A well-lit auditorium, Sunday night, 6pm. Young men and women enter the international auditorium at Olympic Group in Nasr City, Cairo – talking to one another with glowing faces, anticipation in their eyes. There are laptops, notebooks and name tags. The participants are of different ages and backgrounds, nothing really ties them together except a willingness to learn, a desire to write, and a passion for film. And legendary screenwriter Syd Field is in Cairo.
As an experienced reader of scripts and a professor of screenwriting at the University of Southern California, Field needed no introduction to the group. Despite minimal advertising, July’s 10-day intensive screenwriting workshop was packed with participants and auditors from different walks of life.
The Egyptian film company Film Clinic brought Field to Cairo, while a major Arab production company, Rotana, sponsored the workshop and promised to produce the two best scripts. With information-packed sessions and an incredible workload, those who chose to really engage in the workshop had to dedicate 10 days of their lives to do so.
Following an outline similar to his “The Screenwriter’s Workbook,” Field read through the preparation work and script pages produced by the 15 participants every day. A strong positive energy drove the workshop along, and his ‘so what’ mantra to anyone’s worry about the pages being ‘bad’ took off enough pressure to produce some very interesting work.
“The workshop got me to sit down and write, a hurdle that had been difficult for me to overcome in the past,” said Ebada Naguib, 31, an independent film director.
With Field it begins with character: He believes it best to put your character’s existence on paper through page after page of free association regarding their love lives, professional lives and the clincher – a “circle of being” incident through which trauma changes the essence of their being. Then on to the story’s layout, which can (and according to Field, will) change all the time.
The actual pages of script were produced during the second half of the workshop and were planned out through events on note cards and then through scenes with dialogue.
Whether arguing structure, deadlines or the number of main characters, class participants were quick to reject rules — and Field was even quicker to remind them that these were his rules, ones that have helped countless careers in the industry.
“After a night of mulling over his advice, you would find yourself convinced, though,” said Nevine El Shabrawy, 27, a participant in the course and a first-time screenwriter, admitting that Field knew what worked.
Despite the extremely compacted class schedule, everyone walked away with a strong start and a structure for what was to come. Those who stuck to Field’s deadlines were amazed to realize their progress by the end of the 10 days: 30 pages of work, which made up Act I in Field’s formulaic 120 minute/120 page script structure. All the participants had made their way to his “plot point one” and Act II looms on the horizon.
Acclaimed by CNN as “the guru of all screenwriters,” Field is regarded by many Hollywood professionals to be the leading authority on screenwriting.
His internationally acclaimed best-selling books “Screenplay,” “The Screenwriter's Workbook,” and “The Screenwriter's Problem Solver” have been translated into 19 languages and are used in more than 395 colleges and universities around the world.
He has collaborated with such noted filmmakers as Alphonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”), James L. Brooks (“As Good As It Gets”), and Tony Kaye (“American History X”). Field's former students include John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood,” “Poetic Justice”), Michael Kane (“The Color of Money”), and Kevin Williamson (the “Scream” films).
In light of the recent rebirth of Egyptian cinema, workshops like Field’s are a good sign that the industry is looking to stay up to date.