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Stick to the Script

Dr. Wil Denson just can’t stop teaching script writing

Brent Widmark, photos by Andrea Paulseth

 
PORTRAIT OF A SCRIPT WRITER ON HIS PORCH. Professor emeritus Wil Denson brings over 30 years of theater directing and playwriting experience to the classroom.

INT. CLASSROOM - NIGHT.

DR. WIL DENSON stands in front of his students. He is tall, bald, with an experienced white beard surrounding an inviting smile. 

    DR. WIL DENSON
Are you in late and out early?
Is your dialogue, too, on the nose?
Keep the visuals going.

    Dr. Denson will explain how each of those things can help you become a better screenwriter when he teaches “Screenwriting for the Film Industry,” a UWEC Continuing Education class beginning September 15. Denson brings over 30 years of theater directing and playwriting experience to the classroom. He retired from the UWEC theater department in 1999, but never stopped writing. 

Recognizing a need for good drama for high schools to perform, he began writing a high school football story about Lee Brenna, a girl who “wants only to be a veterinarian,” but struggles to gain admittance to vet school in 1957 Kansas. While writing the play, Denson realized that some of the sets and action in the story would be impossible to put on the stage and so Brenna became his first screenplay. 

Denson says he writes because he needs to “feed the bear.” When he sits to write, he does not outline (though he will talk about it in class). He just sits and gets it on the page. “Too many people stick with one script,” he says. “Don’t try to write an American masterpiece. Get it down. Write fast. Then go over it. Writing is re-writing.” 

The biggest difference between writing for stage and writing for screen, Denson says, is that writing plays “is basically verbal and the other is basically visual. … You have to keep the visuals going. Film writing is incident writing.” 

After tackling Brenna, Denson soon found success in competitions. His script Brantner made him a semi-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, an Academy of Motion Pictures competition. Another script, Feral, about a man “beyond psychotic,” was a top-10 finisher in 2007 Script Savvy competition and a semi-finalist in the Hollywood Nexus Screenwriting Contest. 

Placing that highly in competitions is a significant screenwriting accomplishment, but being produced is the ultimate, something that has eluded Denson thus far. Getting a big toe in the film industry door might seem impossible if you are living in Wisconsin, so knowledge of how the industry works and what it looks for is crucial if you dream of breaking the door down. In his class, Denson will talk about agents, competitions, and the format that Hollywood script readers require and the structure they need to see from beginning writers. 

    Screenwriting for the Film Industry is Tuesdays from Sept. 15 to Nov. 3, from 6:30-7:45pm. To register for the $95 class, visit www.uwec.edu/ce/enrichment or call 836-3636.

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