Home schooling is more popular than ever for a variety of reasons. But the one common thread among all home and alternative learning adherents is that our public schools and many private institutions are failing. This is the case from elementary to baccalaureate levels of learning. My primary complaint about traditional education is that it produces cookie-cutter products with a shallow pool of resources to draw from in post-academic pursuits.
This is especially true in the field of screenwriting. I spent large slices of time and no small amount of cash dashing around among various schools and classes trying to find the magic bullet that would mould me into the next William Goldman. Instead, they moulded me into images of themselves – or at least attempted to. To the chagrin of several gurus, I didn’t take the bait. For that I was no class favorite and didn’t get any favors or jumpstarts into the industry that the more pliable students received. In one case, the instructor’s critique of a fairly good screenplay of mine was purposely returned to me several days past a deadline for entering a highly regarded script competition at a well-known university. By the way, networking is a selling point many institutions toss around. Don’t believe it. No one, I repeat, no one is going to provide any worthwhile networking benefit to a classmate. It’s every student for themselves – and rightly so. The others in the class are current or future competitors and everyone knows it.
So, whether I’m a slow learner, or the victim of useless academics, I have now resorted to home schooling. And it’s working. I have two produced scripts (not masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination) and a couple of feature length films that will be produced. And, for the most part, I owe this to a sumptuous diet of reading screenplays.
I read one screenplay every morning. I don’t bother to take notes. That’s a mistake made in a traditional classroom environment. The best note taking is that which is embedded in the human brain. Note-taking, by definition, gives you only notes – watered down and compacted versions of the extensive information the brain takes in automatically. Immediate results may not be apparent, but heaps of knowledge is safely tucked away in nerve cell bodies and their dendrites. One might not be able to pass an exam on the plays of Chayefsky, but it’s there. And when you dive into your own work it emerges.
I also assign myself supplemental books to read. Reading that matters. Reading that I enjoy and that fits my self-designed curriculum. Books like Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing,” Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and off-the-beaten-path works like “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. These books are marked up, underlined, bookmarked, and fully annotated by the time I’m finished.
I keep works like “Writing from the Inside Out” always on my desk. I dog-ear the pages in this excellent book by Dennis Palumbo for easy access to specific sections on battling psychological blocks and reviving inspiration.
My advice to aspiring writers is to get some education in the arts. Gain in-depth knowledge of literature, philosophy, and history. After you’ve got a deep intellectual well to draw from, translate what you know into telling stories. Get a good volume on formatting, like “The Hollywood Standard.” Study it and refer to it as you write. Most screenwriting software does the formatting for you so you can concentrate on the story and not the technical stuff.
“So,” you ask, “don’t I need some viable academic credentials to break into the industry?” Absolutely not. A good play is a good play. You’re not required to turn in a résumé with a script. The best class you can take on screenwriting is one on the art of getting read by a studio insider (if such a class were available). An article entitled “PRIMETIME: Should I Go To College To Become a Screenwriter?” written by Chad Gervich for Script Magazine, lists the following as the most essential qualifications for success in screenwriting:
- A deep well of life experiences
- Personal stories to write about and explore
- A strong vision, a specific way of seeing the world, or—as people say in Hollywood—a unique “voice”
- An incredible work ethic, a willingness to work tirelessly and endlessly
- Top-notch communication skills
- The ability to read and think critically and articulate your thoughts
- A network of professional contacts (which you’ll develop once you’re here, so don’t worry about this now)
Now comes the big moment you’ve been waiting for: The definition of autodidactism.
- autodidact |ˌôtōˈdīˌdakt|
- a self-taught person.
- DERIVATIVES: autodidactic |-ˌdīˈdaktik| adjective
- ORIGIN mid 18th cent.: from Greek autodidaktos ‘self-taught,’ from autos ‘self’ + didaskein ‘teach.’
The essence of becoming a screenwriting autodidact is purchasing or downloading a ton of screenplays. And not just the hits, either. You can learn almost as much from a washout as from a winner. Read every day. Watch movies (although this is highly overrated as a learning tool).Write. Write. Write. Enter lots of competitions – a great source of feedback, a little money, and the possibility of taking a screenplay to the next level.
O.K., autodidactics of the world unite! We should form our own union. The Guild of Autodidactic Screenwriters (GAS). At the very least, surrounded by your books in a cozy office or nook, everyday is a school day.
The nominees for the 2015 Academy Awards have been announced. See below an updated list of the nominees:
“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers
Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”
Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”
Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”
Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”
“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura
“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall
“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore
“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman
“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope
“Unbroken” Roger Deakins
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero
“Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges
“Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood
“Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
“Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum
“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Documentary Short Subject
“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
“Joanna” Aneta Kopacz
“Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
“The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello
“White Earth” J. Christian Jensen
“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
“Boyhood” Sandra Adair
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling
“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg
“Whiplash” Tom Cross
Foreign Language Film
“Wild Tales” Argentina
Makeup and Hairstyling
“Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer
“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon
“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson
“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”
Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from “Selma”
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”
Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
“Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts
Animated Short Film
“The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
“The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
“Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
“Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove
“A Single Life” Joris Oprins
Live Action Short Film
“Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
“Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
“Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret
“Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
“The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
“Interstellar” Richard King
“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro
“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer
During the Second World War, the Ten Boom family of Haarlem, Holland provided a hiding place for Jews and others hunted by the Nazis. On February 28, 1944 the family was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo. Two sisters, Corrie and Betsie, spent ten months in three different prisons. The last was the infamous Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. They were committed to an overcrowded barracks where living conditions were deplorable beyond description. As a tool for accentuating the horrific living conditions, amalgamated with the Christian faith that ultimately prevails, the screenwriters take an episode from Corrie Ten Boom’s book ,”The Hiding Place,” that provides a memorable microcosm of the larger drama.
Among other irritants within the barracks, Corrie and Betsie soon discover it’s infested with fleas and lice. This smaller matter reflects the greater theme of faith prevailing over tragedy. Betsie carried with her into the situation a stronger faith in God than did Corrie, as evidenced by her conveying to Corrie that even the fleas were somehow part of God’s plan, so they should be thankful for them. To underscore her position she read a verse from the small Bible Corrie had smuggled into the camp.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Corrie rejected the idea of being thankful for the fleas.
As time goes by, the sisters conduct worship services in the barracks and are inexplicably uninterrupted by the guards. It was Betsie who learned the cause behind this good fortune. The guards, knowing the infestation within the barracks, refused to enter. Food was delivered to the door and no further.
Betsie’s premise that God had provided the little creatures for a higher purpose was validated. Now they were both thankful for the fleas and lice. This mini-drama advances and captures the substance of the overarching theme by revealing Betsie’s faith that would give her peace, even as she faced death; and Corrie’s increased faith that would not only see her through the horrific experience, but drive her to become a voice for other sufferers of the holocaust, and a champion for the power of faith in all circumstances.
The movie, “The Hiding Place,” based on Corrie Ten Boom’s book by the same name, was directed by James F. Collier. Allan Sloane and Lawrence Holben are credited as the screenwriters. The film fairly adequately portrays the high drama of the book, but one doesn’t leave the theater with an unforgettable sequence emblazoned on the mind that forever reminds one of the story’s essence.
But, how do you do that? The horror is beyond words. Dialogue cannot match the drama. Even a close shot of the victim, with all the actors skill at facial expressions, falls short. Sometimes shooting a silent sequence speaks louder and more effectively than any tool at the director’s disposal.
Spielberg captures the nucleus of Schindler’s List in “the girl with the red dress” sequence. If one carries with them no other image from the movie, this will suffice as a reminder of the film’s theme.
How does one capture the horrific scenario at Ravensbruck where women were shipped in on cattle cars — many of them with their children? Observe this real life clip of a mother and daughter arriving at the concentration camp. Only silence will do. This forces the mind to fill in the screaming and crying and shouting. How can you write that?
I have a rule: When words won’t do, shoot it in silence. The power of silence.
Here’s a clip from our short entitled, “My America.” This, and other war scenes, speak for themselves without any narration, dialogue, or battle sounds.
Of course one doesn’t want to overcook the technique, but in high impact drama like “The Hiding Place” there are several opportunities calling for a scene without sound. (MOS, from Stroheim’s “Ve’ll shoot dis mit out sound.”). If you watch the film, pick them out for yourself. Find or create an instance where a scene could be transformed to a silent shot, thereby providing an unforgettable image that forever reminds us of Ravensbruck.
Regardless, the writers provide a memorable encapsulation of the whole film by including the symbol and object of relentless faith that ultimately prevails. Thank God for the fleas.
The Christmas celebration is meaningless without the backstory. Trimming the tree, placing the wreathes, decorative lights, candles, brightly wrapped gifts lying beneath green branches are more than hollow traditions. The foundation upon which the festiveness of Christmas rests is its 2000-year-old backstory.
Traditionally, families of the Christian faith take time out from mirthful celebrating to recount how it all began. If I were making a movie with a Christmas motif, I’d probably, at some point, film a mother standing on a ladder placing an aluminum star on the pinnacle of a Christmas tree while her children look on. When she descends and claps the ornament’s year’s worth of dust off her hands, her cute-as-a-button 6-year-old daughter looks up and says, “Mommy, why do we put a star on the tree?”
What’s a Mom to say? Because it’s pretty? Because everyone else does? Because that’s what we always do? Because it guides Santa to the tree? No curious little inquisitor will be satisfied with that. Little ones have a keener ear than we might think when it comes to discerning truth. Except, of course, when it comes Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny − fables that we so painstakingly perpetuate.
And so, Mom calls Father away from his session with the nightly news and presents him with the star issue. (I do not apologize for holding to this ancient view of family.) We cut to Mom and Father seated on the sofa with the children gathered around. What’s Father to do? Merely going back to how Christmas traditions developed in Medieval Days will only generate more questions and confuse the issue. An over-simplification such as, “Because it reminds us of the first Christmas,” leaves a dissatisfying vacuum. Nothing short of visiting the beginning will answer the question at hand: “Mommy, why do we put a star on the tree?” So, Father blows the dust off the family Bible, turns to the Book of Matthew, and begins reading, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise…” He doesn’t read the entire Book of Matthew. Too tiring and unnecessary. He draws out only the first eleven verses of Matthew Two.
When Father comes to the part that tells of the Wise Men following the star to the manger where they present their gifts, the curiosity of the little inquirer is rewarded. “Oh, so the star told them where to bring their presents.” She lifts her eyes to the star atop the tree, then scans the gifts strewn around beneath it. “And we put our presents where the star is shining, too,” she says while clapping with glee.
Christmas in this humble abode now assumes a texture that mere tinsel and lights could never provide. Backstory. It was necessitated by the occasion, and reached far enough back in time to provide a reasonable explanation of the matter at hand.
In this case, no fancy flashbacks were necessary. The action is in the reading, and telling; the intent listening; and the star, ablaze with reflected light from the fireplace. The camera works closeups of each family member that catches their sundry expressions as the story progresses; a wide shot of the whole scene; a tilt-up shot of the tree which comes to rest on the sparkling star; a close shot of Father’s index finger tracing the words in the book as he reads, etc. Without leaving the present scene, we see a quiet and profound transformation effected by a powerful backstory as it unfolds through the telling and listening, while enhanced by a setting rich with ties to the past.
How far and how much? As used in the Christmas scene above, one must reach back far enough to extract just enough information to answer the implied or expressed question at hand. Flashbacks that cut to a reenactment of the backstory are more often than not cheap and ineffective. A skilled writer and director find ways to utilize the elements of the “now” to effectively draw up water from the depths of the “then.”