Your life is like a screenplay
Syd Field taught me that my life is like a screenplay. I’m not sure if that was his intention, but I learned that this past weekend. About a year ago, I started researching screenplays for fun. One of the names I came across was Syd Field, who is sort an expert on the subject. For my birthday, my loving wife got me a ticket to attend his crash course in screenwriting last Saturday. I learned a lot about the craft of screenwriting and also discovered some interesting connections to my own life.
The course consisted of studying dramatic structure and character creation. Syd lectured about the importance of structure in a Screenplay, and went over the standard three act outline. He argued that the structure or context of a screenplay is always the same; the content, however, is ours to create. It is this content that screenwriters are after, attempting to create ‘story’ that fits into the dramatic structure.
At one point during the conference he turned to the audience and asked, “What do you need to begin a Screenplay?” Silence ensued. He looked around the room and his eyes met mine. I thought for a moment he was going to call on me, so I stared down at my notes. Finally, he broke the silence and said, ‘You need an idea! But you need something more than that. You need a SUBJECT.” Every story starts out as an idea but it grows from there. A story is about characters. It is about their fight. A subject is simply an action that happens to a character.
As we moved on to discussing the creation of a character, Syd shared a quote from Henry James who simply said: “What is a character but determination of incident, and what is incident but illumination of character?’ A simple definition, but one that is packed with meaning. A character in a story is known by what he/she does. Action is always the proof of who this character really is. And what is true for the movies, is true for life. At the end of the day we, too, are known for what we do.
If we apply the screenplay model to our lives, then, yes, we are the characters, but we are also the ones creating the subject matter. Living. Striving. Searching. Creating. How things turn out are in many ways up to us. Although we cannot always control the incidents that come our way, we do choose our response. And how we respond is how our story goes.
Life, like a screenplay, has an established structure. Our days, weeks, months, and years are the scenes that fill our screenplay. The context never changes. The human condition is universal–we are all born and one day we will all die. But what we do between the opening of ACT I and the close of ACT III is up to us. It is up to us to create beautiful content within the context we’ve been given. Yes, we are the stars in our screenplay, but we are also the writers. The next scene is being written now. Write and live it well.
Question: What connections do you see between your life and film?