Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor, Ryan Ward. Ryan is teaching a section of Writing the First Screenplay I (Reg# 376196) on Saturday mornings (10am-1pm PT) this Fall. He sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and his upcoming course.
What sparks your creativity?
As a screenwriter, my creativity is sparked by experiences I’ve had in my own life or inspired by an emotional experience I would like to capture on film. I believe emotional experiences imprint much more powerfully on us as human beings than intellectual or sensory experiences. And so, I will usually begin a project by trying to imagine precisely what it is that I would like my audience to feel when reading my screenplay or watching my film, and I go from there.
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
My motivation for writing depends on structure and self-discipline. Therefore, I outline my screenplays extensively before I put down even one word on the page and that is something I teach in my course.
If you already know everything about your story, i.e.: your protagonist (and their backstory), conflict, inciting incident, plot points, obstacles, climax, resolution, beginning, and ending in advance of starting your screenplay, it will guide your writing. I liken this to getting into a car and driving. If you know where you’re going, you will always find your way to your destination.
In my outlines, I will include everything from the feeling or tonality of the story, to reference films, novels, stories, writing style, music or images that inspire me, right down production design elements, and camera style. I find this allows me to inject my scripts with a level of detail that can bring the world of the story alive for a reader. I call this being general vs. being specific, which is what I think separates average writing from exceptional writing, and is something that I also teach in my course.
I stay motivated by making screenwriting a priority in my day-to-day life. I like to treat writing like full time job and will write 8 hours a day whenever my schedule permits.
What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
Favorite books: Post Office by Charles Bukowski and/or Solo Faces by James Salter. Both writers find ways to express the poetry of life in totally different and equally compelling ways. The result for the reader is that they can share in the characters’ experiences in ways that relate to their lives. That is always what I search for in my own writing, a way to connect with others.Favorite films (there are so many I can’t choose): Badlands (Terrence Malick), Annie Hall (Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman), All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green & Paul Schneider), Aliens (James Cameron, which we study in my course), and Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan, which we also study in my course).
What’s your favorite quote about writing?
“An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way” – Charles Bukowski
Who do you wish you could write like (or: Whose writing discipline do you wish you had)?
I find Barry Jenkins’ approach to writing in Moonlight to be inspiring, poetic, and completely different than any other screenwriting style I have encountered (we also study Moonlight in my course). I am also a fan of Dan Gilroy’s script, Nightcrawler, which is one of the most stylistically unique screenplays I have ever read.
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
I am someone who gets excited about new ideas—whether they are my own or someone else’s—and I love helping emerging writers find their own original voices. I feel that everyone has something unique inside of them that they are burning to express and, in my course, I endeavor to pinpoint what that is for each individual student, and encourage them to manifest it in their writing.
My aim is to help students identify the structural and thematic elements that exist inherently in their stories and use those elements to create compelling screenplays. In my course, we deconstruct scripts by the best writers in the film business by focusing on how they use form, style, structure, and a unique voice to create their narratives. In doing so, I hope to help students discover how they too can use these principles and techniques to elevate their own writing.
What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
I hope students will share my passion and enthusiasm for screenwriting, which I feel is undoubtedly the most exciting stage of the filmmaking process. It is the time when the sky is truly the limit in terms of what your story can be, and when you are limited only by your imagination.
In my view, writing is a process of discovery where nothing is what it seems and the story you end with is never the story you began with. If writers can find the courage to allow their story to be what it genuinely wants to be rather than forcing it into a predetermined shape, then they are well on their way to creating a successful screenplay.
Writing is much like a relationship or a commitment you make to yourself. If you can summon the mettle to stick with it, the results can be more rewarding than anything you can imagine. The pursuit of connecting with other human beings by sharing yourself through storytelling is one of the noblest pursuits I know. It can even teach you about yourself.
Thank you to Ryan for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!