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Are You Experienced?

July 05, 1992

Regarding Stewart Lindh's June 21 letter warning of the low-common-denominator syndrome brought on by the proliferation of scriptwriting software.

I couldn't agree more. Encouraging new writers to burden themselves with complicated formatting and plotting programs before they've learned "FADE IN" is akin to presenting first-grade math students with calculators.

Still, "writing is rewriting," and once the first draft is done, formatting software can make life's little chores a breeze. Plotting programs, on the other hand, do nothing that textbooks can't do. They simply allow the student to read his structure lessons on his monitor instead of the printed page.

Where I differ with Lindh is in his implication that once scriptwriting format became widely taught, "all the would-be writer had to do was fill in the words."

That's like saying that once aviation schools became popular, all would-be pilots had to do was get in the cockpit and step on the gas.

In my own double life as a writer and director of admissions at Hollywood Scriptwriting Institute, I can attest that format is just the tip of the iceberg. The little matter of "filling in the words" is what most of us spend a lifetime learning. The screenwriter spends just as much time learning style and story structure as the novelist, if he wishes to be a good screenwriter.

Lindh contends that young writers should be out getting experience instead of writing paint-by-numbers screenplays (or novels, or short stories, for that matter). I do hope they will take his or someone else's English course before beginning, but a life on the high seas or in the prize ring isn't necessary before a tenacious, literate individual with a good imagination can write. One learns to write, after all, by writing--not by driving sled dogs in the Yukon.

This generation grew up in the nation's multiplexes. Their art will affect more people more rapidly than any other's. Many of them will write movies. Some, with the help of schools like ours and Lindh's, will write films that will affect their contemporaries' lives forever.

And they won't do it by the numbers.



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