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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, October 7, 2004

The Itch to Write

As we blunder through life we tend to pick up a bit of knowledge here and there that helps us grow along the way. About 25 years ago I got the itch to write. I was living in the Hollywood Hills at the time, overlooking Universal Studios, and figured I could crank out a couple of screenplays, hit it big and live happily ever after.

I attended Sherwood Oaks Experimental College, an outfit that specialized in the motion picture business, and took every screenwriting seminar and workshop they offered for a couple of years. The instructors were all top professionals who felt obligated to give something back to the industry that had been so good to them.

TV producer Maurice Singer taught a class at Sherwood Oaks about TV series writing and production. From him I learned about the business of writing and the art of selling your material.

Robert Mundy was the editor of a movie industry magazine and a film critic. He would screen movies and meticulously dissect every plot-point and nuance. From him I learned foreshadowing and plotting.

Sid Field was a screenwriter and an associate producer for Wolper Productions. He was also the author of Screenplay -- The Art of Screenwriting, one of the definitive screenwriting books. He taught a seminar about the basic formula of writing. From him I learned how to structure a story.

Robert Getchell, author of many successful screenplays including Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Bound for Glory, Mommie Dearest, Point of No Return, The Client and others, taught a screenwriting class where he emphasized characterization. From him I learned how to define characters and construct dialogue.

Screenwriting legend Ernest Lehman conducted a workshop that included the screening of some of his films and lots of commentary about the process involved. Some of his works included Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, Hello Dolly, West Side Story, Sabrina, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and many, many more. He was a grand old man with a wealth of knowledge. From him I learned many subtle tricks of the trade.

After my experience at Sherwood Oaks, I hooked up with two professional screenwriters, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson, who were attempting to put a production staff of screenwriters together. They took me under their respective wings and taught me a great deal about writing. We eventually became good friends.

Peter Bellwood had won an Emmy for co-writing a TV comedy special and has had several of his screenplays produced, including Mount St. Helens, Steel, Phobia and Highlander II. We still keep in touch. He's in England right now working on a movie project. From him I learned how to make a manuscript flow.

Larry Ferguson went on to become a highly successful screenwriter, creating such works as The Presidio, Beverly Hills Cop II, Alien III, The Hunt for Red October, Master and Commander and many more. He now lives in rural Oregon and still teaches screenwriting classes. From him I learned how to be spontaneously creative.

I've been truly blessed to have had such brilliant mentors. I learned something from each one of them, and am eternally grateful. Over the ensuing years, I've written three unproduced screenplays, four published novels and nearly 200 newspaper columns. I didn't exactly hit it big but I did manage to live happily ever after.

I'll be conducting a creative writing workshop at Ozarka College later this month. The Continuing Education class will be held on Wednesday evenings, starting Oct. 27, at the Ozarka facility in Ash Flat. It will be a two-hour class, 5-7 p.m., over a six-week period. Registration is required prior to Oct. 22. The cost is $65, which includes reading materials (one of my novels). For an application call 870-368-7371 or 800-821-4335.

Writing is a lot like golf -- it looks easy but takes a ton of practice just to reach par. If you have a fertile mind and an itch to write, sign up soon. If you have any other type of itch, consult your physician.