Having spent so much time in front of the screen, I’ve often assumed that a jump to a creative role in film would be a simple thing. However, beyond film’s practical difficulties — which are daunting no matter the environment — I’ve found it tough in my time at the University transitioning from consumer to creator and viewer to artist.

Recently introduced to screenwriting through a class here at the University, I’ve been constantly struggling to develop a good balance between viewer and writer, suddenly stumbling across a minefield of my own self-delusions and arrogance and discovering the difficulties any filmmaker has in developing a voice.

There is incongruence between the two sides of a film. Each film is created in a certain way and with certain motivations, and then each is viewed in a manner entirely independent of those motivations. The separation contributes to the beauty of the art, because a single film can be seen an infinite number of ways. Nonetheless, the gap is a frustrating one to cross.

I watch film on a moment-by-moment basis. That sounds simple, but it’s true beyond the obvious statement that film is a collection of images. It reckons back to the very first films, which were entirely non-narrative and illustrated only a single scene, such as the Lumière brothers’ 1896 classic “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station.” Film is naturally momentary, not narrative, but narrative film is all I’ve ever known. And that’s something I didn’t realize until I saw the other side of the art.

When I watch a film, story can take a back seat, and the macro film’s fatal flaws matter little in the context of the micro scene’s emotional connection. In every subsequent moment, the film has a chance to win me over. I don’t watch anything with a cynical urge to throw it away, and I don’t make a judgment until the closing credits roll.

I’m an easy sell. And I’m the type of viewer that movie studios love. That said, much to my chagrin, my viewer identity doesn’t translate well into a creative one.

Films are not conceptually created on such an elemental, scene-by-scene basis. Screenwriting, as the beginning for the process, focuses on the narrative flow and character development of the entire film; the idea is that viewers can subconsciously sense narrative structure in a way that will automatically feed their conscious reaction to the film. Many interested viewers, of course, will critique a film’s narrative structure quite consciously, but such analysis is more often done after the actual viewing, not during it.

Before a writer takes on the actual writing of a screenplay, he or she must create a “logline” — a one-sentence outline of the film’s plot, identifying the protagonist, conflict and primary goal in concise and simple fashion. This was my first writing challenge — one made insurmountable at first because of my viewing style. Envisioning my creations, I would always see an image, not a story. It was disappointing to see how unprepared I truly was to make the jump, but even more disappointing to realize that visual and dramatic creativity is of little value without an established structure in the narrative.

From the logline, every writer moves closer toward a more detailed plan, eventually developing scenes and going step by step through the script before actually writing it. In the actual act of screenwriting, there’s significantly less spontaneity than I had ever envisioned.

I had looked forward to the creative process of writing a script, going freestyle and making something artistically attributable to a single burst of creative energy. The same way that poets let their words flow, whether they have a specific structure or not, or the way that a jazz musician will play an improvised solo — that was the way I envisioned screenwriting, using the formal qualities of the craft to my creative advantage while allowing the story to develop itself almost automatically.

Screenwriting can’t be approached with the same momentary perspective with which I view films. Screenplays are not films, and to impose the experimental qualities of one on the other would miss the point.

I love watching film because of the visual moment — when image, sound and editing combine to carry the viewers beyond the story and leave a lasting imprint in their memory. There is little a screenplay can do to truly replicate that, because all the necessary ingredients are added much further down the road. The joy I feel in watching films isn’t present in screenwriting, and without jumping to conclusions, it might not be the best role for me.

That said, I’m too dedicated to film to let it go, and by the time I finish my first screenplay my voice will be more fully formed. I’ll likely discover further difficulties and roadblocks to my creativity, but if I can bring something personal to the process, it’s my tenacity to let the moments stand out from within the whole.

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