Happy Friday, writers!
|RIFC Writers' Group Co-Coordinator: Mike Ryan|
How did the RIFC writing group begin?
The RIFC writers’ group actually started before the rest of the organization, and affiliated with it after things got rolling. It’s been meeting for 8 years and has had three different coordinators over those years, and numerous members.
How do the meetings work?
Currently, there are two groups. The main group meets once a month to review scripts members are working on. Scripts for shorts or features are submitted to a queue, and each month two features (or the equivalent) get emailed to members. A few weeks later, we get together to discuss them. If the queue isn’t full, then we do writing exercises instead.
The second group was created recently by popular demand and meets every week. It’s focused much more on the detail of a scene and results in specific language and scene-rhythm oriented feedback. Members bring 10 pages of something they are working on, and it’s often read aloud. Feedback is less about overall structure and more about whether the scenes are working, efficient, clear, etc. This group also does more exercises and experiments, and workshops members’ loglines and elevator pitches (granting that “workshop” is arguably not a verb). This group meets at a pub, and everybody comes armed with laptops. There’s wifi, so we don’t print anything out, but email it in the meeting.
What could a screenwriter expect if he/she submits a script for critique?
When an author’s work is discussed, we try to talk about it as if the author is not present – they’re asked not to speak for the first 15 minutes, so they can garner reactions to the work as it stands on its own without explanation or knowledge of the author’s intent. They get to see the reaction a reader at a studio or festival might have to the material. Then we open it up for questions and discussion with the author.
The group has always been inclusive of all writers, regardless if they were new or seasoned professionals. What benefits and challenges does this provide?
Experienced and inexperienced writers attend these meetings, but everyone checks her or his ego at the door, so the different experience levels are really pretty helpful. We generally advise authors that they should only act on about 20% of the feedback, but if someone’s comments resonate with the author, or if a large part of the group makes the same observation, then it’s something they should consider. Reactions from the most inexperienced reader can still be useful for an author. This also means that some submissions we learn from what was done right, and others are dismantled and we learn from what’s gone wrong. But in either case, we learn something. It is pretty cool to have a range from first-timers to people whose work can be seen at the Showcase.
In the past, the group has done writing exercises to kick-start creativity. What is one of your favorite writing exercises?
One favorite exercise is reading the first 10 pages of a participant’s script, then writing a log line or elevator pitch for it. This is pretty quick and is helpful practice for writing loglines, but also gives the author an interesting perspective on where different readers expect the script to go based on the first 10 pages. I like the multi-purpose value of that one. But my long-time favorites are the ones that push authors to combine elements with little preparation – taking a character and putting them in an unexpected setting or with an unusual companion. Or stealing a page from the 48 Hour film festival and randomly picking a prop, line, and character and everyone has to come up with a story from these prompts.
Having been with the group for so long, what Dos and Don’ts would you give people trying to start a writing group?
Do have a moderator. Don’t have the most verbose or knowledgeable member as the moderator.
Do try to make sure you pull reactions out of your more quiet members.
Don’t be afraid to “move on” if one member is dominating the conversation. If your group gets big or overtalking is a problem, use a timer for each person’s comments and go around the group. Most groups don’t need this, but some do.
Do come prepared with some basic questions to get the ball rolling. Don’t feel like they all need to be “good or bad” type questions.
While questions like “Was the pace appropriate?” or “Was the ending satisfying?” are helpful, something less direct like, “What do you think was motivating x character?” or, “What do you think happened to y character before the screenplay?” can lead the author to character revelations or help him/her understand how certain scenes in the screenplay are coming across.
Do always keep an eye out for new members. Don’t take it personally when someone stops coming – life often causes people to drift into or out of this sort of thing.
If you want to learn more about joining the RIFC writing group, visit the group's page on the RIFC homepage.
Mike Ryan has been a part of the RIFC screenwriting group for 8 years and coordinator or co-coordinator with author David Eliet for about 5 years. He has worked in other writing groups for about 25 years. Formerly an award-winning advertising copywriter, he has written thousands of memos and some other stuff over his careers in advertising and technology. He currently writes a film column for Motif Magazine, and one time, at band camp, he optioned a screenplay.