In the Company of Writers
When I decided to become a screenwriter I did two things – took a weekend workshop with Syd Field, and followed that with a ten-week, one night a week workshop Syd offered at his home. The weekend workshop taught me the basics; the ten-week workshop allowed me to put those basics to use.
The goal of the ten-week workshop was to write ten pages a week with the idea that at the end we’d have a first draft script. I’m a competitive person so my weekly page count was often twelve or more. Thanks to Syd’s recommendation and the script I wrote in his workshop, an agent took me on. I began what would be a deeply satisfying career as a screenwriter.
That first script was written thirty-five years ago. In the meantime, I’ve written many more and, here’s the thing — each time I begin a new project I go back to my roots and get out Syd’s now dog-eared and much-loved book, Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting. Before putting any words on paper, I review each step of the Syd Field Screenwriting Method.
Screenplay is only the first of Syd’s books used as I make my way through a script. When I’m blocked and can’t make progress I go to The Screenwriter’s Workbook. What Syd says in this book can get my creative juices going. When I run into problems, especially in a rewrite, I turn to his The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver.
Some time ago, I returned to Ottawa, Canada, the city where I lived until moving to California at the age of eighteen. Now Ottawa’s a lot of things. It’s a beautiful city with tons of waterways and green spaces. It’s the capital of Canada so there’s lots of political action. But what Ottawa is not is Toronto, or Vancouver, or Montreal — the cities where movies get made.
That was ten years or so ago and what I discovered was that I was the only screenwriter in town, or at least the only one who had actually written scripts that became movies. I also discovered something else — there were a whole lot of people who wanted to learn how to write a screenplay.
The other realization was that you don’t have to live in a big city or media center in order to write a successful screenplay. What you do need is a place where you can get together with other writers who want to learn and practice the craft of screenwriting using Syd Field’s method and books.
With Syd’s blessing, in the mid-1980s I began offering workshops in Ottawa, using his screenwriting method and books as the basis. These workshops continue now, where writers meet once a week to discuss progress on their scripts, get feedback, set goals, and get direction for the week ahead.
When opportunities for teaching moments come up we talk about the specifics of the craft of screenwriting — structure, plotting, character arcs, dialogue, etc. Syd’s book, Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting is our guide, our reference, our resource, and our bible. Writing can be a lonely occupation, and this kind of encouraging environment enriches the experience and facilitates the process of completing a screenplay.
As was true in Syd’s workshops, not everyone starts the workshop with a script in progress. Some people come with an idea, others with an outline or treatment. Some people are working on feature film scripts, others on television projects, web series, and even feature-length documentaries. What I’ve learned is that Syd Field’s Screenwriting Method and approach work within this wide diversity of genres.
Many people come back year after year because they like the outer-imposed discipline the workshops provide. Others come back because they know Syd’s approach works — and the results bear this out.
Some people have finished their first or second drafts. One person completely revised his script, and another not only finished the script he began in year one but went on to make the movie and now has a second film in development. One woman, who began with only an idea in the first workshop, finished her script and is in talks to not only make her first film but also to write a sequel. Another has had his script optioned by a production company. Several participants have reached the semi-finals in prestigious screenwriting competitions, and three are now represented by high-profile agents.
Like me, all of these people have to thank Syd Field. He’s the one who, through his books, provided them with the information about the craft of screenwriting they needed to first begin and then succeed.
While Syd Field was an excellent teacher who wrote with clarity and insight, he was more than that. He was also a remarkable human being — kind and thoughtful and caring. He had an extraordinary talent for remembering in detail each of the scripts various people were working on at any given time. Perhaps more important, he understood just what kind of push and encouragement each writer he worked with needed in order to do their best work.
Like so many others, I’m grateful that Syd’s legacy lives on in his library of books, not only those mentioned above, but also in others — Going to the Movies, Four Screenplays, Selling A Screenplay, and The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting. The archive of materials available online is another wonderful resource, as vibrant and reliable as ever and allows Syd to continue to make a valuable contribution to screenwriters everywhere in the world.
Sharon Buckingham is a well-known screenwriter and producer with both television and feature credits. She teaches the Syd Field screenwriting method® and acts as a script editor and consultant. Learn More About Sharon