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The Art of Screenwriting: Akira Kurosawa

Screenwriting holds a unique allure due to its capacity for the exploration and admiration of the giants within the field. It serves as a constant reminder that, regardless of our own writing prowess, there exist writers and filmmakers whose skill appears almost unattainable. Akira Kurosawa is an auteur filmmaker, a luminary every aspiring writer or filmmaker should acquaint themselves with.


Akira Kurosawa, a prominent Japanese filmmaker and accomplished painter, commanded the director's chair for over five decades, overseeing the creation of an impressive portfolio of 30 films, 'Seven Samurai' (1954), 'Ran' (1985) and 'Rashomon' (1950) being among the most popular. He is rightfully celebrated as a seminal figure in the history of cinema, renowned for his profound influence on the art of filmmaking.


Kurosawa's cinematic approach was marked by its audacious and dynamic style, which artfully blended Western cinematic influences while preserving a distinctive and recognizable identity. His commitment extended well beyond the directorial role; he was intimately involved in every facet of film production. So, what valuable insights can we glean as writers from the legacy of Akira Kurosawa? Let's dive into it!


Photo credit: Financial Times


Writing is Important


Kurosawa has said that if your true passion lies in creating films, you need to dive into the world of screenwriting. The essential tools for crafting a screenplay are as simple as paper and a pencil. Through scripting, you gain invaluable insights into the intricacies of film structure and a deeper understanding of the essence of cinema.


Similarly, Kurosawa's comprehensive understanding of every facet of filmmaking influenced each component. Notably, he took on the dual roles of director and editor for most of his films, a practice that is relatively uncommon in the industry.


As obvious as it might sound, writing plays a pivotal role in filmmaking, serving as the cornerstone for a film's narrative and structure. A meticulously crafted screenplay functions as a guiding blueprint, facilitating the collaborative efforts of filmmakers, actors, and crew members in the cinematic endeavor to bring a story to vibrant life on the grand screen. So, if you neglect your writing and only focus on the technical side, you’ll gain flaws as a filmmaker.


Patience is Key


Kurosawa believes many young individuals overlook a fundamental aspect of the creative process. They often begin with a desire to reach the ultimate goal immediately. You shouldn’t fixate on the end result when you embark on a lengthy goal.


Instead, you focus on each step you take as you reach your goal. It's a patient, step-by-step endeavor. Constantly gazing at the result can cause frustration. You need to become accustomed to writing, making a conscious effort to transform it from something arduous into a routine.


However, many tend to abandon their efforts midway. Giving up can become a habit, making it more likely to abandon your pursuits as soon as you encounter difficulties. Instead, you should persist and write until you conclude, no matter your obstacles.


You Can’t Force a Story


No matter how much you love writing, most filmmakers center their writing around a daily goal. Whether it’s a word count or a part of your story, having a daily objective can benefit your script in the long run. However, you shouldn’t force a story but let whatever flows to you go on the paper.


Writing may sometimes feel tedious, but it's an indispensable part of every filmmaker's journey. Extracting words from the depths of your heart and translating them onto the page is essential. We frequently gauge our progress based on our speed, but ultimately, the accurate measure of value lies in the quality of the work produced.


The Theme Isn’t Everything


Part of why a Kurosawa film is so dense and strong is it doesn’t only rely on the theme. Merely relying on the theme isn't sufficient to convey the intricate nuances of human emotions. Therefore, revealing the movie's purpose or message before its creation could hinder this process.


Themes are often elusive, emerging gradually during the creative journey. It's advisable to discern them within the screenplay and employ inventive methods to bring them to the forefront for the audience's understanding. Kurosawa believes the central message will come from the story rather than having a pre-determined idea.


Analyze Details


Details are vital. While the audience might not consciously register every detail, these subtleties will influence their overall experience. Think of it as extra layers to a song, and how the background sounds in a mix can enhance the final product.


Continuously contemplate how you can invest each scene with additional layers. What intricacies can you incorporate into the backdrop, dialogues, and characters that enhance the theme and narrative? How can you skillfully steer the audience's perception of the film, causing a subtle influence over their experience without overtly dictating it?


Take What You Can from Real Life


Like many great filmmakers, Kurosawa believes in taking what you can from real life. Keep a notebook with you at all times. Use it to capture names, snippets of dialogue, intriguing ideas, observations of people, and their actions.


Draw from the world around you as much as possible. By doing so, your characters will exhibit a natural authenticity, displaying behaviors that resonate with the audience, and you'll be able to anchor any story in the realm of reality firmly.

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