If your head is brimming with imagination and is craving to tell stories that could be translated on-screen, then scriptwriting is an ideal career, to dole out that creative writer in you. Prachi Rege scripts the scope.
Almost every serious film fan has at one time or another dreamt about writing a screenplay and seeing his words and ideas come to life on television and movie screens around the world. Lured by the power of the big screen, and by stories of all the fame, success, awards and big money that other screenwriters have achieved, these fans get seduced by the fantasy of cinema.
With elite filmakers/writers like Vishal Bhardwaj, Vikramaditya Motwane and Rajkumar Hirani, how does one break into this world of imagination? A few months ago, filmmaker Anuraag Kashyap, tweeted that he was "bored of writing” and now wanted to direct scripts written by young writers. Statements like these give hope to fruitful writers. Apart from star filmmakers being open to direct film by young writers, emerging trends like an increase in the number of documentary and independent films, and the setting up of development departments by production houses like Yash Raj Films, have given rise to demand for good script writers.
On the television front a scriptwriter's job is now divided into three categories—story writer, screenplay writer and dialogue writer. "Earlier there were weekly shows for which only one writer was sufficient. Today, in the era of daily soaps and seasonal series, the job roles have increased and divided into three parts," says Gajra Kottary, scriptwriter of popular TV soaps like Ballika Vadhu. A decent remuneration is also what all these three job profiles can look forward to. "A team of three writers (mentioned above) for a daily episode can get anywhere in the range of Rs 75,000 to 80,000 divided between them," she adds.
Experts are of the opinion that the demand for script writers has always been there and will never go down. "This industry values talent and work hard. It is a unique advantage writers have. Even in the worst scenarios, all they need is to create something wonderful on paper and not wait for contacts, resources, or direction to do that," explains Satyanshu Singh, professor, Actor Prepares. As compared to a technician, a director, or an actor, it is easier for a writer to convince others of his/ her work. Having said this, the job of screenwriting in itself is tough and very few are able to make a mark. "In the TV world everything revolves around TRPs. If a series doesn't show good numbers, the first person to get the axe is the writing team," mentions Kottary.
Writing is primarily considered a creative art and an innate skill either acquired or honed through self learning and practice. However, education institutes offer certificate, diploma and degree programmes for the same (see box). "These days there is a dearth of good narratives in the industry; hence we have started a diploma course. The intention is to encourage fresh ideas and have a more focused approach towards developing original thought in scriptwriting," says Singh. Spread over a period of four months, this Diploma in scriptwriting, by Actor Prepares, is structured to train aspiring scriptwriters in the fundamentals of story and script writing. "The programme starts from scratch with the seed of an idea, right up to completing a professional script in accordance with industry standards. The students are trained in ideation, three act structure, developing character, plotting and scene structure," adds Singh.
Teaching to script
Is teaching script writing easy or difficult? Singh quips, "Thank God, the question is not about whether it is possible to teach scriptwriting because there are many who believe that writing cannot be taught." According to him, "If you love the subject, if you love cinema, if you are flexible and pragmatic, and if you understand the emotional journey a writer goes through while working on his/her material, it can be easy for you to teach and learn scripting."
Celebrated scriptwriter Devika Bhagat, who has earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Film and Television Production from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, believes that training familiarises you with the technical process of filmmaking. "I believe everyone has a story to tell. Formal education in scripting broadens your horizon in terms of developing scripts that can be easily translated on screen," says the scriptwriter of films like Manorama Six Feet Under and Bachna Ae Haseeno.
However, not all scriptwriters hold up with the concept of teaching script writing. According to Kottary, "It is 60 per cent imagination and 40 per cent training. One needs to have the ability to connect with their surroundings and also be a thinker." Kottary, a journalist who used to work with a reputed newspaper back in the 90s, got into scripting during her maternity break. "I realised I loved to write and telling stories was my skill," says the writer who published her first book of short stories in 1996. While working with a video magazine agency, she managed to hand over her debut book to filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, thus starting her full-time script writing journey. "Having your writing read by other people is essential. So make sure that you begin with assisting a senior writer," she advises.
Bhagat wants aspiring scriptwriters to get in the habit of writing at least something every morning. "It could be a paragraph, a poem, an essay or even two lines of a thought that just crossed your mind. Read books from across genres and literature of different languages, it adds to the expansion of one's thought process," she explains. Singh opines, "Persistence and discipline are important qualities of a screenwriter. The knowledge of the craft and the experience of actually doing it is important."
A writer should live life well, travel and look around at the world with curiosity and fascination. This will help the writer develop a voice, a world-view; so that he/she has something to say that the world would be interested in watching. Lastly, for survival in this competitive market, one needs courage and flexibility, "it is a difficult job and you would perish if you are not thick-skinned and adapting," he signs off.
1) Mumbai Film Academy
2) Digital Academy-The Film School
3) RK Films & Media Academy, New Delhi
4) Institute for Creative Excellence, Koramangala, Bangalore