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TEACHING TOOLS

Click on links below for PDF and video tutorials.

Beat Sheets

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Models of Structure

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Scene Book

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Short Form Reader

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Enneagram

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Short Form Anthology

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Fractured Narrative

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Screenplays

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How to use these materials and clips

These are materials that I assembled while teaching graduate screenwriting for 13 years at the AFI Conservatory and at USC. Here follows an explanation of how to use them as learning tools.

 Models of Structure

The best thing to begin with are the “Models of Structure” which lays out in excessive detail the two dominant models: classic three act structure and Vogler’s based on the work of Joseph Campbell. Three act structure was initially taught by Aristotle.  The best-known current proponent is Bob McKee and the first thirty pages of this are a summary of his three-day course. The balance is a synopsis of The Hero’s Journey by Vogler who posited that the journey of the protagonist in a story is similar to that of the hero in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces.” They are worth looking at, but one does not write from a model. On the other hand, if your story is missing one of these structural elements, it is worth looking at.

Beat Sheets

Beat sheets are just that from about 75 films. They are very helpful in seeing how films lay out. If you are writing in a genre, it is helpful to look at beat sheets from films in that generic family. 

Another helpful exercise is to take the beat sheets from a few films that you know and break them down into the three act McKee and Vogler models.

Scene Book

This is a book of selected scenes with an index. One of the first things I have students do is write a scene but first we use this book to deconstruct scenes into beginnings, middles and ends and purpose and intent and obstacles and what did someone want etc. As you read these scenes try to find elements that they all have in common and ask yourself why they are successful. At the beginning of each scene is a paragraph that tells you where you are in the story.

Style Sampler

There are no rules in screenwriting in terms of style. This book starts with Lawrence of Arabia and shows how the form has evolved over the last 50 years from a period when almost all scripts that were written were going to be made 

and had excessive blocking and description of shots and camera angles etc. to the ‘spec script’ selling environment where the writers are trying to create a literary experience for the reader and stage directions are minimal. 

There is also the question of ‘appropriate style.’ Thrillers have punched up action sequences where there can be as many as thirty one liners on a page, each representing a different shot in an action sequence. Obviously that style would not be appropriate for a drama.

Short Form Reader

Most screenwriters begin by writing scenes and then advance to writing shorts, which are in many ways the most difficult form to teach because there are no rules. Most shorts have two acts, but I have seen excellent shorts with five. Students should learn empirically by reading and seeing a lot of shorts and deconstructing their structure. This short form reader has numerous very good shorts, and towards the end, there are a number of known short stories and I often assign them and ask students how they would adapt them.

Fractured Narrative

This is a paper that I delivered at two conferences: one on plagiarism in Beirut and another on PTSD at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

The Enneagram

This is a very good primer on the Enneagram which is an old Sufi system of 9 personality types that is an excellent tool for studying character and predicting behavior.  For centuries it was used by Franciscan Monks to determine what kinds of work in the monastery that different monks were best suited to. The best way to become familiar with this system is to read the synopses on each character type and then play the video clips that demonstrate each type.