Script Lab’s mission to create a new wave of writers and storytellers

The concept of Script Lab has been in the pipeline for two years since the inception of the Maulik Chalachitra Niti.

Movies are being made, released, discussed and celebrated. Whether enjoyed on a personal mobile/laptop screen or in the theatres, alone or with friends, movies are one common topic for people to enjoy. But how many of these movies are Nepali movies? Only a handful of answers pop up, and they are too few and far between.

“It is not that the Nepali audience are not having intellectual conversations. In the tea shops, in the gatherings, on social media platforms, and on a personal level, people love good movies. That is why we talk about it,” says Arun Joshi, filmmaker and President of the Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival.

Then why do Nepali movies lag so much in numbers?

Keshav Pandey, the Head of the Department of Direction and Screenwriting at Nepal Film Campus says that Nepali writers and filmmakers, despite having an intelligent audience, appear reluctant to acknowledge this reality, possibly due to resistance against the necessary elevation of standards and heightened dedication to their craft.

This is why many like Pandey and Joshi are calling for a focus on good scripts. Stakeholders feel there needs to be a significant investment on creating good scripts with will then create some change in the perception many look at Nepali movies and change the industry for the better.

“We need technical and literary courses. It might be the answer,” says Joshi.

Importance of a good script

Pandey says Nepal’s cinematic journey is relatively young.

“In the past, conversations about films were limited due to the scarcity of individuals to engage with,”  says Pandey.

Joshi also believes that in the past, Nepali filmmakers have demonstrated proficiency in their craft, but there was a phase where the art form was misused.

“Now again, there is a noticeable shift as contemporary filmmakers, particularly those who have learned from the success of movies like Loot and Chapali Height. The focus is returning to the importance of a well-crafted script,” says Joshi.

Feeling the need for the same, the Office of the Communication Registrar (Bagmati Province) has called out for an open call for interested (aspiring) filmmakers and storytellers to be a part of an intensive workshop. The workshop, with a mentorship opportunity, titled Script Lab was initiated by Registrar Rewati Sapkota and his team.

Meanwhile, individuals who have invested time in learning and experimenting are also contributing to a resurgence of local products being discussed and represented. Nevertheless, Pandey states, that Nepali films have struggled to inspire the new wave of filmmakers as desired.

Other younger aspiring filmmakers are enrolling at institutions like the Oscar International College and Nepal Film Campus, to reach a certain standard and understanding of the craft. 

“Exposure has increased, and opportunities have expanded, leading to a notable progression compared to 15 years ago. While there has been a tendency to copy and paste, there is now a trend toward modification, with the recent emergence of a few original stories like that of honeyhunters but we need to go beyond the cultural stereotypes or typecasting of characteristics,” says Pandey.

Joshi feels that film schools are important as they act as a filter, influencing and guiding the types of movies and scripts that filmmakers choose to produce.

“That is not all, the influence of the schools also extends to film festivals and discussions surrounding films,” he says.

This can be seen with many graduates aiming to create short films or different forms of content uploading them on YouTube or other platforms.

“Cinema literacy has always been limited, but lately people recognising film as an art medium has increased. The audience too often struggles to appreciate cinema, not fully comprehending the intricacies involved,” says Joshi.

Upgrading needed

Photo: SnappyGoat

Nepal’s film industry, however, has a problem. Based on his observations Abhimanyu Dixit, filmmaker campaigner and educator the film industry operates within a market-driven framework, and filmmakers often face obligations to meet them.

“This commercial aspect can limit the freedom to experiment, explore new genres, stories, and roles, and engage in discussions and in how writers write the stories and scripts. So we are off-balanced by a lot,” he says.

Another aspect that impacts quality scripts, he says, is the incentive in the field. That, he believes is due to only a few individuals sustaining themselves solely through this craft. Scriptwriters, who are believed to be the soul of the film are paid even less.

“There is limited scope for professional growth when the pay is so low,” he says.

He believes Nepali films making it to festivals abroad like Cannes is an example of the country having good writers who can make thought-provoking films.

“The problem at the end of the day is motivation and the ground to thrive,” says Dixit.

Stakeholders suggest that the industry’s focus now should be on on developing engaging stories from Nepal. Joshi, who attended the European Creators’ Lab, explains that their approach involves creating local stories and teaching participants about the pre-production process.

“Our local stories have abundant narratives that are waiting to be told. Nepal, in essence, is a studio where stories can be crafted on a low budget yet achieve international acclaim. The key ingredients are intention and courage,” says Yadav Kumar Bhattarai a director.

“With movies like Pashupati Prasad, Jhola, Kabaddi, Ainaa Jhyal Ko Putali and recent releases like Dhorpatan we see the potential. We need to explore more,” says Joshi.  

Is script lab promising?

movie - cinema films
Photo: Unsplash/ Marius GIRE

The concept of Script Lab has been in pipeline for two years since the inception of the Maulik Chalachitra Niti. Recently after the cabinet gave a green signal, the project was introduced publicly and is scheduled to be held in mid-February for a week or so.

Regarding how the project is designed, Rewati Sapkota says there will be two groups of 20 that will be mentored first. From there, the workshop will handpick 10 participants from each group and mentor them.

“In the final phase, five outstanding scripts will be awarded Rs 100,000 and also be displayed in April,” he says.

As one of the mentors of the Script Lab too, Pandey explains the Sript Lab will focus on story more than anything. He says the workshop will make pariticpanats understand what a script needs and how technically sound it can get.

“While it may not be part of the syllabus in Nepali colleges today, it is a common practice outside. And this sets Script Lab apart,” says Pandey.

Sapkota stresses that genuine interests and local stories will be given priority when selecting aspiring filmmakers.

Dixit is also currently working on his story Ek Mutthi Badal (My Share of Sky) in Script Bank. Based on his experience and initial idea of Script Lab in Nepal, he says, it sounds like a promising venture like Locarno Pro-Open Doors which works on one-on-one mentorship and script breakdowns. Also teaching Media Studies at Kathmandu University, he says the result of the workshop will depend on what type of people enroll in it.

“So far, we are compelled to be happy with the bare minimum. But to foster the growth of the Nepali media industry, we need comprehensive policies and directives accompanied by increased budget allocations and easy access to resources for filmmakers, allowing for a broader and more sustainable creative landscape,” says Dixit.

As a mentor and filmmaker, what Pandey sees as the output of the Script Lab is the emergence of the movie-literate crowd.

“We will sow the seeds of knowledge and creativity, we will see what it reaps in the future,” says Pandey.

Need for proactive government support

Filmmakers argue that the government, with its influential role, should actively support and provide opportunities for creative pursuits. They express dissatisfaction, believing that the government has not taken the film industry seriously and has not given it the recognition it deserves.

Pandey also draws attention to the untapped potential and roles that government bodies could play in streamlining the discussion around the movies.

For workshops and initiatives like Script Lab to succeed, they need to look at the sustainability or longevity factor, as that has been one of the key concerns with the mushrooming number of courses being introduced.

“Establishing categorical definitions and clearly defined processes is imperative, ensuring that successive teams and governments can seamlessly carry forward this crucial recognition.” 

“Currently, the emphasis is on the importance of taking the initiative. While challenges may exist, the hope is for the best, trusting that collective efforts will lead to a more profound appreciation of cinema as a serious and impactful art form,” says Joshi.

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Bajracharya was a sub-editor at Onlinekhabar. She mostly writes on culture and nature.

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