Friday, January 26, 2007

My MA: almost all over [except the writing]

Yesterday I submitted my final piece of assessed work for trimester 1 in year 2 of my part-time MA Screenwriting course. The college experience is going to be over before I know. We've got one trimester of classes left, comprising an academic research module and another script development workshop module. Once those are complete, we spend the third trimester at home writing our final project.

To be honest, I've no idea yet what my final project will be. Since I'm already writing an original TV pilot as part of the mentoring scheme I'm on, logic would suggest it's more sensible to write the screenplay for a 90-minute film of my own devising. But first I've got to find a story worth telling to that length, something that will grip and excite and enthuse me all summer.

The essay I submitted yesterday was for the module entitled From Script to Screen. Unlike the more obviously vocational script development workshop, this module was academic in its inclinations. Among the requirements for this essay was extensive research, demonstrating by citing at least a dozen sources of which no more than half could be taken from the internet or trade papers. The majority of our sources had to be books and journals, all correctly cited and noted.

In the essay we had to chose a film made before 1980 and discuss: how we would remake it now; considering such factors as genre and style; not to mention the original's meaning in its historical, social, political and cultural contexts; analyse our remake's meaning for a contemporary audience and discuss the justifications of our choices; plus a consideration of possible conditions imposed on the putative project by funders, distributors and markets - all in 3000 words. I think I ticked most of those boxes, and my sources were all present and correct.

I choose an obscure New Zealand film from 1977 called Sleeping Dogs for my theoretical remake. This proved a rod for my own back when it came to sourcing relevant, cogent research material. Luckily I went to the BFI reading room in London last month and gouged the archives for facts and opinions. But my valuable single source was The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King, a book I bought on a whim at the airport during my last visit home. Without the late, great writer and historian's insights, my essay would have been a big old flailing mess of stuff.

In other news, I got feedback and the grade for my efforts in the other trimester 1 module for second year part-timers, Script Development 2a. We were required to write a script for either an academy-length film [around 25 minutes], the pilot for a TV series of our own devising, or an original screenplay. I opted for the 25-minute script, writing a screenplay called Danny's Toys. I was happy with my efforts and those marking the script seemed to agree with me.

Screen Academy Scotland is part of Edinburgh's Napier University, where grades come in three categories - F for fail, P for pass and D for distinction. Each of these categories comes in five sub-categories: 1 for those at the bottom of the category; and 5 for those at the top. In my first year I managed to get a distinction grade in all four of the required modules - though my D1 in The Business of Screen Project Development was a close shave, by all accounts.

For the interim assignments on both of my year 2, trimester 1 modules, I got D1 grades. Getting that for my sequence analysis essay was a pleasant surprise, but I was underwhelmed at receiving a D1 for my Danny's Toys outline. As a consequence, I put a lot of care and effort into my screenplay for Danny's Toys. The result? A wonderfully pleasing D3. Result!

I've always envisaged Danny's Toys as an animated or stop motion project, ideally directed by somebody like Tim Burton. Obviously, that'll never happen, but keeping that mental image and visual style in my head helped sustain the writing. It's the same with characters: I like to cast actors in key roles for my novels and scripts, it helps me hear the character's voice, enabling me to get a better grip on them.

Having finished my last piece of work for trimester 1, I've now got a week off college before we go back on February 9th to start our final trimester of Friday sessions. Hard to believe it's almost all over, bar the writing.


Pillock said...

Cool. Well done.

Laura Anderson said...

gosh, yes, well done! I can't say I'm aiming so high - a pass will suit me.

I can't believe you've had your scripts back and marked already! We poor wee first years are still waiting...