One cannot distinguish a profession from an education. Unless you have a burning passion inside to pursue a specific specialization, what good a course would bring to you? I have often observed it with my friends who went for Engineering after the board exams. They were very clear with what they wanted to study further, but absolutely confused about what they wanted to DO in life. When it comes to filmmaking, people are often confused what exactly is it that they wish to pursue. Irony is, they wouldn’t know unless they tried, would they?

What is Screenwriting

The answer lies in the question. It is writing for the screen, meaning for films, TV or in today’s age, Web as well. It is rather the newest form or medium of writing. Barely a hundred years old. Of course it derives a lot of principles from rather traditional forms of writing like, theatre, epic, novels etc. One of the primary differences between them and Screenwriting would be the method of consumption. A novel, a poem, an epic, an article, a blog and even a play at times, are all meant to be read. But Screenplay is just the beginning of a larger creative process. It is a text essentially written for a visual medium of story telling. The writer writes screenplay so that a whole team of people can collaborate on it  to make a film.

Hence a Screenwriting course is always a part of a Filmmaking school. If you do come across a course standing on it’s own claiming to teach you screenwriting, believe me, it’s just a charade.

Funnily, a specialized course of Screenwriting did not exist more than 15 years ago, in India. It has gone through a battle for then film writers to convince the filmmaking schools to have a separate course of Screenwriting. Soon they recognized the need and separated screenwriting from direction. About which we are going to talk in more details.

Can Screenwriting be taught?

Many people often ask, can writing be taught? Can an art be taught or are you born with it? Well, not long ago, people thought you could rule a land because you were born into the family of rulers. We know how that worked out in the end! So much for democratic views, yes, screenwriting can be taught. The question remains to whom and how?

The ‘Screenwriting’ academics

Most filmmaking colleges offer a foundation year or semester where you try your hands on everything before settling into a specialization. Filmmaking education consists of specializations like, direction, cinematography, editing, sound design, production design or art design, costume design, some colleges would offer, producing/production and en fin, Screenwriting! It is carefully weaved in with primarily understanding of cinema as an art, as a medium to tell stories and understanding the principles of writing evolved through the thousands of years of history of story telling. You have to understand what writing means and you have to understand what cinema means, then only can the two marry into Screenwriting.

What you should expect during the course?

  1. Watching lots and lots of films, dissecting them scene by scene and analyzing the story progression, character graphs, scene design etc. etc. etc.
  2. A bit of theory which introduces to the basics. The books colleges would refer to may vary. This part would also include a comprehensive study between other mediums of writing and screenwriting.
  3. And the most importantly, lots and lots of practicals, assignments. You can’t learn to write without actually writing. So from the first day you would be writing and re-writing and re-writing. That is the only way to perfect your skills. You will be mainly dealing with feature length scripts.

Required academic background to apply for Screenwriting

It’s less about the education qualification and more about the creative ones that one should posses in order to enter this course or later the profession.

Some colleges offer post graduate courses and some are daring enough to take on the fresh HSC pass outs. In my personal experience, this is the course that needs to be pursued only after certain experience of living life.After graduation, one develops a profound sense of things around them. You need that to have stories to tell. For that you need to have opinions and not just about cinema but about life.However philosophical it may sound, it true. If you lack compassion, a point of view to look at things around you, how will you be inspired by them to tell stories? Life is going to be your constant source of inspiration for stories and we mortals are trapped in a time and space continuum. So, as a writer it is upon you to gain enough experiences to have a life time of stories to tell.

A course will only perfect your skills, your craft and point you in a direction to the light. But it is ultimately you who has arrive at an island. Meaning, if you HAVE stories to tell, one can teach you how to tell stories. If you are interested in cinema but not so much in telling stories then I would say opt out of direction as well as writing.

Who can learn Screenwriting?

So who is this intensive, tiring, life consuming course for? To those who are inquisitive, curious, observant, those who have something to tell. And they think film is a medium to tell that. A story is always born with an inherent medium. Some are best at novels, some at plays and some at films. If you are the one who has an unsettling urge to express him or herself through the images and sound, then dive into a Screenwriting Course. Your life will change hence onwards.

The qualities a Screenwriter should possess

Patience is the virtue! ‘Writely’ said? Film writing essentially means rewriting. You might write a story in a spur of a moment, but what gives you the final shooting script is the pile of rejected drafts in between. So patience is the key. You have to be ready for critical reception of your scripts. Work satisfaction for a screenwriter comes when he/she has already moved on to another projects. You finish writing a film, the film goes in production, you move on. Two years later it releases when your mind is battling another ideas. You have to be ready to wait. So you also have to be considerate of ups and down of life. Not everything you write will be made or released. It is nothing about you, it is just how the whole filmmaking process is. It is so bloody inclusive that when you finally go to your premier night with a date to show off YOUR film, there will 300 other people doing the same, rightly so. Sharing is important, didn’t our mothers tell?But, hey, the fun part about screenwriting? You get to play God, not my words, a famous screenwriter once said this. You are the puppet master, a world creator, a killer, murderer at times. People fall in love because of you. You make a Gone Girl out of that love. So when the wait or the patience is taking a toll on you, remind yourself to be the ‘Brahma’!

This is exactly what is going to get you through the course. And the life as a screenwriter. My experience has been that not may people fell out of the course but now only half of my batch is actually working in the industry. Film making is a very very lengthy, tiresome process. 2 hours of moving images consume 2-3 years of life for the people involved in it. And this is the part where many give in.

Opportunities for a Screenwriter

India is the largest film making industry in the world. Need I say more?  People say it is hard to find the so called ‘break’. It might have been true 30 years ago. But with Television and Web, there is a constant under supply of good writers. With films, yes it is hard! Not to find work, but your scripts to be made into a films and then released. Some hits and misses are bound to happen. So all of you are considering this as a career, do not look down upon TV. Many film school pass outs tend to do that. No one is claiming that to be a creative catharsis. But the fact is if you wish to survive out of your home city, on your own, you need the greens.

Another interesting aspect many writers forget is, in TV you will get to see your on screen faster. It is a fast consuming medium, let it be. You will get in the discipline of writing. Writers don’t write everyday. And it eventually kills the writer in you. Remember, we are bound to be lazy creatures. Really. TV will give you that push you need in the beginning. Waiting for a film to happen vs TV, choose TV any day.

Good news for bi-lingual folks and those who have gone through low self-esteem phase in life for coming from a vernacular medium school! You have a real great chance of being a good writer compared to those who can only read or write English. Because though we are the largest English speaking country in the world, we DO NOT make films (read enough) in English. You ,yes, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu,Gujarati medium students, your chance to rise has come. As for the only English speaking people, you need to buck up on your native language/s unless you plan to shift to London or L.A.

The ‘Monetary’ world of a Screenwriter

If you are ready to work hard, there is always someone looking for you. It is a quite contact based industry, not in a bad sense. It means that people need to know you or your work. One CV is no good. But a film school will give you enough to start with. A film education always helps in having an upper hand over those who come straight to the sets to struggle. You are entering in a professional course. So basically, your job interview begins on your first day of college. Whether a somebody, a faculty, a mentor will help you find work after the course will depend entirely on how hardworking and sincere you are as a student. Initially you will find opportunities to assist senior writers or writer-directors. It is a good and safe start. TV will also be more warm to your than Films.

Some production houses hire ‘readers’ whose job is to read and evaluate the scripts sent to the houses. Some channels or production companies have team of fresh writers to brain storm on new ideas. They call it Writer’s room. Generally, they pick an idea from it and hire an experienced writer to write the film. These all are how you may find work right after passing out. Eventually you will write your own films and TV shows. Everyone is a professional in this industry not an employee of some company. That is not the aim at least. The creative people involved are all free lancers. So if working on your own or free lancing freaks you out, you might want to consider other options than filmmaking altogether. Media might be good in that case.

In the beginning you will earn enough to survive. Don’t count your savings right in the first year. Basic logic behind any remuneration in the film industry is, the more money your work brings to the producer, more is your payment. But even as a fresher, you will earn enough to survive in Mumbai with moderate life style. Later the ball is in your court. Harder you work, more releases, more serials you have to your credit, the payment goes on increasing. Web as a medium for fiction is quite new, and it entirely depends on the producer, how much he/she can afford to pay you.

On a conclusive note, film making, and especially, writing, is not a profession, it is who you are! It consumes your life in the most beautiful way. It’s a process of enlightenment. You have to be ready to give what it takes. It is not a profession that works 9-5. There are no weekends. If it there were no rules, people would have worked on public holidays as well. Filmmakers cannot survive without being part of filmmaking. A king is no kind without the kingdom. Or something like that right?

Consider this profession only if you are truly ready to give what it takes. Hence the industry also gets as incestuous as it could. It is a good thing and a bad thing. But the point here is, film is going to take over your life. You write films as your work, you watch films in your recreation, you think of films in your me time. And none of this is forceful. But also not all can handle this. This again where people start to give it. This is not a means of earning money. This is what you do with your life. And then make money out of it. There is no glamour when you are burning the night candle to meet a deadline.

How do you know whether you are fit for this course or a complete life? If you think, your life depends on it, at least figuratively, you would shine through!



Kalyani Pandit
(Graduate from Whistling Woods International, Mumbai. Have been working for Film and TV since then.)