I'm not going to call it Method Screenwriting

October 7, 2017

Most of us are familiar with method acting. 


“Method acting initially came to the attention of the U.S. public at about the same time that television enjoyed its first growth spurt: the late 1940s and early 1950s. At that time, director Elia Kazan brought Marlon Brando to the stage and then to the screen in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), which was followed by On the Waterfront (1954). Brando was the most visible of several distinctive new actors who were advocating the Method. He, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Julie Harris, and others had been trained by Method teachers such as Lee Strasberg (at the Actors Studio) and Stella Adler (Brando’s principal teacher). However, the Method was being taught in the live theatre long before this crop of actors made their impact on U.S. cinema. The technique originated in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, when Constantin Stanislavski founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1897. Stanislavski disdained any acting other than that of the live theatre. He barely tolerated film actors and died in 1938 before television became a mass medium. Still, the impact of the Stanislavski system on television has been immeasurable.”*


*Source: http://www.criticalcommons.org/Members/jbutler/commentaries/the-arrival-of-method-acting-in-us-film-tv 


I think that good screenwriting is its own version of this. When writing a good screenplay, a good screenwriter will not just lose themselves in the story they are telling and the writing of it; the good screenwriter will ‘get themselves out of the way’. My acting teacher used this phrase when trying to instil Method acting into me and fellow students. 


A good screenwriter will ‘get themselves out of the way’ and listen to the characters they are creating and the story they are writing. While the screenplay this writer creates will certainly be subjectified by the screenwriter’s persona (as I know the scripts I write are), the best screenwriters can step aside and let the story happen through them. 


I’m not going to call this ability Method Screenwriting. Names tend to suggest limits. But it is something to aim for, named or not. You’ll know when you’ve achieved it.
 

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