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Script Doctor

Dan Bessie
Write or Wrong: Dan Bessie shares his scriptwriting savvy in a new series of classes starting soon.

Hollywood veteran Dan Bessie has a prescription for screenwriting success

By Christina Waters

GRINNING OVER A cappuccino, Dan Bessie says, "I never tell my students that I'll get them to Hollywood. But I will help them make contact with a few people." Indeed, Bessie has been educating young scriptwriters and helping them network for the past two decades, during which he has made his living as an animator, producer, screenwriter and director. An expert at providing a nurturing reality check for budding filmies, Bessie urges them to be honest about their motives. "They have to love the process of writing, and, even if the film doesn't get made, they will have turned out a work of conscience."

Bessie, who co-founded Shire Films in 1979, came to Santa Cruz after several decades in the Southern California film industry, where he animated Tom & Jerry cartoons for MGM and produced both TV commercials and children's programming. After flirting with commercial filmmaking, Bessie turned his creative energies to a bevy of independent productions aimed at the art house, educational and public television markets--like Peter and the Wolf, which appeared on HBO.

A warm, relaxed, utterly approachable man, Bessie consistently juggles more projects than Martha Stewart. He's on his way down south to finish a corporate training film on conflict resolution. He's busy producing a study of pioneering black pilot Willa Brown that is destined for PBS. Bessie's colorful family--dad Alvah Bessie was infamous as one of the Hollywood Ten--has been captured in a book he's just finished.

And once more, he's offering a 10-week series of in-depth screenwriting classes to those eager to polish that script they've been working on. "Students invariably tell me they find me supportive and focused," Bessie admits. "The classes are a safe place to explore ideas, where the criticism is never designed to put down." But Bessie would like to dispel those fantasies that he says most students invariably bring to his classes. "They want to sell a script," he says, "they think they might be able to make a living at it."

I've known Bessie for over 15 years, and he's that rare creature who can zero in on technical problems with structure, plot and character-building without destroying your zest for the project. "My major aim is to help people realize their vision," he says, "to learn the skills they need to say what they want to say."

Of course, not every screenplay is worth being heard. But Bessie can bring out whatever merit is there. Designed for those with little or no screenwriting experience, the class is limited to a small group and will cover story, structure and characterization, using films and video clips to illustrate the points necessary to creating vivid scripts.

"Films are not novels," he warns, with a smile.

Screenwriting with Dan Bessie starts mid-November. The 10-week series (one three-hour session per week) costs $150. Call 459-9814 to register.

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From the November 7-13, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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