Not Necessarily Natural?

I read this statement in the details for a notable script development course:

“Development cannot and does not aspire to replace writing talent, however screenwriting has very specific craft techniques that can be learnt and that aren’t necessarily natural to the writing process.”

Odd. Very odd. On so many levels.

I had to read it again. “Development cannot and does not aspire to replace writing talent” – this is a startlingly defensive remark, answering an imagined or half-recalled accusation. It seems whoever put this course together sensed that what they were about to propose might be construed as antagonistic to writing talent.

What are they proposing? Well, techniques (“craft techniques,” to be exact, although the only reason for compounding the noun that I can see is to invoke the art/craft distinction.) Nothing that hasn’t already been presented in a screenwriting manual in some form, somewhere. These techniques, like all techniques, can be learnt.

What’s wrong with that? What’s the problem? What – to use a development phrase – is at stake here?

The last clause gives us a clue: these craft techniques “aren’t necessarily natural to the writing process”. In other words, the writer won’t necessarily, or naturally, apply these techniques, and as screenwriting requires these “very specific” techniques, they must be supplied by a third party: that’s to say, the script developer.

Script developers are marking out a territory here and this territory, in other disciplines, typically belongs to the author. It’s a land grab, if you like. They claim there are techniques essential to the craft of screenwriting that can be learnt, and mastered, without having to suffer the agonies, and ecstasies, of the creative process. In fact, they’re implying you might go through all that and not acquire these techniques at all. Fortunately, the script developers are here to help. At a price.

Damn, that is antagonistic. I can see why they were being defensive.

But this isn’t what bothers me. (Script developers can often give insightful feedback, particularly on a one-to-one face-to-face basis. You can keep your pro-forma reports, thanks.)

No, it’s this concept of the writing process as somehow detached from the end product – as if you could write without knowing what kind of thing (film, novel, poem) you were writing – and this idea that the cinematic form is somehow peculiar, as if the novel or the play or the poem didn’t each have their own conventions and grammars which might not “necessarily” be natural to the writing process, as they put it.

Isn’t it axiomatic that any form requires specific ‘techniques’? So why would screenwriting require ‘techniques’ any more than, say, drama? And how could these techniques be external to the writing process? (One of the ironies of here is that so many of these so-called ‘techniques’ of screenwriting are derived not from cinema but from Aristotle’s Poetics, a scientific study of Ancient Greek drama, with an emphasis on the tragedies.)

Sounds like nonsense to me.

Either their concept of the writing process, or their concept of cinematic form, or both, are inadequate, that’s to say, limited, or too “specific,” which wouldn’t surprise me as these are the same people who concocted the ‘Anglo-American Tradition‘ of screenwriting and chopped the world of cinema in half. Nice one.


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