Thursday, March 22, 2012

The business of screenwriting courses Pt 2

As most of you probably know I did a 2 year stint teaching screenwriting for UCLA's extension classes. This wasn't really a job, just a sideline that I thought I might enjoy and make a few bucks (actually very few bucks).

One of the first things I realized was that I knew a hell of a lot more than I thought I knew. How did I figure this out, you ask? Not vanity, not even imagination. Rather it was something pretty basic.

The students asked me questions and I answered them. And the answers didn't come from a book, they came from years of experience. Anybody who's been in the business for at least 10 years knows this. You collect a lot of stories as well as a reality kick in the head.

And that's where this part of the previous blog starts. 

When I started writing screenplays, way back in the early 1970's, there was only one book that was available for aspiring screenwriters and it wasn't even a book on screenwriting. It was a book called "The Art of Dramatic Writing" by Lajos Egr.

It was written in 1946.

And it is primarily a book on playwriting. There is a short chapter at the end that refers to screenplays but it's emphasis on character is without doubt, the best ever written. If you know how to write character, you'll get along fine in this business.

Along the way I acquired two other books, Syd Field's Screenplay and 500 Ways To Beat The Hollywood Scriptwriter. These 3 books are all you'll ever need. Drama doesn't change, it started with someone telling a story around a fire in a cave until the Greeks came along and refined it to an art form.

There's another book I like, but impossible to find now, and it's called "Steal This Plot". I can't count the times it gave me a new idea.

The last time I checked there were at least 300 books on screenwriting on Amazon. There's even a Writer's Store here in Burbank, it used to be in Westwood but moved in the last few years.

It was also the place where I got angry at the salesperson who tried to persuade some of my students that Final Draft software was the professional software, rather than Screenwriter (my preferred software). I called him and told him not to do that, I also called the Screenwriter people who said that the salespersons were always doing that.

I get emails from the Writer's Store now, they hawk their latest books with titles like "10 Steps to a Bulletproof Outline, Create Dynamic Characters, Take Your Story to the Next Level".

There are hundreds of courses and writing Gurus all across the country now telling aspiring writers and even experienced writers that they can always know more.

 There's even a Master Results Life Coach who offers topics like "Collapse Your Fears & Explode into your confidence".

Do you need these people?  Really, really need?

You know the answer. 

The answer is simple. The best way to learn how to write is to write. What some guru tells you on Saturday will be long gone by Monday when you're facing that damn blank computer screen.

But some need those people and that's okay too, but don't expect eureka moments all the time. I always told my students that I can show them how I write but I can't show them how to write good. That comes from them.

And that's the key to a good script; have a story you need to tell. If you want to get into screenwriting for the money, forget it. Sure there's millionaire screenwriters and they are damn good and worth it. But they all are driven by passion, not money. 

And now, to really mess around, I have decided to write #301, or... my book on screenwriting, based on my 2 years of lectures at UCLA. It'll be a different book with much of the blogs in it as well as my basic formula for writing.  It's also mixed in with real-life experience. Students who took my classes always said they chose it because of one major thing;

I wrote movies and TV episodic that were actually made. Lots of them.

Does that mean I know it all?

Of course not, hell, I sometimes think I don't know anything. 

But ask me something about screenwriting.  Anything.


  1. "Steal This Plot" is 2.99, kindle version, on Amazon.

  2. Good to hear, it's a good book, no pretension just the facts. Too bad not on paperback.