Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Speaking at Monadnock Writers' Group Feb 20th

For those of you within striking distance, you might be interested in joining me and a large group of New England writers at the Monadnock Writers' Group's monthly meeting on Saturday morning, February 20 starting at 9:45 am at the Peterborough Town Library in downtown Peterborough.  I'll be speaking on the process of story development--how to analyze and develop initial ideas as they float into your consciousness and begin to take on shape and size.

Over the years I've developed a series of tests and exercises that I think are beneficial to apply to your initial story ideas to see if they hold the basic ingredients necessary to bring your tales fully to life. And I've found that the same basic approach serves playwrights, screenwriters, and all fiction writers. I'll be talking about this pre-draft exploratory work and sharing some of the results achieved by my script clients and MFA writing students.

Now that the New Hampshire primary is finally history, you might find it interesting to join us if you're in the area.  Again, it's the Monadnock Writers' Group's monthly gathering from 9:45 am till noon on Saturday, February 20, 2016 at the Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord Street in downtown Peterborough.  This is the same village where I hold my MFA residencies and there are a number of lovely restaurants nearby if you decide to make a day of it.  Peterborough is a very special place for many reasons, not the least of which is its New England charm and its cultural history and awareness.  After all, legend has it that Thorton Wilder wrote his classic Our Town in a downtown office a stone's throw from the library.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our next residency runs January 3-11, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program with our July 2016 residency that runs July 18-28.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Another script writing marathon...

Last month there was an exhilarating gathering of script writers--playwrights, screenwriters and television writers--in beautiful Peterborough, New Hampshire.  Fifteen emerging writers gathered for ten days in this quaint village to share their new work with six established mentor/writers.  A total of 29 professional actors joined the group on various days to give table readings and public concert readings to a dozen new full-length scripts. It was an exciting retreat-like experience, with numerous workshops geared to our craft and art, many pitch sessions where new story ideas were shared and dissected, and pretty much non-stop discussions of one aspect or another of the writing process and how we manage to survive as creative artists.

What I'm describing, of course, is the latest gathering of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen program that I run out of the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Six faculty joined our 15 students--some about to graduate and others just entering the program--and all of us spent the ten-day residency celebrating and embracing our art form and the creation of new plays, screenplays and teleplays.

Our mornings (and some afternoons) were spent in pitch sessions or craft-oriented workshops on such topics as dialogue, foreshadowing, visualizing story, dramatic structure, and expanding the staging tools available to the writer.  Numerous writing exercises were assigned.  There was even a two-day workshop on how the writer can "actor-proof" his or her script in which student writers worked in-depth with a group of experienced actors on various interpretations of scene material supplied by the writers--an eye-opening experience for many.

The readings of new student scripts written during the previous semester under the tutelage of a professional mentor were scheduled either in the afternoons and/or in the evenings (after lively dinners at one of several village restaurants).  This sharing of new work always is the highlight of each residency as scripts are given voice for the first time.  And the feedback and critique sessions that follow each reading are invaluable to the writers.

Here's a photo of one of our table readings:

And two of our professional actors:  Emmy Award-winner Gordon Clapp and Lisa Bostnar, who also serves as our Casting Director:

And here's a shot of one of our public concert readings:

Our student writers left the residency armed with new story ideas to develop into working drafts during the spring semester--drafts that will be given voice for the first time at our next residency in July. A new mentor was assigned to each writer and all are now off and running, already well into the writing process on their new projects.

I must say that I love running this program.  It is, without question, far and away the best way to work with student writers who not only desire to be good stewards of their considerable talents, but eager to learn their craft, explore in depth their writing process, and produce a viable body of work while in our two-year program.  And the proof is in the pudding:  Our recent grads (and even some of our current students) are already winning national competitions and garnering serious recognition and productions of their work.

                                   *                    *                   *                   *

I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our next residency runs July 21 - 31, 2016 and we are now considering applications for entering the program in July.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The road map in screenwriting...getting it right

The other day I had the follow exchange with a script client that went something like this:

Client:  I'm desperate to get into draft, but I know I need to be dead sure I have a plot outline that
really holds together.

Me:  Absolutely.  Screenplays are so dependent on action, on story structure, on a plot that, as you say, really holds together.

Client:  Yeah, I know.  I need a clear vision of where I'm going.

Me:  Exactly.

Client:  But it's been such a struggle...

Me:  Welcome to the club.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Entering the scriptwriting wilderness...

There comes a point in the development of a project when your research, pre-draft exploratory backstory and character work, and your plot outlining reaches a point that you know it's time to plunge into draft.

When you reach this threshold, it's like you're standing on the edge of a vast wilderness, an unknown domain that you somehow have to cross to reach the other side--your distant and often somewhat hazy destination at the far end.

On your back is a pack you've carefully prepared filled with supplies and other necessities for the journey.  And in your hand is your road map that you've carefully developed that hopefully will see you through to the other side.  So, being as prepared as you can be, you take a deep breath and set forth.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Using the "pause" and "silence" in scriptwriting...

Probably the most important nonverbal element in scriptwriting, especially playwriting, is the pause, or silence in the middle of a line or between lines of dialogue.  Often the most potent moment in a scene is during the silence that ensues after a poignant line, that moment when a profound decision or realization is made.  The audience witnesses this happening during the silence.

These moments are very much part of the writing.  You are creating a script that includes both verbal and nonverbal elements, and it's how the two interplay with each other that determines the shape and rhythm of each scene.  All nonverbal physical actions influence how your characters relate to each other and what they say and think.  And this is especially true for silences.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Screenwriting resources: scripts and competitions

There are numerous channels open for writers regarding getting your hands on actual screenplays of produced films at no cost--something every writer should be checking out on a regular basis.  One of the most helpful sources for this can be found at the New Hampshire Institute of Art library where you can find a list of links to the best places you can download scripts for free.  It's a great resource to have at your fingertips without having to plow through pages of Google entries.

And when it comes to a good and accurate list of screenplay competitions, you can quickly get buried in various lists and advice when you start to Google the topic.  There are hundreds of contests for features, shorts, tv pilots, you name it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The plot treatment--an exercise in story structure

My wife recently shared with me a wonderful piece from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  It illustrates the degree to which any good piece of fiction writing, whether novel, play, screenplay, or teleplay, needs to have a structural framework if it's going to lift off and soar.