Screenwriting for Dummies


If you ever wondered what it was like to take a Screenwriting class alongside a bunch of crazy New Yorkers, just keep reading,

Before I start to pass judgment on some of these absurd characters though, I feel it necessary to tell you what I myself am doing while I judge.  I’m currently sprawled out in bed, in the same position I’ve been in for the last five hours, watching a documentary about Honey badgers (did you know they’re not actually badgers?  They’re weasels.)  And I just ate an entire wedge of Brie cheese by myself.

I tell you this so you don’t assume that I actually consider myself superior to or classier than any of the individuals mentioned in this post.  We’re all just different types of ridiculous.

When I started taking this class a month ago, I was excited to finally meet some like-minded people.  Not to say that I haven’t made some amazing friends in New York, but let’s just put it this way: I spend my entire week in an Advertising sales office filled with all of the guys from your high school football team, and the girls from your college sorority.

So I signed up for the class hoping to connect with aspiring creative writers like myself, which is exactly what happened, just not quite in the way that I had pictured.  I had dreamt up an image of the type of person who would take a screenwriting class, and narrowed it down to something very specific.  Someone in their late twenties to thirties, with thick dark-framed glasses and skinny jeans, maybe a few tattoos, carrying a laptop.   Instead, I got a class full of people twice my age, some in suits, all with real-world jobs, carrying steno pads.  The first guy I encountered was a middle-aged drill sergeant from Brooklyn.  We’ll call him Jack.  Jack had a real thick Brooklyn accent, and took no time in telling me that I have a beautiful smile.  He also quickly mentioned he enjoys making people’s days, and that he had just given the exact same compliment to a cashier at McDonald’s.  Well then.

By the second class meeting, he had come up with a great idea that he felt was necessary to share with the room.  He asked our teacher, Crow, (the only screenwriting class fantasy that had come true for me so far) if he could write a movie about himself.  Just imagine this middle aged army officer with a Brooklyn accent saying “I wanna make a movie about me and my two buddies.  Cause people tell me I’m fuckin’ crazy, and I should definitely be the main character in my movie.”  At first, Crow questioned the creative motivation behind Jack wanting to write a movie about himself, but he must’ve realized it was a lost cause because he quickly changed his mind mid-sentence and said “Sure, do whatever you want.”

Now let’s get to the good stuff.  The lady of the hour, my favorite character: Jane “Bang Bang”.  The bleach blonde 68 year old Manhattan artist with the most eclectic sense of style in any room.    She’s always an hour late to every class, almost like she plans it that way.  She waltzes in with smudged eyeliner, pink leopard print pants, black boots and a motorcycle jacket.  Her cleavage is not subtle.  The first time I met her, Jane was quick to tell me that she was once featured live on MTV, getting her own artwork tattooed on her arm, “Can you imagine?!” she wheezed.  The second time we spoke, she mentioned that one of her paintings was displayed during a sex scene in a film starring Bradley Cooper.  I told her congratulations.  Afterwards, I went straight home to Google her.

Who was Jane “Bang Bang” really?  Well it turns out, the New York Daily News knew exactly who she was.  She was the crazed woman driving drunk through the Hamptons who refused to be put in handcuffs.  Apparently, when the police tried to reason with her, she drove away with the car door still open.  She was later quoted in court, saying “They’ll try to put you away for anything.”  She was also the woman who had gotten a lot of negative press for illegally renting out her rent-stabilized Tribeca loft on Airbnb, for 4 times the monthly price she pays for it.

So now you’re wondering (and so was I) what Miss Bang Bang was randomly doing in this screenwriting class.  Well, she, like Jack, felt that she needed to document her crazy life, her divorce in particular, and turn it into an Academy Award winning movie overnight.  I figured it would at least be wildly entertaining, so you can imagine how excited I was when I saw her first draft appear in my inbox a week later.   I eagerly opened it right in the middle of a conversation with my boyfriend, as if it was the first chocolate bar I’d gotten my hands on in years.

But Jane’s screenplay wasn’t a screenplay at all.  It was just a mess of words, jumbled together on a page, not necessarily in the right order, and definitely not in the right structure.  Very clearly autobiographical, she used her real name as the main character, and her ex husband’s real name as the antagonist.   I only know this because I Googled him too.  The “screenplay” told the story of their divorce, how the cops had taken his side in a volatile domestic dispute, and how their housekeeper had witnessed the entire thing play out.  If Jane had actually written in decipherable sentences, and had any sense of writing style, it might have actually been good.

Once we gathered in class the next day, Crow quickly prefaced the critiquing of her screenplay before she arrived (an hour late).  He said, “So I know Jane’s screenplay was a little…well…not a screenplay.  So if anyone has trouble giving her feedback, don’t worry, I’ll take the reins on this.”

When she did finally arrive, we all went around the room and did our best to give out as many compliments as possible about the autobiographical poem she had written.  Crow even graciously compared it to the 90s film, “Sleeping with the Enemy” with Julia Roberts.  Jane was of course thrilled and wide-eyed with every compliment we gave her.  When it came time to give her real feedback, we all tried to phrase “This isn’t a screenplay” in the nicest way possible.  After class, I overheard the bold Jane asking the teacher for his phone number, to which he replied, “No, no, I’m afraid I can’t give that out.”

And finally, I feel it is worth mentioning that I was lucky enough to witness Jane Bang Bang as Clarice Starling during a read-aloud from a graphic scene in Silence of the Lambs.  In short, this means I uncomfortably (yet curiously) listened to her say the words “I can smell your cunt” in a low throaty voice, since she so enthusiastically volunteered to play the part.   Now that line is engrained in my mind forever, along with an image of Jane’s toothy smile.  What a woman.

…And I’m only halfway through my classes, so you can imagine how many new adventures I’ll have had with the likes of Jack and Jane one month from now.  I equally cringe and grin at the thought.

2 responses to “Screenwriting for Dummies”

  1. Great blog. I’m looking, in the near future, to take some writing classes. My full time job currently limits my options, but I have a million ideas and no knowledge of how to structure things. Hopefully sooner than later. Reading you blog adds some knowledge of what to expect though LoL


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