I went to the fourth week of Marc Calderwood’s Basic Screenwriting class last night, and again, for the fourth week, I really enjoyed it. It’s not a heavy, dogmatic class, and it is also not a light collection of film reviews. Marc makes it a balance of focused instruction time, topical discussions, light exercises, and film watching to help us think about the material he is teaching us.
Marc has spent the last decade and some writing and reading and judging film scripts, so he has an idea what he is talking about. He has also attended the workshops in LA and other big cities, and knows what he was taught in the ones that helped him, and what he was taught in the ones that didn’t help him so much.
This knowledge is great because it makes his class a little bit like a course on screenwriting hacks. He knows enough about the industry to advise us about what would fly for an amateur writer trying to get something picked up. And he has a sense of what studios are largely looking for.
And part of the focus of this course has been a deconstruction of the story line of a film, which is not so different than the plot construction of a novel. There is Act I, and Act II, and Act III- and those three acts work in any storytelling project. Rise, Fall, Resolution. Nestled within the film plot though are a few pivotal moments that are common in most films, and properly respected and utilized at the right time, they help ferry the audience forward with your character as he or she tries to accomplish their goal. The story, after all, is about the main character- and it is always about the main character- because we ultimately want to see what makes that human being become challenged, and deal with conflict, and grow, and change. The story is always about the main character, and ultimately how they change over 120 minutes.
Basically, a script is one minute of screen time per page.
Studios do not want a project by a new screenwriter that is over 120 minutes long- or, over 120 pages long.
Your main character has to change in 120 minutes.
Okay. Get writing.