we recognise that is it that thing which it is.  Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance.  The soul of the commonest object, the structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.

What is Unity?

The organisation, made of parts, is seen as a shape from which the parts gain virtue and lacking which they are nothing; for it is the figure, immediately perceived, that carries meaning and not its elements.  Without its context the shape would neither stand out nor show forth.  Our reality is not a mere collection of elemental facts but consists of units in which each part points beyond itself and implies a larger whole.  The whole is more than the sum of is parts. The whole is something else than the sum of its parts - it is of course the whole/ part relationship which is meaningful.

Film tutors + script editors fail because intellect analyses - when what is vital is the layers of synthesis by which it is baffled.  The apprehension of wholeness, assuring worth and the possibility of meaning, is called upon to justify our impression of organic coherence.  A screenplay is not an aggregate of its part, something to be dissected - but a Gestalt of vital complexities.  Structure is more than logical progress, recurrence of theme, and conflict, rhythmic design, the anxieties of each part rising to the triumph of its end - a design of ups & downs recurring on a grander scale to its end.  The result is a coherence and tension which increasingly occupies the mind and engages the emotions, creating feelings of unity in each part/ sequence, tying them, concluding with what feels like a syllogism at which we cry QED.

Reappearing themes appear with variation in each of the parts. A pattern is established, then another, and another upon it - the Unity being how the artist makes us comprehend the links between those patterns and themes.  Contraries coexist and nuance one another - a drama being made of such quarrels. 

Ultimately we are forced to contemplate the parts in terms of the whole - but must the whole be more important than the parts?  The formula screenplay insists on narrative to carry its meaning, narrative being suitably temporal - but can we depend less upon the sequence of events than upon reflexive relationships among its elements?  Can we create a structure based on spatial form which is a metaphor for an effect of memory, spreading its fragments before us, seeming to make time stop and take shape. As Quentin says in Absalom, Absalom!: 'Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading...across its surface...to the old ineradicable rhythm'.  Faulkner worked with segments of circles, whereas Conrad's with his idiot boy in The Secret Agent describes: 'circles, circles, circles: innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form, and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable'.

I expect nothing less from you.


Ex 1.  OK + AM
Write a 25 minute play - from Oskar Kokoscka's affair (+ post affair reaction) with Alma Mahler.
   - Is a linear line best?

Ex 2.  Simenon
Adapt Simenon's Le Train to the Present.
Ex 3. Sound + Image 2
Edit Visconti's Night of the Long Knives lake scene from The Damned to music by:
   - Satie
   - Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky
Ex 4. As I Lay Dying.
Take the bare skeleton of the action - a journey to bury Ma among her kin - as the basis for an original story set today where you live. 
Yes - that can include your imaginary life - so Past/ Future, characters from books, Faulkner himself - can appear.
Establish the emotional connection with your Ma character - how it is layered and develops.
Ex 5.  The Old Man & The Sea.
The Old Man struggles - and finally catches the fish - but it is eaten by sharks while he tows it back to land.  It is too big for him.
Read Hemingway's story
   - What is it a metaphor for?
    Your talent? 
Write a 1 page synopsis in which the metaphor is for marriage.
Ex 6.  Perfect Partner.
Write a 2 page Synopsis for a feature in which the protagonist is seeking his/ her ideal partner.
   - Does s/he understand/ realise her Quest? (When?)
   - Does she find him?
Rewrite your synopsis so that the perfect partner acts as a metaphor for the death of her soul?
   - avoid romantic cliches/ tropes.
    Use a hard genre: detective, film noir, Drama - even horror
   - Is the Tonal Pattern varied enough?
   - What do we think the protagonist searching for?
     Intimacy? Understanding?  An escape from loneliness?  Love?
     Make her as guarded against the wounds and ridicule as you or I.
Ex 7.  Fathers.
Write a Short film (5 minutes) in which the protagonist encounters different sorts of Father figures.
   - How are you setting up the plot to make us subtly conscious of who these
     characters are - and their place within the theme? 
   - What is the function of each Father figure in developing the theme/s?
      (Make sure you're not just repeating the same beat.  Think through the
      development within a Climactic dramatic structure). 
   - Do you need a strong 'A' plot line which drives the story forward - Father
     theme becoming more & more integral and finally paying off into that 'A'
     (Think of Fromm's analysis of K in The Trial searching for what he is
      accused of).
Ex 8.  Crossfire
Take the character of Ginny's husband from Crossfire as the protagonist for a story set in the Present. 
   - Create a backstory.
     What is your parallel for his Dishonorable Discharge?
   - What is his objective/ goal?
     Develop a plot - an 'A' and 'B' line.
   - Is his goal to win Ginny back? 
   - What does he need to do to achieve that? What is his strategy?  Is it direct/
      subtle?  How intelligent is he?
   - Is the theme related to respect - or the impossibility of the sort of respect he
      wants in a marriage?
   - Who is Ginny?
   - What motivates her? (her objective)
   - What does she want in each sequence (SQ)?
A.  Tone/ Genre.
If you write a film noir - how are you bringing it into the Present - making it new (Drive, LA Confidential)?
Read Schrader's notes on film noir. 
   - avoid earnest/ flat genre characterisation.
Work in coherent and apposite images/ themes from The Waste Land through the SQ/ episodic structure of your film. 
   - develop your take on the themes of Sensation & Memory as motifs (Proust).
   - Read Yeats' Sailing To Byzantium - and introduce images and themes from
     it that do not make themselves apparent to others - but are coherent.

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