Michael Baser, Hollywood scriptwriter and Head of the Department of Writing for Film and Television, Vancouver Film School, Canada, was recently here at Jain (Deemed-to-be University) to conduct a seminar on Writing for Film and Television. We caught up with the affable scriptwriter for an interview.
What is writing to you?
Writing to me is, first of all, it is communication. It is a way to express myself and tell the stories that I think I want to tell. For me though, I will tell you and I tell this to my students all the time. I never intended to become a writer. That was not my goal. My intention was, I wanted to make people laugh, I wanted to do comedy. Writing for me, became the vehicle for doing that, so I became a writer so I could achieve my bigger goal, which was to be in the comedy business. I always was as a young man, very comedy oriented. Then I was very lucky, because I went to Hollywood, and I told my parents in New York that I am going to Hollywood. They told me I was crazy, and they tried to dissuade me like most parents try, because they have my best interest at heart. But they did not understand that world, neither did I really. When you are young, you have a lot of courage, youth and courage go together and maybe stupidity. I was very fortunate that I became a writer because I was a horrible performer. You have the opportunity to change things through humor; people accept things through comedy that they might not accept otherwise.
Is this the best time to write?
I am so jealous, I wish I was starting my career now because there is so much more opportunity now for writers all over the world. It is not an industry for just the west anymore, the writing. What has happened is, because of the internet, streaming services, and technology; everything is so much more global. I talked to the students here, they are watching the same shows that I am watching, everybody is connected now, much more connected in entertainment, and with that comes ideas and exchanging ideas. I tell the students all over the world and now I am telling them in India that this the best time in the history of entertainment to be a writer because there is more need for scripts, shows, and ideas. And the industry is hungry, they are looking all over the world.
How is scriptwriting different from writing a story?
All stories have a beginning, middle, and end whether it is a book or a script. They all have characters that you empathize with, that you relate to, that you root for, that you care about. For a film and television show, you are writing visually, writing for the camera, as supposed to writing for a book. Television shows are constrained by the physical budgets and the issues of production. In a book, I can write four hundred thousand Roman soldiers come over the rise, in a movie it is not practical.
Differences in writing for film and television
There are no differences in the storytelling, but in the conciseness of it, in the development of character somewhat; in television, you can develop over the course of many episodes, a whole huge character arc and you continue to tell the story. In movies, you have to end the stories.
You have been quoted saying that, “There’s nothing more entrepreneurial than being a writer.” Can you elaborate?
I have an idea in my shower, where I am washing my hair. I have an idea like I never had before and I go to work. Six months later, 300 people are working on this idea. There is nothing more entrepreneurial than from an idea to 300 people working, it is a hugely wonderful thing to do. Creativity and imagination are very powerful agents of change.
Can creativity be taught?
Jain (Deemed-to-be University) students
The students are great. All the students I have met while I traveled in India have blown my mind. They never take it for granted. Students everywhere have the same dreams and hopes. They are almost the exact same person because they all have enthusiasm, they haven’t been discouraged yet by life. They haven’t been beaten up. It is true that when we are young anything is possible, that is the beauty of it, and you need to believe that! If you are going to go to a creative field, then you have to be positive and you have to believe that it is possible, you really do, you have to be a little crazy, but that is good.
I am waiting for someone to show me his or her script. I have given people my email id, and I am waiting.
Advice for students
If you want to be a writer, then you have to write, do not find reasons not to. People are scared about the blank page; I say the blank page is the most exciting thing in the world because it is nothing but possibilities. Do not be scared, just try it. Never be discouraged by people who tell you, you cannot do it. You have to believe that you can do it. For anything in life, do not let people tell you, you cannot. You decide what you are going to do.