Saturday, August 18, 2007


I found out this week I'll be teaching a beginning screenwriting class this fall at Cogswell, which is a unique college in the heart of Silicon Valley. It's part engineering college, part art school. They've got a strong digital arts program that turns out filmmakers and gamers and artists and designers.

I start teaching in less than two weeks. I've been scrambling to put together a syllabus. What can I adapt from my mentoring and coaching experience? What textbook should I use? What the heck do 20-year-olds know? How the hell am I going to keep them happy for three hours?

It's turning into a pretty tremendous opportunity to look back at teaching tools I've used in other environments -- mentoring, coaching, or consulting. It's got me looking back at what films I'd use to talk about different aspects. Do I talk about Tarkovsky or The Big Lebowski? How do I communicate what I know to these kids?

If you've read my blog before, you know the importance I put on considering your audience. It's not just for the audience, either. It's a huge tool for a writer. It puts everything in a new light.

My new audience is undergraduates. They aren't all 19 years old, but they're younger than my typical client. The class is split between students in the Digital Motion Picture program and Digital Arts, mostly game designers. They have all taken basic core classes on critical thinking, art and music history, some literature. They know about aesthetics, and they are at Cogswell because they have a creative drive.

What does this make me think about? I did my undergrad study at Columbia University. The foundation of a Columbia education is the Core Curriculum, a thorough, mandatory grounding in literature, philosophy, art, and music of the past two thousand years. The education was invaluable to me. Having an entire community that knows all this history is incredibly invigorating.

Cogswell students have this base of knowledge, and a creative drive to apply it. Screenwriting invigorated my education for me -- it brought it back in a strong, real, practical way. I can only hope that I can share that with some of my students.

I've been looking for movies that will speak to this young audience. I've got too many options here. Too many choices from real geniuses of both screenwriting and filmmaking. I can't wait to point to Fargo and The Birds and Jesus' Son and give them the tools to create something like that themselves. I can't wait to show them how glorious it is to see something in a movie and then figure out what's behind it.

I also can't wait to tell them about how screenwriting works in the real world. How there are endless limitations and obstacles in front of you. And how you can turn each and every one around and use it as a tool if you have the right frame of mind.

The other day I was in a meeting with the editor and the director. We were talking about a vision of the moon that was both real and surreal. He created it in front of us. It's practically magic. It would have been mind-blowing twenty years ago, when I was twenty. These students take this power over image as a starting point, and it's incredible that I get to teach them about story at the start of their careers.


Janis said...

Just having someone who is actually working in the industry as a teacher makes a huge difference to the students. You'll do great! you should teach a class in SF so I can take it :)

Scriptwrangler said...

Thanks! I'm really excited about this..