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Cultural & media studies

Learn from genius not from gentility

Scriptwriting for the Screen. First edition

Do universities stifle creative writers? asked the conference fliers. "Nothing like enough of them," replied Irish author Frank O'Connor dourly.

But here is a token of how completely successful was all that soppily creative teaching that has destroyed the educational system. There are apparently vast numbers of people incredibly eager to commit themselves to the brute hard labour, certain disappointments, long years of hack work, apprenticeship and compulsory revision - plus only modest rewards if they ever make it - that together constitute the life of the scriptwriter.

Universities press forward with screenwriting MAs and the crazily inspiring writing guru Robert McKee packs them in for his marathon weekends with their legendary turnover.

The only way to learn to be any good as a writer is to be taught by a master of the art. It is to try to copy the ways of the master, to study closely and faithfully his turns of speech, her recurrent figures, their dramas and climaxes.

It is to be lucky enough to be taken through one's script by such a figure line by line, and have it excoriated, damned with inaudible praise at the end, cut, rewritten and cut again. Criticism and creation are mutually inextricable.

To study great literature and film is to learn how to make one's own novels, poems, movies. It is a discipline, and a fierce one.

These things are not much said at the moment, and to commit a student to be in thrall to a master is to be elitist. But I fear this book substitutes niceness for the austerities of art, and kindly encouragement for the fierceness of the mystery.

Charlie Moritz covers the criss-crossed field of character, dialogue, plot and structure. While he writes plainly and sensibly, I cannot see any point in merely exhorting people to use their imaginations and visualise the action; if they have to be told, they cannot do it in the first place.

He has lowering moments of teacherliness, for example, briskly informing the kids: "Love them or loathe them, coincidences are a thorny issue", "It's essentials you're after" and "Try your hand at different forms and styles".

Most dismaying of all, he only chooses to analyse dire examples of actual scripts, leading grimly and inevitably to the two deadest ends of sudsy drama, the quarrel and the bed.

I suppose nobody would come to harm reading these genteel bromides, but they will not come to much good either. They would be far better off with William Goldman's racy reminiscences Adventures in the Screen Trade or going painstakingly through the Faber script-and-production dossier of that television masterpiece Edge of Darkness.

Fred Inglis is director of the MA in creative writing for film and television, University of Sheffield.

 

Scriptwriting for the Screen. First edition

Author - Charlie Moritz
ISBN - 0 415 22911 1 and 22912 X
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 and £9.99
Pages - 174

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