DASHA'S QUESTION: What are some good resources for my teenage screenwriter?

Today’s reader email comes from Dasha, who writes in with a really interesting question:

“My 16 y.o. has some script ideas and I figure there are probably programs out there for teens (scholarships, workshops and etc) so any ideas on a direction to go??  I’ve looked around online before but so many things came up and I have no clue what’s legitimate.”

Well, Dasha—major kudos to your kid for having script ideas and trying to produce them… and double-kudos to you for trying to help him/her!  I genuinely applaud you for doing that… especially because I sometimes meet parents who do the exact opposite and try to squelch their kids’ creative impulses!  I’ve actually had parents (even parents I know well) ask me to try and talk their kids OUT of being writers, directors, artists, or filmmakers (on the grounds that it’s not “practical”)… which always leaves me angry/sad/bewildered.  

First of all… what kind of parent tries to SQUASH their kids’ creative impulses and desires?!  

Second of all, the real world often seems to do a good job of beating our creativity and dreams out of us on its own… do we really need our PARENTS to help it along?!  

Lastly, I think dreaming of being a screenwriter or a filmmaker IS practical—VERY practical!  Now, that doesn’t mean everyone can be the next Steven Spielberg or Shonda Rhimes.  But there are hundreds of people throughout L.A. and New York who make good middle-class livings producing TV, movies, music videos, online content, etc.  And if even THAT’s not “practical” enough, almost every mid-size city in America has TV stations and some form of production company.  They may not be making blockbuster movies like Watchmen or hit TV shows like NCIS, but they make commercials, industrial videos, online films, wedding videos, local TV and news programs, documentaries, you name it.  And the people writing, producing, and directing those projects are incredibly talented, trained, intelligent people who use their creative skills to make a living as filmmakers.  And even if THAT’S not the path for your son or daughter, there are still thousands of artists who simply make short films or videos as a hobby, a creative outlet, then submit them to festivals and contests, post them on the Internet, or simply show them to their friends and family for sheer enjoyment!

So I say to you, Dasha—on behalf of all the kids who have parents who AREN’T taking the time to help them research and realize their dream—THANK YOU.

Having said all that, here’s a list of books, organizations, and resources that will hopefully help you and your teenager.  I’m not sure where you are, and some of these are L.A.-centric, but if you contact them, they can probably steer you toward some helpful local programs…

Screenwriting for Teens: The 100 Principles of Screenwriting Every Budding Writer Must Know, by Christina Hamlett – I haven’t spent a lot of time with this book, but I’ve read bits and pieces… and it always seems fun, accessible, and very helpful.  Amazon lists two other books—Digital Filmmaking for Teens, by Pete Shaner and Gerald Everett Jones, and Filmmaking for Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts, by Troy Lanier—but I’ve never actually read them.  They may be terrific… I just don’t know… but Screenwriting for Teens, and probably these other as well, seem like good places to start.

There are also two good screenwriting magazines: Creative Screenwriting and Script.  These not only give solid, useful screenwriting tips and instruction, they feature interviews with and features about today’s top TV and film writers.  They’re not necessarily for kids, but they may be more helpful than some of the more traditional books (like Syd Field’s Screenplay) because they’ll offer your teenager many different perspectives.  And if any particular issue doesn’t pique his/her interest, he’ll get a new one in a month!

Another interesting resource may be the instructional videos from The Young Filmmakers Club, which teaches filmmaking techniques to kids.  I have to be honest: I’d never heard of this place until I Googled it for this blog post, but it certainly seems valuable from its website.  And for $9.99/DVD, it’s not a huge investment…

Several L.A. organizations also run kids’ screenwriting workshops.  Two of the more prominent ones include: the Scriptwriters Network’s High School Fellowship and The Writers Guild Foundation’s High School Screenwriting Workshops.  (In fact, even if you’re not in Los Angeles, the Writers Guild Foundation can probably steer you to some great programs or organizations in other places.  They’re really nice there—don’t be afraid to give them a call.)  Similarly, New York’s School of Cinema & Performing Arts has a summer film camp for teens.

I would also contact your state’s film commission office.  Every state has a film commission designed to promote the state for filming purposes, as well as to help oversee and assist any productions.  Most of these places are very knowledgeable… and if you explain what you’re kid is looking for, they’ll steer you to some valuable connections.  Click HERE for a contact list of state film commissions.

Most states also have local film festivals, and these often have kids’ programs or contests—like the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festivals’s Teen Filmmaking Challenge in Alabama.  Again, you can learn about these festivals, programs, and contests through your state’s film commission or with some quick Google searches.

Many colleges and universities now have their own film departments… or, at the very least, some good film production classes.  Even if your teenager isn’t ready for college, give them a call… the professors may be happy to let him/her audit the class.  Maybe they’d even allow him/her to function as an assistant, helping the class on shoots, in editing, etc.  (You may even be able to talk your kid’s high school into giving him internship credit.)  If you don’t have a nearby film school—or they won’t let your teenager participate—a good professor should still recommend some local resources.  To track down film schools, check out Television, Film, and Digital Media Programs: 556 Outstanding Programs at Top Colleges and Universities Across the Nation, a great book from The Princeton Review and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation.  You can also contact the University Film & Video Association or the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

There are several companies that offer excellent online writing classes and workshops.  They may not be geared specifically for teenagers, but I’m sure your son or daughter would still learn a lot, especially if he’s talented and serious about being a writer.  A couple of the best are mediabistro.com and the Gotham Writers Workshop, but if you sniff around, you’ll undoubtedly find others.

I also wouldn’t be afraid to consult your local yellow pages.  If you live near any moderately-sized city, there will be some kind of production company.  Like I said above, most cities have places that specialize in industrials, commercials, wedding videos, etc., and your child may be able to get a part-time job or internship… or even just hang out, observe, and learn.  And while these may places not seem to have the “Hollywood glamour” your teenager dreams about, he/she will still have an invaluable experience.  They’ll have chances to learn how to shoot, edit, work a boom, light, possibly even write.  And—perhaps most importantly—they’ll meet other people who share their interests and passions and can help them connect with other people or resources.  (Plus, they’ll have access to equipment… which means maybe—possibly—eventually—they’ll be able to use that equipment to shoot something they’ve written: a short, a scene, a skit, whatever.  It probably won’t be an Oscar-winning epic, but it’ll be a chance to experiment with actually MAKING something and seeing how words transfer to a screen.)

Of course, if NONE of these opportunities are within reach or pan out, check on Google, Yahoo, even Craig’s List for local writing groups or clubs.  You should also check filmmaker-centric sites like Film-maker.com, Moviemaker.com, Indietalk.com, etc.  Even if your teenager can’t find actual screenwriting groups, perhaps he/she can just find a straight writers group, where he/she can meet other people who love writing, telling stories, creating characters, etc.  Simply talking with these people, he/she will begin to grow as a young writer and artist.

And LASTLY– you’re teenager is ALWAYS welcome to a submit an idea to the Pitch Workshop here at “Script Notes,” where readers submit a sentence or short synopsis of their movie or TV idea and get friendly feedback from myself and the other readers.  It’s helpful, and you can click HERE to check out some of the other submissions.

Anyway, Dasha—I hope this helps… and perhaps some other readers will post their own suggestions.  I’m sure there are THOUSANDS of great resources I don’t know about or I’m not thinking of.

In the mean time, thanks again for helping your young writer find his/her voice… please keep reading… and don’t hesitate to write back with more questions or thoughts!

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