Veteran screenwriter gives insight into Hollywood

The Center for Excellence in Writing at Portland State is hosting an upcoming screenwriting workshop titled “How to write a screenplay Hollywood will buy.” Taught by veteran screenwriter Wes Claridge, the workshop will cover the basics of the trade from an insider’s perspective.

Participants will study how working screenwriters use concept, genre, structure, theme, character, conflict and tone in order to better understand the writing process. Published screenplays as well as films will be used to illustrate how scripts are transformed into the finished product.

One of the underlying themes of the workshop will be the importance of revision. Claridge explained that many writers don’t understand how essential it is to allow screenplays to evolve.

“All screenplays are written over and over,” he said. “You have to rewrite. Then a studio buys it and another writer rewrites it again.”

The ability to be objective and learn from criticism is a necessary element of revision, Claridge explained. He hopes that students will be able to learn from each other as well as from the material discussed in class. One of the goals of the workshop is to create an opportunity for students to gain support within a group of peers.

“Having a network is important,” he said. “Students will have new relationships coming out of this workshop.”

However, despite all of the various elements necessary for writing a successful screenplay, Claridge feels that it is absolutely vital for writers to focus on creating structure in their work.

“The single most important thing to understand is that there is a dramatic structure in screenplays, and to understand what that structure is,” he said. “All great movies come from great stories, but all great movies have dramatic structure.”

He explained that the necessary step for any screenwriter is to increase their knowledge surrounding how to create such structure in their own writing.

“There are rules,” Claridge said. “You have to know fundamentals. Talent is important, but not as important as polishing techniques. At this stage, it’s most important to make sure that students have a basic understanding.”

Claridge speaks from experience. He has sold and optioned a number of original screenplays to major studios, networks and producers, and has had six television films produced. His work in the television industry included serving as a staff writer and/or executive creative consultant on various shows, developing series for major studios, and writing numerous television pilots, one of which became a series on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Despite the success that he found once becoming a screenwriter, Claridge explained that he hadn’t always planned on writing for a living.

An Oregon native, he graduated from Jesuit High School and majored in political science at the University of Chicago. After finishing college, Claridge joined the military and soon received some unexpected inspiration that would change his future plans.

“I was in the Air Force, and a buddy of mine who was at grad school at UCLA sent me an application for UCLA film school,” he said. “I started thinking about it, then while in Korea I wrote a screenplay. It was terrible. I didn’t know what a screenplay was.”

Upon his return to the United States, Claridge enrolled at the University of Oregon, where he attended grad school and studied creative writing before moving back to Portland to work in advertising. Shortly thereafter, he relocated to Southern California to pursue a writing career.

“I started writing and was able to pay the bills,” he said. “Then I started doing well, and I thought it would be easy. I was wrong.”

Claridge soon found out that screenwriting took more than a good story, he said.

“I was getting by on my wild imagination,” he said. “It was luck. It took a long time to learn the craft of screenwriting. I’m still learning.”

In addition to writing original screenplays, Claridge has extensive experience in “script doctoring” and has been contracted to work with other writers to revise and rewrite their scripts.

His experiences working with aspiring writers drove him to pursue more teaching opportunities.

“I worked extensively with a young writer and gave him a kind of ‘Screenwriting 101’ course,” he said. “He radically rewrote the script based on my notes and input, and it was recently nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including best screenplay. It made me realize that I have something to contribute, and that I can help young writers to achieve. I enjoyed that so much I thought I’d formalize the process and teach some screenwriting classes.”

Claridge hopes to share his experience in the entertainment industry with participants of the workshop, he said.

“Students will come out of the workshop with knowledge that took me 25 years to learn,” he said.

The workshop will be held March 5 through May 7. For more information regarding enrollment, contact the CEW by e-mail at [email protected], or call 503-725-9422.