Last week I got the opportunity to talk to a group of Mass Media students, 50-60 of them, on Screenwriting. It was a wonderful experience and I feel like thanking them for their patience. The lecture ran for close to two and half hours, and though there were a few dozing heads and heavy eyelids, it was a fairly successful affair! I had gone there to learn, rather than to teach, though teaching has always been a dream. But I did learn a lot, about myself, about the students, and about the subject. There were some interesting experiences that I thought to share here:
• A long time was spent on explaining the difference between a screenplay, and a script. Some brought up the issue of a shooting script; some were obsessed with the idea of storyboarding. You can go through the “Getting Cinemate” series of my posts under the label “Reading Film” for a quick understanding of these.
• Surprisingly, it was not a problem to convince them that screenwriting needs to be learnt. Not a single one of them objected to me saying something like: “A storyteller is a born storyteller. Why does he need to learn anything?”
• I explained them about the inherent three-act structure contained in every purposeful bit of communication. One of them shared a joke – I broke it down to three acts. I did it with the poem “Johnny Johnny, Yes Papa.” And then asked someone to share a random dream he had. And showed to them how a dream does not have a universal appeal because it does not have a distinct beginning, a purposeful direction, and a definite conclusion. It is a product of the subconscious and the conscious storytelling is a different thing. Also, while sharing the dream, we actually give it a ‘structure’ because now we are consciously “telling a story”.
• I chose the structure of ‘The Matrix’ to explain them the three-act paradigm. It is a popular film and has a very conventional three-act structure (you can find the discussion in my “Getting Cinemate” discussion). Also, the inquisitiveness to ‘understand’ the story of this film helped. I’m pretty sure these students have taken the first step towards understanding the classical structure of storytelling.
• While talking about protagonists and antagonists, we had a little debate over the antagonist of ‘Titanic’. Some believed it was the fiancé of Rose, before I convinced them that it was nature. Also, I loved it when someone did answer my question regarding the antagonist of ‘Inception.’ Cobb is the protagonist and he himself is the antagonist: his past, his fears, his weaknesses are proving to be the biggest hindrance in his desperate pursuit of fulfilling his dramatic need.
• I didn’t want them to take notes during the lecture. But if there was one thing I wanted them to take down, and take home, it was this: “Make sure you know the end of your story before you know the beginning or anything else.” They appreciated the illustration, and I hope they will remember it forever.
A wonderful experience indeed, for a student of screenwriting to test the theory in front of a group of enthusiasts. I wish some of them write a great script some day that would teach me a thing or two. It has to be a two-way process, or a self-centered man like me would hardly be interested. Teaching is fun, learning is life.