– By Sam Hendrian –
Every movie, from the dullest of dull to the most dazzlingly cinematic, begins as words on a page. These words on a page compose what is known as the script, an often unsung but inestimably important part of the movie-making process. What are acclaimed cinematic treasures like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Casablanca like on the printed page? Are they every bit as entertaining and compelling as the finished products, or are they flat-out boring without actors and visuals to bring them to life? At JPCatholic, students are given the opportunity to discover the answers to these questions through script reading sessions.
Founded by undergraduate alumnus and current MA student Renard Bansale, script reading sessions occur every other Friday night at The Perch, a townhouse designated for student socializing. Various scripts are selected by Renard and then voted on by the students each quarter, and those who participate can receive extra credit for most writing or acting classes they might be in. Scripts are announced on Facebook, and students can request what roles they would like to play on a first-come first-serve basis.
Each student reads her or his respective role and can sometimes read additional roles depending on how many people are present. Everyone takes turns reading screen direction, and the sessions usually conclude within 2-3 hours depending on the length of the script. Sometimes a popular musical like The Lion King is read, for which students who want to participate can come to a singing audition beforehand for the main roles.
Renard is enormously enthusiastic about the script-reading series and its benefits to students. He said, “The reason I do the script-reading series is to promote an active love of cinema, even from the page. I try to tap into the hidden actor, the hidden writer, the hidden producer, the hidden director, the hidden media craftsperson in every participant.” Joshua Shepardson, a sophomore directing/screenwriting student who currently hosts the readings, highlighted the importance of participants having enthusiasm while reading the scripts, saying, “Without a lot of energy, the script dies… It’s just not as fun.” One of the most well-attended script readings this quarter was Some Like It Hot, and Monster’s Inc. is still to come.
JPCatholic screenwriting professor Chris Riley is a huge proponent of the script readings, explaining, “Screenwriters need to read scripts for the same reason composers need to read music and architects need to read blueprints… Reading a script, in contrast to watching a movie, exposes an aspiring screenwriter to the syntax of screenwriting and to the language that undergirds the characters, images, dialogue, and action. By reading lots of scripts, writers internalize the rhythms of screenwriting.” He usually picks one script per quarter for the students to read, which he chooses based on “good writing I believe will set a strong example that students will do well to follow,” as well as “scripts they’ll enjoy and… scripts that will broaden their horizons and introduce them to storytelling they might otherwise miss.”
Script readings continue to be one of the most fun and enjoyable student activities at JPCatholic, and the extra credit is a great bonus. As Professor Riley highlighted, it is important for all entertainment lovers, especially those interested in creating it, to understand and have an appreciation for the scripts that formed the blueprints of some of the greatest films of all time. The experience of reading scripts allows students to develop this understanding and appreciation, and it can play a vital role in becoming a better filmmaker.
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.