Best way to improve your screenwriting in 2012

by on October 25, 2011

in Australian film industry, Screenwriting tips, Story structure

AFTRS logo

If you’re a fan of the Cracking Yarns blog and are committed to becoming a screenwriter, you need to apply for the new AFTRS Grad Cert Screenwriting Fundamentals by Nov 1.

Why you need to do the Grad Cert Screenwriting Fundamentals

If you want to improve your screenwriting, text books and McKee lectures will only take you so far. You need to be constantly writing and getting feedback on that writing from internationally experienced tutors. The best place for intermediate level screenwriting students to be in 2012 is the now even more fabulous AFTRS Graduate Certificate Screenwriting Fundamentals (formerly the Grad Cert Screenwriting). Of course, my opinion is not entirely disinterested. I lead this program.

But you’ll need to be quick – you have to submit your Application tasks by Nov 1 (apologies for the late notice – I’ve been too busy with the 2011 Grad Cert Students.)

Learn more about the AFTRS Grad Cert Screenwriting Fundamentals

What they said about the Grad Cert 2011

Here’s what the students in the AFTRS Grad Cert Screenwriting 2011 said about the program:

“You should do the Grad Cert because …

“… it gives you a whole year of access to one of Australia’s greatest filmmaking resources: Allen Palmer. If your goal is to tell a great cinematic story, I’ve encountered no one in this country with a better and deeper understanding of story than Allen. He’ll challenge you, confront you, guide you. He won’t let you get away with superficiality, laziness or things that ‘sort-of’ work. He cares about story too much to let anyone out of his course without doing all he can to make you a world-class storyteller. If you fully commit yourself to this course, you’ll leave it more passionate about writing than you’ve ever been in your life. It will leave you with a great set of tools for breaking stories, testing them, refining them and pitching them. You’ll start off by realising how little you know and leave it amazed at much you’ve learned.”

“I wasted many years telling myself that writing of any sort (screen or otherwise) couldn’t be taught or learnt, that story was intuitive, that the tenets of filmmaking — as enunciated in texts and classrooms — were useful only to the most superficial extent. I finally accepted that I was making excuses, so I enrolled in the screenwriting Graduate Certificate. I count it amongst the best decisions of my life.

Allen is that very rare kind of teacher who can galvanise a classroom, who affects students far beyond the school walls or course calendar. He inspires, challenges, provokes students to be better. Always better. Most importantly for me, he taught me early on that the principles of storytelling for screen are not cliches. Rather, they are the very tools that can help you avoid them. I usually arrived at his classes tired and washed out after a day at work, but left invigorated and excited about stories I wanted to tell.”

“… it’s serious bang for your buck – 16 weeks of intense (ed: now 32 weeks) of dedicated and highly personalised mentoring by the most passionate and knowledgable teachers I have encountered in 12 years of professional artistic practice.”

” … you’ll be humbled, challenged and inspired by all that you learn.”

“… it is taught with the passion and conviction of teachers who know what they are talking about, teachers who have a level of integrity and will do whatever they can to help you elevate your writing craft and see you succeed.”

“The most valuable thing I learnt in the Grad Cert was …

“… Structure. It is without a doubt the hardest thing to come to grips with, however after the course, finding a structure for your script becomes an enjoyable process. Allen’s able to take an established form and present it in a new and flexible light that works and most importantly, encourages your story.”

“… that I can now say with confidence that I am the best judge of my own work (and I most definitely was not before). Intuition for story is not inborn- it’s learned through intensive practice and guided application. Now, I can go forward with the skills to identify the strengths and weaknesses of my projects and address them myself, instead of wasting years, I believe, pushing interest in underdeveloped work.”

“The art of the squeeze/release; clear external goals that demand an internal journey; ego vs essence; want vs need; making characters work really really hard; practical tools for generating dramatic CONFLICT; how to design story structure that delivers emotional catharsis for the audience right when they need it.”

“The best module in the Grad Cert was …

“… the Scene Writing module – exploring fundamental dramatic principles at a microcosmic level before applying them at macrocosmic level, hearings scenes read-out, being present for insightful feedback for every other student in the class.”

“The best class/exercise in the Grad Cert was …

“… The Hero’s Journey lectures and the consistent practical application of this story paradigm across all the modules reinforced its cinematic power.”

How we improved the AFTRS Grad Cert Screenwriting for 2012

Here are the changes we’ve made to the program for 2012 and why:

• Change of duration: 1 semester to 2 semesters
Why: To allow students to focus on learning dramatic/cinematic storytelling in semester 1 and applying those principles on a long form project in semester 2. It’s very hard to engage the right brain while the left brain is being bombarded with theory. Students now have more time and a better environment in which to develop a strong film or TV story.

Change of start date: Now starts Feb 20, 2012
Why: To accommodate 2 semesters. But also to reduce time between application and course start date. Previously you applied in Nov and didn’t start until the following July.

Reduction in weekends (now only one weekend and 2 Saturdays in the whole academic year)
Why: to give students more time to write on weekends. Currently weekends cut a huge hole (5 weekends in 16) in the students’ writing time)

No change in fees
Fees remain at $7250. Before you run away, you don’t have to pay anything up front. It’s Fee-approved, which means the Fed Govt covers your fees, and you just pay them off in taxes once your income hits a certain level. The fees also compare incredibly favourably to other screenwriting courses. If you can find another course that compares in terms of content, for a lower price, I’d like to know about it.

Development of clear Theory and Application strands

• Theory modules mostly on Tues nights (6pm-9pm)
• Application modules mostly on Thurs nights (6pm-9pm)

Under “Theory” come these modules:

Understanding Story – where we explore storytelling theory from Aristotle to Vogler (including the Hero’s Journey). The foundation of great screenwriting is story, whether you want to tell classical stories or alternative narrative forms.

Script Analysis & Coverage – where we look at identifying what works and doesn’t work in a script, and how to address those concerns (e.g This year, we looked at how American Beauty and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind changed from first to final drafts and why; we also looked at an early draft of Bridesmaids, the production script, and considered how the film might still have been improved.) We also teach you how to write industry standard coverage (ie script reports)

Introduction to Film Genre – Look at the conventions of Sci Fi, Horror and Romantic Comedy (this comes earlier in the program than previously and before you begin work on your project)

Introduction to writing for TV – exploration of story structure and opportunities in Australian TV

Under the “Application” strand come these modules:

Introduction to Scene Writing – starting early in Semester 1, this module allows students to begin applying dramatic principles on the small scale while they increase their understanding of the greater challenges of the long form narrative. A key part of the module is having your scenes read in class, and receiving feedback from your lecturers and fellow students. A great confidence booster, gets you familiar with giving and receiving feedback, and a massive learning opportunity.

Creating Characters – Introduces students to the elements of great characterisation and, through a series of exercises, invites students to develop characters for their long form projects.

Ideas Incubator – the focal point of Semester 2, this module gives students the opportunity to apply everything they’ve learnt in the course, and takes them step-by-step through the story development process from concept creation to logline, 3 sentences, 3 page outline and beat sheet. It includes an Idea Starter session, where students get a series of cards that prompt them to approach concept creation from angles they might not have considered.

A key part of the learning process again, is feedback, with the student’s progress on their story reviewed by your lecturer and peers in a supportive Writers’ Table environment.

The culmination of the program is the presentation of your project to a panel led by Head of Screenwriting, Ross Grayson Bell.


Can you do the course and hold down a fulltime job?
Absolutely. Almost everyone in the Grad Cert Screenwriting 2011 had a fulltime job and it will be even easier this year because the course is spread over 2 semesters rather than one.

How big are the classes?
This year we had 18 students who were all together for lectures, but split into two groups of nine for feedback.

Do you make a short film?
We don’t make a short film in the program because it’s an artform which has its own conventions that are not necessarily consistent with those of long form. You might form a collaboration with a Grad Cert or Grad Dip director or producer and be invited to work on their short films but it isn’t a part of our Grad Cert Screenwriting syllabus. We develop your skills with the Scene Writing module.

What sort of screenwriting do we encourage?
We encourage people to write stories from the heart that use concept, characterisation and structure to engage an audience. We believe in good stories well told.

Do we teach alternative storytelling?
No, we don’t. Not because we don’t like films with alternative structures. But because we don’t have enough time for you to master classical storytelling. And, people like the Coen Bros, Charlie Kaufman and Tarantino studied and wrote screenplays with classical structures before they experimented with narrative form. You need to understand the rules before you can break them. If you don’t like classical storytelling, this is not the course for you.

How is the Grad Cert different to the Grad Dip?
Grad Dip is full-time whereas the Grad Cert is part-time, and almost all current Grad Cert students have day jobs. The Grad Dip is also significantly more expensive at $17,500 and the standard of application is expected to be higher.

Can you be accepted if you’re not an Australian resident?
Alas, currently, you cannot.

How do you apply?
Go to the AFTRS website

When do applications open?
They’re open now.

When do applications close?
Nov 1.

When will you find out if you’ve been accepted?
By Christmas 2011.

Learn more about the AFTRS Grad Cert Screenwriting Fundamentals

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jeremy Dylan October 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Anyone who’s considering applying for this course, don’t dawdle – do it. It will teach you how the process of constructing and developing story can be every bit as thrilling and emotionally satisfying as watching a great cinematic story unfold on a theatre screen.
Allen’s course is not about flighty, abstract formulas, it’s about essential, practical technique, and the unpretentious joy or storytelling.

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