Los Angeles meets anyone from Wisconsin with a vast amount of respect — their unprecedented work ethic aids them as Hollywood throws them into the grips of the film industry.
Now, with the University of Wisconsin course, Screenwriting: Write Your First Draft Fast, aspiring writers have a chance to further the reputation of the assiduous “cheese heads.” For almost 16 years, professional screenwriter Christine DeSmet has seized the opportunity to expand the base of successful Badgers with her signature course.
“The Wisconsin people are known in Los Angeles for being hard, fast workers while really knowing their stuff,” DeSmet said. “We really care about how we write and how we do things. That’s well respected in Los Angeles, and that reputation is out there for people who come from here.”
Even though it’s an online course, DeSmet works with students one-on-one. The course does not abide by end-of-semester completion, but has a flexible timeframe. There is no requirement to log in a certain amount of online hours, but students can simply work on their own time. While the majority of students finish within six months, some work through the full duration of the course — one year.
But, DeSmet values the fast-paced nature of the film industry, and wishes to impress this upon her students as they write. She stresses the deadline-intensive component of the business, and the necessary skills to whip out quality scripts.
“I like to help people get started fast,” DeSmet said. “There’s nothing worse than laboring over something that’s floundering for a year and feeling like you’ve wasted your life.”
With what she calls a “practical approach,” DeSmet values the hands-on experience for what will prove useful in the real film industry. From simple ideas, pitches and beat sheets to the pages of the screenplay, DeSmet vigorously works with her students until the process is complete — she does, however, takes into account the crucial re-writing process.
DeSmet’s professional life consists of both TV and film work, with one time earning a spot in the Warner Brothers Workshop for her half-hour sitcom scripts. Additionally, she has gained recognition for screenplay writing through winning the Slam Dance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Currently, DeSmet is collaborating with a Hollywood producer to work on a 12-episode series.
The success of one notable student, Julian Renner, has placed DeSmet’s “rapid education” method into the spotlight. Hailing from New York, Renner is a semi-finalist in approximately six contests.
“When you pitch to a producer, you can say you were a finalist in ‘XYZ’ contest,” DeSmet said. “[Renner] is doing a really good job of getting himself into the industry and gaining recognition for quality writing. I like seeing that. He’s hustling.”
Due to the course’s easy accessibility, DeSmet’s students filter in from around the world, carrying with them a variety of ideas. To her, nothing is off the table, and she encourages unwavering confidence.
DeSmet values loyalty to one’s identity in such an intense line of work, yet one that is exceedingly passionate. Training her students to be proactive and efficient, she teaches them how to recognize a good story — and create one on their own.
“Everyone has great ideas for a screenplay,” DeSmet said. “You just need to let it out and let it flow. It’s how you shape the idea. I just encourage people to come to the class with anything crazy they have a hankering to write, because it can happen!”