Thursday, 1 August 2019

Screenwriting on a budget - Can you learn craft cheaply?

Let me be frank: the creative industries have never been the most friendly towards those who come from working-class roots. Breaking in requires a monetary and time investment that makes it difficult if you are not A) Supported by family or B) working a job that both pays well, and has scheduling that enables you to pursue networking and other opportunities.

Writing is, paradoxically, one of the easiest and, yet, one of the hardest sectors to crack: sure, all you need is a good story and a keyboard, and it can be from anywhere; but then, becoming a great storyteller, as well as one who's in demand, takes a lot of investment. Courses, books, other scripts, a means to write, the time to write and rewrite, and then the time, and often financial cost, of finding people to help bring your project to life. And that's all on top of your day-to-day needs and expenses.

I've already talked about what you can do if you're in a time crunch with your creative dreams. While some of that carries over here, I will also be covering things I didn't mention before or not at great length. The goal is to, hopefully, allow you to start your screenwriting road without sinking into money or time sinks.
  • Via BBC Writersroom and FutureLearn, the University fo East Anglia offers a free, online (so no travel expenses, debts or schedule changes needed) screenwriting course. This offers you a starting point if you're entirely green or haven't written in forever.
  • Of course, you have to read real scripts to know stellar from tripe. Good news is that many are free and downloadable. Here's where you can start digging:
  • How about advice and tutorials? Bang2Write, run by veteran consultant Lucy V. Hay, is your one-stop shop. It's filled with great blogs on just about every facet of screenwriting you could want to know, told in Hay's snappy style. Furthermore, many of the screenriting gurus have dedicated websites, full of resources related to whatever their paradigm or selling point is (like Save The Cat), as well as The Writer's Store and also offering plenty of articles to chew on.
  • Videos to watch? Trying D4's thorough yet lean series on screenwriting structure in popular films like Pulp Fiction, Frozen and Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • You like to read something tangible and don't want to develop square eyes? Well, this one may be obvious, but sometimes, obvious is good: Libraries with decent media sections and charity shops are great hunting grounds to find the classic screenwriting tomes, as well as physical printings of major screenplays (some even come with bonus interviews with the writer and/or creative team behind the movie). If you're lucky enough to be near one, visit your local BFI.
  • There's also podcasts you can listen too, while you're sitting down with a cuppa: Danny Stack and Tim Clague talk with all manner of film and TV people on their popular UK Scriptwriters Podcast. Meanwhile, over in the USA, John August (Charlie's Angels) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) have probably the most well-known screenwriting podcast of all, ScriptNotes: both these guys discuss Hollywood, interview guests who've worked on some of the biggest movies and shows, and offer all sorts of advice and weird stories.
So that was all to help you learn the craft. What about when it's writing time? Recommended programs like Final Draft are a big investment and, for those with tight purse strings, may take a while to fully save up for. Plus, Celtx, the one-time saving grace for broke writers when it came to professionally formatted work, no longer does free versions. So, what can you do meanwhile?

Well, basic as it sounds, just reformat Word. Yes, it's like using a pile driver to make a mosaic, but it'll do fine for now. At this stage, learning and practice should be your priority, not trying to get an agent or gigs. You'll find no shortage of how-tos online, so this shouldn't be overly difficult to get rolling with.

As long as it looks like this, you're clear:

(If you can guess what script this is from, you win a prize!
The prize being the gift of dedication)

To cap off, don't ever feel ashamed: if you can't afford a full, fancy degree, or just 'know' great storytelling right away, it's not a problem. Like I've said many times, nobody cares where you went to school or how you learnt: just that your output is good. Some will benefit from books and structured learning, others just by reading scripts. Whatever you do, make sure it's right for you.

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