I suppose that would be a good place to start. I’m not sure that I can really pinpoint when my interest in film developed, but there is a definite moment where the screenplay became a distinct object of appreciation for me.
In 7th grade I took a class called “Media” and one of our assignments was to write a screenplay. Our teacher gave us a brief rudimentary lesson in formatting, spacing, indentations, capitalizations and the usual. I had always enjoyed writing stories, so at that point the screenplay became a way for me write stories visually in a form that did not care so much about the traditional features of prose literature—diction, imagery, syntax and the like. I was naïve then.
7th grade turned into 8th grade, and from there high school. I wrote scripts mostly as adaptations of short stories, a way of being lazy when I didn’t feel like describing a scene or a character in traditional terms. I treated the screenplay the way that many writers of the past have, as a glorified form of note taking that told a story.
Even now as I look through my notes from my first “film” Proctor’s Private War I see that the most that I have in terms of a script is a series of dialogue cues. I don’t remember if there was any particular reason why I did this, but my instinct tells me that it was so that the actors would have an easier time navigating their lines. My personal script collection from that era shows that I did pay careful attention to proper formatting.
By the end of high school my longest script was 308 pages (the length of a mini series!) and had gone through easily 10 different drafts before I laid it to rest.
I finished off senior year by submitting a script called Camera Obscura into the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, where it picked a gold medal for dramatic script. I’m currently in the process of revising it (and cutting out 20 pages!) in order to make into a short. Stay tuned for updates with that.
Now as I make the transition from private to public and (hopefully) professional screenwriter, my relationship with the screenplay is changing. Creative writing courses and two summers in Los Angeles reading dozens of scripts have taught me to look at screenwriting in a different way.
There are so many unique features and conventions to this craft that are so often overlooked. I can no longer write a screenplay as a way to avoid the “literariness” of a short story or novel. The screenplay has its own brand of literariness that is often times much more difficult to create than that of traditional prose.
My original plan for this senior year at Princeton was going to be to write a ground breaking and ambitious thesis on the aesthetics of screenwriting, and assessing the screenplay as a literary object in a way that no academic, screenwriter, or Hollywood producer had ever done. However, my thesis adviser had other plans and has insisted that I make some changes.
The status of my current thesis is v-fib, and I’m not sure if life support will make it in time. While mourning the premature death of my original thesis, I try to balance this with the reality that a writer needs to write and keep that as my main focus for this semester. I’m marching out ahead with 2 features, a pilot, and a revised short. My extended list includes a second feature and two specs, but we’ll see how the first set goes.
I am a self-proclaimed script nerd. If you find me a first draft scan of an early Hitchcock talkie, I can go on for hours about indentations and line breaks . I can, but I won’t 🙂 And don’t worry, because it won’t be that level of obsessive analysis that you will find here. A friend suggested that I use this blog as a space to express the thoughts of my dead thesis in case they can be resurrected in this new one. Let’s hope it works.