The great teacher Syd Field died this week. I was shocked because it’s always hard to believe that giants can die. He singlehandedly opened the world of screenwriting to an entire generation of writers, and because of him, many writers dared to try this impossibly difficult form and thus, changed the course of filmmaking forever.
Syd inspired me to create my own writing system, The Horowitz System® because I had so much trouble using his. This system has help thousands of students write a screenplay in 10 weeks or less. I developed my method because I wasn’t clever enough to use his.
Following his suggestions, I would carefully arrange the file cards that I was supposed to write down the scenes of the script I planned to write. BUT I would find myself completely unable to imagine what should go on them! Out of total frustration, I came up with the technique of organizing my characters’ lives into The Three Levels of Conflict. This technique helps writers organize the life of their characters into three strands, Inner, Outer and Societal. The Inner Level represents the emotional problems that hold the characters back, The Outer Level the plot, and The Societal Level, the difficulties larger world of the story and the effect on the plot.
Once I understood that the aspects of any character could be successfully organized in this matter, I could begin to fill in the file cards.
So I would have a few scenes, but then as I tried to respond to his suggestions as to how to structure the story, I failed over and over. In total despair, I had a dream in which Joseph Campbell appeared to me and gave me a way to understand structure. I was then able to invent The Mythic Journey Map, a graphic tool that even I could understand! This Map re-organized the 3-act structure of Aristotle into 4 equal length parts, and then sub-divided it into twelve 10-minute sequences.
If it hadn’t been for Syd Field, I never would have invented my system, have two books that are textbooks at NYU, another book that was used to teach over a thousand middle school students, written screenplays, made films, or had all of the fun I have had in my work as a teacher and a coach.
I would like to thank Syd, Field wherever he is, for helping me become who I am today.
THANK YOU, SYD!!!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz
Copyright©2013 Marilyn Horowitz