Developing television scripts

By Raylyn Rollins

Instructor Cynthia Morrill sits with her students to enable an interactive environment. (Freedom Moreno)

By Raylyn Rollins

Mystery! Action! Romance! This is all in a night’s work for the students of English 112.

English 112: Intro to One-Hour Teleplay teaches students the fundamentals to write 1-hour teleplays for primetime television shows like “Lost,” “Supernatural,” and even “Ugly Betty.”

Each student will learn the basics and write a “spec script” by the end of the semester.

A spec script is a script that is written to demonstrate a writer’s ability.

The writer writes an episode of a pre-existing show and gives it to the producers of similar program. These scripts are designed to show talent in that genre.

For example, someone will write an original episode of “Lost” and give it to the producers of “Grey’s Anatomy,” another character-driven drama.

All students in the class work on their own script from development to final draft and learn the steps involved in what writing a teleplay actually encompasses.

This class is so serious that, in theory, the final script could be taken to an agent to start looking for work.

If English 112 gets approval, it will turn into English 49 next spring and will become a sister class to the fall course English 38 – Intro to Screen Writing.

Right now the class, taught by instructor Cynthia Morrill, is only a workshop class.

This means that it is currently being tested to see if it will appear in the spring 2008 semester.

This semester the class is small, with only seven students participating.

Although it is a lot of work, Morrill says that the small size is helpful for building a new class.

These students will help shape the course for next year, from the deadlines to the test material.

Morrill does not just sit back and give assignments, though; she takes an active role in the class.

She is developing her own script and adhering to the same deadlines as the students.

This way she can justify the timelines to get work in and can know what to expect from the students.

This also makes her more accessible to her students, something that she says all professors in the creative writing department strive for.

“We’re here to help the students see what they can accomplish,” she said.

Rather than just being an English professor assigned to a new class, Morrill has experience with what she is teaching. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Film Study, so she has been able to draw on her background in film while developing and participating in the class.

English 112 does require a degree of commitment. The class meets every Thursday night and deadlines must be followed if the final script is to be completed by the end of the semester.

This small class seems to have the right desire to finish it out.

Each student has done hours of research on their chosen scripts – which include everything from “Lost,” to “The Shield” to “Ugly Betty” – and is in the process of coming up with a professional teleplay.

This means character development, a coherent plot, four to five acts of entertainment and, of course, room for commercials.

According to Morrill, this dedication is what it takes to be a true writer.

“A real writer writes out of the pleasure of writing,” she said, “not in the pleasure of saying he or she is a writer.”

The students may not all go on to become script writers, but the class will give them experience and knowledge to pursue numerous careers.

If this course succeeds, English 112 will be offered in the spring semesters as part of the “Film Studies” program at RCC.