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Imitation and adaptation: A screenwriting pedagogy

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Because originality is highly valued in all the arts, it initially appears counterproductive to teach screenwriting students the craft by encouraging them to imitate established genres or to adapt literature. This pedagogical method, however, teaches students genre-specific narrative structure and conventions, avoids the paralysis that sometimes comes with ‘complete’ artistic freedom and ultimately allows students to discern the qualities of their unique ‘voice’. Countless contemporary American films are adaptations, sequels, parodies or mashups, yet many fear that learning via imitation will cause students to write derivative or cliché scripts. By exploring the history of emulation in art and the fact that the value placed on originality is relatively new, the pedagogic push for originality starts to appear short-sighted. Further analysis reveals how reaching for ‘highly original’ may produce innovation but few screenplays of critical value. Identifying an example of ‘original’ within the genre boundaries of the horror screenplay demonstrates how a screenwriter can break new ground while still writing within the conventions of the genre. Fiction to Film Adaptations also prove to be highly innovative and original works, ultimately refining the definition of creativity, innovation and originality in screenplay writing.
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Keywords: film adaptation; film genre; imitation; innovation; originality; pedagogy; writer’s block

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Boston University

Publication date: August 3, 2011

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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