April 13, 2016

Weeks 3 and 4: How to Come Up with Ideas for Shows

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.


Objective: The students were required to come up with original ideas for episodic narrative or shows, write them down in 100 words each and get at least two of those ideas approved during these two weeks.

The third week started with a lecture on how episodic content is different from feature films and what are the different types of fiction shows that have typically been written. It was followed by, over two days, a screening of 1-2 episodes of ten different shows: 'Breaking Bad', 'Fargo', 'The Office', 'House', 'Entourage', 'Grey's Anatomy', 'Californication', 'Modern Family', 'Catastrophe' and 'Man Seeking Woman'. The idea was to observe different styles and formats, compare them with film-writing, and understand the power episodic writing inherently has.

The students read the screenplay of 'American Beauty' and apart from the regular 3-4 hour discussion on it they also discussed the possibility of a show using the characters and situations from the film. 

Over more lectures, we also discussed topics like: Types of Conflict, Types of Protagonists, Scene and its functions and how to fine tune your use of screenwriting format, style and grammar. During the first week, the students had watched 'Khosla Ka Ghosla' and created its Beat Sheet. Now, they reworked on the beat sheet, adding what purpose each scene serves and then they had a group discussion on the same so that everyone understood the practical aspects of "functions of a scene". The students were also introduced to the very useful tool called the 'Table of Everything'.

As an introduction to 'Film History', the students watched 'Hugo', followed by a discussion on the Birth of Cinema and the contributions of the Lumiere Brothers and Georges Melies. We also screened 'Amdavad Ma Famous' - a mesmerizing National Award-winning documentary for them, followed by a discussion on the film by its director and my dear friend Hardik Mehta.

The students also watched 'Kung Fu Panda 3' on the big screen and two Hindi plays - 'Naqqash' (it was the students' first visit to the iconic Prithvi Theater) and the wonderful musical 'Ishq Aha'.

A significant event of this fortnight was the Guest Lecture by Sudip Sharma, the writer of 'NH 10'. The students read the screenplay of the film one day before the lecture and Sudip broke down the structure and the writing process of the film during his insightful talk. We also had a discussion on his life and journey as a screenwriter and the two hours he spent with us might just be perhaps the most inspiring thing that has happened with AIB First Draft in its first four weeks. With his simple but persistent approach to film-writing, he humbled us. And with his infectious self-belief and love for cinema, he left us insanely inspired. I must thank Sudip for this wonderful, priceless session. Once he left, the students were asked to retire into solitude and reflect on what just happened, indulge in this moment of inspiration and do a one-page free-association writing to let everything out on paper. This was a personal exercise and not to be shared with anyone.

Since we had spent almost twenty days trying to analyse films and screenplays and learn theory and practise what we learnt, the fourth week was spent on indulging in the intuitive and imaginative side of ourselves. The students did several 'secret' assignments, to be shared with no one but themselves. These included going down memory lane and think of a father-daughter relationship they have closely observed as they listened to the song 'Ek Tha Bachpan' from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Aashirwaad'. On the next day, they imagined a graphic and detailed sex scene in the most unlikely of settings. Later one day they indulged in the biggest fear they have - physical fear, or something that totally shatters them. And they would write - without thinking, without worrying about the structure, without trying to impress anyone, but to simply, uninhibitedly indulge in inspiration, nostalgia, lust and fear. They were also asked to spend one day breaking all patterns of daily-life. From food to sleep to the soap they use, they were encouraged to spend the day as differently as possible. And on the last day of the fourth week, we had some 'live' intuition exercises in class. It involved physical imagination of your mind-space and cleaning it, free-association writing of words and, later, visuals. And sharing with the batch their fears and dreams, as well as imagining their lives with some regrets and joys they do not have presently.

Apart from all these tasks, the students worked tirelessly on developing their four 100-word ideas into 300-word outlines. And, of course, they wrote at least one page of a scene, any random scene, every single day, now taking the uninterrupted practice to 27 consecutive days!

The first month at AIB First Draft is over. Within a couple of days, the students will have a Pitch Day, where they will present their ideas to a large panel. By the end of the fifth week, each of the students will know which idea they are going to work on over the remaining 21 weeks. This is getting intense by the day!

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