<ro>“Preparation for being a writer is reading and living and suddenly at one point, you say, ‘I have a story to tell.’”
<ro1>— Khris Baxter, adjunct professor, Northern Virginia Community College
Though screenwriter Khris Baxter does not like writing, that is exactly what he does every morning before heading off to teach or to his day job.
“Most writers will tell you that,” said Baxter, an adjunct professor at the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) – Loudoun Campus, adding that what he does like is the final product. “I love telling stories, exploring characters and situations. The best way for me to do that is through screenwriting.”
This spring, Baxter is teaching introduction to screenwriting at the Loudoun Campus, a new course that is being offered through the continuing education department. He has been teaching similar screenwriting courses at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. for the past two years and at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Md. since the winter section. He presented his idea for the non-credit course to Esther Perantoni, program developer for the Loudoun campus.
“They were very enthusiastic, and it was received very well. The class is already full,” Baxter said about the 10 students taking the eight-week course, which has a 14-student maximum.
A second eight-week course is scheduled in the latter part of the spring semester for beginning students and students who want to continue their studies in the subject. If enough students sign up, Baxter plans to teach two separate sections for beginning and more advanced students. On a larger scale, if his class proves successful, NVCC may begin offering creative writing courses through continuing education, he said.
DURING THE COURSE, Baxter reminds his students they need to write every day, no matter what they write or how lengthy. He tells them there are story ideas all around them in their own lives, in conversations and in the media. “They need to just begin. The hardest part of writing is sitting down in a chair and starting to write,” he said.
Baxter teaches the fundamentals of the craft of screenwriting, including story structure, character, plot and scene development, dialogue and thematic conflict. He shows his students how to view and analyze screenplays, assigning them screenplays to read and movies to watch.
“The two things that struck me about him is he’s an amazing listener. … He’s very hands-on, but he knows how to listen,” said Nanya Agrawal, a Reston resident who attended two Barnes & Noble workshops Baxter taught last year and plans to take one of his private workshops in mid-February. “Modesty precludes him from jumping the gun and telling everyone the way it is. … He’s not up there lecturing.”
Baxter assigns his students to develop a story idea, which the class helps shape during workshop, and write an outline for a feature screenplay for a two-hour movie. Toward the end of the course, the students begin writing the screenplay, which they will be tasked with finishing in draft form if they take the second section.
“It’s the richest way, I think, to tell a story,” Baxter said about screenwriting. “It’s compelling because you have sights, sounds and movement. It’s more dimensional. I’m not saying I don’t like novels. I love novels. I read voraciously.”
READING IS HOW Baxter developed an interest in writing, something he started doing in his early 20s. “Eventually you read so much, you finally say, ‘I can do this,’” he said. “Preparation for being a writer is reading and living and suddenly at one point, you say, ‘I have a story to tell.’”
Baxter, who grew up in Ventura, Calif., earned bachelor’s degrees in English and mathematics at the University of California in Berkeley in 1984. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from California State University at Haywood in 1990.
That year, Baxter began scriptwriting and has since sold five of his scripts to Hollywood, one of which was produced into a cable release in 1993. He has written a total of eight screenplays, work that takes anywhere from six months to one year, and several short stories. He is compiling 10 short stories into a collection, which he plans to complete by the end of the summer. Sony Pictures will begin production later this year on a theatrical release of one of his screenplays, a western.
“I write every day, even if I don’t think I have anything to say. Once I start, things begin to appear on the page,” Baxter said.
Baxter moved to Reston eight months ago and has lived in Northern Virginia for the past two years. He is a real estate agent at Long & Foster at the Reston North Hills office.