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“The first sentence will always feel like rusty water. It will always be a shitty feeling.”
Peter A. Rader ’82 shared his unique approach to screenwriting with current Harvard students last Saturday during the six-hour workshop event “Harvardwood Presents...An Introduction to Screenplay Structure.” Screenplays and psychology converged under his auspices, as participants shared personal and deeply emotional tales of “falls from grace,” ranging from vomiting on a potential date to dashed National Spelling Bee dreams.
Harvardwood, the eponymous organizer of the event, is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization founded in 1999 by Mia E. Riverton ’99, Stacy Cohen ’89 and Adam J. Fratto ’90. Harvard’s Office of Career Services (OCS) and Office for the Arts co-sponsored the Saturday event.
All participants were required to submit applications, consisting primarily of a letter explaining why they would like to attend. Traditionally, screenwriting workshops have no more than twelve participants, said Rader, perhaps best known as the writer of the 1995 action film “Waterworld.” However, in light of student enthusiasm, the organizers decided to grant admission to all 29 applicants.
“The attrition rate was pretty minimal for a program on a Saturday morning,” remarked Gail Gilmore, the assistant director for careers in the arts at OCS. Undergraduates and a smattering of Harvard Graduate School and Business School students sat around a large conference table, spilling over onto the neighboring chairs.
Rader, who also directed and produced several films, has conducted similar events for Harvardwood’s L.A. branch and ran his own five-week screenwriting programs in the past. To help workshop attendees, he says that he tries to “provide students with tools that worked for me and may work for them.” A self-confessed former “workshop junkie,” Rader said his curriculum and teaching technique have been heavily influenced by the thinking of Carl Jung, among others, as well as Tibetan Buddhism. Writing, he says, should be an ego-less process. Through exercises such as the exploration of students’ pasts and their own “falls from grace,” Rader says he wished to cultivate an understanding of the role of the screenwriter as a conduit.
“There is a mythic underpinning to screenwriting, and they have access these myths,” Rader says of students. “The best thing they could do would be to get in touch with it.”
The afternoon portion of the workshop consisted of an analysis of two scripts, “Groundhog Day” and “Thelma and Louise,” which students were asked to read prior to the event. Karol W. Malik ’08 praised the workshop for providing concrete suggestions.
“[The] workshop was a bit esoteric at times, but overall offered solid advice,” he said.
“Harvardwood Presents...An Introduction to Screenplay Structure” is the first in what Riverton hopes will be a series of more on-campus events, further bridging the gap between Harvard and the West Coast based entertainment industry. Future “Harvardwood Presents . . .” events, to take place at least once or twice a semester, could feature on-campus talks by casting directors and other professionals. In addition, Harvardwood hopes to foster student screenwriting with its second annual Harvard Screenplay Competition, which offers competitors a cash prize reward and exposure to agents and directors.
According to Malik, Harvardwood has already been successful in accomplishing these aims.
“As for Harvardwood, I’m a big fan,” he noted. “I have found all the activities wholly enlightening. There really is nothing quite like meeting people in the industry to understand the rhythm of how things get accomplished and how decisions get made.”
—Staff writer Anna K. Barnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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