Local Colleges Teach Art of Film, Screenplays

Article excerpt

When Daniel Irizarry heard about the Holly-wood Screenwriting class at Jacksonville University last year, he scrambled to enroll.

It was the attraction of the film world with its writing, directing and producing that pulled Irizarry, 23, away from another career he had considered.

He had already taken some liberal arts courses at Florida Community College at Jacksonville with the intention of becoming a lawyer. But when he took an elective, Film As Art, he discovered, "I really, really wanted to do this -- write and direct films."

There have never been more opportunities for screenwriters, producers and directors, said John Boles, a Jacksonville actor, producer and author of several screenplays who teaches Hollywood Screenwriting at JU.

"There is such a large number of markets available now," Boles said. "Just talking about TV alone -- 15 to 20 years ago you had three networks. Now there are six broadcast networks and dozens of cable networks that produce original programs. They need to get the creative product from somewhere."

Shelia Brady, director of JU's continuing education department, which offers the noncredit screenwriting course each fall and spring, said the classes never lack for students.

"In screenwriting, John teaches them how to write visually," Brady said. "The people love it. He takes their work and comes back with suggestions. He's also teaching Film Appreciation from Script to Screen. He takes film scripts that have already been produced and finds out what makes them so good."

While most of the students who take Boles' eight-week courses aren't planning to go into professional screenwriting, some, like Irizarry, go on to make it a career.

"I've always been a writer -- I used to write short stories," Irizarry said. "I'd get up in front of my sixth-grade class and read these scary stories. The teacher wouldn't let me keep reading them because they were too scary, so I sold audio cassettes of them to my class."

In high school, he said, he continued writing stories and poetry and performed with his school's drama group.

He soaked up Boles' class, in which students are taught screenwriting from the inception of an idea to the business end of copyrighting it, hiring and agent and marketing it.

Boles, a Jacksonville native, has been in the business about 20 years. He majored in film, worked on projects for numerous TV stations, and tried his luck in Los Angeles. In 1983-84, he was an assistant director for the final year of the TV series Hart to Hart, he said.

"I was in charge of all the extras," Boles said. "I'd get with central casting to line them up. I did all the paperwork on the set. I'd go to the trailers and get the actors when they were needed. I was like a traffic cop, working 12 to 16 hours a day. It was a big headache, and that's why I decided not to do it anymore."

During his career, he said, he's seen a lot of "bad scripts."

"I thought I could write that poorly, or better, so I decided to come back home where I have family and friends, and where it's cheaper to live."

Boles has written and produced TV commercials, short promotional films and several full-length, two-hour screenplays, including a mystery that was optioned but never produced.

He tells his students that screenwriting is not easy.

"I hammer into the students that you have to have a good working knowledge of camera shots because you have to play your movie in your head," said Boles. "A screenplay is not a finished literary work of art. It's an outline for a film. It's not easy reading. …