On Sunday 27 November Allan Swift, a writer and lecturer, led a day-long Script Writing session in Chatham; a workshop requested by community cast members who had been a part of the Operation Black Antler project. It was fast paced and well attended. The lovely Wendy Daws, who exhibited at No.34 back in September, kindly hired out The Mess Room which is her space at Sun Pier House. It lent itself brilliantly to the day’s events and has a most excellent view of the river – a beautiful bonus!
Seven others and myself sat around the tables with a multitude of laptops, notebooks and name signs fashioned from folded pieces of paper. Allan, in his brisk and efficient manner, quickly turned to us all individually to ask what we expected to get from the session. A variant of answers came back in response, with those relatively new to script writing simply intrigued by the basic formats and structures, while others were more experienced and keen to learn more.
Taking the responses on board, Allan leapt into delivering extensive information about the three act structure, a method that ensures each script you might write has movement and turning points. He then explained in more detail how each of the three acts is broken down further and illustrated this with examples from popular films. Allan also spoke about the differences between the various genres and instances whereby the three act structure might be loosely modified or transformed. Moving at pace so as to keep to time, Allan still made sure to answer any questions the group volunteered. He also punctuated his explanations with short clips from the film Bend It Like Beckham, which features many demonstrable examples of components of the three act structure.
Following that we watched an episode from BBC TV drama The Street, which had been written by Jimmy McGovern, a longtime friend of Allan’s. Allan asked the group to identify each of the features within the three act structure which, despite the episode being an exemplar case study for the three acts, turned out to be a little tricky for some of us novices. After the episode finished, we came back and compared notes before Allan handed out copies of the beat sheet which clearly broke the episode down and correctly identified each of the features. We also looked at recurring visual motifs and how incorporating these repetitive actions not only provides consistency in the screenplay but also a visual aesthetic that can be appreciated by the audience. These symbols can be of great impact and a demonstration of good, well-planned writing.
After a break for lunch Allan showed a short film titled Safer which still demonstrated the three acts but in a slightly more truncated way. Again, we picked out key elements from the film and Allan, who likes the protagonist to always be active, challenged us to reimagine the mid-point reversal. It was hard to do and Allan was quick to respectfully knock down any illogical answers and explained in detail why a suggestion would or would not work. The short film was also a great example of how screenwriting is, in comparison to novels, a predominantly visual medium. There was little dialogue in the final edit but the film was still full of movement, action and tension. Allan handed out an early version of the script, allowing for direct comparison and to indicate how scripts can always be reduced down and lines of dialogue cut. As is often the advice, Allan echoed to never be precious about your writing (though he did admit that it’s far harder to cut down your own words than it is to help condense someone else’s.)
By 4pm, we moved to looking at a script that had progressed through three consecutive re-writes. With the first version, we were tasked with identifying the protagonist and antagonist. Turning attention to the second and third versions of the script, we then split off into groups and were tasked with writing a scene each. Allan light heartedly and respectfully pointed out the flaws in our suggested scenes but only to help us all improve.
The workshop was nothing if not incredibly informative and it seemed that everyone left with a great deal more knowledge and renewed motivation to either write or create (or both!) We must say a huge thank you to Allan Swift for leading the session and providing all the attendees with such insightful information. A big thank you also goes to Sun Pier House, in particular Wendy Daws and the Mess Room, for providing an invaluable space for the session.
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