How many hours does the average student spend sitting on the couch watching TV shows, movies or even some form of onstage production? Chances are that even for the most devout follower of media, the time spent watching a show is not even close to the amount of time its writers have put in to create viewers’ obsessions.
Regardless of what type of script is being produced, students playwrights and screenwriters spend countless hours brainstorming, organizing and restructuring their manuscript to transform it into a beloved product.
LSA junior Minhdzuy Khorami is constantly revisiting his drafts. When working on scripts, Khorami focuses the most on the dialogue and the general flow of the piece.
“I like to have that back-and-forth between people; I crack myself up with it,” he said. “When I’m talking to people in real life, I like to script in my head what (I think) they are going to say.”
LSA senior Catherine MacDonald enjoys developing her characters to the max, getting the nitpicky details mapped out.
“I will go through characters like a therapist,” she said. “I don’t think it’s worth writing about uninteresting people, so I like writing about really compelling characters that are a bit quirkier or have something weird about them.”
The characters are equally important for Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Tyler Dean. When in the process of creating a new script, he covers his room with Post-it notes with ideas about the journey his character will go through from beginning to end.
Though the generation of ideas, dialogue and characters is similar when writing for the stage and for the screen, each has its own perks and qualities that dictate what a writer can make happen in his or her proudest productions.
Penning for the stage
One of the treats theater writers benefit from is the immediate gratification of seeing their work performed in its raw and real form.
Khorami has been interested in scriptwriting since before he started college. He has aspirations to write for television but fell in love with the art form of theater.
“It’s something I can actually see right away,” he said. “I can get immediate feedback by having it performed, so I started working in that medium with the stage and with actors instead of onscreen since the stage is available to me.”
Playwriting also allows liberty in the writer’s descriptions. In the realm of television and film, Khorami said, a lot more attention needs to be given to the visual aspects and what needs to be shown.
Dean has always been interested in storytelling. Theatrical scriptwriting also allows him to exercise his interest in acting — primarily musical theater.
“Music plays such a strong part in telling a story,” he said. “It’s a beautiful way to convey messages that regular plays aren’t able to do. It also brings together different sorts of art mediums.”
Dean has worked on two full productions as well as a short one-act play.
His productions tend to be full of intriguing characters and out-of-the-box concepts. His first musical was a parody on “Twilight” and the one he is currently working on is about zombies.
But once the characters have been established, the hardest part of developing a script can go beyond the actual idea generation: What if you thought of something that just can’t seem to fit in?
“Editing is very frustrating,” he said. “They say in writing you have to kill your own babies. It’s really hard to do because you get attached to every single aspect of the show, so removing one tiny joke or line seems like it can damage the entire thing.”
If there were to be a downside to the scriptwriting process, it’s that it can be a rather daunting and lonely task. But when the script is actually finished, there’s a certain amount of collaboration with the director and actors — and this is when the script can really grow and come to life.
“Once I’ve written it, it’s kind of out of my hands,” MacDonald said. “I like to see what happens to it afterwards. You kind of have to take the backseat once you’re done writing it.”
Though the skill of playwriting is something that has to be developed, it can lead to many fruitful experiences.
“If you enjoy writing, playwriting is a really powerful way to tell a story as a performance piece,” MacDonald said. “It’s something that’s difficult, but if you get it, you get it. It’s really fun, and the end result is really rewarding and powerful.”
Writing for the boob tube and the silver screen
Playwriting, of course, isn’t for everyone. Maybe the stage, costumes and live audience don’t draw potential writers in, but the possibility of having special effects and creating something easily distributable is more up their alley.
LSA senior Jim Graessle, a student TV scriptwriter who aspires to enter the TV writing world professionally, has always migrated toward screenwriting due to his interest in having full control of a story and being able to create an entire world.
“Everyone wants to be a director, but a director really takes someone else’s stories and mutates them,” he said. “The writer creates everything; it’s the writer’s job to create.”
TV writing is a continuous job that influences the storyline of the show. Another aspect that pushed Graessle into the field is the possibility to work with a group of writers, whereas film scriptwriters tends to work on their own.
Aspiring scriptwriter and LSA junior Matt Kane, on the other hand, is drawn to the particular perks and annoyances of movie scriptwriting.
For him, the most frustrating part of scriptwriting is knowing that his works likely won’t be made into a full-on reality. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to bring laughter to those exposed to his works.
“I mostly write comedy,” he said. “Stuff that I can show to anybody so they can chuckle or get any sort of emotional response — that way I know I’m at least on the right track.”
LSA junior Caitlin Northcutt prefers writing for film over television because it allows her to recount something from beginning to end.
“You get to tell the full story,” she said. “You don’t have to break it up and hope you get another season to tell your story. You also get a bigger budget on movies, so you can do a little bit more than you could on television.”
Her experience with scriptwriting has also given her a new perspective as she watches TV shows and movies. She said she now sees more than just the story, but what went in to making it look the way it does.
LSA senior Greg Wachtenheim has worked on both films and television scripts and is currently writing a science fiction film inspired by dolphins and a television series focusing on the relations of random people in a co-op.
In order to make his scripts as real as possible, he has done outside research to back his concepts. For instance, Wachtenheim visited his friend’s co-op and spoke with some of the residents to get a feel for the dynamics in a typical house.
According to Wachtenheim, one of the most frustrating parts of scriptwriting is knowing when some joke or scene that the writer loves has to be removed. The goal for having a successful film is to make sure the script is as good as it can be.
“If you don’t shoot something the right way, the humor might be lost,” Wachtenheim said. “You want your script to be as good as possible because the trend is that it’s only going to go downhill from there. Since the best stories are written, it’s hard to align your visions properly.”
Despite all the differences between theater and screen, most scriptwriters are content working for either medium. Aspiring student scriptwriters might find the career field competitive, but with patience, the right connections and baby steps into the profession, they could end up making it big.