On Teaching Screenwriting

I’m heading into the last few weeks of my directed study course at Kwantlen University here in Richmond, B.C. I enjoy teaching & feel like I can offer new insights to the students. My new insights derive from  having been a working tv writer who was able to see my ideas on the screen, via (mostly) productions that I worked on.

One of the major differences between writing  fiction and television is that as tv writers, we have to deal with a myriad of departments and needs. This shapes what we create. To quote Orson Welles:

“A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”

For example, as an aspiring tv writer, I worked in story departments. These jobs meant I dealt with everyone and everything under the sun as it pertained to the showrunners.

Everyone needs the head writer(s) to weigh in on their part of the job. The army is composed of props, set dec, art, costumes, SPFX, VFX, animals, stunts, coordinators of all varieties, post production, actors, directo, audience coordinators, network executives, network legal, local legal, clearance companies, producers, other writers, locations, assistant directors, carpenters, grips, electrics, camera people, cinematographers, researchers, and assistants. In fact, I’ve probably forgotten to include an entire army of people in this list. But you get the idea.

My point is that when we write for tv and film, we’re creating a map or something like a plan – rather than a finished product. Imagine how a Brando movie would feel without Brando. Imagine Downton Abbey without the miraculous locations and art teams they have to recreate the early 20th century flawlessly?

Our job is to create that wonderful script, which is like a plan for our little army- to help them to mindmap it and fuel their creativity. The best movies and tv use the creativity of the whole team – which begins with the script.

Once we’re done, there’s a  script, like Tennessee Williams’ hit play & movie “A Streetcar Named Desire”, which can be recreated (albeit less gloriously) without a Brando. That is the ‘art’ part of what we do & we all aim for this result.