A 5-Step Guide to Patrolling the Screenwriting Underworlds

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Going into Sundance Institute’s Charlotte Screenwriters Intensive, I expected to receive general responsibilities and considerations of storytelling. Little did I know that advisor Joan Tewkesbury would take us on a journey through the center of the earth.

The Fellows first shared names and loglines like a pack of speed daters milling about the earth’s surface. Joan sat like an eagle perched on a cliff, ready to feast as it watched a family of rabbits bustling below. Today was a day of demystification and inspiration, to be discovered far under the surface of our scripts.

“Dig deeper,” Joan beckoned, captaining our voyage. Assuming some would likely perish and in an effort to survive, I decided to take these words literally.

Phase One: Crust

Physical Representations of Internal Processes

Trowels in hand, we stood ready to scratch our stories’ surfaces and discover tiny secrets to exploit. Instead, Joan showed a picture of a car symbolically facing us so as to either let us in or run us over. We created its owner, then shifted gears into physical items and events that defined us personally. A light shone on us as characters, and how we choose to construct and share stories.

Suddenly, the earth shook and parted. Joan was no tiller, but an Arctic Icebreaker, opening a portal to the center of the earth.

Phase Two: Upper Mantle

Entering Others’ Minds

Under the crust, solids began behaving like liquids. We wrote a biography of a lesser-known script character.

Even just under the surface, all things were now foreign and strategies were designed to break through our own entrenchments. Now criminals of the earth, we explored foreign lands like homes with new smells, now seeing signs of life below.

Phase Three: Lower Mantle

Exploring Mental & Emotional Currents

Traveling further, convection currents moved between solid and liquid. We located where conscious consideration and visceral reactions had a significant effect on us.

Pushing reason and emotion into close proximity, we drove deeper into the abyss.

Phase Four: Outer Core

Fusing an Internal Energy

In the core, heat built and turned into liquid. Combining our needs and desires into a diary entry, thoughts and dreams fused as we drifted steadily inward.

Phase Five: Inner Core

Life Blood Surfacing

The center of the earth was extremely dense, home to dormant frayed emotions. Combining main characters with personal memories, a rift suddenly opened. Seaming upward, Joan saw fear in our eyes, some weary of the bends from rising too quickly. This fear, she assured us, was just fuel.

Breaking through the earth’s crust, lava from our characters’ cores sprayed the “life blood” Joan had taken us in search of over the land, forming scalding rivers which cut through landscapes in extravagant, aggressive patterns.

Epilogue: New Life on Earth

Skin cooling, Joan echoed: “Don’t be afraid to own what you’ve written.” She meant more than to simply stand behind your written words. The true meaning involves the nature of writing, and that anything written at any point, no matter the circumstance, memory or emotion awakened, should be fully explored.

As a surviving member of a group who journeyed to the center of the earth, I am here to tell you its worth is in these chasms plumbed and explored, which is where the true depth of stories reside.

The Charlotte Screenwriters Intensive is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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