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Re-conceptualising screenwriting for the academy: The social, cultural and creative practice of developing a screenplay



In the last decade screenwriting as a profession has changed significantly, with the writing of a screen idea no longer a singular individual pursuit. Screenwriting has become a truly collaborative practice, and even though the screenplay is considered by some as being ‘authorless’ or a ‘signpost not a destination’ , it is also an activity that inherently recognises writers as the creators of novel and original content. This re-examination of screenwriting situates the practice inside the academy as a place where future practitioners can understand the industry they aspire to work in, and the contexts within which it operates. To this end, the screenwriter steeped in the traditions of creative writing can become more creatively responsive to the industrial and economic factors driving the processes of screen production. By re-conceptualising the screenwriter as a creative and conditioned agent who plays a specific part in the realities of the contemporary screen industry, we can better prepare students for professional practice scenarios that will enable them to make creative contributions that shape and change the industry.
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New Writing
The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative
ISSN: 1479-0726 (Print) 1943-3107 (Online) Journal homepage:
Re-conceptualising screenwriting for the academy:
the social, cultural and creative practice of
developing a screenplay
Susan Kerrigan & Craig Batty
To cite this article: Susan Kerrigan & Craig Batty (2016): Re-conceptualising screenwriting for
the academy: the social, cultural and creative practice of developing a screenplay, New Writing,
DOI: 10.1080/14790726.2015.1134580
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Published online: 30 Jan 2016.
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Re-conceptualising screenwriting for the academy: the social,
cultural and creative practice of developing a screenplay
Susan Kerrigan
and Craig Batty
School of Design Communication and IT, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW 2308,
School of Media and Communication, RMIT university, Melbourne, VIC 3001, Australia
In the last decade screenwriting as a profession has changed
signicantly, with the writing of a screen idea no longer a singular
individual pursuit. Screenwriting has become a truly collaborative
practice, and even though the screenplay is considered by some
as being authorlessor a signpost not a destination, it is also an
activity that inherently recognises writers as the creators of novel
and original content. This re-examination of screenwriting situates
the practice inside the academy as a place where future
practitioners can understand the industry they aspire to work in,
and the contexts within which it operates. To this end, the
screenwriter steeped in the traditions of creative writing can
become more creatively responsive to the industrial and
economic factors driving the processes of screen production. By
re-conceptualising the screenwriter as a creative and conditioned
agent who plays a specic part in the realities of the
contemporary screen industry, we can better prepare students for
professional practice scenarios that will enable them to make
creative contributions that shape and change the industry.
Received 3 December 2015
Accepted 6 December 2015
Screenwriting; screenplay;
script development; screen
production; creative practice;
Screenwriting can be understood as a form of creative writing, yet one that is usually and
for some, crucially
bound up with the concerns of the screen industry, which provides
the apparatus for turning words on a page into images and sounds on a screen. So while
we might consider screenwriting an important practice in and of itself scholarly
or crea-
tive/professional it is also a practice that relies on other practices and practitioners to
enact its intentions. As Harper jokes in response to creative writing departments who
pay little attention to screenwriting, screenplays are not literary. [ ] Screenplay
writing is about writing a template for another art form [ ] a signpost not a destination
(2015, 111). This echoes various views of the screenplay as a blueprint, found in both scho-
larly writing (Maras 2009; Price 2010) and most practice-focused discourse (Macdonald
In order to fully contextualise the relationship that screenwriting has with creative
writing and screen production, an argument might be mounted that current approaches
to screenwriting need to move beyond the romantic notion of a writer and a blank page
© 2016 Taylor & Francis
CONTACT Susan Kerrigan
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(Zolberg 1990). The writing of a screen idea is no longer a singular individual pursuit, as
Macdonald argues: in screenwriting the process is multiplied by the collective involve-
ment of many in the process of development(2004, 265). This is the same argument
that has been mounted about song writing and songwriters, which conrms that creativ-
ity cannot be fully explained solely by singular characteristics of individuals, as there are
too many variables involved(McIntyre 2008, 50). Creativity theorist Mihalyi Csikszentmiha-
lyi argues that one must internalise the rules of the domain and the opinions of the eld,
so that one can choose the most promising ideas to work on, and do so in a way that will
be acceptable to ones peers(1999, 332). When an individual practitioner embodies and
internalises particular rules and the opinions of specialists, they can be described as a con-
ditioned agent: someone who is recognised as being creative (McIntyre 2008,2010,2012;
Kerrigan 2013,2016). By re-conceptualising the screenwriter as a conditioned agent, that is
a practitioner who draws on their antecedence through creative writing and screen pro-
duction, it is possible to situate them inside a social and cultural creative process where
their work the screenplay meets the expectations of their peers. This approach is
similar to Kerrigans creative documentary practitioner research (see Kerrigan 2011,
Sociological debates outlining the social production of culture (Wolff 1981; Becker 1982;
Bourdieu 1993; Alexander 2003) will be employed here to theoretically support these key
arguments, arising out of observations of the relationship between screenwriting and
creative writing at one end of the spectrum, and screenwriting and screen production
at the other. Screenwriting practice is the activity that generates this spectrum, which
highlights that a traditionalist view of authorship from screen studies perpetuates the
rise and continued ubiquity of auteur theory and text-based lm studies, and the scattered
ways in which screenwriting and screenplays have been analysed as authored or author-
less”’ (Conor 2014, 56). This theoretical idea connects back to the concept of the Death of
the Author(Barthes 1977), in which the readers understanding of a text became more
important than the authors creation of a text. The death of the author was once a
useful argument but it is now out-dated.
We reject the concept of an authorless screenplay, as does Conor (2014) in her book,
Screenwriting: Creative labour and professional practice and Macdonald in his thesis The
presentation of the screen idea in narrative lm-making (2004). Instead, we support research
that acknowledges the conditioned agency of a creative practitioner, in this case a screen-
writer. As sociologist Janet Wolff argues, the birth of the readermay not necessarily
signify the death of the author, but it certainly restricts further his or her authority”’
(1981, 1201).
Thus by positioning the screenwriter as the rst person to x meaning, which will of
course subsequently be subject to redenition and xing by all future readers(Wolff
1981, 136), we situate the role of the screenwriter as a sociological construct, a conditioned
agent or a cultural intermediary. Working on this issue from the perspective of the screen-
writer, Macdonald (2004, 280) suggests that: Barthesdistinction between readerlyand
writerlytexts is helpful in understanding the process of screenplay development as
one in which writerly activity is directed towards the production of a readerly text.
By theoretically examining the differences between the readerof a screenplay and the
writerof a screenplay, we are able to focus on issues which arise when these terms are
conated, as they often have been when examining screenwriting through the lens of
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screen theory (Bordwell 2005). By separating the writer from the reader, it is possible to see
how Barthes’‘readercontributes to the development of a screenplay. Macdonald (2004)
lists a number of ways that this occurs:
in understanding the collaborative process that creates and shapes the screen idea, in locating
the screen idea as a shared concept within that process (and regarding the screenplay as a
partial record of that), in observing and considering the elements that make up that
process of collaborative development, and in understanding that process as a dynamic and
complex one during which meaning is explored, shared and created. (280)
Macdonalds argument endorses that made by Wolff; that is, future screenplay readers
will x their own meaning to a screenplay, and it is possible, even likely that this may
be different to the xed meaning originally intended by the author of the work. From
this position, script development provides a unique opportunity to contest the
meaning of a screen idea and the exchanges that occur between different perspectives,
be those xed or uid, between reader and writer. Script development is the site where
the exchange between the reader and the writer occurs and this is also the site where
creativity occurs. Understanding how to create opportunities where this sort of
exchange can exist, so that a screen idea can be improved, is important for the
academy. Educators in the academy need to understand how to exploit opportunities
to improve screenwriting practice, as this should better prepare screenwriters for work
in a critically demanding industry.
In the academy the practice of screenwriting exists between creative writing courses
and lmmaking courses, somewhere between these two disciplines exists a site where
the screenplay can undergo development through screen production (Batty 2015, 4). We
argue that creative writing and screen production exist on a spectrum that values the
role of the screenwriter and the processes they undertake, and also the industrial lmmak-
ing contexts within which they operate. Usefully, script development can be seen as the
social process where the creative activities of writing and production intersect. As outlined
below, this is a process in which ideas, emotions and personalities combine with the prac-
ticalities, policies and movements of the industry to create, rene and tell a story in the
best way possible and under the circumstances at the time.
Script development can be seen as a collaborative process that often functions accord-
ing to how both the power held and the control wielded by specic participants work
against the extent to which parties are willing to collaborate and extend trust to each
other(Macdonald 2013, 77). Here, Macdonald pinpoints a site in which some might
argue creative compromise occurs, but in fact he also goes on to argue that this site
enables the collaborative creation of the screen idea:
The screen idea is created not by an individual working to some sort of universal principles,
but by a set of assumptions working through a eld, which is both created and changed by
the agents who work in that eld. (Macdonald 2004, 286)
Identifying the social and cultural positioning of agents, where novelty also known as
creativity is recognised, selected and transmitted, is paramount in understanding how
creativity occurs as a practice (Kerrigan 2013,2016). So, by examining the site in which
novelty is accepted or rejected, in this case script development, we can consider both a
screenwriters practice and the screenplays relationship with screen production. Our
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intention is to re-conceptualise and provide other understandings of the rational process
of the creativity of screenwriting; specically, how script development is a social, cultural
and individual process where screenwriting connects with the practical activities of screen
production, and to which the academy can respond accordingly.
To begin, let us explore sociological debates that describe the mediated processes of
the social production of art.
The social production of screenplays
Theoretical debates about the social production of art (Wolff 1981; Becker 1982; Bourdieu
1993; Alexander 2003) are useful when unpacking the mediated processes that take place
during the production of a screenplay. One of the key arguments to be applied to this
exploration of screenwriting is that cultural objects are ltered through and affected
by the people and systems that create and distribute them(Alexander 2003, 68). Essen-
tially, Art is communication. Art has to get from the people who create it to the people
who consume it(Alexander 2003, 62). This concept is explained through the Modied Cul-
tural Diamond (Alexander 2003, 62), which has Creators sitting opposite Consumers on the
two horizontal points, and Art opposite Society on the two vertical points. Sparkling in the
middle of the cultural diamond are Distributors. Alexander argued that placing Distributors
between Creators and Consumers allows us to see that the layers intervening between
artist and consumption can be many(Alexander 2003, 62). Macdonald (2004) explains
how this theoretical notion occurs as a screen idea moves from a screenplay to being
made into a lm. The process occurs where
readers gain access to the text through whatever entranceseems appropriate as director,
producer, actor and so on. It is as if development and production, as a writerly process, has
been grafted on to a readerly (or proto-readerly) text. (271)
By accepting there are many mediated layers in which lmmaking agents have opportu-
nities to intervene between a screenwriter and the audience consuming the completed
work, it becomes possible to accept that social, cultural and industrial processes shape
and create the screen work. As Macdonald (2004) states:
If the screenplay as a document in its partiality and instructional appearance (particularly as it
develops into a shooting script) seems overt and writerly, the process of development itself
appears conventionally to move a screen idea towards a screenwork which can be consumed
and accessed easily an industrial process of shaping a writerly text into a readerly one. (272)
Macdonald locates screen production as the industrial process that shapes a text into a
lm, which will be readby future readersor spectators(Buckland 2000). The screenwri-
ter usually works at the conceptualisation and development end of this process comprised
of four stages: conceptualisation, development, production and reception(Batty 2015,
112). In this sense, the process of screenplay development is overt and thus observable,
unlike the production of a novel(Macdonald 2004, 280). Furthermore the processes of
screen production have become so complex that sociologists argue television screenwri-
ters are deeply embedded in the distribution system, whereas practitioners such as nove-
lists have managed to distinguish themselves from the distribution system (Alexander
2003, 62). For example, whereas writer-producers used to manage the writersroom,
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today they are called showrunnerswho manage the writersroom and the actual pro-
duction (Mann 2009, 100). Mann (2009) argues that the showrunner is
often celebrated as a singular author is in fact notoriously buffeted by conicting obligations
to his/her own creative compass and to the many corporate players involved in maintaining
the commercials engine and bureaucratic constrains of the network television industry as a
whole. (103)
This echoes the earlier mention of the authorless screenplay, where because of the many
layers of cultural production the artist or creator of the work has, to some extent, become
invisible. Though as Wolff (1981) argues, it is possible to reconstitute the position of the
screenwriter as author, by acknowledging that
the author, now understood as constituted in language, ideology, and social relations, retains
a central relevance, both in relation to the meaning of the text [the author being the rst
person to x meaning, which will of course subsequently be subject to redenition and
xing by all future readers]. (136)
The screenwriter is thus deeply positioned, both literally and theoretically, as an
embedded and conditioned agent inside a cultural production and creative system, prac-
tically known as a screen production and distribution system. This conceptual approach
emphasises the social and cultural processes of mediation, in so far as links between
art and society can never be direct, as they are mediated by the creators of art on the
one hand, and the receivers of it on the other side(sic)(Alexander 2003, 62).
By endorsing the position made by sociologist Janet Wolff, we are stipulating that for
the ordinary reader the author is unimportant(1981, 175). This is because the reader is
concerned with understanding the meaning embedded in the creative product that they
as an audience member engage with, be that a completed lm or a screenplay. The
readerof the screenplay or spectatorof the lm is not overtly concerned with the crea-
tive processes of the practitioners who conceptualised, developed and/or created the work;
as consumers of the medium they are only interested in their experience of its diegesis.
This leads us back to creativity research, which points out there are six Ps of creativity:
process, products, personality, places, persuasion and potential (Kozbelt, Beghetto, and
Runco 2010,245).
Acknowledging that creative processes are different to creative products allows us to
theoretically examine the processes of screenwriting in the rst instance, and then to
situate the screenplay as a product that is culturally mediated (Hesmondhalgh 2006,
227) through a screen production process (Macdonald 2004, 2878). Operating inside
the screen production process is an isolated and discrete creative process that relies on
the screenplay as blueprintto be used to drive the mediated creation process. Inside
this process, screenplays have great worth: they are culturally and economically valuable,
and their worth resides in the potential screen work to be made. Hollywood lm producers
consider producible screenplays to be a godsend(Lee and Gillian 2011, 199), and argue
that producers are working daily on developing or optioning a script that fulls the crea-
tive demands and that is business feasible and ready for production(199). Here the roles
of the writer and producer become blurred, both seeking a screenplay that is ready for
funding yet one coming from a writing background and the other from production.
Screen producers are therefore key stakeholders who assess the potential worth of
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screenplays, meaning that those screenplays have little cultural or economic worth outside
of the screen production process and opportunities for commoditisation or monetisation
are signicantly diminished. McIntyre (2010, 10) sees this scenario as intriguing, highlight-
ing that: This situation points to the degree of subtlety needed in setting out the precise
relationship between producers of media content and the dynamic structures and con-
texts this creative activity occurs within.
Through the lens of screen production, then, a screenplay can be valued through its
role in activating a systemic production and distribution process which results in the cul-
turally and socially mediated creation of a screen work. As Macdonald (2004) argues:
The screen idea is created not by an individual working to some sort of universal principles,
but by a set of assumptions working through a eld, which is both created and changed by
the agents who work in that eld. (286)
To further elaborate on the industrial purpose of the screenplay, we look to the script
development process to understand its signicance and the role it plays in and for
screen production.
The screenplays role in script development
Script development is a process that is often overlooked. As a site of creative practice itself,
it can easily be misunderstood because the craft and process of writing a screenplay is
often conated with the result of that process: a completed screenplay. There are different
examples of the screenwriting form, forms that exist in both ction and non-ction
(Morgan 2006; Kerrigan 2011), but here we focus on script development for ctional
forms. Each ctional screenplay or form has slightly different script development pro-
cesses. For example, television is different to lm, especially under serialised conditions
where storyliners and story editors play a large role (see Grace 2014; Redvall 2014); devel-
oping scripts for animation is even more different, where a scriptmight exist but in quite
a different format (see Wells 2010,2014). For the purposes of this article and our concerns
with bringing together writing practice and the apparatus of production, we draw from
Bloore (2012) who, writing about the independent feature lm industry, sees script devel-
opment as:
the creative and industrial collaborative process in which a story idea (either an original idea or
an adaptation of an existing idea, such as a play, novel, or real life event) is turned into a script;
and is then repeatedly rewritten to reach a stage when it is attractive to a suitable director,
actors and relevant lm production funders; so that enough money can be raised to get
the lm made. (9)
From this perspective script development should be a collaborative journey to make the
story as good as it can possibly be(Bloore 2012, 11), yet also residing at the heart of devel-
opment is the thorny question of when do you agree to compromise on your vision to
get the lm made? And when precisely does collaboration become compromise?
(Bloore 2012, 4). Within the independent feature lm industry the idea of artistic compro-
mise is often a grave concern, but creativity theorists argue collaboration should not be
seen as a compromise because acceptance of ones peers is the ultimate creative accom-
plishment (Csikszentmihalyi 1999, 332). Staiger has also moved beyond the notion of
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collaboration as compromise. In her examination of the script as blueprint, she cautions
that studying the context for the creation of a screenplay is crucial in locating what per-
tains to the system and what relates to the individual(Staiger 2012, 76). She further elab-
orates that: No script has ever been without multiple causes for its form and style, no
event of writing pure and simple, and studies of script authorship are important for under-
standing the complex creative process of lm-making(Staiger 2012, 76).
The practice of script development ranges from readersreports on drafts and compe-
tition entries at the emerging/aspiring end of the market, to intensive face-to-face work-
shopping with script development personnel on commissioned work. These aspects give
script development a strong sense of not only industrialisation, but also emotion whereby
constant negotiations are made between the self (ideas, visions, feedback) and the com-
mercial product (structures, formulas, symbolic codes and conventions). Added to this is
the reality that script development may sometimes be paid work/labour, but can also
be unpaid (see Conor 2014,313).
Taking a slightly different view that situates screenplays as part of the creative econ-
omics of screen production, Staiger points out that the primary functions of innovation
in screenwriting are for the purposes of saving costs and controlling quality(Staiger
2012, 85). This insinuates that one of the purposes of script development is to improve
the quality of the narrative and reduce production costs. If script development is looked
at only from this point of view, it is possible to see why creative compromise becomes
such an issue for screenwriters (see Bloore 2012; Macdonald 2013). Though as described
by screenwriters themselves, this situation can occur often in television series. Tara
Bennett (2014), in her book Showrunners, explains how the creative ow of a television
episode is shaped by advertising:
The three-act structure has expanded over the last 50 years to include an increase of commer-
cial breaks (up to six in some hour-long shows) in both comedy and drama script, even
through the allocated screen times has not changed (either 60 minutes or an hour). (69)
Bennett goes on to point out that HBO shows are funded by subscriber fees and not by
advertising, which allows showrunners and writers to still craft episodic stories in the
three-act structure(2014, 69). She then points out that it is the network on which
shows air that dictates the length of actsand ad breaks for broadcast and basic cable tel-
evision shows. For example, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was written, Jane Espenson was
writing to three ad breaks, therefore used a four-act structure (in Bennett 2014, 71). The
Good Wife uses a ve-act structure, its showrunner Robert King declaring that the networks
are moving to add another act which for him will destroy storytelling(in Bennett 2014,
71). These commercial and monetising structures are certainly impacting the craft of
screenwriting, and it is these sites of contestation where new forms of creative practice
and innovation can emerge. In line with these developments of format are creative
labour arguments that maintain that screenwriting is often viewed as the least creative
form of writing(Conor 2014, 129). Conor provides a number of reasons for this: the
how-to manuals present prescriptions and formulae; the commercial obligations often
mean writers just say yes; the collective nature of the craft and medium denies individual
creative authorship; and the invisibility of the writer compared to other writers or lm-
makers (Conor 2014, 129). Conors perspective supports the idea that form, format and
commercial obligation restrict screenwriters, but arguing from a contrary position is
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Macdonald. He recognises that understanding screenwriting conventions benets writers
and is necessary to recognise that part of the convention is the search for originalityor at
least novelty, which appears to come from nowhere except the individual genius of the
writer(2004, 288). Understanding that novelty and originality can in fact emerge from
convention is important for emerging screenwriters who enter the academy.
Screenwriting is part of a complex system at work; a system that is much larger than the
individual screenwriter. By embracing these attitudes through curriculum design and ped-
agogical interventions the screenwriting student can better understand how to internalise
the rules of the domain and the opinions of the eld to enable a creative screenwriting
Script development as a collaborative and creative practice
McIntyre raised similar concerns for the songwriter in his research into the creative song
writing process for the contemporary Western popular music industry. In an article in the
Creativity Research Journal (McIntyre 2008), he argues that
it is the social organization that decides whether a song is a song in the rst place and, second,
how closely that song adheres to or departs from the tradition of contemporary Western
popular music. The eld decides how a song ts in relation to all other songs. Songwriters
draw on the specic domain of songs and songwriting and rearrange it in unique and
novel ways. Contemporary Western songwriters, as choice-making agents, therefore work
within a structured system that shapes and governs their creativity while they contribute to
and alter that system. (49)
Taking this approach it is possible to identify screenwriting processes as part of the crea-
tive and systemic process of lmmaking (Kerrigan and McIntyre 2010; Kerrigan 2013). This
means it is possible to situate screenwriting as part of iterative and recursive creative pro-
cesses (Wallas 1976; Bastick 1982; Csikszentmihalyi 1996). Viewed practically, the screen
production process is also a staged process of project development pre-production, pro-
duction, post-production and distribution (Ayers et al. 1992, 5; Cohen, Salazar, and Barkat
2009, 95) which is non-linear, or recursive and iterative, and which serves the purpose of
layering a story with visual and aural properties to give it a life beyond the page. Within
this, the practices of script development and writing occur mainly during the rst two
stages: the working up of a project until it is ready for realisation and interpretation by
agents such as director, cinematographer, costume designer, editor and actor. Maras
(2009, 185) also writes about this separation of stages, using the terms conceptionand
This means that the screenwriter as creative practitioner can be theoretically situated in
a creative system that seeks to move the concept of creativity from the plane of purely
individual (subjective) recognition to a social (intersubjective) arena(Hooker et. al.
2014, 230). By seeing the individual creative practitioner or selfas a screenwriting
agent, engaged in a process through which screenplays or commercial productsare
made and identied within the system as being novel examples that are created collabora-
tively, this process acknowledges the social production of screenplays that are derived
from individual agents. Their value and worth is judged through a eld of experts or
peers other screenwriters, script producers, directors, and so on who rst select
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their work for script development and then, if they survive that stage, may be selected for
production. This explanation aligns with the systems model of creative practice (see Ker-
rigan 2013,2016) in which a screenplay can be seen as the result or creative output of
the practice of screenwriting, which then leads to a more iterative and recursive process of
script development. In turn, another iterative and recursive process that leads on from this
is the production of a screen work.
Sometimes script development can occur alongside the production process, where
script changes are made during the making of the work; and in some cases, in post-pro-
duction, where those with power over the script are brought into the edit room to try and
solve a story problem (see Seger in Batty 2012, 242). Based on her research into the
working of the writersroom of Danish television series Borgen, Redvall (2014) writes that:
A vast number of people, amongst them directors, cinematographers and actors, are impor-
tant to the process, and whilst writers are presented as where it all starts we can argue that the
vision for the services truly comes alive through the context, the creative space and the col-
laborations of the writersroom. (135)
On this long-running television series, writers are physically situated in the lm production
studio and near the post-production suites, which allows the writers to become deeply
involved in all stages of production: no longer invisible.
Script development and its part in screen production research
Television production has given the screenwriter visibility in the screen production
process. The recent global and commercial success of the serial form is permitting the
screenwriter and the writersroom to be researched and contextualised, because it is a
physical site where researchers are able to examine ethnographically the script develop-
ment process. It is a little more difcult for an ethnographic researcher to enter the inter-
nalised world of an individual screenwriter, though some researchers as practitioners have
managed this (McIntyre 2008). By entering the physical world of the writersroom, it is
possible to research the collaborative process of screenwriting to understand how the
screenplay is rst conceptualised and then actually written as a screenplay for screen pro-
duction. Literature is now emerging that is able to acknowledge this, for example Televi-
sion screenwriting continuity and changewas recently published as a special issue in the
Journal of Screenwriting (Redvall and Cook 2015). This means in both practice and theory
that screenwriting is being re-conceptualised as part of the screen production process.
This is new and innovative research and indeed screen production has similarly struggled
to be recognised as a creative activity in its own right, historically overshadowed by lm
studies and lm theory. As Duncan Petrie (1991) argues:
The general thrust in lm studies has been to move away from the notion of the lm-maker as
an author standing behind the lm, and toward the idea of cinema as a process of spectating
in which the lm maker becomes merely one element. (13)
Petrie is pointing out similar arguments to those made by Conor, in regard to rejecting the
notion of the authorlessscreenplay. These arguments arise from the same conceptual
place, which conates the creative process with the creative product. Screenwriting has
suffered this fate because of auteur theory, which privileges the director over the writer.
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One might imagine that a lmmaker would endorse auteur theory, but as Petrie points out,
the logistics of the lmmaking process render it impossible for a sole individual to make a
lm(1991, 23). This has led to the abandonment of the creative principles and the neglect
of lm-making practices(Petrie 1991, 14). So too with the ever expanding script develop-
ment process, because of Hollywoods extended funding process (Lee and Gillian 2011)
and the rise of the longer form television serial, it is becoming increasingly difcult for a
sole writer to claim that all the ideas in the screenplay belong to one individual.
This approach will challenge screenwriting research that focuses on the practitioner
working in isolation from a eld of social experts and a cultural domain of knowledge,
one that divorces the screenwriting practitioner from a creative environment. These
approaches reinforce romantic concepts of the creative genius (Sternberg and Lubart
1999), which conveniently overlook the conscious process through which a screenplay
is developed, in order to elevate the activity of writing to that of something mystical, or
that comes from a muse(Plato 1971). By identifying the conditioned agency of a screen-
writer, developed through their idiosyncratic background, it becomes possible to connect
the craft of creative writing with screen production. Part of re-conceptualising these
understandings of screenwriting means that screenwriting students need to be encour-
aged to turn away from Plato and to embrace Aristotle, if you will, where the distinction
between creative product and creative process has been identied rationally. As Aristotle
argued, whatever comes to be is generated by the agency of something, out of some-
thing, and comes to be something(Aristotle 1960, 142). As Rotherberg and Hausman
(1976) argue, Aristotles work emphasises the resources with which the artist begins as
both necessary and sufcient to account for all that is found in the created product
(28). Therefore, if the screenwriting product is examined alongside an account of the
screenwriters antecedence that is their craft skills, internalisation of the rules of the
domain and embodiment of the elds opinions then according to Aristotle and creativ-
ity literature, such an examination should be sufcient to reveal the process of screenwrit-
ing as a creative practice.
Script development in the academy
In the academy, a lot of what we might conceive of script development is facilitated
through well-known screenwriting manuals and other practice-focussed texts. These
include a heavy focus on plot and story structure (Vogler 1999; Field 2003; Aronson
2000); work on developing believable characters (Horton 2000; Davis 2004); understanding
screen-specic narrative properties such as genre and visual storytelling (Seger 1994;
McKee 1999; Duncan 2008), and rening work through the lens of theme (Egri 2004;
Batty 2015). While understanding these core elements of screenwriting craft is essential
for writing a good screenplay, it can only go so far in helping a screenwriter to negotiate
processes of script development in real life, industry situations. For example, deep knowl-
edge of character, theme and plot certainly underpins a screen idea, but how much will it
help to negotiate situations where screenplays are optioned, story bibles are created, and
trailers and teasers are created to accompany funding applications?
A screenwriting student needs to internalise the rules of the domain of screenwriting as
laid out in these screenwriting manuals, but they also need to do more than this. For their
creative contribution to be selected as being novel in a creative system, they need to
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understand how the eld of screen production operates
As Csikszentmihalyi argues, elds
are powerful agencies that will differ in the stringency of their selective mechanisms, the
sensitivity of their gatekeepers, and the dynamics of their inner organisations(Csikszent-
mihalyi 1988, 331). Screenwriting in the academy needs to provide an education about
how to embody the opinions of the eld in order to understand how the medium and
the industry can shape their work. This is not a simple process, and the professional prac-
tice has for some decades been moving away from the specialisation of being just a
screenwriter, to that of a multi-skilled screenwriter who can also operate as a writer-pro-
ducer or writer-director.
Recently, things have become even more complex with new roles emerging for
screenwriters, such as that of the showrunners. These industrial and professional
changes point to the increasing levels and layers of complexity that now exist in the
screen production system, of which screenwriting and script development clearly play
a signicant part. For the academy, therefore, it becomes increasingly important to
adhere to what creativity theory tells us: that one must internalise the rules of the
domain and the opinions of the eld, so that one can choose the most promising
ideas to work on, and do so in a way that will be acceptable to ones peers(Csikszent-
mihalyi 1999, 332). If the academy seeks to be relevant to the industry, and if it wants to
graduate screenwriting students that can make signicant contributions to the domain
of screen production, each of the aspects discussed above need to be addressed
thorough curriculum and pedagogic developments, and enhanced research method-
ologies that acknowledge the creative, collaborative and industrial systems in which
screenwriting (usually) operates.
Concepts such as collaborative authorship, which explores how screenwriting involves
multiple forms of both writing and lmmaking(Conor 2014, 54), can be understood as
important contemporary creative practices. This is something the academy can and
should bring to the table in order that future generations of screenwriters are made
aware of practical and useful approaches to writing for the screen. It is here that crea-
tive writing and screen production are joined through script development.
All parts of the lmmaking process serve a purpose in communicating an idea; a socially
constructed idea that is realised through both craft and medium specify. Spectators,
readers, writers, directors, cinematographers, sound recordists, actors, editors, composers
and so on all play a role as creative and conditioned agents in screen production, sharing
the social and cultural construction of audiovisual meaning. Spectators and readers make
meaning out of the creative product, and screen practitioners (screenwriters included)
make meaning through their creative processes. To argue that one part of that process
has supremacy is neither rational nor accurate, and it denies some agents their creative
contribution to what is a highly complex creative system.
If the theories argued here, representing sociology and creativity are accurate, then
screenwriters improve their craft by engaging in script development, and lmmakers
improve their work by agreeing to collaborate on screenplays that have been revisited
many times by practitioners who believe in the story on the page and who have been sup-
ported by their network of peers to make the screenplay a reality. Screenwriting in this
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sense is a social, cultural and creative practice that can be re-conceptualised in and by the
academy. The practice of script development conrms that the process of screenwriting is
a complex screen production system that could be taught practically in the academy as a
social and cultural process, one that produces the creative product we know as a screen
1. Here we might consider those who write because to them, writing is in their blood; and those
who write because they want to make lms, television or online drama. Though these types
are not mutually exclusive, there does exist a subtle difference. The writer-director or writer-pro-
ducer might provide a clear example of the latter.
2. See Baker (2013); Baker et al. (2015); Batty and McAulay (2016); and Lee, Lomdahl, Sawtell, Taylor
and Sculley (2016).
3. Here the rise of fandom needs to be acknowledged and emergence of the behind the scenes
lms/DVD that are made to show fans the lmmakerscreative processes.
4. The ability for this to happen can often be determined by the placing of screenwriting teaching
within an institution. For example, sometimes it is part of a lm or media department, and some-
times it is part of a creative writing and communication department.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributor
Susan Kerrigan is a screen production scholar who specialises in creative screen practice through
practice-led research techniques for screen production. Susan is a current recipient of an ARC
Linkage Grant entitled Creativity and Cultural Production: An Applied Ethnographic Study of New
Entrepreneurial Systems in the Creative Industries. Susans research is closely aligned with her
past employment at ABC Television Sydney (19872003), where she worked across a variety of pro-
ductions using multi-camera and single camera approaches. Susan has professionally produced and
directed Australian television programs including Play School. Other highlights include continuity
on Australian Drama TV productions (including Wildside, GP, Big Sky).
Craig Batty is Associate Professor of Screenwriting at RMIT University, Australia. He is author, co-
author and editor of eight books, including Screenwriters and Screenwriting: Putting Practice into
Context (2014), The Creative Screenwriter: Exercises to Expand Your Craft (2012), Screenplays: How to
Write and Sell Them and Movies That Move Us: Screenwriting and the Power of the Protagonists
Journey (2011). He has published many articles, reviews and book chapters on screenwriting and
media writing. Craig is also a writer, script editor and script consultant.
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... Recent scholarship on script development has sought to provide a series of definitions, experiences, theoretical and practice-based approaches, and calls for more research into the practice. Kerrigan and Batty (2016), for example, have noted how, because script development is not a singular individual pursuit-as Macdonald argues, 'in screenwriting the process is multiplied by the collective involvement of many in the process of development ' (2004b, p. 265)-screenwriters become conditioned agents who internalise the expertise and views of their peers in the work they deliver. Similarly, notions of collaborative authorship, namely how screenwriting involves 'multiple forms of both writing and filmmaking' (Conor 2014, p. 54), can be understood as important to script development practices. ...
... Similarly, notions of collaborative authorship, namely how screenwriting involves 'multiple forms of both writing and filmmaking' (Conor 2014, p. 54), can be understood as important to script development practices. Here, screen production arguably joins creative writing as an interesting endeavour, particularly in the academy (see Kerrigan and Batty 2016). ...
... (P9) I think my theatre background has provided a lot of valuable skills as well, especially in terms of collaboration and group devised work. The principles of improv -playing the 'yes' game so things keep moving, building on a suggestion and exploring it rather than shutting it down because you don't agree with it, etc. (P13) conclusIon In this chapter we have outlined a series of perspectives of script development that we hope might go some way in informing a pedagogy of screenwriting beyond the screenplay, perhaps resulting in students who become conditioned agents (Kerrigan and Batty 2016) of the internalised aspects of development experienced during their studies. Naturally, teaching and learning approaches are contingent on context and many of the ideas presented here might not be feasible for all educators, but at the very least they provide a set of understandings and approaches that can inform curriculum design and pedagogy. ...
Full-text available
This chapter describes how screenwriters think about their writing voice, how initial ideas and intentions are formulated through decisions and choices during screenwriting practice and how such voices reflect the aesthetic and personal sen­sibilities of the screenwriter who has created the dramatic design and artistic values of the text.1 It focuses on research (Ferrell 2017a) of the process by which an existing screenplay, Cashflow (Ferrell 1996), whose first draft was described by an Australian reader as having an American voice, was rewritten to have an Australian voice. Voice is defined here as the 'pervasive authorial presence' (Abrams 1993; Abrams and Harpham 2015) of the screenwriter. However, voice was opened up to the interrogation of cultural formations when, in this instance, I, an Australian writer, wrote an American-voiced screenplay.
... intrOduCtiOn In this article, a group of Australia-based scholar-practitioners argue that the complexity of script development -both as a creative/professional practice and an area of research -makes it a 'wicked problem' (Rittel and Webber 1973), and also one whose industrial location almost certainly requires collaboration between the academy and the screen industries to define, understand and address it. The fundamental difficulty of defining script development has previously been identified by Batty et al. (2017), Price (2017) and Kerrigan and Batty (2016), namely in relation to it meaning different things to different people, under different circumstances, at different times, and for different agendas. In this article, we work from a basic definition of script development as a gradual, time-bound process of improving a 'screen idea' (Macdonald 2013): the object (idea) at the heart of a collaborative process of devising for the screen. ...
... org/gps/solving/ ten-criteria-for-wickedproblems/. (Maras 1999;Conor 2014), an industrialized system (Bloore 2012), a social process (Kerrigan and Batty 2016), or as poetics (Thompson 2003;Bordwell 2008;Macdonald 2013). Key issues in script development studies include the nature of authorship and the challenges of collaboration (Kerrigan and Batty 2016), and the very problem of defining its practice (Taylor and Batty 2016). ...
... (Maras 1999;Conor 2014), an industrialized system (Bloore 2012), a social process (Kerrigan and Batty 2016), or as poetics (Thompson 2003;Bordwell 2008;Macdonald 2013). Key issues in script development studies include the nature of authorship and the challenges of collaboration (Kerrigan and Batty 2016), and the very problem of defining its practice (Taylor and Batty 2016). In an industrial framework, a script is a highly prescribed document, and development a highly institutionalized set of practices. ...
Both a process and a set of products, influenced by policy as well as people, and incorporating objective agendas at the same time as subjective experiences, script development is a core practice within the screen industry –yet one that is hard to pin down and, to some extent, define. From an academic research perspective, we might say that script development is a ‘wicked problem’ precisely because of these complex and often contradictory aspects. Following on from a recent Journal of Screenwriting special issue on script development (2017, vol. 8:3), and in particular an article therein dedicated to reviewing the literature and ‘defining the field’, an expanded team of researchers follow up on those ideas and insights. In this article, then, we attempt to theorize script development as a ‘wicked problem’ that spans a range of themes and disciplines. As a ‘wicked’ team of authors, our expertise encompasses screenwriting theory, screenwriting practice, film and television studies, cultural policy, ethnography, gender studies and comedy. By drawing on these critical domains and creative practices, we present a series of interconnected themes that we hope not only suggests the potential for script development as a rich and exciting scholarly pursuit, but that also inspires and encourages other researchers to join forces in an attempt to solve the script development ‘puzzle’.
... Other forms of research-informed scriptwriting have been less often published in drama/education/research fields. Scholarly scriptwriting where the creative process itself is a concern methodologically has been further interrogated, arising more from disciplines such as creative writing and screenwriting (Baker 2013;Baker et al. 2015; Kerrigan and Batty 2016;Millard 2010 ). Recently a number of dramatic scripts and articles have been published in journals such as TEXT Journal of Creative Writing (Baker 2013) and New Writing (Kerrigan and Batty 2016), with the writers arguing that scriptwriting is a critical and creative writing practice, which is also a research practice that deserves scholarly attention. ...
... Scholarly scriptwriting where the creative process itself is a concern methodologically has been further interrogated, arising more from disciplines such as creative writing and screenwriting (Baker 2013;Baker et al. 2015; Kerrigan and Batty 2016;Millard 2010 ). Recently a number of dramatic scripts and articles have been published in journals such as TEXT Journal of Creative Writing (Baker 2013) and New Writing (Kerrigan and Batty 2016), with the writers arguing that scriptwriting is a critical and creative writing practice, which is also a research practice that deserves scholarly attention. ...
The creation of scripts and performances from, as, and for sharing research has gained increasing credibility in the overlapping realms of applied theatre, performance studies, drama education and arts-based research. The resulting scripts can be used to inform learning processes, share data with research participants and be shaped into performative works for diverse audiences. While much of this work draws upon and experiments with ethnographic methodologies and traditions, the scope for exploring scriptwriting as research is diversifying. This article shares insights emerging from the development of script and a research process which draws on concerns arising from anthropology/ethnology, historiography and drama to develop a script which investigated the principles and practices of nurses today, and those of nurses 100 years ago during World War 1. Such processes which combine historical research, participatory processes and scriptwriting as a creative and research practice can be applied within drama classrooms and other community and professional contexts.
... With many thanks to all collaborators in the study, especially Lynn Stewart-Taylor and to Professor Andrew Spicer for his advice and encouragement. Batty, Craig. 2015. "A screenwriter's journey into theme, and how creative writing research might help us to define screen production research." In Studies in Australasian Cinema 9, no. 2: 110-121. ...
This paper examines how orthodox approaches to developing screenplays must be expanded when working with emerging screenwriting talent. It explores the particular issues and problems facing those working in Deaf film and TV, where production budgets are modest and training opportunities few. The analysis focusses on an individual case study: the year-long development of a half-hour TV drama between a professional hearing script editor and a novice Deaf screenwriter.The well-established formulation of the script editor is as a story expert supporting the screenwriter to hone her/his screenplay. Borrowing Gabriel’s idea of a ‘boundary rider’, the paper examines how the script editor works energetically to preserve the agency of the new screenwriter; to privilege experiential learning whilst responding to the demands of an industrial commissioning process and production specification. Drawing on Gramsci’s elaboration of the subaltern and the theories of Foucault and Bourdieu, it discusses the creative and cultural complexity of the editor - writer relationship.Macdonald’s proposed framework of the Screen Idea Work Group is employed to explore the lived experience of a dialogical process of shared creation, which expands out to include production team, actors and interpreters via a uniquely adapted Table Read situated at the heart of the script development process. The value of this powerful encounter for the screenwriter is reflected on as well as its cost. Overall it is contended that much greater investment is required to develop assured screenwriting voices that can craft compelling stories to connect with audiences for Deaf film and TV.
This article investigates, through interviews, the script development processes of four female-identifying web series creators, contributing to scholarship around web series’ ability to serve diverse communities [Christian 2020. “Beyond Branding: The Value of Intersectionality on Streaming TV Channels.” Television & New Media 21 (5): 457–474; 2011. “Fandom as Industrial Response: Producing Identity in an Independent Web Series.” TWC – Transformative Works and Cultures, 8, ‘Race and Ethnicity in Fandom’ special issue; Monaghan 2017 Monaghan, W. 2017. “Starting from … Now and the web Series to Television Crossover: An Online Revolution?” Media International Australia 164 (1): 82–91.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]. “Starting From … Now and the Web Series to Television Crossover: An Online Revolution?” Media International Australia 164 (1): 82–91; Williams 2012 Williams, D. 2012. Web TV Series: How to Make and Market Them. Harpenden: Kamera Books. [Google Scholar]. Web TV Series: How to Make and Market Them. Harpenden: Kamera Books], but from the perspective of the writing process. The three web series making up this small sample – Last Breath (2018), Love Songs (2019) and Phi and Me (2019-) – have all experienced notable levels of ‘success’ (defined here variously in terms of views, festival selections, and awards). This article offers a preliminary investigation into how women’s web series writing practices may – or may not – depart from conventions that are practiced in mainstream settings of episodic script development, and/or are circulated by the screenwriting ‘how-to’ market. Using the insights into these writing processes, this article builds upon web series scholarship (where, it has been argued, innovations around diversity are leading the way in terms of screen content and distribution) by exploring the extent to which gender and cultural diversity, platform and standardised story structures inform the script development processes.
In this chapter, we explore the notion of improvement as it relates to script development discourse and experience. In an attempt to open up debate for further conceptualisation and theorisation, we draw on two distinct datasets: script development guidelines from Federal and State/Territory screen agencies in Australia, and interviews with script development professionals. Screen agency documents were collated and analysed in 2018 for their explicit or implicit directives towards improvement, including analogous concepts such as betterment, quality and success. These were then considered in relation to 14 interview transcripts, the results of which were themed into groups. The interviews were conducted with industry professionals from Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US in 2017, who have worked in a variety of script development roles across these countries, including as screenwriter, script consultant, script editor, story editor and storyline writer. This rich and diverse dataset is useful for comparing lived experiences—of both developing and being developed—with the discourses espoused by screen agencies.
This chapter addresses the ways in which screenwriters create the persona of the anti-hero in the Chilean TV miniseries Heroes (2006–2007), a six-part historical series about Chilean national heroes, currently used as educational material in Chilean schools. In the writing of this celebratory series, the key challenge was to create engaging characters who could be perceived as national “heroes” in the context of a contemporary series, when in fact, their historical actions were those of “un-heroic” real people, people an audience would consider to be “anti-heroes”. To consider this challenge, the chapter traces how the screenwriters of Heroes created the character of the hero/anti-hero as both protagonist and antagonist. In the chapter, firstly we outline the situation the writers were faced with in researching and recreating the real-life characters of Bernardo O’Higgins, José Miguel Carrera, and Manual Rodríguez. This includes the challenge of delving into the psychology of characters who were by present-day standards prejudiced misogynists who mistreated women, ordered murders and fathered illegitimate children whom they ignored, and presenting them as heroes, particularly when the target audience was school children. We distil these as a means of considering the creation of the anti-hero in the script development of Heroes.
In his chapter “Smartphone Screenwriting: Creativity, Technology, and Screenplays-on-the-Go”, Craig Batty argues that while technological advances might seemingly be breeding new types of screenwriting practice via apps and digital tools, in fact they are almost exclusively responding to market demands and facilitating existing, rather than inspiring new, practices: “every tool and app is still reliant on what the screenwriter brings to it” (Batty, p. 113, in: Berry and Schleser (eds) Mobile Media Making in an Age of Smartphones. Palgrave, New York, 2014). The question still remains: if technology can determine the type, style and form of screen media being produced (e.g. smartphone filmmaking, the web series), can it also influence the ways these works are written, beyond replicating what happens in the analogue world? How might the capabilities of mobile media shape and enhance the story-making practices of a screenwriter?
Creativity - the theoretical context creativity and cinema the question of cinema technology the financing and production of British films - historical background British feature film production the film-making process - sales distribution and marketing genre, aesthetics and criticism creative collaboration and the production process a critical assessment of current British cinema.
In the Disney animated feature Tangled (2010), the knowing re-telling of the Grimms’ fairy tale ‘Rapunzel’, the hero Flynn Rider resists Rapunzel’s questions by responding, ‘Sorry, Blondie, I don’t do backstory.’ Like the Proustian madeleine, the phrase resonated for me. It made me immediately consider what ‘backstory’ actually implies for animated characters, and further, in what ways the script development process for animation fundamentally differs from its live-action counterpart. I started to consider all of the aspects of animation’s pre-production processes that remain invisible and un-recognised in the final outcome of a work, and why it remains important to somehow reclaim such aspects to recognise them as anything from key resources to lost skill sets, to points of academic interest and research. By the time my mind drifted back to Tangled, I had completely lost the plot.
Writers are where it all starts. That is how Head of DR Fiction at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DR (formerly Danmarks Radio), Nadia Kløvedal Reich, explains the DR approach to producing quality television drama (cited in Pham, 2012). Since the late 1990s, the strategy of DR’s in-house drama production unit, DR Fiction, has been to focus on original ideas of writers based on the concept of ‘one vision’. The notion is that one person needs to feel ownership and have an overall vision for a project in order to create successful series like Forbrydelsen/The Killing (2007–2012) or Borgen (2010–2013). In the DR production framework, this person is singled out as the head writer, but he or she normally works closely with other writers as well as the in-house producers of DR Fiction. It is a highly collaborative process, and several series in the DR framework are based on the use of writers’ rooms for producing quality drama series.1
The systems perspective ‘views creativity not as the product of an isolated individual’s aptitude or quirkiness, but as an interaction occurring among a talented individual, a domain of knowledge or practice, and a field of experts’ (Hooke et al. in Paulus and Nijstad 2003, p. 228) who recognize the work as creative.
Screenwriting: Creative Labor and Professional Practice analyzes the histories, practices, identities and subjects which form and shape the daily working lives of screenwriters. Author Bridget Conor considers the ways in which contemporary screenwriters navigate and make sense of the labor markets in which they are immersed. Chapters explore areas including: • Screenwriting histories and myths of the profession • Screenwriting as creative labor • Screenwriters’ working lives • Screenwriting work and the how-to genre • Screenwriting work and inequalities Drawing on historical and critical perspectives of mainstream screenwriting in the USA and UK, as well as valuable interviews with working screenwriters, this book presents a highly original and multi-faceted study of screenwriting as creative labor and professional practice.