Chapter 3: Literacies across the disciplines
Previously in my essays, I discussed screenwriting in many facets from writing dialogue to narrative storytelling influenced by character. As a way to write a much denser research essay, I plan on approaching my final essay by starting with a broad discussion of education in film. From there, I plan to home in on screenwriting, approaching the second half of my essay from a more microscopic lens. An idea that I’ve had for gathering information about filmmaking education is to engage in some conversations with my professors from the film school. I’d ask them about their own personal education journey and get their opinions on formal filmmaking training/education. For all interested in film production it’s known that there’s an ongoing discussion between young filmmakers and professionals about the importance of going to school and if it’s truly necessary to form a career in the film industry. Through my own research, I’ve found that the answer depends on the individual’s personal experience and opinion. Since this is such a prevalent conversation, I feel that it’s an interesting concept on which to write an essay. As far as screenwriting is concerned, I’d like to use one of my sources from my synthesis essay about screenwriting with character of concept because I find it to be an incredibly fascinating approach to story. I’d also use a podcast I listened to recently on screenwriting as another source. Even now, I wonder if I will go into screenwriting at all in my essay since there is so much to say about if film school truly is necessary. However, I won’t make any decisions against it until I write my final essay. I can see myself approaching different opinions on filmmaking education and then dissecting how screenwriters are taught and how that fits into certain opinions on film school.
Some questions I’m open to exploring are the following: How do behind the scenes documentaries or bonus footage display the communication that goes on in filmmaking? Are these good tools for filmmaking education? How important is a degree in filmmaking for people who want to make films? Is on-set experience more informative than classroom education? What successful filmmakers have found their way without conventional filmmaking education? Then, what’s the best way to learn screenwriting? What’s the best way to write screenplays?
As far as writing studies is concerned, my topic is relevant to communication and education since it’s a discussion on the importance of education in the film industry and how certain communication experiences can be substituted for traditional educational approaches. There are many academic fields that care about my topic, such as film studies, education studies, creative writing studies, and film production educators. Due to the wide array of fields, there are many academic articles, podcasts, videos, and writings on these subjects that I can use for my literature reviews. There’s also an entire subset of YouTube devoted to filmmaking education and its importance. One could spend days only watching videos on opinions of film school.
One of the academic articles I plan on using in my research paper is “Teaching Filmmaking Creatively” by Shirley Clarke. As a filmmaker herself, experiencing artistic success for her films in the late 50’s through 60’s, she speaks from her personal experience on critics, art, teachers, and craft. Clarke’s writing strikes me as raw and deeply personal, almost like receiving invaluable advice from a mentor, someone who has gotten where I want to go. I say this because she shares personal thoughts on her own work and experience, showing vulnerability in the way an artist must. As someone who had experienced brief formal education and had been an educator herself, she gives an interesting perspective on what is gained and lost by going to film school. What stuck with me most from the article is that the matter in which an artist gains their education is less important than the drive or talent that said artist has. In Clarke’s opinion, there will be 20 to 40 students in a university classroom, of which only five to ten should actually be there, but of that smaller group only two or three are going to be great artists (Clarke 10-11). For those couple, they will create their art regardless of what they are given, regardless of where they acquire their education, and regardless of what restraints they are given to perform. This is something that frightens me, especially as a student myself. If I’m not one of those select few, that means that training and education do matter. That being said, I find this article to be a fascinating perspective that I plan to utilize in my essay. As far as discussing the importance of education in film is concerned, a majority of the information out on the internet is driven by opinion. I think it’s important to listen to those who have found success in the film industry and value their thoughts over those who have accomplished much less.
A few months ago, I was at work and wanted to listen to a podcast to help pass the time. I decided to try out a new podcast that I thought would help with my major: Bulletproof Screenwriting with host Alex Ferrari. Upon listening to the first episode, “What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby”, I gained invaluable insight into the craft of screenwriting. The conversation they share is a conversation I can’t leave out of my research paper due to its immense impact on how I view screenwriting. I’ll use this source towards the end of my paper when I begin to discuss filmmaking with a deeper focus on writing. The biggest takeaway from this episode is debunking the importance of the three-act-structure. John Truby is a prolific screenwriting instructor with a popular book on the anatomy of story. His opinion on the three-act-structure is that it’s incredibly limiting and should only be a guide for beginners, but even that is harmful. He says that you can divide anything into three parts and claim that it fits into the structure, but that doesn’t mean you should follow it as if it were a rubric. Truby and Ferrari then discuss their favorite films and dissect what makes their writing good. The conclusion they come to is that there’s a protagonist and an antagonist who both want the same thing but have different opinions on how it should be achieved which makes them clash. For example, what they claim to make Christopher Nolan’s Joker versus Batman so good is that their least favorite parts of themselves are in the other. They are each other’s mirrors, but they want different outcomes for Gotham. The Nolan brothers (who wrote the films) are notorious for writing with “too many” themes. In Truby’s opinion, there’s no such thing as too many themes. In fact, this is the point on which he believes good screenwriters focus on. They shouldn’t write with a focus on fulfilling the three-act-structure but should instead focus on developing the characters through many themes. There is so much more to their conversation that I plan to dissect in my essay.
Overall, I’m going into my final paper with an open mind. I’ll go where the paper and my research takes me, but my plan for the moment is to start broad and get specific. I hope that I continue to gain a lot of insight into the film industry and screenwriting as I have in other essays. I’ve become much better at thinking about screenwriting, and I look forward to putting it all out on one big paper.
Annotated Bibliography (work in progress)
Mehta, Ritesh. ““Hustling” in film school as socialization for early career work in media industries.” Poetics 63 (2017): 22-32.
In this article, Ritesh Mehta observes two film students working on their MFAs in Los Angeles/California film schools. Through his investigation, he uncovers that most of the work put into film school by the students isn’t based on creativity but is instead heavily focused on making connections and socializing as a form of hustling. This need to hustle in order to survive in these schools is ultimately an experience that these students will experience once they kickstart their careers in the industry. With this article, it’s shown the importance of finding what peers can be trusted and used on future projects either inside or outside film school.
Clarke, Shirley. “Teaching Filmmaking Creatively.” Journal of the University Film Producers Association 17.3 (1965): 6-14.
In this article, successful director Shirley Clarke writes on her experiences of filmmaking education and teaching, as well as her personal experiences in the film industry. Almost as a tool for advising future filmmakers and curious educators, she gives her opinions on how teachers should function with their students. In her experience, she noticed that the restraints of film school has no effect on stopping a good artist, and even further that regardless of if they chose film school, one who is destined to be great will achieve their greatness. She discusses the importance of critics and changing the way that they function. She also airs out her grievances on artistic success as it leads to more trails down the line than one would expect.
Pierce, David. “How YouTube Became the World’s Best Film School.” Wired, Conde Nast, 19 Dec. 2017, https://www.wired.com/story/youtube-film-school/.
In this article published by tech magazine Wired, the growing corner of YouTube dedicated to teaching about filmmaking is discussed. Pierce gives examples of a few YouTube channels, detailing their content, their process, and their success through filmmaking education on YouTube. Most of the authors of these channels have experienced their own formal education and/or professional experience in the business. He discusses how much content is on YouTube, readily available with the typing of a few keys. Posing this version of film school as a very accessible and valuable alternative to formal education, he advocates YouTube film school to anyone who is even remotely interested in learning about the behind-the-scenes of making movies.
Brophy, Caroline. “Is Film School Worth It? Dropout and Graduate Perspectives.” The Film Fund, 1 Sept. 2020, https://www.thefilmfund.co/is-film-school-worth-it-dropout-and-graduate-perspectives/#.Yl90SZPMJJU.
In this article, two different perspectives are given by two professionals in the film industry; one who dropped out of film school and one who graduated from it. Written in a question-and-answer format, Brophy lets the two men speak for themselves on their opinions. They are asked questions ranging from what they do in their career now to the impact that film school has had on their lives. This article shows how the experiences of everyone who goes through formal filmmaking education is subjective and individual to them, a product of many factors.
Burn, Andrew, and Mark Reid. “Screening literacy: Reflecting on models of film education in Europe.” Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy 7.4 (2012): 314-323.
In this article, the impact/functions of film education in Europe is discussed. Approaching the importance of film education in university from its impact on educating society on the concepts of filmmaking and its function on teaching how to create films, this article examines these concepts in a plethora of European countries. It discusses if film education is genuinely important and the relationship between film literacy in relation to other disciplines, also going into the limitations of film school through its price and its inability to be a perfect means of getting into the industry.
“Everything to Know About Film School.” YouTube, uploaded by Karsten Runquist, 11 July 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctSBTjAWR2M.
As a newly graduated film student, YouTuber Karsten Runquist discusses his personal experiences with attending film school in a five minute and 44 second video. Firstly, he poses the point that while many successful film directors did attend film school, there are equally as successful ones who didn’t. On one hand, he explains that in order to truly be successful in film school, you have to do work outside of class like making films, watching movies, and meeting people in the industry (all things you can do without going to school), but film school offers the tools that one needs to learn the technical aspects of filmmaking as well as easy access to professors who have been in the industry themselves.
Ferrari, Alex, host. “What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby.” Bulletproof Screenwriting, Indie Film Hustle, 19 Mar. 2020. https://bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/john-truby/.
In this podcast, Indie Filmmaker Alex Ferrari interviews successful screenwriting teacher John Truby as they discuss the best way to write and plan screenplays. The two discuss some of their favorite films from a screenwriting lens and dissect popular but restricting screenwriting techniques such as the three-act story structure. After this, Truby discusses the techniques that he teaches and finds much more successful in writing screenplays, which he has published in his very popular book The Anatomy of Story.
Greens, Robert. “Character over concept: Writing dialogue in search of story.” Journal of Screenwriting 8.1 (2017): 39-54.
In this article, Greens gives an alternative means of screenwriting that is often not discussed. He advocates for writing dialogue and developing characters as a means for creating stories. For example, instead of outlining a story and then placing characters in it, a screenwriter would write characters and develop a story around them. He gives examples of successful writer/directors who have used this technique. The reason why this technique is advocated is because it creates a much more realistic and human story than those that are often made in Hollywood.
Bednarek, Monika. “An overview of the linguistics of screenwriting and its interdisciplinary connections, with special focus on dialogue in episodic television.” Journal of Screenwriting 6/2 (special issue on writing for television) (2015): 221-238.
In this article, Bednarek investigates the functions of dialogue in television writing. She poses two points, one being that dialogue is done to entertain the audience, but also that it functions as a means of giving context to the plot. For example, two people would discuss what time it is not to entertain the audience, but to subtly tell the audience what time it is in the story. Bednarek dedicates an entire page of the article to giving examples and explanations of the functions of each piece of dialogue. She also looks into the importance of linguistics in relation to screenwriting.
Remael, Aline. “Mainstream narrative film dialogue and subtitling: A case study of Mike Leigh’s ‘Secrets & Lies’(1996).” The Translator 9.2 (2003): 225-247.
In this article, Remael argues in favor of studying social psychology over studying linguistics when it comes to writing dialogue in film. When a viewer digests a conversation between two characters, there are subconscious observations that they make based on their socio-cultural background. Remael digests the relationship dialogue has between not only two characters but also between characters and the audience. These two different relationships are very different but happen simultaneously. While characters experience everything that is shown in front of them, the audience often takes on an omniscient role.
Bowerman, Jeanne Veillette. “Successful Writers and Producers Share Essential Writing Advice.” Script Magazine, Script Magazine, 26 Aug. 2020, https://scriptmag.com/interviews-features/successful-writers-and-producers-share-essential-writing-advice.
In this article, advice from twenty-one successful writers and producers on writing a script is given. The author finds their advice invaluable since learning from professionals is one of the best ways to educate oneself on concepts in filmmaking. Their advice spans from ignoring what Hollywood tells you to write in search of finding one’s voice to writing musicals as a means of communicating emotions through music when conversation falls short. This article is full of highly successful writers, many that I’ve heard of and many that I haven’t.
Maney, Flannery. “How I Wrote a Movie in Three Days.” Medium, The Writing Cooperative, 23 Mar. 2021, https://writingcooperative.com/how-i-wrote-a-movie-in-three-days-cadb826321c3.
In this blog post, Bowerman tells the story of the time she was forced to write a feature length script in three days. Originally, she was going to submit a previously written script to enter a program but found out that her script didn’t fit the requirements. She goes through each day’s struggles and successes, starting with how difficult it is to find creativity in moments when we are put under great stress. Using this experience as a lesson for future writing, she gives advice to others on writing full scripts in short amounts of time.