Writing for Television and Film

Fall 2008

Instructor: Mark Freeman
Classroom: DA 101
Class Times: Friday 12- 2:45 pm.
Office: LT 171 C Wed 2:30 –3:30 p.m. and by appointment
Off Phone: 619-594-5497

Instructor: Lisa Franek
Classroom: Comm 108 Billy Wilder
Class Times: Friday 12- 2:45 pm.
Office : COMM 124E Friday 10am to 11:30am
Off Phone:

Stuck? Writer’s Block? Take 1 or 2 of these and call the doctor in the morning:

A note about stories and sources of inspiration:
Students are challenged to create stories inspired by life, literature and art. For this class your original work should not refer to, allude to, or include references to film and
television productions or video games. The goal is to ground your work in material and
experiences that exist outside of the “mediasphere.”

The purpose of TFM 110 is to introduce students to a variety of “story writing” styles,
formats and skills used in feature films, documentaries, and short films & videos.

This course will be co-taught in 2 sections. There will be 3 UNITS of five classes.

Unit 1: The Creative Process
Unit 2: Writing Fiction
Unit 3: Writing Nonfiction

Mark Freeman will teach Writing Nonfiction alternately in each section. Lisa Franek will
teach Writing Fiction alternately in each section.

Special Joint Classes
For field trips and special presentations, both sections may occasionally meet in a joint

CLASS 03 09/19 Desire Under the Elms
ClASS 11 11/14 Hotel Cassiopeia

Dramaturges for the plays will meet with us during our regularly scheduled class time.
Both class sections will meet jointly in a room to be announced.

Field Trips
This course requires students to participate in field trips, research or studies that include course work that will be performed off-campus. Participation in such activities may result in accidents or personal injuries. Students participating in the event are aware of these risks, and agree to hold harmless San Diego State University, the State of California, the Trustees of the California State University and Colleges and its officers, employees and agents against all claims, demands suits, judgments, expenses and costs of any kind on account of their participation in the activities. Students using their own vehicles to transport other students to such activities should have current automobile insurance.

This is a writing intensive course. It requires closes attention to and analysis of readings, lectures and discussions.

Course Goals
Adapted from Creative Filmmaking from the Inside Out
To strengthen students’ ability to conceive and develop ideas that will lead to
compelling, authentic, personally meaningful films.

To facilitate the expression and development of their own unique artistic
identity, cinematic voice and point of view through an exploration of personal
experience, interests, concerns, values and inherent taste.

To motivate students to develop ideas for stories and characters through
observation of, research into, and direct experience with real life.

To encourage awareness of the infinite possibilities for creative expression
inherent in cinema, including documentary and experimental forms.

Student Learning Outcomes:
Students will demonstrate competence (at a beginning level) in writing scripts for fiction
and nonfiction film and video productions.

Students will demonstrate their collaborative skills through group discussion, giving and
responding to feedback, and collective brainstorming.

Students will be able to create a diverse portfolio of project ideas, outlines and synopses
that they can draw on in future production classes.

It is the student’s responsibility to make add/drop/change grading basis or withdraw from
the university within the specified time period. Criteria for dropping a class will be
approved only when there are “verified serious and compelling circumstances.”
Approval will be made by Registrar’s Office.

Students should be especially careful to avoid “borrowing” from internet sources and
each other. There will be “zero-tolerance” for plagiarism. Cheating or plagiarism will
result in an “F” for the course and a report to the office of Student Rights and
Responsibilities. Be sure to cite all of your sources with page numbers and url’s as

Bernard, Sheila . Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmamkers (B)
Dannenbaum, Hodge & Mayer. Creative Filmmaking from the Inside Out: 5 Keys to the
Art of Making Inspired Movies and Television
Trottier, David, The Screenwriter’s Bible (T)

Reading Packet (RP)

Supplemental Texts (not required):
Developing Story Idea, Rabiger,
Producing & Directing the Short Film & Video, Rea and Irving
Directing the Documentary, Rabiger
The Artist’s Way, Cameron
Story, McKee

On-Line Resources
AV Editor tutorial:

Additional Resources
You will need what is listed below as you progress through the semester. Start now.
Making records and squirreling away what might come in handy is a writerly

1. Observational Notebook
Keep a small notebook or sketchbook with you at all times and write down notes and
create word and/or image sketches. Write at least a short paragraph every day in which
you describe something you saw that day, and how you responded to it. Use the
following categories to stimulate what you seek out to observe, and to help you organize
what you find:

Senses Sense Impressions: smells, sounds, tactile sensations, tastes, visual images
Locations Places that are evocative
Objects Things that are suggestive of some deeper significance
Characters People you find intriguing or complex
Dialogue Comments or Exchanges you overhear that pique your interest
Situations Revealing Circumstances and Incidents

Acts Behavior that is emblematic or provocative
Titles Words or Phrases you encounter that seem like intriguing titles
Themes Beliefs, Ideas and Values that seem basic to your understanding of life
Questions Questions you have about what you observe, about your response, and
deeper questions evoked in the process.

The goals of this exercise are for students to become better watchers and listeners; to
develop sharper insights into human nature, behavior and relationships; to develop a habit
of observing life and taking note of it; to become more attuned to their own distinctive
interests and responses; and to have a storehouse of observations to draw on when
creating stories, characters and dramatic or comic situations. (Idea of the categories originated with Michael Rabiger in his textbook Developing Story Ideas.)

You can also use this notebook for thoughts, reflections, dreams and fantasies. It can
become a sketchbook that can be mined for themes, characters, settings and story ideas.

2. News File. Save good news stories in a folder for use in the News Story and
documentary assignments. Go through old magazines and papers; you’ll find noncurrent
material that no one else is using.
3. Picture File. Save pictures from magazines and newspapers. Strong inspiration can
come from your choice of a war photograph, crime report, fashion ad, or a landscape.
Take still photographs of things and people that your encounter.

Class Participation/Attendance 10%
Students will be called upon in class to present their work.

Prompt arrival
Active Participation
Willingness to give and receive constructive criticism.
Willingness to actively engage with readings, lectures, fieldtrips etc.

Notebook, News File, Picture File 10%
Limbering exercise 5%
Old Town Observations (Individual and Pair) 10%
Proof of Attendance and 2 –3 page paper Desire under the Elms 7.5%
Proof of Attendance and 2 –3 page paper Hotel Cassiopeia 7.5%
Short Film Treatment and Embedded Values Exercise 5%
Short Film Script 20%

Interview or Narration Exercise 5%
Documentary Treatment 20%
Extra Credit is due Class 12

You may attend 1 of the following museum shows for extra credit. Your report should
include 2 or 3 paragraphs describing the exhibition you viewed and your reaction to it. In
addition you should write a one-page treatment for a 5 to 10 minute film inspired by your

San Diego Museum of Art
Georgia O’Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle
Note that this exhibition closes on 9/28

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Downtown Jacobs Building And 1001 Kettner
Human/Nature: Artists Respond To A Changing Planet

Museum of Photographic Arts
A Literacy of Images: Nancy Newhall and the Art of Photography and Writing with Light

Criteria For Writing Assignments •All work must be hard copy submitted to instructor
on time. Late work is not accepted.

  • All work submitted must be a copy. Save your original for your files.
  • All work must be typed or word-processed. All work must be proofed. No hand corrections. No whiteout. Papers will be graded for grammar as well as for execution.
  • Revisions and multiple drafts are encouraged. You are free to submit clearly identified
    2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts of written assignments. This is not a substitute for meeting the
    original deadline with a well-written submission.

The creative process: observation, visualization, intuition, self-exploration, emotional
response, inspiration, aesthetics, meaning, impact, purpose, and cultural context. What
do you want to express as filmmakers and why? What do you think film can and should
be? This is all brought to bear through class discussion of the specific ideas you are
originating and developing.

Introduction of Class and Review Syllabus

In-class exercises:

    • Discuss “What is creativity?” “What are the elements of a conducive environment for
      creativity?” Consider the space your class meets in- could it be arranged differently?
      Can the lighting, wall space and noise levels be addressed in order to make the room
      more compatible for risk-taking and collaboration?
    • 5-minute Autobiography

Write your autobiography in five minutes.

    • “What tugs at your sleeve?” Write a brief essay on whatever has tugged at your
      sleeve up to this point in your lives: What has worried you, intrigued you, given you
      the greatest joy?

(D) Chapter One
(D) Limbering p.45 Choose 1 of the 4 exercises listed
Bring the writing and any other materials to class for presentation and discussion next

What is a treatment?

(RP) Raymond’s Run
(D) Inquiry
(RP) Rabiger Chapter 11 Developing Your Story Ideas and Treatment
Handouts and “It Starts with a Pencil”

Discuss Raymond’s Run

Due Class 6 Treatment for your final fictional script

Limbering: 1 of the 4 exercises listed

CLASS 3 9/19
Preparing for Desire Under the Elms
Dramaturge Joan Hurwit


(D) Intuition
(RP) Desire Under the Elms Script and “Filming Literature”

Desire Under the Elms

      1. How has the development of characters revealed time, place and setting?
      2. How is the story structured? How does it adhere to or deviate from typical 3act
      3. Can you sense or discover a role for intuition, the unconscious, and/or dreams within
        the play, or within your reaction to the story? Are there emotional subtexts in the play
        that trigger your own personal reactions, memories, fantasies? How could you draw on
        your own experience and responses in understanding and appreciating the play? In
        adapting, directing or staging it?
      4. How would you adapt this story for the screen?
      5. How did your understanding of the play as presented in the script change as a
        result of the dramaturg presentation? After seeing the film excerpt? After seeing the
        SDSU performance?

Attend a performance of Desire and write a 3-page report discussing the questions above.
This report and your ticket stub are due in class week 5.

Observational field trip Old Town

We will take the trolley together from SDSU to Old Town. You will work in pairs. The
idea is not to observe each other, but to spread out and become observers, if not
voyeurs. Your work starts at the Trolley Station at SDSU and continues until you
return from Old Town. Observe people as they interact with each other, enter and exit
buildings, order or eat food, etc. You should observe the environment for ten minutes
without writing, then take notes about all that their senses are aware of – the location
itself, the quality of the light, the exchanges between people, the noises, the smells, etc.
You want to gather many observable “facts.” This may include overhearing what
people are saying. Also consider signs, flyers and other written materials.

Consider interviewing. Explain to tourists, servers, park rangers etc., that you are
doing research for a possible film (fiction or nonfiction.)
Observation Notebook: Create several written observations in each of the ten categories: Senses, Locations, Objects, Characters, Dialogue, Situations, Acts, Titles,
Themes and Questions. You many discover other categories that are appropriate. The
idea is to benefit from the rich specificity of real people. You may use this material to
develop a treatment for your fictional or nonfiction project.

(D) Interaction


Working with your partner draw from your observations and notebook to develop a 1-2
page treatment for a short fiction or nonfiction film. (Drama or Comedy, Documentary
or Mockumentary. Any Genre.)

Turn in 3 versions.
1 and 2 are original stories you each developed independently based on your

The third is a collaborative effort. It is not a cutting and pasting of 1 and 2. Rather it is an entirely distinct story, which draws from those elements and observation that you each
feel most strongly drawn to.

Observational Treatments

(D) Impact
(RP) Poisonwood Bible pp 64-68

Due: Desire report
Observational Treatments (3)

Be prepared to present your treatments in class and in writing. We will consider them in
terms of the Impact reading. Be prepared to present and discuss your work in class.

Due: Type up a basic summary of the plot of the fictional treatment that is due in class
(about a paragraph). Be prepared to share your ideas in class.

The goal of this unit is to produce a treatment for a short five to ten minute documentary
that could be produced in San Diego during a 15-week class.

What is Documentary? How do documentary films tell stories?

Select 3 possible stories from news clippings or from 101 Ideas For Your Next
Documentary (RP) that intrigue you, or from your Old Town Observation Notes, or from
your own brainstorming. Describe your rationale for choosing to develop one of the

After choosing one story idea to develop, write down five good questions that arise and
then do beginning research with two sources. These sources could be books, articles,
newspapers, internet sources (but not wikipedia), etc.

You should prepare a written synopsis of the topic, including the five or more questions
you have, the research you’ve done, your approach and theme for this documentary.

Reading: (B ) Story Design pp 13-46 and Research p 113 and Outlines, Treatments
and Scripts p 151
(D) Review Getting Out of the Camera p 56

A typed treatment of one of the short fictional film ideas.

Interviewing and Narration

Readings: (RP) “It Starts with a Pencil,” interviewing articles, sample treatment
(B) Shooting Chapter 12 especially “Interviews”
(B) Narration and Voice Over p 211

Presentation of Research

Identify and contact a content expert who can provide context for your documentary.
This could be an SDSU professor or a community member. Tape-record your interview
if possible. In the worst case ask your questions on the phone or by email. Be prepared
to summarize your interview in writing and orally. The summary should include who
you spoke with and when, a list of your questions, and direct quotes of at least 3 relevant
bites that could be used in your documentary.


Develop a visual sequence for your production that will include narration. The sequence
should be approximately 30 seconds long. You will need to imagine approximately 7-10
shots. Your narration when read aloud at an appropriate pace should not exceed 30
seconds. Present this information in a 2-column A-V script. You can use the table
function in Word or the A-V scrip editor in a Celtx. For extra credit you can import stills
of your visuals. (See google images or Flickr etc.)

Students Pitch and summarize their documentary treatment.


Each student presents a very brief version of the documentary idea and the proposed
approach, including brief references to theme, the research needed and the potential
subjects. As part of his or her presentation, each student leads the class discussion about
the proposed documentary. The idea is for students to practice staying connected to their
intuitive approach to a topic while being open to others’ ideas about it. Class members
ask questions and offer feedback on the degree of clarity, the personal perspective and
scope of the idea.

Students bring drafts of their treatments for peer review. Bring a hard copy for the
instructor and one for a partner.

Reading (B) Chapter 15 Checklist

How can the story be made more visual?
Is there sufficient research and context?
What are the strengths?
What still needs work?

Due: Interview or Narration assignment

Class 10
Treatments due

In class presentations


Preparing for Hotel Cassiopeia
Dramaturge Lauren Beck

(RP) Hotel Cassiopeia Script

Hotel Cassiopeia

        1. How has the development of characters revealed time, place and setting?
        2. How is the story structured? How does it adhere to or deviate from typical 3act
        3. Can you sense or discover a role for intuition, the unconscious, and/or dreams
          within the play, or within your reaction to the story? Are there emotional
          subtexts in the play that trigger your own personal reactions, memories,
          fantasies? How could you draw on your own experience and responses in
          understanding and appreciating the play? In adapting, directing or staging it?
        4. How would you adapt this story for the screen?
        5. How did your understanding of the play as presented in the script change as a
          result of the dramaturg presentation? After seeing the film excerpt? After
          seeing the SDSU performance?

Attend a performance of Hotel Cassiopeia and write a 3-page report discussing the
questions above. This report and your ticket stub are due in class week 13.

Think of two ideas for a short fictional film. Type a paragraph or two summarizing the
story. Be prepared to share your ideas in class.

CLASS 12 Script Writing
Elements of Story: Plot, realistic characters, basic story elements, subtext
Present and discuss short film ideas.

Screenwriter’s Bible pp. 3-12 and 43-59.

A typed treatment and script for one of one of the short film ideas presented. Treatment is
due in Ms. Franek’s mailbox before Thanksgiving break.

Extra Credit Due

CLASS 13 Happy Thanksgiving

Discuss Genre, Theme, Story Conflicts, Basic Story Elements. Script Format.

Sign up for individual meeting time.

(RP) Game

Due: Notebook, News File, Picture File
Individual Meetings

Final Treatment and any revised assignments.

Students are expected to attend the Film Finals Festival Dec 18th.