Is screenwriting for me? (1)

Our guest post series has opened to the readers, so it is your turn.

Aspiring screenwriter Terrence ponders over a question that has bugged all of us at some point: “Is screenwriting for me?”

Post: Terrence
Editor: Cleo Mees

The bustling streets of lower Manhattan. Ubiquitous blue planks of wood, held up by rusty bars of steel. A pedestrian crowd waves in and out of the shade falling from the skyscrapers.

CU of LUANNE, emerging from the crowd.

PULL BACK to reveal her blue sunflower-print dress. With a big smile, she waves from across the street.

Luanne walks against the crowd and crosses the street to meet ME. We hug for a long time. She gives me a warm grab of the arms. I relax into her and hold on tight. But she breaks off contact and I slouch, rejected.

She walks off and disappears back into the crowd.

LONG SHOT of me, standing still as the crowd floods around me. I become indiscernible. CUT TO BLACK.

Fade in.

This is me waking up from a dream. For the longest time, I have dreamed in a cinematic format. From framing to camera angles to cuts and fades, even sound mixing, my dreams were the stuff of film.

I only started becoming cognizant of these little quirks when I stumbled across the special features on some DVD that I can no longer recall.  It talked about framing shots, creating movement, and a lot more.  I had no idea what a lot of these cinematic principals were at the time, but it certainly opened up my eyes to the true art of motion picture.  After watching those special features I understood that every frame of that movie was by design.  Every shot, every cut, every dolly in and every close up, they were put there for a reason.

When Netflix blessed me with a service center that was not 5 miles away from me, I became obsessed with movies.  I loved rating the movies that I watched.  After all, Netflix did provide viewing suggestions based on your ratings.  By the end of a couple of months, I had rated over 800 movies, and within a year I had watched and rated more than a thousand movies.  At first, they merely served as entertainment, sometimes a distraction from the hustle and bustle and pain of daily life.  But then I started to become more of a discerning consumer.  I started to take an active interest in films.  I started noticing how there would often be shots of actors only from the chest up.  Sometimes one actor’s face would fill nearly the entire frame.  And then sometimes their presence on the screen was a small one, a small dot in the center of an aerial shot.

IS SCREENWRITING FOR ME?

Not having a formal education in film as an art form, I was a self-proclaimed student of film by way of self-study.  My education consisted of my own observations and notes about the hundreds of movies I had watched…Until the day came when I had to register for classes at my college.  It wasn’t a liberal arts college, so I was rather excited to see that there was a new class being offered.  It was Drama 106: Introduction to Film Appreciation.  Boy was I ecstatic!

Throughout the semester, we watched and studied films like The Cabinet of Dr. Galligari, Citizen Kane, Nosferatu, and surprisingly even The Graduate.  As we progressed through the syllabus, I gained a new appreciation for film.  I came to learn the lingo used in film and why we see two-shots, close-ups, how high angles and low angles are used.  I learned about mise en scene, lighting, the use of sound.  I absorbed all of this new knowledge with a great enthusiasm and appreciation.

Shortly after the semester’s end, I began penning a screenplay.  I noticed that the format felt incredibly natural to me.  Scenes started with a time and a place, new characters were introduced, dialogue was written.  The flow of it came easily – everything just seemed to make sense in a movie.  In fact, I saw my life as fitting into little scenes.  Before entering a classroom, I thought to myself, INT. CLASSROOM – DAY.  People became characters to me, and I studied them as such. I remembered bits and pieces of people I saw, be they bums on the street corner or a pretty lady in the New York City subway.

The question this leads us to is, how do you know if screenwriting is for you?  It may not come as naturally to you as it did for me.  I feel that the only way to see if the format is a good fit for you is to go and try to write one.  Just write out a story that you’d like to tell and put it into a screenplay format.  Also, find something that interests you, something that you’re passionate about.  Authenticity comes from real experience and expertise.

-Terry Ip
Self-styled perennial student of film working towards a career with a pension.

About the Author

Cleo Mees

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Cleo Mees is a Sydney-based writer, filmmaker and dancer. With a background across several disciplines, her interest is in finding out how these different disciplines can intersect and inform each other.

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