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Screenwriting OER Project Plan

Jason Schafer

Screenwriting (HUC238/ENG238) OER Project Summary/Plan

I came into this workshop with a vague/limited/general understanding of OER.

I was in search of a course text that would unify the various aspects of my Screenwriting course, which combines creative expression, professional formatting, and storytelling concepts first articulated by Aristotle that have evolved over the centuries and have been modified to take advantage of the cinematic form. Screenwriting requires an understanding of character, dialog, scene writing, narrative structure, visual communication, and theme. Textbooks in the discipline tend to cover these elements separately. However, effective screenplays accomplish many things at once, working on several levels simultaneously. My goal was to integrate many areas of learning.

My initial idea was to use a screenplay for an existing film that could be annotated and dissected through the lens of each concept.

I thought this would be useful because most students of beginning screenwriting have not read a screenplay. This isn’t surprising as screenplays are working documents. They are intended for casts, crews, investors, and studio executives, not the reading public. But, in order to write a screenplay, students must understand the format and be comfortable with how a movie looks on the page. Students would learn by reading and analyzing a given script, which they could compare to the finished film.

First I needed to find a screenplay that is or can be made available for an existing film. I also needed the script/film to provide sufficiently clear examples of narrative structure/characterization/use of dialog/scene writing/visual communication/theme/and other storytelling devices such as economy, pacing, and setups and payoffs. Scripts that provide alternative examples, or are too subtle are not useful ways to introduce/present the material.

I soon discovered that there is very little related to this discipline currently available as OER content. I found two single assignments that I found insufficient for my needs.

This is not to say there aren’t already online plenty of worthy scripts, podcasts, learning videos, blog posts, and essays related to storytelling, screenwriting, and filmmaking that would do well as course materials. There are a wealth of great materials. Unfortunately, none of these have clear licensing.

I spoke to an entertainment attorney about the practicalities of getting permission to make these materials available as OER. He was discouraging. One problem with this approach is the lack of availability of any screenplay within the Creative Commons. Any screenplay that is made into a film, particularly a film produced for commercial exploitation, is owned by the producing entity, with some rights retained, perhaps, by other entities. Producing entities are generally large corporations that will receive no benefit making these rights available for academic purposes. That said, several major screenwriters such as Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Charlie Kaufman have elected to make the screenplays of their films available for academic purposes. However, although they may be designated as such, this has little meaning in terms of Creative Commons and OER.

When searching for materials with a Creative Commons license, I did find a course plan for a beginning screenwriting course at Brooklyn College. It had links to reading materials and videos. Unfortunately, although the course plan was marked as Creative Commons, all (or virtually all) of the links had no such designation.

The screenplay I originally selected, The Karate Kid by Robert Mark Kamen, is well formatted, and is a model of industry best-practices in many areas such as narrative structure, subplot, visual writing, formatting, etc. Unfortunately, although it offers what was considered a breakthrough representation of an Asian character in 1984, and although some Japanese film scholars praise many aspects about the portrayal of Mr. Miyagi, some contemporary scholars are critical of the film’s depiction of Asian culture. While this is an effective way to bring up the topic of representation in film with Screenwriting classes, The Karate Kid may not be the best example with so many other films/screenplays available, even if they are not available as OER.

During my years as a Screenwriting professor, I have already created many assignments, worksheets, and reading materials tailored to my particular class needs. Given that there is an undeniable opportunity for someone to write/create/assemble Screenwriting OER, I might be of value to consider releasing these materials under a Creative Commons license as I continue to compile materials to enhance the current design of my course.