Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Screenwriter John Weiskopf shares secrets of the trade in Weschler Theater event

Veteran screenwriter John Weiskopf said at AU Jan. 30 that great screenplays are crucial in the creation of iconic films.

“You cannot make a good film from a bad screenplay,” Weiskopf said in a talk in the Weschler Theater. “The screenplay is the skeleton; it is the catalyst for everything. If you’re not going to have a good screenplay, you’re not going to have a good film, period.”

Weiskopf, a native of the D.C. area, and graduate of the University of Maryland as well as UCLA, wrote screenplays for feature films “Sixty-three” and adapted his novel “The Ascendancy” into a film in 2010.

Weiskopf extolled the virtues of the screenplay after discussing some of the most popular or critically loved movies like “District 9,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Vertigo.”

Weiskopf said that screenplays are not formulaic, though they do have definite structure elements, such as the protagonist and antagonist. He also stressed the importance of the inciting incident, which is “the primary catalyst, the compressed event in time, that upsets the balance of the main character’s life.”

Weiskopf also said that the inciting incident was important because it lays the seeds for the antagonist, whom Weiskopf said “is usually someone the protagonist knows, or exists within the immediate sphere of the protagonist, and has been watching the main character for signs of weakness or vulnerability.”

Weiskopf then illustrated his points with clips from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” displaying the inciting incident (the development of the main character’s vertigo), the role of the antagonist (an old friend of the protagonist), and how Hitchcock used a circular motif throughout the film as a way to reproduce a vertigo effect. Weiskopf stated that auteur directors like Hitchcock “worked very closely with their screenwriters in order to get the desired effect from their screenplays.”

As for bad screenplays, Weiskopf described them as “being devoid of conflict, or the inciting incident happening more than an hour into the film.”

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