Valuable Tips For Writers From Veteran Filmmaker Jans Rautenbach

You cannot write a screenplay if you don’t live the art of storytelling – full stop!!

In an exclusive masterclass he held for The Writing Studio with Daniel Dercksen at the Artscape Resource Centre on November 22, 2015, he gracefully shared his insight of what it takes to be a screenwriter and was accompanied by composer Riku Latti, who composed the music for his film Abraham.

‘’I am here to share with you what I know – not to teach, or preach – nor to brag – I am but like you, ever dreaming of a tomorrow – just a very much 80-year-old dreamer,’’ he said.

Riku Lätti and Jans Rautenbach 25
‘’I am a writer, director, editor, and producer. And I wrote the screenplay of every movie I ever made,” says Jans Rautenbach, who changed the face of the South African film industry with his revolutionary films Die Kandidaat, Katrina, Papalap and Jannie Totsiens in the 60s, and made a welcome return last year with Abraham, one of the best films ever made in South Africa.

Here’s some advice for writers

  • The ever magic in your heart tells the story – not clever Thesaurus words or dramatic one liners – just the magic in your fingers as you play the qwertz keyboard.
  • A true storyteller talks with his or her entire body. Therefore, when I write, I use my body – fingers, brain, heart, eyes, tears, laughter, ears, I hear the music, activate my arms and legs, …open my very soul as I visualize the story, characters, moments. And always the twist – the unexpected.
  • You have to be so honest with yourself! Recognize your own prejudices – likes and dislikes – you must be a realist – honest. Recognize your own inabilities – but especially also your own experienced strengths.
  • In writing a screenplay you must know and understand the movie world. The screenwriter should be integral in all these stages of the movie.
  • A writer has to be a dreamer. Full stop! You can’t create words, tell a story, without a dream – a dream so overwhelming, to haunt your soul into creating the impossible – to galvanize your entire body into one single creative force!
  • A writer must have passion. Full stop! Your passion must last to the end – to the last word – the last note. Your passion must be total. Your passion must never say “Sorry”! Your passion must burn in your eyes. The fever of passion must rack your body with such intensity that it can pulverize any rock of doubt you encounter into the dust of eternity!
  • A writer must have hunger. Full stop! You must have a total Hunger!!! A physical and mental hunger. Your soul must be racked with hunger. Your body must cry out for food. Then you create! Then you soar into the sky. Then you touch the magic. Then your soul explodes… Then your words flow like vintage wine staining damask cloth into a dark purple of greatness…
  • And when you’re done, you have to take your dream, your passion, your hunger, and hang it on the washing line of life – where everyone can see it, touch it, and pass comment, praise, snort, or ignore it – and you can just look on… Because the hell of a writer, of a storyteller – is that everybody listens, but so few hear – everybody looks, but so few see.
  • A screenplay requires an unreal discipline! You have to write within the limits of a budget – a place – and a time.
  • When you face the empty void of a virgin word file… Don’t pretend to write! Don’t threaten to write! Don’t tell all, that what you want to write, no one will have the guts to film. Don’t suffer for weeks to find immortal first words to match Karen Blixen’s “I had a farm in Africa…”
  • Don’t intellectualize about writing – don’t join a mutual admiration society – “Oh that’s so cool darling…”
  • To write is a lonely journey of the mind – and just you, and you alone, can travel that road – no one else – just you. So sit down and start writing!
  • You must be part of the soil in which your characters are born! You cannot create characters you do not know intimately. Full stop!
Daniel Dercksen with Jans Rautenbach during the Masterclass for Screenwriters they did in Cape Town in 2015. Jans sadly passed away in 2016.

I quote you the last two lines of Henley’s Invictus written in 1875…

I am the master of my fate    I am the captain of my soul

Never, ever, forget it!

And as long as you ever write, remember!

You are the force –

you give the passion –

you bring the dream –

you create the hunger – the love – hate – anger – you destroy – you face the adversary – you conquer the impossible –

you, and only you, wear the mantle of creator –

you mould the clay –

you breathe man and woman into life –

you become master of your fate…

Jans Rautenbach         oulap    December 2015