Screenwriting is a mysterious process. It requires you put words on a page in a manner that seduces a reader into seeing the story you want them to see in their imaginations. Good screenwriting demands a clear grasp of the essential elements of dramatic writing; an understanding of the human condition; a facility with language; and the discipline to put your butt in a chair and make it happen.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to teach at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; UCLA Extension Writers’ Program; the New York Film Academy and privately. Working with students, I’ve developed a method that breaks down these essential elements into easily comprehended concepts.
There’s no magic bullet. No tricks or shortcuts.
What I offer is a path toward understanding how dramatic stories work and why. You’ll learn to recognize when plot, character and dialogue function in a story. You’ll learn the basic principles of conflict and resolution. You’ll learn how to make readers empathize with your characters and form emotional bonds. And you’ll learn how to apply this knowledge to your own work through practical application as you write and complete the first draft of your screenplay idea.
Beginning Structure: The Elements of Dramatic Writing
The start for any serious screenwriter and an excellent refresher course for those looking to hone their skills, the course focuses on the key components of dramatic writing: story structure, plot, character, dialogue, scene structure, theme and genre. You will learn how to generate, evaluate and formulate story ideas for screen, television and other media. You’ll learn how to construct story-driven plots. And you’ll learn how to create unique and compelling characters. Through script exercises, lectures and discussions, you’ll learn proper screenplay formatting, how to analyze successful stories and how to apply that knowledge to your own work. The goal is to understand how to use the essential elements of screenwriting to write a 4-5 page synopsis that articulates the beginning, middle and end of your story in preparation for creating a more detailed outline and, ultimately, a first draft of your script.
Expanding the Outline: Building the World
The second course in this 6-part sequence, this class teaches you how to use the outline process to develop a richly detailed story that will enable you to craft a dramatically compelling screenplay. Working from your synopsis, you’ll learn how to use a beatsheet to flesh out your story into a detailed outline, complete with action, dialogue, narrative and thematic ideas. You’ll learn how to use wants, goals and action choices to create fully developed characters; how to utilize effective dramatic action in every scene; how to build subplots; and how to structure your script for maximum emotional results. Lectures will include character development, story structure, narrative voice, working with themes, and using metaphors and imagery. The goal of the class is to complete a detailed 20-30 page outline that can be translated into a dramatically satisfying screenplay.
Writing Act One: Starting at the Beginning
With your outline completed, you’re ready to turn your story into a first draft of your script. This class breaks down the unique challenges of Act One’s “Ordinary World,” with an emphasis on Opening Sequences, Introducing Main Characters, Inciting Incidents, Initial Wants vs Conflicted Wants, Friends & Foes, and the essential “Clear Want” that drives your plot to its climax at the end of your script. You’ll learn the art of scene work, the tricks of good dialogue, and how to use narrative and imagery to find your unique voice. The goal is to have completed Act I so that you can continue writing the rest of your script with confidence.
Writing Act Two: The New World
In a 4-Act Structure, Act II is roughly 30 pages from “1st Plot Point” to the “Midpoint Shift” at the center of your script. As you write these pages, you’ll continue to hone your scene writing skills, solidify your script’s central conflict, learn to craft meaningful subplots, and learning how to “direct through punctuation.” As a group, the class will read each other’s work and provide constructive feedback as ideas are workshopped in the room. Along with completing Act II, the goal will be for you to learn how to give and get notes in an effective and professional manner.
Writing Act Three: The Brave World
In Act III, from the “Midpoint Shift” to the “Lowest Moment” in your script, you’ll continue to hone your skills writing dialogue. You’ll learn how to create moving subtext and how to handle necessary exposition. You’ll learn how to create rising tension through increased conflict and ever-raising stakes for your characters. You’ll also learn how to deepen character arcs and create memorable moments that stick with your reader as you continue toward the climax of your script. Discussions will include analyses of classic films and current conditions in the writing marketplace, with guest speakers who will share their insight and experience with the class.
Writing Act Four: The Re-Ordered World
In this final course, you’ll complete a first draft of your script. In the process, you’ll explore ways to amplify visual ideas, ensure your script’s central conflict is resolved, and reaffirm that your theme has been articulated. You’ll learn how to “read” your first draft for critical analysis, determine where the problems lie, and address them in revisions. Topics covered will include how to find representation, the value of studio and network writers’ programs, screenwriting competitions and how to create your own peer network of writers. Opportunities will be available to hone your pitching skills and to present your ideas to a panel of agents and managers.
Rewriting Your Script: Independent Study
After you’ve completed your script, if you would like to rewrite a second draft with feedback and guidance, private one-on-one schedules can be arranged around your work schedule and availability.