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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Writing in the Film Industry

You like watching movies, you like the jokes they make or the cute moments that make you want to cry. You watch a movie so that you can turn your brain off and temporarily forget about that five page paper you have to write. You think movies are visual, there’s no writing or thinking involved. You go to the theatre to watch the actors say funny things for two hours and then you get to leave. No work went into the movie, no actual writing was done. Sometimes they have to write a script but most of the time they just base the movie off of a book so they don’t even have to come up with a story to write. They just buy the book, hire actors, and highlight the lines straight from the book. If you want a job that involves no writing whatsoever, go into filmmaking… Said no one ever. Films are very visual, but believe it or not they are 90% writing. There’s the budgeting, scheduling, creating outlines and presentations for prospective producers, forms to be filled out for zoning or location purposes, mapping out dates and creating a calendar of when certain things will be completed, and on top of all of that, would you believe you still have to write the script for the film? I would like to focus on screenwriting, a job in the film industry that arguably has the most writing involved in its duties.

“I assign more writing than actual filming in my FILM 4850 class” states Kevin Hanson, the Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts at the University of Utah. Professor Hanson teaches numerous courses on film, including screenwriting and the process of putting your thoughts into a cohesive script that is detailed, easy to comprehend, and descriptive. “It’s definitely easier said than done” he explains of the process of screenwriting. According to Hanson, while screenwriting is a huge deal in the film process, it’s not the only major writing process of filmmaking. He explained to me that creating a pitch to producers can be a big part of the process as well, since you need to explain your project in a way that makes it sound appealing and likely to be made into a successful film. Writing in the film business is arguably one of the hardest types of writing. It involves taking a thought or scene from your mind and writing it in a certain way that portrays the scene in the way you were thinking while also connecting to your audience.

When going into film a degree is not necessary required, but more times than not a degree gets your foot in the door. At the end of the day the better script is going to be chosen, the person who wrote it doesn’t necessarily need to be educated. But a candidate with a bachelor’s degree in film studies has a bit of the upper hand over someone without the education. In their classes they were asked to write scripts, pitches for producers, notes to actors, and other types of writing that a novice to filmmaking may not have any experience in. Wanting to get the point of view from someone studying film, I asked Mark Johnson, a film student at UCLA, some questions about his classes. “Honestly, you probably write just as much if not more in school as you do in your actual career,” he stated. Currently in his third year of school and looking at some job options, Mark shares that most of the positions he’s found require as much writing as he’s been accustomed to in his curriculum. “It’s a lot of script editing, emailing writers, taking notes, basically what I do in my classes only now I can get paid for it.” When asked whether he thought he’d be able to get as far in the film industry without his education, he laughed. “It would be like trying to race the Indie 500 with a Toyota Camry, I wouldn’t have a chance.” Mark explains that through his classes he’s not only learned the basics of script writing, but more importantly he learned the components of a great script that many people don’t even realize. “There’s a type of flow that a script needs to have, I can’t explain it better than that. It took me two semesters to understand it myself. But an editor can instantly see whether it flows or not, and if it doesn’t, you’re out of luck.” Aside from the ever important flow, Mark also shared the jargon he’s learned when it comes to his writing. There’s your camera shots, body movements, camera angles, added effects, etc. You need to know the difference between a long shot and an extreme long shot when you’re deciding between which camera shot to use. Or whether a high angle or a bird’s eye angle is better for a certain scene. These are the types of things you learn in your basic film classes, and they’re in the numerous scripts you write for your classes. While there is a lot of writing done in the educational preparation for this career, it’s not your average school papers where you think, “When will I use this?” In these classes you’re constantly writing scripts, screenplays, film analysis’, film critiques, etc. It’s all the things you’re going to be doing in your career, which hopefully makes it a little more bearable that you’re writing as much as an English major would.

Screenwriting isn’t like an other type of writing. It’s a genre all on its own. It can be a collaborative piece amongst four or five people coming together in order to combine their strengths and create something amazing. Or it can be written by a lone writer, expressing all of their thoughts onto the page and transforming their thoughts into a potential movie. Scripts aren’t like books, they actually couldn’t be further apart. When you read a book, you create the scene in your head and you, as the reader, decide how the scene looks and plays out. In a script, all of that is done for you. While a passage from a book may read, “He stood alone in his room wondering why he couldn’t get up the nerve to talk to the girl.” The same scene in a script would look more like, “Johnny’s bedroom, mid day. Johnny, high school student, 18, fairly attractive, dorky [mid shot, eye level angle, sitting in his room on his bed] muttering to himself: ‘Why can’t I just talk to her like a normal guy?’ Stands up and walks across the room to the window, leaning against it and looking outside onto the street.” Writing a script involves more details and description. You’re saving the audience the effort of having to think for themselves how the scene is going to play out. You’re basically doing the job of both a writer and the reader, which can be the main challenge when it comes to screenwriting.

The amount of writing that goes into film would surprise most people. It’s a form of writing with its own unique style and is unlike any other form of writing. A script is the skeleton of a movie, if it’s not done correctly the entire film suffers. This form of writing is something that takes practice and editing. You may write a script and then it goes through six rounds of editing and by the time you see it again it’s almost unrecognizable. But those are the risks with writing for film. It’s a strenuous process that gets perfected through different film courses and writing classes. Movies aren’t as easy as grabbing a camera and filming some actors saying the lines you wrote. There’s several different levels of writing involved that each play a crucial part in the development of the film as a whole.

Keywords: screenwriting, film 

Hanson, Kevin. Personal Interview, 22 November 2016

Johnson, Mark. Personal Interview, 25 November 2016

“Movie Scripts and Screenplays Web Site.” Movie Scripts and Screenplays Web Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Mareno, Mario O., and Kay Tuxford. “How to Write a Screenplay: Script Writing Example & Screenwriting Tips |” How to Write a Screenplay: Script Writing Example & Screenwriting Tips | N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

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