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Screenwriting with Nova Weetman: Teen Writing Bootcamp

06 June 2022

At the Library’s Teen Writing Bootcamp in late April through to May 2022, writer Nova Weetman explored the art of screenwriting with a group of talented young teens. Below Nova shares some tips and reflections from the bootcamps.

Learning the basics of writing screenplays in four weeks is a big ask. There is a lot to learn. From the specifics of formatting the script on the page to understanding how best to use dialogue and scene description, screenwriting is a beast of technique, craft and storytelling.

Over the four weeks, we focussed mainly on the form of short film because it’s a great model to master before attempting anything longer. We looked at formatting, three-act structures, protagonists and antagonists, writing compelling dialogue, themes and story, scene description and genre.

Each week, I set the students small tasks during the hour-long session and watched in delight as they loaded their examples into the chat thread. They wrote playful explorations of genre and story and started work on their longer, more finished screenplays.

We talked about our favourite protagonists and antagonists, including examples where these were the same character in a film. We looked at scenes from short films, including Australian-made Crackerbag 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? And what was it about the cracking dialogue in Gum that made it so funny and watchable?

We talked about films we loved and those we didn’t. We learned about the fundamentals of genre and where genres overlap. 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 (intentionally bad).  

It was great watching students develop relationships with each other over the four weeks and support each other’s suggestions and examples in the chat. There was no sense that anyone felt pressured to conform to a particular genre or style of writing. Instead, everyone found their voice and their way of expressing a story. 

Many of the teens who turned up each week were obviously committed to learning as much as they could about screenwriting and sought out extra resources like screenplay examples and short film suggestions. Many of them already had an excellent understanding of story and structure and protagonists, and it was great watching them put those skills into practice. The students also created their own characters, and we worked on how best to introduce them to the audience for the first time.

I really loved having the opportunity to read some of the screenplays that have been sent in for feedback and am very impressed by how great these short films have been. 

This was the perfect way to spend four weeks online – bootcamping with dedicated and engaged teenagers who turned up each week ready to discuss film respectfully and excitedly. I really hope I get to meet some of them at the in-person session at the Library in June. 

More to explore

Find out more about the Teen Writing Bootcamp programs. 

This program has been made possible with the generosity of Serp Hills Foundation and The JTM Foundation.