How streaming platforms have changed the art of screenwriting

The burgeoning demand for web series on OTT platforms has changed the way screenwriting and writers are part of the process.
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In the last six years, the business of screenwriting has changed phenomenally, driven largely by a change in how we consume our visual media.

We no longer watch things, we “binge” watch them, pouring ourselves into these long commitments, dare I say relationships almost, with stories and characters on our device screens.

This burgeoning demand for web series on OTT platforms has changed the way screenwriting and writers are part of the process.

As a result, more writers of fiction have the opportunity to engage with the fascinating world of visual content, either when their books are optioned for development for the screen or when they are pulled into writers rooms to work on ideas from scratch.

But what does it take to make it in this exciting and quickly changing world of screenwriting? Here are five things that I’ve learnt the hard way:

Enjoy the journey

If, like I was, you might be reluctant to make the shift from writing novels to writing for the screen. Rest assured, the value of stories and storytellers is now indisputable.

The amount of content — storyline, screenplay, and dialogues — involved in a web series tends to be more intensive.

In a typical movie, while the main idea is critical, almost 50 percent of the screen time is taken up by songs and fight sequences, where the writers may have a lesser or limited role. 

With limited budgets and more screen time, the responsibility for engaging viewers falls strongly on the writers who need to create multiple, inter-woven plots that can keep the viewers enticed over a longer time.

In short, the story is queen (king, if you prefer the older version of the bromide), and the writer is the queen-maker.

Learn the craft

Screenwriting is a specialised profession. While novel writers have much to bring from their skills and experience in crafting complex plots and creating unforgettable characters, it takes the effort of an entire team to bring these stories to life on a visual medium.

The craft of scriptwriting involves communicating with the team — from directors to graphic artists to actors, and a whole host of others, through the medium of the script and screenplay.

The standard terms are an integral part of the communication process, and especially important, if you are working with international teams. 

It’s also a sign of true professionalism and even a deep passion for the craft — a fiction writer can converse and communicate in terms of season arcs, beat sheets, transitions, and themes.

Besides, I’ve also found thinking of a story, along with these parameters and taking into account the possibilities and challenges of working visually, has also enriched my own fiction writing in many ways.

Be prepared to run a marathon

In the parlance of a race, if movies are a 100-metre sprint, a web series is like running a marathon, which does not mean the storyline of a series should be at a medium pace initially and blast the last mile. This is not about the speed, it is about stamina. 

Like with books, when you are asking the audience to invest time and emotion into the story, the plots need to be complex yet intriguing, characters need to be nuanced but relatable, and dialogues need to feel real but also dramatic.

This takes layering, with multiple plots, side characters that people are ready to form cults around, and a constant sense of being surprised even if you know exactly what is going to happen next.

Stories like that need to be lived inside the writer’s head before they take form on the screen. 

Leave your ego at the door 

Writing novels is a solo act. Making visual content is a team effort. It is essential to respect the creativity of various players, different teams, and what they do — which can be all the more difficult to do since the first step of the process is the story.

Never forget that each person who disagrees with you, who collaborates with you, and who adds on to your typed words is not taking away from your creativity but adding value to it. 

Being a team player — someone who is willing to work towards a common vision — while staying true to your own is essential to becoming successful and happy with the work you do in this field.

Don’t give up hope 

It’s not all hard work; it’s a ton of patience too. I’m tempted to add “luck” into the mix, but I have a dysfunctional relationship with the notion of fate, so let’s leave that aside, please.

Your personal emotional and rational stamina matter as much as your professional stamina. The process of going from a story to a final product on screen is a long one, and for many reasons, it can get dropped on the way. 

Every novel of mine has been optioned, but some never made it past that stage, others are still swirling around “development hell” — a situation that many writers find themselves in this field.

While this can be disheartening, it is par for the course and also a tremendous learning opportunity. 

Being a novelist is my childhood dream come. Becoming a screenwriter was a happy accident, one that has left me the better for it.

Whether your journey into the world of screenwriting is a deliberate choice or the result of a series of fortunate incidents, it will surely be a delightful experience. All in all, it’s a great time to be a screenwriter.

Edited by Suman Singh

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