Exterior: southern Ontario countryside, winter blizzard conditions… interior of a very old pick-up truck. Woman behind the wheel is not dressed for the weather. She’s wearing a dress, light jacket and high heels. Through the windshield a deserted rural airport and runway are barely visible. She appears anxious, her cell phone sits on the dashboard. The phone rings…
Thus a screenplay begins. The screenwriter has established location and the first scene of what will hopefully be a story worth telling; that will pique audiences’ interest enough to continue watching.
What writer hasn’t, at one time or another, thought they’d like to write a screenplay? How many of us have watched a film that didn’t meet our expectations and secretly believed we could do a better job? It sounds like fun to me, so writing a screenplay is my focus these days.
Occasionally, readers are disappointed when a favourite novel is adapted for the screen and we just don’t like the film version as much as the book. Individual experiences of reading are unique and always includes our own imagining of the scenes unfolding and our relating (or not) to the characters. Actions and events often jolt me to envision how I’d like to see them come to life.
Screenwriters provide essential information on every scene they write but how a screenplay is eventually interpreted on screen, whether an original work or an adaptation, is the result of the craftsmanship and collaboration of many artists. But every film starts with the written word.
What excites me about screenwriting is creating the visuals that provide clues and context to characters and story. It feels like a bit of a short cut, a brief setting of the stage; characters’ demeanour, clothing, surroundings, non-verbal relaying of humour, anger, sorrow and other emotions all give us a head start or short hand to how the story might be unfolding. Audience involvement and participation is heightened and more immediate with the visual element.
Dialogue brings the story to life and must be concise, impactful and be able to distinguish each character. I like the idea of telling a story by making characters speak for themselves. I’ve watched films for the sole purpose of escape to an exotic setting or an ancient world (my preference over moonscapes and war zones) but the story and characters are what make the films unforgettable.
Screenwriting presents the same challenges as any other storytelling of course; flow, pacing, twists and turns, etc. but the visual nature of this medium feels like a new tool in my writing cache. I’m excited to have started and I believe my enthusiasm will carry me through to the final FADE OUT.