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Teacher Spotlight: James Napoli

James Napoli’s MFA is from the London Film School. He is a professional story analyst, providing script evaluations to agents and producers in the film industry for more than fifteen years. He has written and directed award-winning short films, optioned several of his feature screenplays and is currently pitching a TV pilot script with an independent producer in Los Angeles. James created hundreds of original short plays in every genre as Head Writer for the XM/Sirius Live Radio Theater Program New Frequency. He is the author of the humor best-seller The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm, the co-creator of the cinema-themed comedy podcast Movies Not Movies, and has just completed a private eye novella, Plea from a Dead Silhouette.

James teaches in the MFA in Professional Screenwriting Program at National University, and at Columbia College, Hollywood, where his subjects include Screenwriting, Script Analysis, Script Coverage and Film History.

In January, James will be teaching Six Month Screenwriting Intensive at Literary Arts. Here is what he has to say about this course!

Why do you enjoy teaching this class? 
I love this question. Part of my work in the entertainment industry has been providing “coverage,” or story analysis on screenplays to producers and agents. Reading many hundreds of scripts over the years has made me a better writer and has also thrown the enjoyment that comes from analysis into sharp relief. I think all writers enjoy talking about the novels they have read (or films they have seen), hanging out in the coffee shop and going over the finer points. It’s that energy that I enjoy cultivating in my teaching. We’re here to find out how to craft a story, and we’re all sharing our love of storytelling in the process. It’s a conversation. 

Why this genre? 
Well, I suspect this question might apply more to fiction writing, since in a screenwriting class we can end up with any number of genres. That said, if we substitute the word “medium” for “genre,” then my answer would be because it’s vital for writers in the 21st Century to understand all the delivery systems on which their work might end up being offered. Just as novelists read other novels, so do screenwriters absorb the language of the script. The way the two mediums talk to each other is fascinating. And a love of movies and TV helps, too. 

How would you describe your teaching style? (You could say this in 5 words)
Supportive. Investigative. Open. Knowledgeable. Lively. 

How is each session structured? 
In the first part of the course, it’s about the sharing of ideas and the hashing out of some theory and structural elements as they apply to existing work as well as our own work. This transitions into on-the-spot scene writing in-class. Once the outlining and actual scriptwriting begins, we dive into a feedback loop, with writers helping each other grow their stories. In any case, feedback is almost always part of our weekly work is usually based on a take-home assignment that involves peer review. And the discussion in each live session springs from that peer review along with instructor input. 

Where do you draw inspiration from? (in your own writing or in your pedagogy)
I hope it’s not too offhand to say everywhere. I suspect most writers might also answer with that idea! There is life around us—moments observed in a public setting, watching animals, taking in nature, taking in art in its various forms. Regarding the latter, it can be amazingly inspiring just to take in a beautifully realized moment between two actors in a scene, or to re-read a perfectly crafted sentence in a novel or story several times in a row. As far as pedagogy, I have been fortunate enough to have been guided by some strong mentors in my early teaching career who fostered my approach of individual attention to the voice of each creative person. And to have ongoing involvement in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee within my higher education work has been a great part of my evolving pedagogy. 

What would you want each person to leave with from taking this course?

First of all, joy in creating a story. Second, a step toward understanding the importance of the screenwriting form to the writer’s life. Third, a screenplay draft of their own. Fourth, a new way of looking at movies and television combined with a grasp of how the industry that provides this content functions.

Where will you be teaching/telecommunicating from?
Los Angeles 

Favorite book? Writers? Literary pieces? 
As with most, I find it hard to narrow down favorites when it comes to stories in all forms. I have an affection for some of the revered short story writers such as Richard Yates, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami (all of whom have had works adapted for the screen). John Irving, Milan Kundera and Shirley Jackson have been inspiring, too.  

One of my favorite books on writing is the simple but inspiring “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland. It is not specific to screenwriting, but the concepts are all about nurturing and make it an equally nurturing read. 

With movies, probably too many too mention, plus they come and go depending on how I feel each day! I do like independent films as they seem to be trading in keeping original writer’s visions intact. (“Moonlight,” “Paterson”) I have lately been impressed by the work of independent filmmakers Debra Granik, known for “Winter’s Bone” and “Leave No Trace,” and Chloe Zhao (“The Rider”). Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has quite a remarkable body of work. Jordan Peele is a really interesting figure on the film landscape right now, showing us how to use genre and surrealism as commentary, followed closely by the TV shows “Atlanta,” and “Reservation Dogs,” which are terrific. I have a soft spot for Charlie Kaufman’s off-kilter voice. The Marvel Universe offers up some enjoyable fare when it wants to (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” anyone? And “Ms. Marvel” was notable), and Aaron Sorkin is a reliable figure on the high-profile movie landscape. I could go on, of course, all the way back to the silent era and up through some classics in drama and film noir, right on up to the 70s and 80s milestones and all the work that has emerged from around the world since then, too. But we’ll leave it at that for now! 

Here is a link to an interview with Creative Screenwriting about James’ work as a Story Analyst/Script Reader:https://www.creativescreenwriting.com/james-napoli/

And a link to “The Many Faces of Supporting Characters,” one of James’ many screenwriting craft articles from the same publication: https://www.creativescreenwriting.com/the-many-faces-of-supporting-characters/

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