A Screenwriter's Starter Kit to Finding Your Voice

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Reinaldo Marcus Green's "Stop"

"My hand hurts” doesn't apply here at the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive two-day workshop in Los Angeles — specifically Joan Tewkesbury’s Screenwriting Workshop "Designed Obstacles, Spontaneous Response." I came to the sad reality that I hadn't used pen and paper in close to six months, including signing my own name, which is all done electronically now — I type or text everything. This workshop was not about technology or form, it was about detaching from all of it, in search for the deepest meaning of ourselves.

We were a group of 10 filmmakers from different parts of the country, all gathered together for a common purpose – to workshop our scripts. I felt very lucky to be a part of such an amazingly talented group of filmmakers with such a broad range of diverse projects across all genres. It was fascinating to see where our scripts fit in the larger spectrum — what I realized is that each and every filmmaker at the lab was an outlier. Each writer had a singular voice, a unique take on genre, character, story, and structure.

DAY 1: “Come in from the side"

We started the day with a writing prompt, "Who Owns the Car?" We all looked at a photograph and subsequently had to create bullet point bios for the character we thought “owned the car” (just the facts!). Throughout the day, there were a series of writing prompts all designed to “drive you into yourself.”

In bullet point form, here are some gems I stole from Joan.

  1. “Be specific.”
  2. “Have a personal connection with the material.”
  3. “It’s not about ego.”
  4. “Sometimes going after the grandmother is a way into character.”
  5. “Come in sideways.”
  6. “It’s not about the wallpaper.”
  7. “So what if it’s random, so is life.”
  8. “Listen carefully.”
  9. “Be very secure in who your characters are.”
  10. “It’s not fun if it’s boring.”
  11. “Don’t skimp, if you want to do what you do well, you have to have the best.”
  12. “It’s a movie, not the bible, or the truth.”

Joan Tewkesbury, a true master of her craft, went right to the core of who we are as human beings, ultimately arriving at who and what our scripts are all about, and what they have the potential to become. I think I speak for all of the filmmakers when I say Joan helped provide us with a set of tools to “access” our inner child, be playful, and to keep digging.

DAY 2: "Raising the Stakes"

On Day 2 I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Peter Sollett and Tanya Hamilton — it was truly a special treat for me. I had been a big fan of their work before meeting them both. We talked a lot about character, world, and theme. Tanya and Peter both offered ideas for “problem solving” — helping me hone in on areas in the script that could be refined and strengthened. It’s evident in their own work how much they care about the craft, and both offered truly thoughtful insight and perspective into how each scene in my script could advance the story — “it’s all in the details.”

What I took most from my time at the Intensive, is that we’re not alone. We all have demons that we’re fighting or trying to suppress, and it’s ok. I think the key is to just keep writing. It’s important not to get bogged down in semantics, and to move beyond the fear and paralysis that we create for ourselves. It’s time to problem solve, lock ourselves in our respective rooms, and just write.

I want to take a moment to say a special thank you to the advisors at the Sundance Institute for opening their doors and hearts to us, and for allowing us to be a part of the process.

About the Author

New York native Reinaldo Marcus Green is a writer, director, and producer. He is currently a thesis student at NYU Tisch Graduate Film School and writing his first feature narrative, Monsters and Men. Most recently, he was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film (2015). His latest short film Stop, which he wrote, produced, and directed, premiered as an official selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. His previous short film, Stone Cars, shot on a micro-budget in South Africa, had its international premiere as an official Cinéfondation selection at the Festival de Cannes 2014.


Lead photo:

Reinaldo Marcus Green's "Stop"