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On course: students take The Road to Hollywood

One screenplay in eight weeks

John Bernstein

There are a lot of elements to successful screenwriting, says John Bernstein, but the most important part is simple: passion.

“A passion about writing and having something to write about, something you care about,” says the College of Communication associate professor. “That’s all you need.”

This summer, a group of aspiring filmmakers is testing Bernstein’s theory in The Road to Hollywood at Boston University, an eight-week workshop that pushes participants to complete a professional-quality screenplay over the course of the program. Students study feature films, discuss story ideas, and learn how to structure and develop dialogue, characters, and plot.

“It’s not an easy task,” Bernstein says. “The workshop is three days a week, three and a half hours each time. There’s a lot of time commitment. But it’s possible and it’s doable.”

The course is co-taught by Scott Thompson, a visiting assistant professor of film at COM, and runs through July 13. Films such as Ordinary People, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Chinatown are studied as examples of genre and structure.

In the first week, students pitch their story ideas and the following week develop a treatment — a synopsis of the story that is used as a selling tool. For the rest of the workshop, they outline and develop the plot, getting frequent feedback from classmates and instructors. The goal is to have a market-ready screenplay at the program’s conclusion.

Bernstein, who heads COM’s screenwriting program, modeled The Road to Hollywood on a similar program at UCLA, whose alumni have sold screenplays to MGM, Paramount, and Warner Brothers. “We believe that we can do the same on the East Coast, in Boston,” Bernstein says. “If the scripts that are written in the course of the workshop are good enough, we’ll do our best to get those scripts read by professionals.”

This summer’s students include novelists and playwrights, as well as people “who have dreamt about screenwriting for many years,” Bernstein says. “We’re not necessarily looking for people who have degrees in film,” he says. “You just have to have some personal background to write about.”