Getting My Script Into Shape with The Screenplay Workshop
A couple of weeks ago I had the unique opportunity as a member of the Austin Film Society to attend a free screenwriting workshop taught by Jill Chamberlain of The Screenplay Workshop. This free two-hour class was an introduction for Chamberlain's five-week Fundamentals Class and ten-week Master Class.
When I arrived, the room was already full with 25 eager writers -- pens and paper at the ready. A second, unadvertised intro class had to be scheduled for people who were turned away after the first class filled up. Needless to say, there is a high demand for classes at The Screenplay Workshop for aspiring and professional writers alike.
I won't give away many of the details of Chamberlain's "Nutshell" technique, which was the main focus of the introductory class. You'll have to take my word for it and sign up for the class! I can say that as an aspiring writer, I've heard and read about countless structures, techniques, and gimmicks that claim to be the secret to the next great screenplay. The Nutshell is most certainly not a gimmick and has been one of the more thought-provoking ways to analyze the structure of a screenplay that I've seen.
Without sacrificing depth in plot or character, the Nutshell narrows down the screenplay to the fundamental elements of great storytelling, and allows the writer to define how these elements work together in the initial writing stages. Since the class, I have yet to watch a film that contradicts the Nutshell. The great harmony between freedom and rigidity is what I believe allows the Nutshell to stand the test of countless great movies.
Chamberlain's teaching is clear, effective, and enjoyable. I was nervous for a few minutes when I found out that the second half of the class would be dedicated to taking time individually to work on our own story ideas and then discuss them with the group. My fears quickly faded, however, when I realized how helpful and encouraging it is to hear other writers give input and insight into each others' ideas. While I didn't quite gather enough courage to share my outline, I realized how important it is to have other writers and colleagues to hold you accountable and challenge you to make your screenplay the best it possibly can be.
For someone like me, who is in the beginning stages of pursuing screenwriting, this class couldn't have been more helpful. Recently I have been struggling with getting the many different ideas I have for both short films and feature-length screenplays off the ground. I am able to get a good start, and even write 30 or 40 pages before I just get lost somewhere in the second act. Everything I took from the Nutshell technique as well as listening to my classmates and their successes, struggles and criticisms has almost immediately helped me out of this rut. I now feel like I'm able to take a potential idea and analyze it properly without committing weeks of my time to writing half a screenplay, only to figure out that it's just not a good story.
With everything that learned from this introductory class, I can't even begin to imagine how much the five-week or ten-week classes at the Screenplay Workshop will help me.
Visit The Screenplay Workshop for information and to sign up for classes. [Editor's Note: Ask The Screenplay Workshop about a discount for Austin Film Society Members!]
Michael Davenport is the Marketing Apprentice at the Austin Film Society.