Day 1: Establishing a Common Ground
To begin with there will be a screening of Quiz Show by Robert Redford, written by Paul Attanasio.
The movie is about America’s loss of innocence in the 1960’s, when the quiz shows on television were first discovered to be rigged. Television was just beginning to dominate the popular, cultural landscape, and quiz shows were all the rage. People naturally believed that the shows were honest contests. Quiz Show wonderfully dramatizes how they weren’t, how the drive for ratings corrupted the producers, and transformed the contestants (who were national celebrities) into frauds. It foreshadows the conflation of news and entertainment in our time, as well as Trump’s rise from reality TV show star to President.
Screenwriting Fundamentals: A comprehensive examination of story structure, in which there will be discussions of the near-universal 3-act, 8-sequence structure. Topics also include work habits, software, formatting, networking, revising/rewriting, premises, character, protagonists, antagonists, stakes, conflict, story spine, sequences, terminology, dialog, scenes, beat sheets, and outlines. Whenever possible, examples will be found for all of the foregoing in the screening film.
Every participant will be given an Assignment of a unique story premise for a short film.
The homework, due on the following day, is to write an outline for all three acts. Students may work in teams, if preferred.
Day 2: Script Analysis
We’ll review the actual script of Quiz Show. (Students will be required to bring a copy of it. It’s available online for free.) It's helpful to see how the film looks on paper, not just the dialog, but everything else (e.g. action and character descriptions, intercutting, etc).
We’ll review the outlines that were written by the class. Outlining is a necessary skill. It’s where a lot of the heavy lifting occurs.
Assignment: Write a short film based on your outline. Sure, this is difficult for the time limit we have, but everyone should try. Write as much as you can. Skip the scenes you can’t write. Write the ones you can. The best way to learn is by doing. Even if everyone writes just one scene, we’ll have plenty to talk about.
Day 3: Script Analysis
We’ll review the material from Day 1 (story structure fundamentals).
We’ll review the screenplays that students write. We might also consider accepting work previously written (in ten-page excerpts) to read/review in the seminar.
Daniel Sussman was an ABC/Disney Studios TV Writing Fellow, and staff writer for ABC’s “The Practice.” He most recently sold “Galveston”, a big-budget screenplay to Warner Bros. He has sold scripted material to production companies including Polaris Pictures, Reverse Angle, and the NBC television network. He also teaches writing at UCLA, and online through UCLA’s Extension school. He has also taught screenwriting at the American College of Greece. He received an MFA degree in screenwriting from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television and a JD degree from New York University’s School of Law.
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