Toronto Screenwriting Conference – Day One Highlights

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I am hoping to a more complete write-up shortly about the sessions I attended at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference this weekend, but here are some personal highlights/insights from today’s sessions.

Glen Mazzara – The Odyssey of Writing (former show runner for The Walking Dead)

Be your own writer: Mazzara shared his earliest experiences in starting as a writer and he said that in the early days of his career, he tried to write things that he thought screenplay readers wanted to see, but that ultimately, this was a failing approach. In his eyes, you have to write topics that reflect and come from you. Things that represent who you are and in what you are interested.

Making sense of your characters: He also offered an interesting tip on how to make sure the emotional/story arcs of your characters make sense. He suggested approaching it like an actor, whom he says is only interested in and therefore reads his own lines. Move through your screenplay, tracking only one character at a time—ignoring all others—and see if their progress makes sense. Are they angry in one scene and suddenly laughing in the next? Does that make sense? It’ll also allow you to tighten up their dialogue, he says. You then do this for each character in your screenplay to ensure each tracks correctly.

Dara Marks – Engaging the Feminine Heroic (renowned Hollywood script doctor)

Too often, we only explore how a character responds to outside forces (masculine heroic). For a character to be whole, Marks says, we must also examine what is happening within a character (feminine heroic).

At the beginning of a story, the character receives the external call to life and responds by striving for a goal. But to do this, she says, the character must sacrifice other aspects of themselves that will slow or stop their progress. This sacrifice is not without a cost and the internal psyche suffers a wound because part of it is no longer valued.

Unfortunately, the problem with striving is that it is doomed to failure—we can’t ever achieve enough of our goal. A crisis of faith occurs in the masculine self, that triggers an awakening of potential in the feminine self—internal fortitude.

Externally, the character falls as the call to life becomes a battle for life as its illusions are shattered, and when the outer self becomes vulnerable the internal self is emboldened and can heal the wounds, turning pain and suffering into creativity and love.

Thus, it is the sacred marriage of the internal and external selves that allows the character to discover its true self.

David Hudgens – Breakdown of the One-Hour Drama (showrunner of Parenthood)

On receiving notes: The most important thing about receiving notes on your screenplay is understanding what’s the note behind the note. The note itself is often directed at something that may be relatively minor, but in its essence, it speaks to a deeper issue in the writing. Look for that essence.

Beau Willimon – Masterclass (co-creator of Netflix’s House of Cards)

Writing screenplays ≠ making movies: It is entirely possible to have a good career writing screenplays for movies without ever getting any of your movies made. It’s a numbers game, as studios constantly contract out for hundreds of screenplays, hoping that at least one of them will turn into a profitable movie, but they can’t afford to make all of the movies to find out.

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