A recording of my presentation at this year’s University Film and Video Association (UFVA) 2017 conference.
I teach the history of screenwriting, not film, to an MFA program for Stephens College, a low residency program. We do workshops at the Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood for 10 days twice a year and then the students do the rest of their work online. I’m also an adjunct at Cal State Fullerton, so I’ve had the pleasure of teaching all three of these gentlemen. So that’s been a lovely thing but I don’t teach this class there, so they haven’t actually seen me do this. With them, I’ve done screenwriting and workshopping, but here I’m going to talk about why I teach this class for a couple of reasons and I gave it this particular name, “Giving Voice to Silent Films…and the Far From Silent Women Who Wrote Them” – you’ll see that one of those books is by Carrie Beauchamp and it is, “Without Lying Down.” The life story of Frances Marion and the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood in the entire Silent and early talkie period and none of my students have ever heard of her and I think it is very important that we hear about her and Anita Loos and a bunch of other important women.
I was pleased to be asked to participate in a panel designed by former student (and current kick-ass professor) Warren Lewis. The panel included two other former students from the MFA in Screenwriting program at CSUF: David Morgassen and Lucas Cuny. For the panel’s theme — “What Else Do We Teach When We Teach Screenwriting: Context And Controversy: Strategies For Teaching Film And Television History And Current Events To Screenwriters” — I chose to present on: “Giving Voice to Silent Films and the Far From Silent Women Who Wrote Them”.
It involves the fact that when teaching screenwriting history, I begin chronologically. In essence I force students to watch the classic films of the silent era (happily accessible for free on YouTube) first because that is when women ran the town as evidenced in Cari Beachamp’s Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood”.) Beauchamp’s book is on my reading list so that they can encounter the careers of Frances Marion, Anita Loos, Lois Weber, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Eve Unsell and a host of other women who ran their own production companies for many years.
Secondly, knowing women once ran Hollywood makes it harder for today’s executives to wonder if today’s women can do the same.
Third, I have learned that teaching silent films reminds modern students that in screenwriting the visual is as important as the verbal.
Fourth, recognizing the birth of major iconic archetypes helps them recognize those archetypes in modern films and develop their own characters more three-dimensionally.
Fifth, I had to embarrassingly realize that in my zest to focus on forgotten females, I forgot to cover the careers of forgotten men and women of color and so expanded my viewing list to include the work of Oscar Mischeaux and other artists of color from the era.
Finally, I stretch back to the silents as a reminder that all artists stand of the shoulders of those who came before them – be they women or men.
Books Mentioned In This Presentation
- Without Lying Down
- Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker
- The Real Nick and Nora
- Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter
- The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild
- Monster: Living Off the Big Screen
- “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age
- Women Screenwriters: An International Guide
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About Dr. Rosanne Welch
Rosanne Welch, PhD has written for television (Touched by an Angel, Picket Fences) and print (Three Ring Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work and Kids and The Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space). In the documentary world she has written and produced Bill Clinton and the Boys Nation Class of 1963 for ABC NEWS/Nightline and consulted on PBS’s A Prince Among Slaves, the story of a prince from West Africa who was enslaved in the 1780s, freed by order of President John Quincy Adams in the 1820s and returned to his homeland.
Welch teaches the History of Screenwriting and One-Hour Drama for the Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting. Writing/producing credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences,ABCNEWS: Nightline and Touched by an Angel. In 2016 she published the book Why The Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Pop; co-edited Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia; and placed “Transmitting Culture Transnationally Via the Characterization of Parents in Police Procedurals” in the New Review of Film and Television Studies. Essays appear in Torchwood Declassified: Investigating Mainstream Cult Television and Doctor Who and Race: An Anthology. Welch serves as Book Reviews editor for Journal of Screenwriting and on the Editorial Advisory Board for Written By magazine, the magazine of the Writers Guild.