There is really so much to say, but it seems to me the first job of any writing teacher is to get the baby bird out of the nest. To create a space where the student’s closely-held idea can take flight.
Students will often ask us which of their ideas they should write. The question is diagnostic. It means the student is pondering the intersection of their own taste and what is viable in the business. The student may be delaying other life decisions, such as where to live. It’s a thorny problem. Gradually, the student understands that we can only make the work we hope to see in the world. You always wind up back at your own taste, trying to make the thing that moves you.
In workshop we always start with what to keep, what’s working. Writers need that—not just because it’s fortifying, but because we don’t want to accidentally discard what’s working.
We gather materials for the story. Then we move pretty quickly to structure. You don’t want to get halfway across the ocean before discovering a leak in the vessel. Most writers go back and forth between structuring and writing. Some can uncover more in the pages than they can in the outline. But everything funnels back into the structure: that glittering suspension bridge you are building between the beginning and the end.
The workshop is a community. We start by explicitly talking about the kind of community we want, the ways we will have dialogue across difference. We identify the goals and then we move toward them as a team. I think of it as the training group that gets you ready for the 10k.
I teach with a lot of clips, because I don’t want us to forget where this is all going—we are ultimately making a film or a series, not a novel. I teach with many excerpts from great scripts, because it’s important to not only be reading student work. I bring in actors for table-reads, because they make the best field-testers, and ask the smartest questions.
A question we ask a lot in our work is, “As we both read this script, is the movie I’m watching in my head the same movie you’re watching?” The goal of any writing is communication. The ideal of any writing is a kind of transparency, where the reader disappears so far into the writing that it seems that the story tells itself.
No one teacher can be the best mentor for all students. The answer is many teachers, many mentors. This means building bridges to experienced filmmakers who have the gift of teaching, who engage in a meaningful way with student work. Every time I bring a co-teacher to the class students hear from another voice, see another example of what a life in filmmaking can be.
In the era of so many excellent online film webinars, we must articulate why it is that our students should invest in a graduate degree, and what they will gain. The answer can only be that we provide something that one-off experiences do not. We nurture the artists’ talent, equip them with the habits necessary for a meaningful and productive artist’s life. Here they build cohorts that will band together and face the world. Here we think deeply about an integrated curriculum, about access to the right mentors. And here we also prepare them to teach themselves all the many things they will have to learn in the future.
– Joy Goodwin