The first step to being a successful filmmaker is coming up with a good story idea. Fortunately, Long Island is the perfect setting for aspiring filmmakers who want to learn the fine art of screenwriting.
Award-winning screenwriter Stephen Martin Siegel guides beginning screenwriters through the process of learning how to construct a good film story. Siegel also will delve into the workings of the film industry, including what types of films have box-office potential, finding an agent, dealing with producers, protecting your work and more.
Films also will be screened, though Siegel says he doesn't like to tell students beforehand, so they won't rent the film and skip class.
Siegel also stresses the competitive nature of the film industry, though several of his students have gotten movie deals. "Dreams can come true. And screenwriters come from all different walks of life. Housewives, policemen. You just need fine ideas and can bring something new to movies that people haven't quite seen before. Most people have a good story to tell."
Usually six to 10 people gather at each meeting, though no one is required to bring material, says Diana Coffield, one of the group's organizers. "People usually bring about 10 pages of either a screenplay they started, or are working on, or have finished," she says. "We usually read it out loud as a group. Everyone acts it out."
Coffield says there's a diverse group of members, including several people who have made short films, an animation teacher and a teen whose specialty is toons.
LONG ISLAND SCREENWRITERS GROUP: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21, Smithtown Library, 1 N. Country Rd. (the group meets one Thursday per month at either Smithtown Library, or Five Towns College, 305 N. Service Rd., Dix Hills), myspace.com/liscreenwritersgroup, firstname.lastname@example.org
Newcomers are welcome in this group, which usually attracts 20 to 30 members per meeting, though seating is limited, says Howie Young, who founded the group 12 years ago. Filling some of those seats are professional actors who also perform some of the scripts. "When you're writing features, you're taught that the best thing to do is read a script out loud. It often sounds different when you're hearing your words," says Young, whose specialty is romantic comedies.
Networking also is encouraged as members compare stories about their experiences with the film industry and share contact info and screenwriting books and software.
There is one rule: Writers must attend three meetings before they can have their work critiqued. "Otherwise, someone might come once, have their work critiqued, and then never come again. It's not fair to the other members," Young says.
Budding Quentin Tarantinos can learn to fashion a script from professional screenwriter Robert Martorana, who presides over both classes. In the beginner course, students get the basics of structuring a screenplay with an emphasis on character development, format and narrative techniques. They'll also get to learn from the Hollywood masters by analyzing films for continuity and dialogue.
In the intermediate class, students have their own work analyzed. Students should bring a treatment (outline) for a feature film script to the first class, where classmates and instructor can pinpoint weaknesses and strengths as far as story structure, character development, plot or setting, and develop solutions that result in a revised draft suitable for professional submission.
NASSAU COUNTY SCREENWRITERS: 7:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays, meeting places vary, 516-365-7660
This group, an offshoot of a formal screenwriting class, focuses on making a screenplay as good as possible for submission. More than one writer usually submits pages at every session, and screenplays are critiqued at meetings and also by e-mail. Beginning screenwriters are welcome, but "it's best if you have done some type of writing in the past and want to see your ideas take shape every week,“ says Carole Alexander of the group.