Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Being Specific

I've recently received initial pitches for short films from screenwriting students at a Toronto college where I've begun teaching. A few are interesting--and more importantly, feel produceable by student film makers--and I'm interested in seeing what their beat sheets will bring.

But most stop far short because they're vague. It's always a good thing for a writer to see how other writers and aspiring writers pitch their work because in teaching one learns, (an old martial arts maxim.) My students are relying on "stuff happens" or in one case literally, "scary stuff happens", to get through most of their pitch. It's so important to come up with a basic conflict and a plot that has a beginning, middle and end at the pitch stage.

I urge my students to use what I call the story template: a motivated character struggling to perform a (hopefully difficult) action to achieve a life or death goal opposed by a worthy adversary. If they can even fill in the blanks of this, they are on their way to at least giving their story enough conflict to get them through a beginning, middle and end. I'm not sure why so many of my students resist this. Perhaps they feel it isn't "creative" enough. I'll find out tomorrow when I give them feedback on their pitches. But they resist this at their peril of developing an undramatic story. Now's the time--at the pitch stage--to define the drama. And being able to state the plot in a beginning, middle and end--3 sentences--gives the writer a fighting chance at structure. If not at the pitch stage, when? You only have to fill more pages down the line.

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