My Newest Venture: Screenwriting Class

by Kevin Burton

   This is not exactly a call for people to get their popcorn ready, but I am now taking a screenwriting class.

   If I’m not a fish out of water altogether, maybe I am a saltwater fish in freshwater. Or maybe I’m an old dog learning new tricks, to mix the metaphor.

   I am out of my element in some ways but in other ways I’m in familiar territory.

   Some principals of screenwriting outlined in the first class, I am familiar with from journalism (get the best, most important parts out there first) and songwriting (have a hook).

   The class started last Saturday, continues today and God willing, for five weeks after that.

   I’ve been a writer all my life, even before I knew I was one. But screenwriting?

   No, I do not have a movie idea inside me that I am dying to get on film. My only movie-writing effort, for a television production class in college, was laughable. And by that I don’t mean it was a successful comedy. It was awful. That’s why I haven’t mentioned it in any of my first 650 or so posts on Page 7.

   When I was younger, I had a smallish desire to try acting. I never pursued it.

   My main purpose for taking this class is to learn what I can about character development, for the purpose of writing better songs. Neither is likely of course, but I am a lot more likely to write the next Eleanor Rigby than the next Citizen Kane.

   How much developing can a character in a song do in four minutes? Plenty, if the writer gets it right.

   If I stumble into a high enough level of proficiency in screenwriting so that I can work on a movie project, so much the better.  I doubt that, not really looking for that.

   There are about ten people in the class. Most are like me, writers of some sort, not well versed in screenwriting.

   Two things our teacher said about screenwriting stood out to me. He said you better have a thick skin because producers and others will tear you and your work apart if they see fit. He also said screenwriting is a good role for someone who likes to be in the background.

   The movies you love, you know the actors and maybe the music used in them. Maybe you know the director.  Very few people know the screenwriter. If a successful screenwriter was in your grocery store shopping for peas and carrots, you probably wouldn’t recognize her.

   Thick skin, prefer the background; I have those two things in my favor anyway.

   Lily Cooper, writing on the Grand Canyon University website, says there are seven traits one needs to be a screenwriter.  She lists passion, persistence, flexibility, knowledge consistence, always be writing and networking. 

   Strangely enough, this class is being offered through my church. I thought that was odd the minute I heard about it as part of the announcements after an online worship service in December.

   One of my fellow students said she had the same fear I did, that the class would be cancelled for lack of interest.

   But the teacher, Duane Kellogg, is an accomplished screenwriter who wants to pass his skills along to others. He is offering the class for free. His info is out there if you want to check him out online.

   He is the first snowbird I have ever known who lands in Kansas for the winter. He lives half the year in Maine, half in Kansas because that is where his two sons live.

   “Screenplays are a visual medium. You are tasked with telling the story cinematically through visual actions, reactions, and audible dialogue,” reads part of a screenwriting 101 article on thescriptlab.com.

   Regular Page 7 readers know, that I am legally blind. My own father never quite figured out what I could see and what I couldn’t. I expect to find out soon whether the visual aspect of screenwriting blocks me from being effective.

   Each student will be writing a 10-20-minute short.  We’re supposed to bring in our ideas today, discuss them, then start writing them.  I’m planning to buy the software that Kellogg suggested, as a template for my screenplay.

   My screenplay. Oh my!

   I waited till the last minute to sign up for the class.  I’m mentioned it to my wife Jeannette, then she reminded me of it maybe four times before I went to the church website and actually signed up. But there was no way I was going to pass this up.

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