Friday, December 21, 2012

SCREENWRITERS: The Architects of the Film world

"I am the Architect. You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human. Ergo, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant."
 - The Architect (THE MATRIX RELOADED)

Screenwriting is often considered the more glamorous of the various writing forms. I'm the first one to admit that writing for "the movies" or "television" has its charms, and does present itself as a rather alluring endeavor. But that's also precisely the most common misconception about the world of screenwriting. The actual writing process is anything but glamorous. 

Writing a screenplay for a film is akin to drawing up the blueprints for a building. Screenwriters are often considered the architects of a movie. They have to originate the design (the concept), make sure the foundation is steady (bearing in mind the three-act structure), track the progress of the entire process (character arc and protagonist's journey) and finally, pick out all the key raw materials that will be needed to finish the building (scenes, sequences, beats, dialogue etc.)

But more importantly, and something for screenwriters to learn early in the process, is the fact that we're only drawing up the master plans. We want to make the foundation as structurally-sound as possible. We want to make sure that we've thought through every choice and decision, not leaving any plot-holes or logical fallacies on the page, for someone else to figure out. Because we're handing the plans over to the builders, and they most likely won't care about those pesky things (continuity, tracking character journeys) - at least, not as much as you will.

Films are made by directors. When you work with good ones, you can feel them taking your blueprints, and making a far better building out of it than you could have ever imagined. They elevate your material. Because in the process of making a movie, they are helped by their cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, editor, sound designer, composer, and most importantly, actors. All those collaborators are at the top of their game, and bring a wealth of experience and talent to the various aspects of a production. 

A good screenwriter is someone who understands this. You're only one part of the equation, and the more work you can put in, without being obtrusive to the process, the better job you'll do towards servicing the movie.

Being a writer myself, I don't mean to suggest that the role of the writer is insignificant or inconsequential (despite what most of Hollywood believes). Not at all. In fact, I feel the screenplay is one of the most important facets that determine the quality of a film. But it's not necessarily a direct correlation. I've seen many a terrific scripts turned into terrible movies, and the opposite is true as well. 

The main point I'm trying to make, I suppose, is that screenwriting is a means to an end. We are not creating literary work that is supposed to be read. At best, we're writing a suggestion of a story that will be told in the visual medium. 

You might ask... Is it frustrating at times, having spent years of your time working on a project, with no ownership on it whatsoever? Yes. But when you get to see your words up on the silver screen, with a talented actress or actor saying them with conviction you could have never even mustered in your greatest dreams (say, Meryl Streep delivering a monologue in a costumed period-piece, or Will Smith battling Aliens in a sci-fi epic -- scenarios you created while sitting at your dining table eating Cheerios). 

That feeling is utterly magical.

And that is why we enter the field of Screenwriting. Not for the parties, or for the money, and certainly not for the recognition (which is little to none). It's the satisfaction of seeing your words morphed into everlasting images, living on forever in celluloid (or should I say, zeros and ones, since everything's going digital now).

- Prof. JS Mayank

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