UCLA Professor Pat Verducci, renowned for her work as a writing coach and story consultant, gave a full hour and 40 minutes of her time to answer questions about the writing process for Film Courage. Over the course of the nearly 2 hour deep dive, Verducci reveals her practical but unmechanical approach to screenwriting and finding compelling stories through her suggested non-restrictive but well-maintained procedure.

Pat Verducci for Film Courage Interviews

Verducci starts with the three essential story elements present in most every great movie, and the three questions you should know the answer to before proceeding to write a script, or else you shouldn’t expect it to be any good. She begins to point out weaknesses that, over the course of her career, she has come across in scripts written by amateurs as well as professionals (most often the lack of a clear “want” for their protagonist).

Moving on from these basic principles, Verducci introduces her own concept for the “empathy meter”. The strongest lanyard of the empathy meter comes into play as early as page one; whereby a writer must already have established empathy with their main character, especially in the realm of the anti-hero. She makes an example of Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley, who is a despicable villain, but an empathetic one, since the audience is made to understand what he yearns for from the word go.

On more abstract subjects, Pat is quizzed as to what it is about writing that can make the process so daunting, surmising that craft can be learned, and most people need to do so in order to successfully absorb and produce professional work, but that there is a second side to writing (which is “almost magical”) wherein it becomes for a moment nearly effortless, as if a writer is simply taking dictation from a muse. This second side cannot be controlled (though Verducci does note that it won’t transpire unless you set aside the time for it to arrive by working consistently). In this way the routines we adopt when writing can leave the door open for that free flow of ideas to arrive.

In a curious distinction from most writing advice, for Verducci theme comes last in the writing process. Rather than a catalyst for storytelling, the theme reveals itself as the connective tissue once she’s sorted out who her characters are and what they’ve done in the story. It appears in revision, a realization through excavation. This is a unique approach, but it can be helpful in realizing that sometimes what you end up writing is not what you set out to put down. If you’ve followed the characters implicitly rather than rotely expressing a theme you’ve already in mind, the theme presents itself in time through your candid dedication to what those characters you’ve created would come to. Verducci points out that Arthur Miller discovered his theme half way through writing, so there are plenty of approaches to uncovering your theme.

Verducci touches on much more (among them; the 11 steps to a feature film, the role of writers to create questions and not to provide answers, before returning to the all important “want” of your characters, and how to figure out precisely what that is) in this uniquely thorough Film Courage interview.

Screenwriting Wisdom from Pat Verducci
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