by Susan Ellis
ou know that screenplay you wrote that's now sitting in a drawer? You think it could be the next big thing, or at least that's what your mother told you. Well, you shouldn't take her word for it.
On March 7th and 8th, you'll have the rare opportunity to show your wares to bona fide screenplay expert. That's when Richard Walter, UCLA screenwriting chairman, will be bringing his "Screenwriting: The Whole Picture" workshop to Memphis. Walter, who's written for all the major studios and networks, has taught for 20 years. His students include the writers of such features as Jumanji, Outbreak, The River's Edge, and many, many more.
During the two-day workshop, Walter promises to reveal the very basic but extremely key elements for becoming a successful writer through a sort of homing-in approach. "We start on Friday night far away, looking at the overall shape of the movie." he says. "Imagine if the movie isn't a movie but a painting in a gallery. You can look at the whole picture across the gallery and see its whole shape. Then you move right up to it and examine the individual brushstrokes and see the way the artist got this effect and that effect and so on. That's why I call [the workshop] The Whole Picture."
There are, according to Walter, five things you need to know about screenwriting. Though he's more than vague about what they are (you've got to pay to find out), the first two, he says, are the secret to success. "It's extremely easy to understand what you have to do in Hollywood to succeed," he says. "You just have to do two things, and I'm going to describe what they are in the seminar. The question is, why doesn't everybody do it? The answer is, it's hard to do." The remaining three are principles Walter uses in his classes at UCLA.
Also on Friday night, Walter will present the beginning of a plot and then ask the workshop participants to mull it over and return the next day with their own conclusions, which will then be analyzed. After this, fledging screenwriters, who've been preselected, will submit the first pages of their work for group scrutiny. And, finally, a sure hook for signing up, Walter will read and later respond to all of the screenplays given to him at the workshop at no extra cost. "If I think a screenplay is ready to recommend to an agent or production company -- and not too many are -- I'll just get on the horn and call them," says Walter. "Remember, it makes me look good if I can recommend a screenplay."
Walter says that stamina, perseverance, and tolerance are the greatest qualities a writer can have. "If you want to traffic in your own daydreams, it is a lot of work," he says. "But what could be more glorious than to literally sell your own dreams?"
The workshop is being co-sponsored by the Memphis chapter of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, the University of Memphis Screenwriting Association, the University of Memphis Department of Continuing Education, and the Memphis & Shelby County Film, Tape, and Music Commission. It runs from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, March 7th and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 8th. Fees are $299 or $249 for full-time students, senior citizens, and TSA members. Call 759-0452 for more information.