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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Skryfsake | Writing matters > English

Review of ScriptWriter

Janet van Eeden - 2007-08-28


Writing is an anguished, solitary trade. Unless you do it with other people, which can be even worse. There is no lonelier place than the writers’ room of a show when you know you’re about to be fired. You’ll know it’s going to happen because all the other writers start laughing at your jokes. Big, hearty hollow laughs that reverberate with pity and guilt: the sound of your doom. These are the dark times for a writer. This is the place of pain. These are the mean streets down which you must lurch, nursing the black eye you got from the doorman at the last place you were thrown out of. Now is the moment of truth: you know that you are alone.

But do you despair? Yes! Despair! Plunge to the darkest depths of misery and make that dire, demonic pit the crucible to forge a new soul!

Wow, I’m on a roll here. That’s good coffee.

Just in case you think I’m on something stronger than coffee, this is the beginning of an article written by Paul Bassett Davies about the loneliness of being a long-distance writer. Or should that be a long-haul writer? Actually, compared with writers, truck drivers have never had it so good.

Oh dear, now I’m free associating. See what happens when you start reading the thoughts of fellow scriptwriters? Yes! A sense of communion happens! A sense of finding yourself! Do you see a bright, white light shining down on you? Can you hear an angelic chorus? You can? You must be reading Scriptwriter

Scriptwriter is a magazine for writers in general and scriptwriters in particular. Edited by Julian Friedmann, a literary agent in the UK who has innumerable scriptwriters and authors on his books, it caters specifically for these most maligned yet specialised craftspeople. The article I quoted from above, titled "A Lonely Craft", is in the July 2007 edition. Paul Bassett Davies is a film and television writer who also runs writing workshops.

Almost every article in each jam-packed edition is written by full-time writers in the British film and television industry, some of whom lecture too. All are at the cutting edge of the latest developments in scriptwriting in the world. Each edition also contains a hard-hitting editorial by Friedmann on topical issues relevant to scriptwriters.

Articles in this latest edition range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Bassett Davies is at the ridiculous end of the scale, which makes his article delicious light relief after a hard day’s slogging over a hot computer. I can’t resist, so I’ll quote from “A Lonely Craft” again:

Just because you spend all your time alone, that doesn’t make you lonely. It makes you a Loner. Big difference. You are the Cat who Walks by Himself … If you really need a social life, your imagination is the best party you’ll ever go to. And, for once, you’re on the guest list for the VIP lounge … So let your fantasies run wild. Here’s a good one. You die stoically of a rare but painless disease contracted during your work among the poor that you tried to keep secret but is now legendary. Imagine the look on your brother-in-law’s face when what you really think of him comes out in the reading of your inspirational will, which is partly televised world-wide and causes the parties in all global conflicts to resolve their differences! Also you can give your real opinion of the screenplay that your friend sold through sheer luck to those German producers who were all a bunch of amateurs anyway so God knows how the film ended up being so successful. And you can express your feelings about people who say they’ll pass on your script to their new best friends, the German film producers, but almost certainly didn’t, even though you let them sleep on your floor for three months when they first came to London for a very reasonable rent.    

Stop me if a smile hasn’t creased your face yet. I must say, I start with the light relief articles every time my copy of Scriptwriter arrives. It’s wonderful to be able to laugh at the very real thoughts all lonely writers experience at some stage in their not-always-heroic journey. Laughter removes the demons from these feelings, which threaten to cripple us along this lonely path. And once your sense of humour’s been restored you can move on to the meat and drink of the magazine. There are articles so full of helpful advice to writers that it takes me more than a month to read and digest them all.

In the July edition, for example, there is a highly informative article on “Story Patterns” by Mark McIlrath. McIlrath, a regular writer for this magazine, is a script editor who lives and works in Italy, France and Ireland. So he must be making good money! This article is a follow up to an article in the previous edition which introduced exercises to teach scriptwriting. They were superb exercises, ones which I have already put to use with my third year and Honours scriptwriting students at UKZN. This article looks at various types of story and traces the patterns in a number of genres. McIlrath gives a detailed deconstruction of The Escape Story, The Caper Movie, The Rebellion Story, The Practical Joke Story, The Trip with a Destination Story and The "Most" Character Story (the most vain, the most incompetent, the most accomplished and so on). Using examples from well-known films and comparing the British approach with the American approach, McIlrath has written a very usable aid for both teaching and writing. This is another one I am going to be using with my students.

This edition also contains an interesting discussion about “Art as Film” between Carlo Montanaro, Professor of Theory and Technique of Cinema and of Politics of Film Conservation (ohmigod, is that a title or a street address?) at Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University and Minu’ Habibi-Minelli, an art historian in Venice. Their debate will help clarify issues such as avante-garde - which Carlo Montanaro says no longer exists - as well as experimental film.

There are far too many articles to examine in detail here, but for more information, go to the Scriptwriter website at www.scriptwritermagazine.com or e-mail jonquil@scriptwritermagazine.com for subscription details.

Anyone who takes his or her writing career seriously should be subscribing to this magazine. And if you are a lecturer in scriptwriting you should have this magazine for your learning institution. It is invaluable.