The following Tips to Become A Better Screenwriter were shared by filmmakers in Malaysia, who participated in Tapir Studio‘s Nadi Skrip Writer’s Retreat. They drew inspiration from esteemed industry mentors such as Dain Said, Yuhang Ho, and Nandita Solomon, all renowned figures in the Malaysian film scene.
In the world of cinema, the essence of every exceptional film resides in its narrative, intricately woven by the skilled hands of screenwriters.
This fundamental truth echoed profoundly during the Nadi Skrip Writer’s Retreat, an immersive journey held in the tranquil embrace of Janda Baik in November 2023.
Here, amidst the serenity of nature, eight budding screenwriters converged with three seasoned mentors to explore the depths of storytelling craftsmanship.
The mentors, Dain Said, Yuhang Ho, and Nandita Solomon are well-known figures in the Malaysian film scene. Dain is noted for directing and writing films like Bunohan and Interchange. Yuhang is respected for his unique filmmaking style seen in movies such as Rain Dogs and At the End of Daybreak. Nandita is a prominent producer and director, involved in multiple Malaysian film projects. Together, their work has greatly influenced the Malaysian film industry.
Over four days and three nights, this retreat organised by Tapir Studios provided a fertile ground for participants to delve into the intricacies of filmmaking and unravel the essence of storytelling excellence.
Here are some important insights from their experiences, meant to assist fellow screenwriters in getting better at their craft and lifting industry standards overall.
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As a filmmaker, Hidayah Hisham has pushed boundaries with her work. Her documentary film My Father, Dr. G explores the lives of people impacted by Malaysia’s drug laws and the death penalty.
For her, the retreat illuminated the potency of challenging the known narratives in storytelling.
“One important thing I learned is how to twist stories to make them interesting. I liked this idea a lot because we were told to think of movies as a way to have fun and connect with our audience in a big way.
“We were asked in our sessions: “If your audience already knows what’s going on, how can you surprise them?” This is especially important if our stories deal with sensitive topics. We want to avoid clichés and possible censorship to make sure our message sticks with the audience in a meaningful way,” shared Hidayah.
Mahen Bala, an experienced documentary filmmaker, expressed that the workshop served as a reminder that participants were not merely aspiring writers looking for employment opportunities, but rather individuals with distinct voices and aspirations.
“Every story is valid, as long as it comes from an honest place. The workshop wasn’t about teaching us how to write, but simply providing a space for us to be able to talk about stories and write freely. And that made all the difference.
“We spent our days just talking about films and then retreating into our bubble of solitude to continue working on our stories. ”
It is important for me to meet people, smell things, touch things, taste things, stimulate my five senses to tell stories. It is more convincing to write from experience than fantasy.
Hidayah found that participating in the retreat increased her courage to look inward and approach storytelling with greater objectivity, even when the stories were personal or close to her heart.
She shared, “Participating in this retreat has made me braver in looking within and becoming more objective with the stories I hope to tell.”
Mahen underscores the transformative power of collaborative environments. The retreat provided a safe space for writers to share their works and receive constructive feedback. By fostering a culture of trust and openness, participants embraced vulnerability, allowing their stories to flourish through shared insights and perspectives.
Mahen pointed out that sharing personal work, especially one that’s still in progress, can be intimidating because it reveals a lot about yourself.
“The mentors made it abundantly clear that they were not there to teach, but to have a conversation about our respective works. They respected us as human beings, as writers, and most importantly, respected the work regardless of how rough it was.
“Never once did they make it seem like they were there to instruct us on the right way of doing things or if there was a right way of doing anything at all. They are filmmakers themselves so it was especially illuminating to be able to discuss story and narrative at different levels,” said Mahen.
Hidayah concurred, acknowledging that each screenwriter faced their own challenges, and these challenges were met with thoughtful kindness that encouraged them to view vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness.
One of the mentors, Nandita, advised the participants to nurture their instincts as storytellers.
Most times we often stray from what we truly feel to fit the ideas of others, but in the end Nandita reminded us that the true cornerstone of our stories are ourselves.
“Overall, this collective experience was a precious addition to my growth as a screenwriter as I not only found potential collaborators and newfound friends – but a community that I can lean on for strength and validation in my journey ahead. Development is one of the toughest periods in filmmaking, but during these sessions – I find that you shouldn’t go through it alone, and there is strength in company,” said Hidayah.
Looking ahead Hidayah, Teik Quan, and Mahen are ready to apply the knowledge and skills gained from the retreat to their upcoming projects.