MA Writing for Script & Screen: reflective blog week 4

This week’s lecture, The History of Screenwriting focused on how screenwriting has developed and gave two examples from screenplays written in the 1950’s – On the Waterfront (1954 – dir. Elia Kazan, screenplay Budd Schulberg) and Sunset Boulevard (1950 – dir. Billy Wilder, screenplay Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M Marshman). Finnegan noted “There are noticeable differences in terms of their formatting, despite only being made four years apart.” – At the Crossing: Changing Perceptions, Technologies and Screenplay Functions in Contemporary Cinema (Finnegan, J. 2017).

Furthermore, we were asked to read the scenario of Le Voyage Dans La Lune (directed and written by Georges Méliès) and instructed to “Think about the logistics of film production in this period, and how the documentation reflects this. Compare this scenario to the documentation used by practitioners today. How has the shift in production practices affected our approaches to the craft of writing for the screen?”

I noted that some of the scene headings used only nouns and others used verbs. Where verbs were used, this gave instruction to the crew and actors what would happen on set through improvisation. Where nouns, the function of the scene heading was to describe the set. Indeed, Melies would have taken the word scenario from its Latin meaning, meaning “that which is represented on stage.” In this sense, the scene headings serve the same function as modern format of screenplays i.e the NIGHT / DAY and INT / EXT simply serve to give instruction to the technical crew and logistics personnel on a film project for planning purposes. Finnegan notes “The scenario was, as the name suggests, a brief description given to the minimal crew of the time, but also a marketing tool used to attract audiences.” These readings certainly wet my appetite for further study in the history of the screenplay.

Finally, creative work was to develop the treatment for our short film and give peer feedback. My intention through feedback was to encourage and to steer my peers towards knowledge I have recently enjoyed gaining through reading John Yorke’s Into the Woods. By referring to Yorke’s work in feedback I was able to cement ideas I am attempting to assimilate and apply to my own work.

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