This one is obvious but worth bringing out to remember and practice. Read excellent books and screenplays. While there is tremendous value in analyzing works that aren’t excellent, that are mediocre or just plain bad, nothing is better than immersing yourself in a master storyteller’s handiwork. Learn from how it is assembled and from what has been left unsaid. Silence, like negative space in a painting or design, is as important as what’s visibly or verbally present.
There are lots of scripts and books of this class available online for free or very little money. I recommend reading them in the proper format. By that I mean, read a screenplay in its original form not as a manuscript and print it out so you have the tactile experience of the work. The heft of the 110-145 pages with three-hole punch/brass brad binding is an experience much closer to the writing than reading the same work on a digital tablet.
One of best screenplays I ever had the privilege of reading while working for John Matoian at CBS (a TV movie) was written by the late Harold Pinter. Having come to screenplays through the world of music, I didn’t know who Pinter was at the time so I came to his work fresh and untutored in his greatness as a dramatist. His dialogue is astounding, so this post serves double duty as pointing out examples of great dialogue. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Read Pinter’s work wherever you can find it. You’ll not regret it.
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In the extraordinary and passionate clip below, Pinter describes his processes and dictates for writing different types of literary and dramatic works. He then segues into a long speech about what he describes as the war crimes of the U.S.A. since the end of WWII. By posting this clip I am not tacitly agreeing with his point-of-view. I was hoping he would continue enlightening us on his creative process. What he describes is no less than political theatre though he doesn’t label it that way. To do so would’ve summed things up too tidily.
However, the fact that Pinter would use his moments of fame on the world stage to voice this opinion is significant, especially because he also denounces his own native homeland, Great Britain for their role in bringing suffering to the innocent in the name of power. The “media” we once trusted became complicit with political powers probably longer ago than we imagine. I submit that none of us knows very much at all about what really drives politics or nations to act as they do.
Since Pinter’s death in 2008, the Internet has slowly brought about an overall inversion in the way information is circulated around the world. Instead of top-down, it’s moving from the ground-up. We all have a voice now if we so choose, even if it IS being censored by the private corporations that own the social media. This too will shapeshift and change as all new technology must.
As artistic people I believe it’s our job to stir the pot. To ferret out discrepancies, highlight comedy, contemplate irony and expose horror where we see or even imagine it. By the same token we must also learn to apply critical thinking to what we’re asked to believe and what we choose to write and speak about publicly.