- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Budding screenwriters meet at Williston State College on Wednesday nights, focusing their energy into analyzing film and producing treatments that range in theme, all wanting to end the semester with fully or partially developed scripts.

The idea for the course originated at meetings of the Couch Committee, a group of students who discuss film and writing. Students differ in age and concentrations, some focusing on communications while other desire to earn engineering degrees.

Last semester, the committee got off the couch and pitched the class to administration.

The committee organized and had 15 students sign a petition in favor of implementing the class into the curriculum.

Jim Stout, an associate professor with a deep interest in history, English and film, accepted the idea and currently teaches the first screenwriting class at WSC.

“Our department was open to it,” Stout told the Williston Herald (http://bit.ly/1gFhlU0). “These are students making education a lot better than it could have been.”

In the class, each student will work to create his or her own original screenplay and learn the difference between writing a script for the stage versus writing for the screen. Stout said the class is geared toward all writers of differing backgrounds and experience who might have ideas for movies but want to better their writing skills.

The focus of the class will be on the teachings of “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier, who gives students the writing tools necessary to help achieve their goals. The class touches on the structuring, submitting and selling of screenplays once finished.

“Trottier is committed to the three-act format. Last week, we wrote a four-page treatment of a play and tonight (Wednesday) we will work on formatting a screenplay,” Stout said.

Stout earned his master’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and has taught at WSC since 1987. His favorite reading includes the Bible, Niccolo Machiavelli and John Milton.

In his class, he offers students the opportunity to view films old and new: “Star Wars,” ”The Matrix,” ”Nosferatu,” ”Inception,” ”Battleship Potekim,” ”Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” ”Singing in the Rain” and “The Godfather.”

“Exposing the students to different films can be an eye-opener,” Stout said. “We have a broad range of students here at Williston State College - male, female, military, engineering students.”

Originally from Wyoming, Daniel Plucknett is a screenwriting student pursuing his degree in engineering. A member of the Couch Committee, he helped form the idea for the class with the insight of Williston-bred students Ian Withey and Lucas Amundson, who plan on obtaining degrees in screenwriting and communications from four-year colleges.

As an engineering student, Plucknett, 29, doesn’t fit the stereotype of a screenwriter but his knowledge of structure helps manifest his thoughts into the written word.

“I have also enjoyed analyzing movies,” Plucknett said, adding that he completed Stout’s Introduction to Film class offered last year. His favorite directors and screenwriters are Quentin Tarrantino and Francis Ford Coppola.

Plunckett enjoys the craft of bringing a character to life, making his dialogue believable to his readers and potential movie viewers.

Withey, 26, says he enjoys talking with Plucknett on the Couch Committee, the two exchanging ideas on film and comic books. He named Frank Darabont as his favorite screenwriter; Darabont created “The Walking Dead” and adapted “Shawshank Redemption” from the Stephen King novel. Amundson, 32, says he draws inspiration from Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman.

The students are fond of Trottier’s book and enjoy the creative and revision processes that occur during writing a screenplay.

“Trottier’s starts with an outline, development of character, synopsis and treatment,” Amundson said. “It helps to follow because we might skip some steps.”

Stout says the goal of the class is to produce one complete tele-play or feature film spec script in the 18 weeks of the semester.

“We have some of the most creative discussions in class since I was in graduate school,” Stout said. He tells the students that he is a “craftsman” and wants them to understand the important of revision and of practice. “Revision is what makes it work. Practice is what makes it work.”

While much of the discussion is cerebral, it’s important for the students to keep their heads and “natural checks and balances” by bouncing ideas off one another, wanting to not only think of ideas but produce work that can be shared with others.

“We want everyone to succeed,” Withey said. “We want to elevate students where their proud of what they’ve done.”

Living in Williston has formed some of the writing produced in the class and sparked interest in writing non-fiction and fiction stories on their own. Amundson is working on a story based on his experiences growing up in the Bakken and has plans to complete a 120-140 page script over time, putting it into an amateur contest.

“It would bring me satisfaction to write that many pages,” Plucknett said, adding that he thinks of script writing as he would engineering a sound structure. “I make buildings that people want to live in … I see writing as the same challenge.”

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Information from: Williston Herald, http://www.willistonherald.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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