Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Screenwriter

A glimpse of what a screenwriter in the film industry does exactly

by Rey Galvan (Staff Writer) – 5/17/16

Michael Givens poses while creating more work.
Michael Givens poses while creating more work.

Michael Givens is an aspiring screenwriter with big hopes of his work making it on screen.  Only a few know what a typical screenwriter has to do or what they go through to get to their job. Givens provided a brief but important detailed behind the scenes look at what it takes to be a creative mind in Hollywood and the big screen while also sharing some of his own struggles in the film industry.

Givens admitted that there is not one clear path to take when becoming a screenwriter, but his started when he attended University of Las Vegas, Nevada. His first two years of college there, he took his required undergraduate classes as well as film classes. The film classes were fine except for one problem: the classes didn’t exactly give him the right film education, “They lectured about wrong directors of films, wrong years that were pivotal in film, and confusing aspects of certain genres (types) of films.  I freaked out.  I knew I had to get out of there and go somewhere where professors knew more than I did.”

During his sophomore year of college, he applied to different universities with outstanding film departments, such as UCLA, USC, NYU, and many others. A few months later, he got his one way ticket to UCLA. One of the best pieces of advice he provides to students everywhere to apply to any college they want that will help them. “One of the best days of my life was getting my acceptance letter to UCLA.  You must apply to colleges you want, no matter how out-of-reach they may seem.  All freshman seats at major colleges are going to be filled by somebody — and maybe that somebody is you!  Apply.  Apply.  Apply.”

For future reference to any student, Givens shares that “all film students at UCLA graduate with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA) degree with an emphasis in MP/TV (Motion Picture/Television).”

Givens states that a screenwriter’s job is very different than anyone working on a novel or any type of writer. “A screenwriter’s job, simply put, is to tell a visual story as effectively and emotional as possible on paper.” Givens’ type of work is called “on spec,” which he explains as “Many times I work on spec, which is to say I work on speculation — a story with my own thoughts.  I come up with my own idea, write my own character and situations, and no one tells me what to do, which is nice.  The danger is that what I write might not interest a studio or TV network and the script doesn’t sell.  But all writers know that even the scripts that do not sell were important steps to further yourself as a writer.  Many times a spec script simply shows a studio what you are capable of, and based on the power of that screenplay, you might get the job to write the next Star Wars or Jurassic Park.”

Ideally, he needs to pitch something so he can get hired as the screenwriter of a film or project, it includes, “Pitching is a very different skill set than being a writer.  Many writers look at it as a necessary evil, while others find the process fun because you get face time with top producers and studio executives.  As a writer your job is very internal.  You need alone time to work the story and characters out in your head.  But in a pitch it’s just the opposite.  You need to have personality, know how to work the room, know your entire story well enough to compress it into a tight verbal presentation of not be more than 15-20 minutes, and you need to be able to sell your idea to someone without a tangible project.”

Screenwriters aren’t involved too much on set. The reason being that their script is the only thing that they need to do as well as making some quick edits if they find it necessary. As Givens explains, “A screenplay is like the blueprint for a house.  Construction of a house can’t begin until the architect’s blueprint is totally locked in.”

When asked what it takes to be a screenwriter, Givens answered with two words, “Imagination and dedication.” At first you might not be great, but it takes time. “You learn by doing.  Like any craft, the more you write, the better you will become.”

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