Kate Montgomery: Intro to Screenwriting – Take the Leap!

Katie Montgomery Screenwriting5 Tuesdays, January 17 – February 14, 7-9:30pm
$275 members/$295 non-members
Testimonials for Kate

“Let’s face it, you’re already in the film business—you’ve seen more movies than you can count. And if you’re reading this, then you’ve also thought about writing one yourself. The industry is rapidly expanding and there’s more demand now than ever before for good screenwriters. But where to begin? How do you make your investment in time and study pay off?”

In this beginners class, Kate will introduce you to screenwriting basics such as story structure, character development (including how to create a truly compelling protagonist), and how to be “sneaky” with exposition. “We’ll also look at three crucial elements that every screenplay contains,” says Kate, “questions, conflicts and turning points . . . and their timing.”

The class will be a mix of lecture/discussion, film clips, writing exercises, improv exercises and course materials you can keep to reference later. Kate provides a safe, encouraging environment where you can explore the screenwriting process, find your voice, and get yourself on the path to completing scripts that work.

“I began writing scripts while still working full-time in the corporate world,” says Kate. “I took the leap you’re now considering. I gave myself permission to learn the process, and then sat down and started writing the stories that I wanted to see on the screen. After all, if you hope to entertain anyone, you may as well start by entertaining yourself!”

Kate Montgomery wrote, directed and produced the Sundance indie feature Christmas in the Clouds, which won top honors at festivals in Austin and Santa Fe and endorsements from Oprah Winfrey & Roger Ebert when it released in theaters. She executive produced the micro-indie, Ever Since the World Ended, which won at the SF Indie Fest and the London Sci-Fi Film Festival. She has optioned & sold screenplays to producers and studios in the US, Canada and UK, and works for hire as a writing coach, script editor and production consultant. Her current projects include the romantic comedy Jack from Camp and the medieval series Plantagenet. She has taught screenwriting at the Weengushk Film Institute in Canada, where participants developed original stories from concept to camera-ready scripts.

Terrel Seltzer: Intro to Screenwriting – The Five Essentials

5 Sundays, May 14 – June 25 (skip May 21 & May 28), 7-9:30pm  Berkeley
$275 members/$295 non-members 

Testimonials for Terrel

The basic premise behind almost every successful feature film can be stated in one simple sentence: Someone we care about wants something badly and is having a terrible time getting it. “Pretty simple, right?” says Terrel Seltzer. “But how do you make a character sympathetic? How do you establish a compelling goal and desire (two important, related, but very different story elements)? How do you structure rising tension so that the Hollywood Reader keeps turning the page? That’s the art and the craft of screenwriting.”

The class will devote a week each to exploring five essentials of writing a screenplay:

  • Breaking Story: In the beginning, you have an idea. But you need to map it out by asking fundamental questions: Is it a comedy or a thriller? How do you beat out a dramatically consistent beginning, middle, and end? Does it work better as a stand-alone movie or as a pilot for a television series? The goal is a blueprint of your script.
  • Developing Character: A character we care about does one of two basic things: he changes (struggles through a personal transformational arc); or he dramatically changes the world around him. Some characters do both. Which kind of hero are you writing? And, key to figuring that out, we’ll ask: What is his or her fatal flaw?
  • Maintaining Conflict: A good story is a life and death story. That doesn’t mean someone has to literally die, but something important must be at stake. Even a comedy can be defined as “a man in trouble” — and trouble means conflict. We’ll explore the different kinds of conflict your hero must face, both external and internal.
  • Constructing Scenes and Sequences: Scenes are the building blocks of a script. But one trick of the trade is writing in sequences, which means thinking and writing in a series of scenes. We’ll explore how scenes make up sequences, and also the eight basic sequences a screenplay must have.
  • Writing Visually: Most new screenwriters concentrate on dialogue. But a screenplay is a story told in images, so you must learn to write the picture. We’ll discuss format, word choice, tone, the art of “vertical writing” — all techniques to make your screenplay a page-turning read.

I fundamentally believe that anyone wanting to write a screenplay needs to read screenplays. Therefore, I build my classes around a script assigned for each week (free online) which I then use to illustrate the basic principles we’re discussing. By the end of the session we have five screenplays to use as tools for learning the trade, and we sometimes watch movie clips to see the “page to screen” result. I organize my class as fun, informative, and low stress — meaning students are encouraged to bring in pages to share, but other than reading the suggested weekly script, there is no other homework assignment. The ultimate goal of the five weeks is to help my students understand the very unique, demanding, and beautiful form of the screenplay.

Terrel Seltzer is a self-taught screenwriter.  She learned the craft by watching and outlining literally hundreds of movies. Her career started in the Bay Area, working with SF director Wayne Wang, for whom she wrote the screenplays for the independent films Chan Is Missing and Dim Sum. In addition, she wrote the screenplays for How I Got Into College (Lara Flynn Boyle and Anthony Edwards), One Fine Day (Michele Pfeiffer and George Clooney) and The Rendezvous (Stana Katic and Raza Jaffrey). Little Beauties (Aya Cash) is scheduled for production in the fall of 2017. Terrel’s current writing assignment is a feature inspired by the book The Fall by Todd James Myers for Dragonfly Films.

Terrel Seltzer: Getting Past the Slush Pile – A Screenwriter’s Checklist

Terrel Seltzer 1 Saturday, September 24, 10am-4pm 
$130 members/$145 others
Testimonials for Terrel

“I swear, if have to read another script that begins with a hero waking up in the morning after a pan of the junk in his room, I’ll gag.” – quote from Hollywood Reader One.

“Uh-oh, is that the opening you just wrote for your script? What are the other ‘red flags’ that cause a Reader to toss a script by page 10? If character introductions are not done artfully, the odds of anything else in the script being great are slim.” – quote from Hollywood Reader Two.

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Screenwriting Seminar: Know your ending before you begin

Terrel Seltzer Saturday, Feb. 21st, 10 am-4 pm;  San Francisco
$95 members/$110 non-members


“There’s a deep DNA structure for a good movie idea,” says screenwriter Terrel Seltzer. “Someone we care about wants something badly (Act One), and is having a terrible time getting it (Act Two).”  So what about Act Three?  “It’s the answer to the question:  Will they get it… or not?” says Terrel, “and it’s crucial.  A story’s ending needs to stick in the mind.  It pretty much determines whether the audience likes the movie or not.”   On script level, it’s also decisive. An otherwise great script will likely be passed on if it doesn’t end well.  Luckily — and regardless of the type of story you’re telling —  there are common elements in a successful third act.

“A screenwriter needs to know the ending of the story before they start writing,” says Terrel.  “Every word in your script is building to the climatic battle scene.”  In this seminar, we’ll analyze the structure of a compelling third act by using writing exercises that help clarify the question/answer nature of good, dramatic screenwriting, and by discussing and watching movie endings that worked, and some that didn’t.   Students can prepare by watching films from this list:  Good Will Hunting, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Thelma and Louise, Fatal Attraction, Million Dollar Baby, Lost in Translation, Diner, Rain Man, Road to Perdition.

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Screenwriting Seminar – How to see, hear and WRITE visually

Terrel Seltzer Saturday, Feb. 21st, 10 am-4 pm;  San Francisco
$95 members/$110 non-members

“Most beginning screenwriters have trouble determining where the writing ends and the directing begins,” says Terrel Seltzer. “They “see” a scene in their head, but they don’t know how much detail to write down on paper, or leave out.  They usually end up with a pretty cluttered script.”

Screenwriting is the craft of writing visually and succinctly.  “It’s a very poetic form,” Terrel says, “much closer to writing a sonnet than a novel.  And rules apply.”  In this class, you’ll learn ways to think visually and then get the picture in your head down on paper. “We’ll analyze how a screenwriter breaks down a scene into pivotal beats, and then builds that scene with the interplay of description and dialogue. We’ll compare script pages to actual scenes in movies, and also use writing exercises to discuss ways to write vivid, concise description and dialogue.”

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Terrel Seltzer: Screenwriting, Webisodes & More

 I was in your Intro to Screenwriting class with Terrell Seltzer.  I wanted to provide some feedback.  I enjoyed the class very much. Terrell was so good and a wonderful teacher and resource. The six hours flew by. She is supportive, insightful, experienced and very intelligent. I could tell she was a good screenwriter.  I wanted to thank you for providing this opportunity to the community.  I really appreciate your school and what you are doing by bringing these talented people to come and teach.  Thank you for that!

And thanks again for having the Writing Salon. It’s a very special place!

Warm regards,

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