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I Don’t Believe In Scripts (2)

Many films produced at UTS by students were undisciplined attempts at story telling, seemingly without methodology. In fact, considering the subject’s structure, students were all but encouraged to defy story-telling conventions rather than learn them.

Many times teachers would tell students to take the camera and: “experiment with the form”, “explore the art” or my favourite “see what happens”.

Experimentation is necessary for development
but there are subjects dedicated to that.

Yes, experimentation is necessary for development but there are subjects dedicated to that. There was a subject called Creative Techniques for Shorts. This subject explored the audiovisual aspect of filmmaking and that alone. In this particular subject the students were instructed to create non-narrative short films.

I found this very interesting as both a technical and aesthetic exercise. The films produced for this subject were mostly streams of consciousness. We used various mediums and techniques and produced some truly fascinating spectacles. While this subject was specifically dedicated to the audiovisual aspect of filmmaking, the rest of the subjects should have been dedicated to the other major aspect of filmmaking – story telling. The basics of story telling should be covered extensively, explained in detail and assessed regularly in all filmmaking subjects not only the script writing related ones.

The script-writing subject was not compulsory and covered to a large part the formatting of a script.  Story telling as a craft was covered but step outlines, treatments, scene cards, character outlines, structure brief or even a list of plot points were not required for assessment.  In addition the script-writing subject was not a prerequisite for production subjects.

Interestingly another a friend of mine that was studying a properties degree (props making) at another of Sydney’s well respected art schools, NIDA, was given an assignment to write a script as part of the course. In fact all students enrolled at NIDA are required at some point to write a script despite not specializing in either writing or production.

The school recognised the need for these students to familiarise themselves with adaptation of stories into scripts. To further their understanding of story telling, and its importance in the production process. The same can hardly be said for many other institutions.

I don’t mean to imply that UTS is not a good university or to that matter not a good media arts and productions school. In fact I think it is a very good university with much merit in teaching and developing future filmmakers. My frustration comes in retrospect of my studies, after having attended many seminars, short courses and master classes post UTS.

I learnt more about story telling in a 3-day seminar than I did in a 3-year degree. After speaking with other film students from other universities and hearing similar experiences I can’t help but be alarmed.  In the long run this gives young students the impression that filmmaking is separate to story telling. I shudder to think of the effects this will have on future generations of filmmakers.

I learnt more about story telling in a 3-day seminar
than I did in a 3-year degree

UTS, as probably the better-known university in the field of media arts and production should champion a change, as it has the experience and reputation required for a cultural shift in the attitudes towards story’s relation to film. By reintroducing story telling to its film making courses UTS can encourage others to do the same.

I associate this lack of story telling craft in the universities subjects today, to a previous generation of Australian filmmakers that made films for purposes of their own undisciplined imagination’s indulgence rather than story. In my opinion this most likely happened because the funding for most films was subsidised by the government and therefore not for profit.

As a result of this, filmmakers were under no pressure to produce films that would draw audiences to the cinemas. Rather for artistic acclaim to themselves. Generations later, film students and teachers have a local industry in which the majority of films, to that matter the most successful or well-known ones, are unstructured or unconventionally plotted. At times utterly defying story telling conventions. These are admired and glorified in the academia subsequently enlarging in the minds of young students the rift between filmmaker and storyteller.

Defying structure and conventions can be a career choice
but must be done from a basis of knowledge not ignorance

Contradictorily most people know mastery of the craft is the only way to create original works and should at least recognise the need to possess basic knowledge of the craft.

Trying to be artistic, students often “un-tell” stories by making films not according to a plot. Artistic doesn’t necessarily mean unstructured. It means working in an original way within the conventions of the craft. The fear and general dislike of structure stands as a hallmark of many film academia intellectualizations.

This is fine as a personal preference but the onus is on the education institutions to educate the student in the craft at hand. If anything , to give the students the ability to make an informed decision for themselves.

Defying structure and conventions can be a career choice but must be done from a basis of knowledge not ignorance. After learning the technicalities of story telling well enough, filmmakers can produce original and interesting works that stray away from these conventions, as they know what to stray away from. Simply because, there has never been an artistic genius that isn’t a technical master.

– Nir Shelter

Nir Shelter is a screenwriter, UTS Alumnus and member of the Sydney Screenwriters Meetup. His main interests are in writing, martial arts and surfing.

About the Author

Nir Shelter

Comments 2

  1. Good article, though I should add that when I linked to it on Twitter I had messages from ex-NIDA students saying they’d never heard of the policy you mention. Are you certain this is true – or just hearsay?

    1. I was referring to the technical courses of design and props not acting. This may also be a recent addition to NIDA’s courses as 2 of my friends are still in their second year of the props course and one other graduated this year from the design course. According to them all had to do the same assignment.

      So if your friend graduated a few years ago or studied acting what I wrote may not apply to them. Though I could have specified in the article that “…all students…” meant all the recent technical courses, this actually further proves my point…

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