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The things I am learning at the Immersion Screenwriting Course are both wide and deep. And on different things, like I shared 2 weeks ago and this is ongoing. Also practical things. The latter being that we are spending too much time on the homework, we heard, because some of us were falling behind. The course is really designed for you to only have to spend one hour a day on it. And technically this is possible. Technically. There are so many different approaches, I still have not found my ‘perfect’ work method yet. I like taking more time to dive deep into it, also the background stories of the screenplays. But I also know that I can do that too much and I don’t want to be only busy with this in my free time. You will burn out on it in this tempo, with a new screenplay to process every 5 days. So, we have been ‘warned’ to not spend too much time on it or try to analyze it all too much, because that is not the point of this course in this phase, although tempting. After all, the teacher doesn’t want us to get behind or perhaps even lose us, our success at doing well also reflects his success. Duly noted.
Having said that, secretly I do pick up perhaps more than I should, because I try to understand things more. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough to learn and pick up, even without doing this, but since I have some structure knowledge in my background, it’s only logical my eyes fall on this automatically, more and more noticing the patterns in the scripts. And they have become very clear over the last couple of weeks. From Christopher Vogler I first learned about mythical structure years ago, but I haven’t always practiced with it. And Robert McKee introduced me to the ‘inciting incident’ amongst many other things about 2,5 years ago. And since then, I have been actively practicing noticing the inciting incident. And also the ‘all is lost’ moment, which happens in most films, and is usually the ACT II climax, when all hope seems lost for the protagonist and we, the audience, are wondering if he will get back on his feet again, surely he can’t give up now?! But I was never able to determine the ACT I climax or understood what in the world a Mid-Point Reversal would look like in a story. And maybe it was because I never took the time to dive into it. A better reason is, I believe, because you simply can’t and shouldn’t try to take it in or try to master it all at once. The only reason I have become really good (yes, I dare say) at spotting the inciting incident, is because I have been practicing with it, trying to spot it in every movie I saw after I learned about it. That too is immersion.
Relating to the ACT thing, is that through having to write a synopsis of every script, you will also notice very well how balanced a movie is. I once did a ‘statistical’ synopsis and the percentages usually match up to what an ACT I, II, and III are usually, when looking at those numbers in the articles about it. And no, these are not formula and can be diverted from, but it is nice to start recognizing them. Now, when I watch any ‘normal’ movie, I actually look at the clock and these principles in structure are indeed usually applied at a certain time. So funny to see it, to spot it. And if you think these are just nonsense principles, they are of course not. There are psychological reasons for them. It is how we understand and want story. No events in them and we get bored. Too many events in them and we get bored too, because the climaxes become too many and therefore the effect of them diminishes. It’s not math, it’s logic. And we don’t have to know the technical terms for them, just noticing the important and pivotal moments in the story is enough for now. So, knowing this first, and noticing this first, before trying to apply it yourself, what we are doing now in this phase of the course, by being subjected to it, being immersed in it, is key. If you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, how can you replicate it? Because that is what knowing screenwriting is. Not writing one screenplay hoping to be lucky, but able to do it over and over, because you know the craft, you have paid attention. You not only know how to do it, you know why to do it. You understand the psychology behind it. You don’t follow formula, you apply principles, there’s a difference. You see, there are too many writers, filmmakers who don’t think and just try to follow formula and then expect success. And some have success, but usually those movies are not much about ado. Because when you put a bunch of rules before the story, what it is you want to tell, then you start at the wrong end. If you have no vision of what you want to ‘build’, then no amount of engineering is going to help you build it. Because a carpenter will have to know what he’s building on. You need to know where you’re going. The destination. It ain’t easy. No one ever said it was. Many believe it is, but they have no idea, like I shared, it is a universe. You better get your passports ready and your spacesuits fitted, ’cause it is quite an exploration trip.
One thing I never expected to happen is that I pick up more from reading a screenplay, than watching the movie. And I’m not talking about the screenplay formatting even, although you learn that too from just reading. But because all the ‘distractions’ from the screen product, the movie itself, the pictures, the (camera) movements, the editing, the sound, the music aren’t there, you are able to focus much more on the story itself, how it’s build up and with that spot the plot points, turning points, ACT climaxes much better. And I am becoming better and better at it and you start seeing patterns in those. I actually did look up more information about the Mid-Point Reversal (usually in the middle of ACT II) and its function and from the tools that were provided in the course, I learned more about what ‘needs’ to happen before the ACT I climax, which I didn’t know before. And no longer is it a mystery to me. I have become so ‘good’ at it, well, compared to before, that when someone then discusses a movie and they mention the ACT I climax and I know it’s wrong, because I ‘test’ it by what has or has not happened yet, I dare to go against that. I usually do that in the form of a question though.
Man, am I becoming good! Ok, scratch that. Man, am I making progress! Yes, that’s it. Because that is what I always look at and one should. Always. When you look at a one-year-old who just started walking, do you say ‘man, you suck, you can’t walk well at all’? Of course not. Then why do we do it so much in the grown up world? I can never repeat it enough: always, always look for story. What is the story? Where is someone coming from? What is the WHOLE story? It’s so easy to judge on what we are presented with, without taking the effort to look for the whole story, its background. But I digress a little. But for a good point that can never be made too much.
What we learn from the course, is different for everyone. We also have to turn in a report, max. 500 words and write in them ‘what we learned from this particular screenplay’. And some have begun to share them too in the group, which is allowed, but what then happens is that one starts to compare to another. And some write their report in the form of a high school book report and it feels they are entering it in a writing competition or something and then others think their reports are no good, because they aren’t that snazzy. But the whole point of the reports, I think, is that you write down what you learned from it, which will be completely different than what someone else is learning from it. I don’t write in the report what I understand from it, have noticed, but already knew. I write down things that stood out to me, I didn’t know before, have learned from it. In this too there should be no comparison, unless you have no clue what to write or what are some things to look for or notice in a screenplay. Then those reports might be a bit of inspiration. But because I am not completely new with the concepts of storytelling and screenwriting, I pick up other things than others and vice versa.
Because there is so much to tell from these first weeks, I decided to split up the posts in individual weeks after all and focusing on things that happened in that particular week, so these posts don’t become even longer and stay on topic, more or less. So, more revelations in the next posts.