It doesn’t qualify as something new – not by any stretch of the imagination – but I’ve enrolled in a MOOC with the University of East Anglia, called Introduction to Screenwriting.
“Were you getting bored?” my friend Mita asked, the tiniest tad sarcastically… And of course not, but it’s a two-week course, small enough to fit into a hectic-ish schedule, right before the school-play-madness begins… And, what’s more, Week One so far is proving full of food for thought.
For instance, there was this panel discussion, with the four teachers trading thoughts about what screen-specific about dramatic form and tools. And Molly Naylor – who, as it was pointed out has her roots in theatre – said this:
I try and remember not to fall in love with my own dialogues. I think when I first started writing, that’s what excited me about writing a script. It’s like I’m looking at the characters and looking at what they’re saying but over time I’ve started to embrace the other elements. So now, every time I construct a scene, I’m thinking […] about what I can use. I’m thinking about how can I use sound at this moment? Is there a moment where I can convey the emotion or the thing I’m trying to say with an action, with a sound – all the different options available to me.
Now this is an issue I’ve been working on as well – and I don’t think it’s exclusive to screenwriting. I believe it was Jeffrey Sweet, saying that the playwright’s job is not to write fine prose, but to create opportunities for the actors to behave in interesting ways – or something to that effect.
And while I still think of dialogue as my chief tool (so much so that this notion tends to spill in my narrative writing too), I’ve been trying to incorporate in my writing what Molly Naylor calls “all the different options”.
Christabelle Dilks (who also has considerable experience of the stage) said that, when she writes, she is always wondering
…how to use the visual tools to place the audience in a position where they’re going to have the biggest and strongest emotional experience of that character’s journey through the film.
Or play, I add – and not just the visuals, but action, sound, lights… yes, well – lights can be likely assumed to belong with the visuals, though I can’t help attaching to them a different sensory quality. But you see what is in play here: using all elements to tell the story.
As I said, I’m not sure this kind of preoccupation is strictly cinematic – though of course there is a huge difference of scope and means in what you can do in a film, and on the stage – where you mostly imply and suggest.
Even the difference between play-writing and the fragmentary nature of screenwriting, where cutting is used to build pace and rhythm, has become more blurred in recent years – and I’m thinking of plays like David Grimm‘s Kit Marlowe, with its very cinematic succession of short-ish scenes and abrupt cuts (mostly effected with light changes).
So, when Christabelle Dilks says that if
…you asked a question and left that answer suspended you’d probably have a much more interesting cinematic experience. […Y]ou don’t have to do it all in the scene. You can leave those gaps which make the audience work and that’s much more exciting…
She says nothing that cannot apply to the stage as well – or, come to think of it, to the page. It’s difficult, intricate work, of course, a quest for concise effectiveness, and it must be borne in mind that it takes more work on the audience’s part too… So it’s a matter of fine balance, and the risk of descending into incomprehensible hoppity-hopness is there – but it seems to me a path very much worth pursuing – on screen, stage and page.