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Workshop your screenplay with a master filmmaker

12 June 2013

Ever heard of a slug line? A Martini shot? A wryly? The air was thick with these nuggets of Hollywood jargon when LSBU hosted an intensive two-part screenwriting workshop recently.

The course was an opportunity for nine writers to work on their screenplays with American screenwriter Gill Dennis, co-writer of the Johnny Cash film Walk the Line and Master Film-maker in Residence at the American Film Institute in LA. The participants included a novelist, an experienced film editor, an advertising copy-writer, a lecturer from the department of Culture, Writing and Performance and a student from LSBU's MA in Digital Film and Video.

All the scripts had to be delivered a month before the first workshop to give Gill and the other participants time to read and prepare feedback. The course itself began with an intensive master-class in which Gill explained his approach to developing a screenplay. He begins by identifying the key emotional moments in a character's life, a process he calls 'finding the story'. He showed clips from a number of films, including No Country for Old Men, Buster Keaton's The Navigator and Hitchcock's Vertigo, to illustrate different approaches to point of view, and how that relates back to the emotional underpinning of a film.

The first group meeting was followed by individual meetings with Gill. Then there was a two-week gap to allow everyone to go away and produce revisions, which were again circulated to Gill and the other writers. The second workshop was devoted to a more general group discussion of each script; this was followed by a final round of one-to-one meetings with Gill.

The response from those who took part in the course has been enthusiastic. 'Gill's approach to screenwriting avoided the usual by-numbers advice. His analysis of our script was acute and very encouraging. A massive thank you; the script took a real leap forward'; 'I feel I've moved on hugely in my understanding of screenwriting. I have more confidence in the form and new tools for every kind of writing'; and 'I understand the process of writing with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Very satisfied'.

As for the jargon I began with, this is an example of a slug line: INT. AN LSBU CLASSROOM. DAY.  A 'Martini shot' is the last shot before a movie wraps. And 'a wryly' is the generic term given to any descriptive terms inserted before a line of dialogue. For example:

SCRIPTWRITER
(wistfully/ eagerly / wryly)

Now if only I could find a producer...

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