Monday, February 23, 2009

Always Learning

What I love about screenwriting is that you're always learning, no matter where you are or what you've achieved in your career. When you begin, there's a lot of finding your feet which is quickly matched with a hunger to improve, and so screenplay books and courses are all devoured. A basic understanding of three-act structure. Check. McKee's Story. Been there. Hero's Journey? Done that. Analysing films? Seen the remake.

So, armed with a newfound appreciation of screenwriting craft and a general knowledge of what it takes to get ahead, you think you can walk the walk. However, there is often a big difference in what you think you know, to how you actually apply your knowledge into the process. This is where you really learn about yourself and your writing. It's all very well to say this and that, or blog about the blandness of the current releases, but you simply don't know if you have what it takes until you get your first taste of the professional pudding. This means dealing with notes and deadlines and rewrites, and a wide range of unexpected twists and turns that the development process can throw at you.

My recent experience with EastEnders is a good example of this. I was SO grateful I had done the trial episodes. However, at the time of the trial episodes, I was thinking: "I'm good enough. Just give me the work!" The first time I tried out, got rejected. Second time, got the gig. Now, a proper commission. But while the trial eps were vital in learning the basics of what it takes to write an episode of EastEnders, the real commission took it to a whole new level.

Attending the commissioning meeting. Talking about scheduling (sets/actors available), necessary story changes, agreeing on an approach. Then, first draft, dealing with notes, any impact from the previous episode, how your episode is going to affect the ones that follow, sharpening scenes, focusing on character arcs, more story changes etc. We all know about this but suddenly being presented with it, and having to deal with it, are two different things entirely. There's a very real pressure and expectation, something you can't quite emulate when it's just you at home, bashing out a script and thinking it kicks ass.

Personally, I've loved the process, and relish getting my hands dirty as much as possible, but I've learned so much in the past month: from a more raised awareness of everything I think I know, to a sharpened sense of knowing what to do in any given scene. Of course, I've learned from previous experience: how your perfectly written scene plays out in your head as opposed to how it actually turns out on screen, jokes that don't work, description that confuses the director when you think it's perfectly clear. All invaluable in your learning curve as a writer.

I spoke to a casting director today about my short film. Straight-talking, professional, practical and to the point. Really helpful, just the right kind of kick-start to make you realise you have to raise your game at every turn, and not just get by on what you think you're bringing to the table. Always learn. Keep improving. Repeat.


Martyn said...

Hi Danny, not suffered from Screenwriters Block yet but have become acquainted with its poor relation, Red Planet Block!

Is there any news yet, or imminent, or in the near future?


Danny Stack said...

Soon, soon. Um, soon!