• Phoenix Eye

Therese Chen's Scriptwriting Course at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS)

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Written By Therese Chen

For the past week, I’ve been doing the Intensive Screenwriting Course at AFTRS and wanted to share my experience.

The method of storytelling is a process that I have been interested for a long time now. With that said, screenwriting is something that I got into much more recently (in large part, thanks to now being a part of Phoenix Eye Film Production and their filmmaking processes).

So, whilst I will preface the following by saying that I’m sure I won’t be able to do justice to explain a whole week’s worth of study, what we learnt can broadly be divided into the following topics.

Theory Of Storytelling

Although I was familiar with many of the principles in the theory of storytelling, I’ve never actually taken a class before and it was a great refresher. While it was a great reinforcement of principles, there was also a steep learning curve particularly when it came to

We learnt the basic principles such as:

  • The Three Act Structure

  • Theme

  • Characters

Most notably to me, how these elements are utilized differently between Short and Long form films.

The Practical Side of Things

In between learning all the mechanics of story, there were also exercises. Namely, a lot of film clips and as well as script analysis.

I appreciated this since it helped reinforce all the concepts we learnt previously (for example; dialogue). It was also an eye opener for me personally since it brought my attention to the large number of films I had yet to see. Filmmaker indeed!

Industry Experience

It was a wonderful experience listening to both established script writers and actors in the industry. The one thing that struck me in particular was that between the relationship of the writer and actor, less is more.

I have to admit being guilty of this, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who, when writing, can sometimes have a specific idea of how the character is meant to ‘act’ in a particular scene.

What the actors said in comparison was that they much preferred the breathing space to be able to give the characters life in more than one way, as opposed to being, as one described it, a ‘meat puppet’ .

It was very interesting, though also sobering, to listen to the prospects of being a writer in NSW in relationship to funding support and contrasting the differences of other states in Australia and worldwide (for example, in the US, the writer is on set during production).

The Major Project

Being a scriptwriting course, naturally enough our major work was to:

  • Come up with a story idea

  • Write a screenplay of an excerpt of the story

  • Workshop said excerpt with actors

  • Pitch the story idea

Although it was daunting, breaking it down into its smaller parts and as well as getting to hear/work with supportive people in the industry was fantastic help.

Final Thoughts

For anyone wanting to get into scriptwriting, the AFTRS course is something I highly recommend. It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth the value and experiences contributing towards your effort and intentional dedication to the film storytelling process.

The active feedback and knowledge from both the actors and scriptwriters is also something you can’t get from other resources.

But more than any course or book, I would say my main takeaway was this: if you are able to know what your story is about (not in the narrative, but thematic sense) then half the battle is won.

Whether it’s a story of redemption, a test of faith, or the sometimes-horrific elements of humanity, whatever that idea may be, know it so well and your pursuit in filmmaking process for your tale will be one of definite passion.