Introduction to a Brussels‘ workshop, by František “Frank” Daniel

Frank Daniel’s speech was recorded and copied by a FEMI (Flemish European Media Institue) collaborator in Mai 1988.

Frank’s speech was slightly adapted for the ICAPA Lagos Workshop 2023 by dfk*films | dfk*script*service.
František “Frank“ Daniel was  most important teacher about script analysis and writing for the founder of dfk*films, Donat Keusch.


Bad scriptwriting is spreading faster than the AIDS”, said one of my friends at the recent selection committee meeting of the Sundance Institute where from 525 submitted feature film scripts two projects were finally accepted. We had to start a new search for exciting scripts with ideas in order to bring in the usual six film projects that we accept every year to help their development and realization as independent movies. Good scripts are hard to find.

Is it because the talent is lacking? Absolutely not. There is abundance of talent among young aspiring film makers all over the world and most of them are even very well versed with the technical areas – camera, sound, cutting. But as far as writing goes, they just don’t know how to approach it. How do you make a story and how do you make a story work on screen? How do you make it exciting for the viewer? And is it necessary to take the viewer in consideration without lowering your artistic ambitions? Isn’t it enough to express ourself?

When we were young, Milos Forman and I believed that talent amounts for at least ninety percent of what is needed to become a scriptwriter. Now, we know that it is unconditionally important. It accounts surely for almost ten percent of what it takes. And where do the remaining ninety percent come from? Experience, learning to explore, dare and fight for one’s vision.

Good scriptwriting, as everybody knows, is film making on paper. You write not for readers, you offer challenging roles, parts to actors. You offer a director chances to stretch his command of the medium. You inspire the cinematographer, art director, composer, sound crew and whoever you need to express the vision you have captured on paper.

Kurosawa once said that if somebody wants to understand film he/she should write a script. If you reverse his statement, it says: your script shows how much (or little) you know about film. Does your script use locations, sets, staging and blocking of movements, light, colors, sound, contrasts in a dramatic manner or is it only an endless flow of dialogues interrupted by descriptions? And then, even more important: does it create and increase interest, empathy, involvement, anticipation of the future viewer? Does it reflect your command of those tools that create and build the audience’s enthrallment, such as suspense, irony, mystery, etc, etc …?

How can a young talented writer learn all these things? One part of it, the creative development of imagination to master the tools of expression can be acquired only by doing, by writing day by day. But we found out that it needs to be accompanied by a simultaneously developing ability to understand the story-build-up, the structure of scripts – and that as in all other arts, painting, music, novel writing, can happen only by analyzing the best examples of the art, by learning from masters, by finding the principles that they based their effects upon.

All film schools in the world are now, finally beginning to admit that scripts are a necessary part of theatrical film making. Outside the schools there are workshops, courses, lectures, symposia, panel discussions organized everywhere, by national film commissions, and boards, foundations, ministries and consortiums. It is a good sign. But the results of these efforts are still very far away from great.

At the ICAPA Lagos Workshop in 2023 we are still trying  – like František “Frank” Daniel in the 1980ies – to fill this gap that the film schools all over the world leave in the young generation’s film and TV education. There are, unfortunately, other gaps like directing of actors, creative production, art design but the absence of script writing awareness is the most acute.

We have found out that a professional scriptwriter can always help a novice to “fix” his script, to improve it structurally – to shape the flow and build-up of the action and tension – and texturally-helping to shape the scenes, trimming the unnecessary, adding touches, points, etc….

But how do you get a script from that dim, nebulous, escaping idea in those hundred and twenty pages? That’s why we found it necessary to add a short introduction into the basics within the program of the workshop where a group of ”dreamers” – who for some strange reason want to try it – are subjected to a series of assignments that require whipping of their imagination. The assignments present real problems that a scriptwriter faces when writing a script. They lead the writer, without theorizing, to discover for him*herself such elementary notions as “indirection”, time and space ellipses, dramatic use of sound, cinematic dialogue as opposed to the novel or theatre dialogue, creating of atmosphere, entrances of characters, etc, etc …

But then and even more importantly, a set of specific assignments asks for inventing outlines of stories. Today’s generation has usually no problems with imagining their scenes on screen. (Too many of them, unfortunately, see them only in the TV form). But their real difficulty is to see a story as an organic whole. That’s why they need to be given patterns, frameworks, parameters that suggest the total and urge their imaginations to offer the concrete of their own material: people, places, relationships, situations. Once aimed in a clearly seen direction they find out that they have stories in their heads they never knew about.

The benefits of this approach will show up in quite amazing, encouraging results. I.e. from the 22 “aspirants” who came from all over Europe – Belgium, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Holland, Germany and Spain – to this workshop in 1988, six were selected to develop full scripts during the next year in three steps, working on three progressing drafts of their films on paper.

In 2023 thirteen participants with 8 projects from  all over Africa – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sao Tome, Ivory Coast, Egypt – came to the  ICAPA Lagos Workshop.

Such sessions will take place somewhere on earth if ICAPA gets the financing for the follow-up workshop (by zoom and in real).