Ryerson RTA website to aid screenwriters

Ryerson University's Radio and Television Arts program has launched an innovative website for aspiring screenwriters, the byproduct of years of painstaking research by RTA chair Dr. Robert Gardner.

Ryerson University’s Radio and Television Arts program has launched an innovative website for aspiring screenwriters, the byproduct of years of painstaking research by RTA chair Dr. Robert Gardner.

The site includes interviews with writing veterans James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment), Paul Haggis (Due South) and Dan Petrie Jr. (Beverly Hills Cop) in addition to Gardner’s lectures and theories.

‘If someone is interested in dramatic writing, this site will help them to understand the dramatic form and equip them to actually write material in a dramatic structure that will command the attention of an audience,’ says Gardner.

According to Gardner, the genesis behind the website, Deep Structure: The Nature of the Dramatic Form, and the years of research poured into its creation was as a simple assignment for creative writing students at the Toronto campus in 1990.

‘I asked the students what they wanted to do and it was clear they wanted to sample writing scripts for certain shows popular at the time such as The Simpsons and Murphy Brown.’

Gardner set up criteria whereby students had to deconstruct a show of their choice, contact the show, get an original script, and then send off their polished versions to contacts in Los Angeles.

‘People in Los Angeles respected what the students had done, and they invited me to meet with them,’ says Gardner. One of the contacts was Oscar-winning writer, producer and director Brooks.

‘When he and I talked, I would discuss my perception of the theory [of writing for the dramatic form], and he would basically confirm all the theoretical assertions I was making,’ explains Gardner.

As a result, he went on to research teaching methods of writing for the dramatic form in schools and universities, as part of his doctoral thesis in education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

‘It took me eight years of research to write the thesis,’ he says. Much of it was based on meetings with people such as Brooks plus interviews with young writers who had taken the writing course at Ryerson and actually worked in the industry, including Melissa Byer and Treena Hancock, writers of the NBC show Mysterious Ways, and Tracey Forbes, one of the writers of UPN’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

‘My studies indicated that when people talk about drama they generally speak about drama in ways that are difficult to access,’ notes Gardner.

CTV donated $200,000 to expand the program through bringing in guest speakers who were writers in the industry.

‘As part of that deal I agreed to create a website with the idea that this material, not normally available outside of Ryerson, would be accessible to more people,’ explains Gardner.

After stepping down as chair of RTA in the spring, Gardner intends to further develop the website through continuing research from his home in Molise, Italy and eventually return to Los Angeles.

-www.rcc.ryerson.ca/drama