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Nova Weetman on screenwriting: Teen writing boot camp

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26 March 2021

At the Library's Teen writing boot camp in March 2021, screenwriter and LoveOzYA author Nova Weetman taught teens how to turn story ideas into bingeable screen gems. Here she shares screenwriting tips and reflections from the boot camp.

Learning how to write screenplays in four weeks is a challenge. There is so much to know. From learning how to format the script on the page, to understanding how best to use dialogue and scene description, screenwriting is a beast of technique, craft and storytelling.

In the four-week boot camp we focused on dialogue writing, scene description, genre, three-act structure, loglines and character.

We looked at scenes from short films including Australian-made Crackerbag, Oscar-winning classic The red balloon, and US comedy short Gum to examine what worked. How did Crackerbag set up a character using a series of short visual scenes with very little dialogue? How did The red balloon tell an almost silent story? And what was it about the cracking dialogue in Gum that made it so funny and watchable?

The first week, everyone sat back a little and found their feet. But as the camp progressed, students felt more and more confident to leap in and have their say. By week three we were arguing about inciting incidents (film language for what happens before plot points and changes in narrative) in the first Harry Potter film, and comfortably rewriting bad scenes of dialogue that I’d written on the fly (they were deliberately bad!).

Many of the teens who came to the screenwriting workshops were already knowledgeable and experienced at breaking down structure and examining how films work, so I wove in lots of little tasks that meant everyone had a chance to share their work and ideas and talk about their different approaches.

We examined different antagonists, from natural predators like Jaws to a more villainous creation like Voldemort. We identified that the antagonist in Crackerbag was the same as the protagonist and discussed this at length. We created our own characters and gave them particular ways of speaking, looking at the rhythms of their delivery and how formal or not their language was.

Some of the best moments came when teens were presenting their work and showing how quickly they could get a grasp of scene descriptions that were both meaningful and sparse. Each week I would present some really bad writing (an afternoon of me banging out quick tasks) and teens would happily rewrite with all the skills they were learning. The genre exercise took one story concept and saw teens rewrite it in three different genres, using the core elements of each genre to shift the emphasis and content of the story.

Teens tuned in from regional and country areas, and sometimes even on their way home from school on the train. Many of them expressed a desire to go into filmmaking, and from what I saw over the four weeks, I’d say that’s a big possibility.

This was a great way to spend four weeks: boot-camping with really enthusiastic, respectful and talented teenagers, who all wanted to learn more about how to write screenplays and how to make films.

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