A screenwriter, script editor and script consultant, Associate Professor Craig Batty has worked on numerous short film, feature film, television and online drama projects.
Batty is Creative Practice Research Leader for the School of Media and Communication, where he also teaches screenwriting, and is a screenwriting practice researcher.
What is your current research focus?
I research screenwriting practice, which means I'm interested in all aspects that go towards delivering a great film or TV drama.
“Script development” is good way to capture my research, because it's a process that centres on the journey taken by the screenplay and its screenwriter.
What’s your goal – what do you seek to learn?
By looking at what makes a screenplay and its development “successful”, I hope to find ways that others can improve their screenplays and the ways that they write them.
What is your approach in your work?
I do many things, from analysing screenplays, films and TV dramas, to reflecting on my own writing practice.
I also reflect on how I work with writers as a script consultant - what works, and how can I write about that for the benefit of others?
Explain the impact of your research - who will it affect and how?
My research is always aimed at being useful to the screen industry - writers, script developers, producers, etc.
Though intellectually rigorous, I always write in ways that appeal to and can be used by other practitioners, and students who are learning to be practitioners.
My research is used quite a lot around the world in script development scenarios.
From your research, what are the three key things a script needs to be successful?
- A good theme. We need to care about the story and care about the characters, so there needs to be something meaningful that underpins the script. Even if it’s comedy, it needs to work hard and “say something”. Word-of-mouth recommendations and DVD sales are about people wanting to see – and feel – the story again and again.
- Characters that appeal and surprise. Situations and circumstances we see them in that keep us guessing and keep us wondering. Predictability is a real turn-off for audiences.
- Dialogue that crackles. Film and TV is visually appealing, and it should also be aurally stimulating. Dialogue shouldn’t just push on the plot – it should build relationships, reveal personalities, add rhythm and pace, etc.
And what are the three key mistakes that screenwriters should avoid?
- Writing a screenplay that isn’t a screenplay. In other words, not using the screen – visuality – to tell the story. Too many screenplays are wall-to-wall dialogue.
- Trying to replicate other – often successful – screenplays. Yes, a particular genre or style might be fashionable, but imitating can result in stale work. Writers should write what they’re passionate about.
- Favouring plots over theme and meaning. Plot is important, and it’s the way a story is told – but there must be a story to tell in the first place. A thematic approach should be taken to at least one full re-write of a screenplay.
What has been the proudest moment in your research career so far?
Probably when an award-winning screenwriter wrote to me and said that my book, Movies That Move Us - which came out of my PhD - was instrumental in the writing of his first feature film.
That feature film got made in the UK and has gained a lot of critical acclaim.
What excites you most about your work?
I love how my research is interesting not just to me, but to many people around the world.
Everyone watches films and TV dramas - everyone loves a good story - and so I like to think that my research is tapping into something universal and widely understood.
How will you take your research forward?
I'm currently working up a project that looks specifically about screenwriting in the academy.
It's early days, but I want to find out who writes screenplays as part of their research practice, and why PhD students choose to write screenplays in the academy - what does it help them to achieve?
What drew you to RMIT?
I moved here from the UK and was really impressed with RMIT's focus on industry and applied research.
It already had a great name for screenwriting, and so I wanted to be part of that. Its location in Melbourne's CBD was also a big draw.
Batty is the author, co-author and editor of numerous books on screenwriting. His latest publications are Writing and Selling Horror Screenplays (Kamera Books, 2015) and Screenwriters and Screenwriting: Putting Practice into Context (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).