Being chosen to participate in Sundance Institutes pilot online screenwriting course was truly a privilege. The course ran from July 6, 2015 - August 16, 2015.
Here below is a brief overview of what each participant was to expect. The director of the program, Jen Colin was clearly excited to be the first to administer this progressive hands-on teaching tool for screenwriting. She presented these guidelines to all chosen participants:
Overview: The four-week course includes a series of moderated conversations with Sundance Lab Creative Advisors and writing exercises that help aspiring screenwriters with the beginning skills necessary to write a screenplay.
Participants identify sources of personal inspiration, take a story idea from concept to page, and create one complete scene. By listening to moderated discussions, participating in forums and peer-review of work, aspiring screenwriters build their own supportive, virtual community.
Elements: Access to four, one-hour discussions on the craft of screenwriting with leading screenwriters and a watch list of films. Complementary media (film clips, working drafts of scripts) to represent key discussion topics. Optional writing exercises can be shared with peers for feedback. Peer-review work and notes to sharpen your own skills as a writer. Ability to create profiles and connect with other participants. Actively participate in moderated message board threads with other beginning and aspiring filmmakers.
Designed for: Aspiring beginning-level and emerging screenwriters. Film lovers, culture hounds, and anyone curious about independent screenwriting through a Sundance lens.
The five week course was very well organized with weekly assignments attainable for someone like me who had no screenwriting experience. However, that said, the weekly course work took a good chunk of time to complete. In the beginning, I was overwhelmed with the amount of time I'd need to invest to complete the assignments. I had my doubts if I'd be skilled enough to accomplish the goal of the course and actually create one complete scene of a screenplay.
Learning from others was a highlight. The discussion sessions we would screen from artists who made films, as well as, the course mentors or teachers each had their own progression of how they got from A to Z in their screenwriting craft. This was encouraging to me because I realized that though there are the basic elements one follows for story and character building, each artists then leans into their own style to make the product unique. This fact gave me the confidence to be more creative working on each course assignment. The challenge was rewarding.
The formal virtual-sessions with the mentors and our director, Jen Colin were enlightening but I also gleaned heavily from other classmates. Half-way through the course we formed small groups consisting of 6-8 members. My group was diverse in age, experience with screenwriting and skill. My group leader was a teenager who had already written three screenplays and was active in her schools' arts program. The most experience member of our group has several screenplays on his shelf needing completion to which he looks forward to spending time with soon, upon his retirement in 2017. I was the least experienced member and had so many questions regarding simple terminology in the craft of screenwriting. Each member shared their favorite resource material that was super helpful.
Another benefit for me was that the writing assignments helped advance my skill as a journalist. It stretched my thought process. The weekly tasks were clear and precise and each assignment built upon the other. This made it possible to see how a story is built and that steps necessary to build a narrative from an idea is essential to follow. I call it a quality control. Each step is important. And several of our mentors' advised us not to miss one or we could lose control of our idea/message.
One of my take-a ways from the course was that I gained a deeper appreciation for the role of a screenwriter. It's a hard job that requires hours of dedication. Hours of writing and re-writing. I experienced this in mini-form via the course and wrote a complete scene for a script. The process takes time but I believe that a well written script is the catalysis for a successful film.
In order to complete the assignment given at the beginning of the course, I wrote a scene from a screen play based on the following:
Contemplating a story idea for this assignment, I came across a photo of one of my husband Steve's backpacking adventures. I could not help but smile when I looked at it. The serenity it projects was nothing like this big adventure.
Steve and Gerry have been backpacking buddies for years. Dusty was not as experienced but wanted to hang with his old friends. Steve, Gerry and Dusty decide to take to the hills three days before a big Memorial celebration planned for the passing of Steve's dad. In the dead of summer, a three day backpacking trip ended up to be four. Due to severe weather changes that altered their planned route, horrific events take place. The Forrest Rangers were on alert, the Forrest service rescue helicopter was called, Dusty (the most equipped of three) had frost bite and suffered extreme emotional exhaustion, and Steve misses his dad's Memorial Service. The family not sure if he was dead or alive.