Each time I teach, I learn.
In a weird and wonderful way, every student is a teacher.
Each individual has valuable experience or knowledge to share with whomever wants to learn.
During my time teaching in the Middle East, I learned how two of my students – Arab and Greek – expect a Hero to be ‘pure’. In this clip from Toy Story II where Woody rescues Wheezy, they saw the dog as the Hero.
Without the dog, they say, there would have been no rescue.
Such information may shed light on some of the successes and failures in specific cultures. Story tellers and filmmakers can benefit from this info. It is learnable.
Every now and then I read musings on our industry that approach film from a purely artistic angle. It is fascinating, as films sometimes shine because of the creator’s distinctive, ‘idiosyncratic’ voice.
Focus on the differences and you risk getting randomness.
This, my friends, is NOT learnable.
Why would anyone need to learn how to be different? You just do what you feel is right and ignore everything else. Who needs teachers to achieve this?
After all, no one can teach you to be YOU.
That said, browse the web and you’ll find a myriad of techniques to help you connect with your Self, many of them developed in the context of psychology and psychotherapy. This is all about relaxing, meditating, connecting with the subconscious and it can be useful in any type of situation and any type of industry.
None of this has anything to do with screenwriting per se.
Here’s another thing: no matter how hard you try to write like Tarantino, Woody Allen or Andrew Stanton, you will always speak with your own voice.
No learning of a craft or principles or techniques will kill this. You may be able to sharpen or tweak your voice but the original creative source of your artistic endeavours can not be built, modified or killed by anyone else but yourself.
Professional screenwriters focus on what is learnable.
Working, successful screenwriters have an open mind; they carefully examine what the dynamics are of the audience they’re writing for and the industry they are working in. To help them move forward, they look at what has worked before them.
These writers have faith in their own talent and they learn the skills to allow it to flourish.
This is how you make progress fast. This is how you build a career.
I can not teach you to be an artistic genius. No-one can.
You are it already, or you aren’t and will never be; and who cares… the world is full of lazy geniuses that will never be known.
On the other hand, you’ll be surprised how many mediocre talents went on to become successful through unrelenting learning, with hard work and persistence. Using the tools and principles learned from their predecessors, they have created moving stories that people will love forever.
You can, too.
To get there, you focus on what is learnable first.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.