| 03.21.2018

From the classroom to the screening room — UI offers course on the art of screenwriting


For film fans at the University of Idaho, Foundations of Screenwriting (THEA 441) is the first step to getting ideas down on the page for the next hit movie. 

The course, taught by Benjamin James from the Department Theater and Film, focuses on how to write a film screenplay, from basic story structure to studying screenplays from classic films like “Double Indemnity”, or “Casablanca”; or even recent films, such as “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Juno.”

“The university has been looking to develop more offering for film and media courses,” James said. “There was a screenwriting class developed by Rob Caisley–the resident playwriting guru in the theater department–but his focus is really (on) plays and so I was asked a while back if I was interested in doing this.”

The class of about 10 students–one of whom attends via conference call–writes up stories and screenplays and exchanges their work to read aloud and critique.

“I’ve always loved movies and I’ve always loved television,” said Cassie Scott, a student in the course. “I really wanted to be a part of bringing something to life on a screen and I figured a screenwriting class would be a great way to hone those skills.”

James said the class’s unique focus will hopefully allow potential screenwriters to get  a good start when it comes to becoming storytellers themselves.

“I think it gives you an initial introduction into the craft of screenwriting and it gives them a way to focus on the craft in a very specific way,” he said. “Then it’s about giving students the opportunity to workshop, experiment, try things out, get feedback, critique each other’s work, critique their own work, watch films and talk about them.”

James is also the leader of the Moscow Screenwriter’s Group, a non-curricular club that meets to discuss and workshop screenplays written by attendees. The group began last year and James said he hopes more writers will join the group and start up again later this month.

“(Moscow is) quite a small town and once word got around that I was teaching this class to students who can’t take the class yet–because this is a 400 level class–but also from people outside the university who have a love for movies, (I) set up a very informal screenwriter’s group to share a passion for screenwriting,” James said.

Scott said work shopping and reading screenplays aloud is a great benefit to her as a writer.

“When you’re writing something, you can feel like it’s good or bad and when you hear it read to you like it would be in a movie, it puts a whole new perspective on it,” she said. “If you think it was good and then think it was bad, or if you thought it was bad but it turns out to be good, (it’s) really helpful and really interesting.”

James said students won’t know for sure if screenwriting is something they want to do unless they have an opportunity to experience it.

“For me it’s about giving students that opportunity to see if this is something they’re really interested in,” James said. “It’s about helping them find their voice as a writer.”

Bradley Burgess can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu 

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