Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lessons Learned

A long time ago I was privileged to be one of the people selected to attend a series of screenwriting classes taught by Joe Camp and his partner Erwin Hearne, of "Benji"  fame.   Joe, a principle behind Mulberry Square Productions in Dallas, was riding high on the success of the Benji films and wanted to encourage new writing talent in the area.

One of the things I learned from those classes, that still stays with me, is to tell the story with visuals. Don't rely on dialogue to propel the story line. He challenged us to write an opening scene of a story with little or no dialogue. I remember that exercise every time I am writing a scene, and I know I am a better screenwriter because of it.

Now, many years later I am reading his latest book, Who Needs Hollywood, and being reminded again of the lessons learned at that series of classes. I like his simple approach to plotting "set up a must and a series of can'ts." The central character has something he or she needs to accomplish and here are the obstacles in the way.

In a way, that is an accurate description of the  story of the making of "Benji." Joe was driven to make that movie. He describes it almost like an obsession, and there were plenty of problems and disappointments before a single camera ever started to roll.

That is also true for many other filmmakers and writers. With only a few, rare exceptions, the road to success is not a straight, unencumbered one. I've stopped counting the times I have been within an inch of some big break, only to have the opportunity slip away, and I'm sure the same is true for most of my writer friends.

What about you?  What has your road been like?

8 comments:

Karen Walker said...

Long and windy, and filled with potholes and detours. But it's my road and I'm stickin' to it!
Karen

Maryann Miller said...

LOL, Karen. Good for you. Stick to your guns... er...path.

Rhobin said...

Like you, I've come close but no cigar. It's not so much being rejected that sets me back, It's the waiting for the acceptance or rejection. That drives me crazy. I am, however, enjoying the journey.

Maryann Miller said...

Enjoying the journey is important, Rhobin. Glad it is going well for you.

Helen Ginger said...

That lesson of set up a "must" and a series of "can'ts" works for books too. Great advice.

I'd say my road has been bumpy. Maybe a dirt country road. It's going somewhere, just slowly with a fabulous view.

Straight From Hel

Author Guy said...

In my first book the first three chapters were almost entirely dialog-free, which seems odd to me now, since most of what I do is crafted around the dialog first. I only throw in some actions when I realize the last four pages I wrote were nothing but dialog. My writing style mixes action, thought, and dialog all together but usually the dialog comes first.

Maryann Miller said...

Author Guy, I'm with you in writing books. Dialogue comes first and I have to go back and add place and details of characterization. My people seem to just jump into the scenes talking. LOL

Terry Odell said...

I guess my road is full of hairpin turns you can't see around. I agree with Rhobin - living in limbo sucks. Nobody said this was easy, and with or without 'success', writers write, but I've always hated waiting and not knowing.