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Elevating Your Storytelling to Greatness: for Writers & Directors

Starts April 24

In-person. 6 sessions: Wednesdays, April 24-May 29, 6:30-9:30 pm

How do you go from creating projects that are “well-made” and “pretty darned good” to making important, necessary, bold, life-changing work? This class uses a mixture of detailed craft discussion/work and just a bit of unabashed soul-searching… WHY are you making the stories you’re telling, and HOW do get them to sing for your audience?

We’ll look at some of the common pitfalls of scripts. How do we solve those as writers? How do we solve those as directors? We’ll practice using diagnostic tools to help solve problems at the story level before we get to production. Whether you wrote it, or you were handed it as a director, how do you take a story from “Yeah, this could work” to “This thing hums like an Indy car”?

We’ll also look at some of the common pitfalls of directing. How do we solve those as directors? And how can a writer set their director up for success? We’ll examine scenes to understand the decision-making process that leads to great (or not-so great) results. How do you direct actors in a collaborative way? How do you get your camera, lighting, score, and sound to work with your performances for that [chef’s kiss] perfect scene?

And we’ll take a look at what it means to structure your film career goals to suit your voice and ambitions. It can be difficult to take a hyper-intentional look at your art and craft, but we’ll try that lens on briefly and see how the choices of what and how you’re making work might change with an open look at the film landscape and what you can bring to it.

In-class exercises, a bit of homework, and detailed looks at scenes from existing films will give participants practice fine-tuning their decision-making while writing and directing. Students are welcome to weave their current project(s) into their classwork, or come in with a blank slate and see what develops. This class will assume some working knowledge of screenwriting and filmmaking, but is open to participants of all levels. The final 30 minutes of each session will be reserved for optional one-on-one questions (industry, career, craft) and networking with other students.

NOTE: this in-person course is held at FilmNorth, 550 Vandalia Street, Suite 120, Saint Paul, MN 55114. FilmNorth is following CDC’s current COVID-19 variant guidance for Ramsey County:

  • People may choose to mask at any time. Masks are recommended for those who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or at high-risk for complications associated with COVID-19 variants.
  • People with any COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should stay home.

Tuition: $310 regular | $250 member | $200 low-income

C.J. Renner is a screenwriter and director of short and feature films, as well as a graphic novelist, musician, and visual artist.

Renner’s work fuses the 1950s sensibilities of New Wave Cinema and Samuel Beckett with the modern vitality of Robert Eggers and Yorgos Lanthimos. In his work, a clash of existential ruin and dogged ambition are played against hyper-stylized visuals that bring viewers into the subjective reality of his protagonists.

His first feature, GUNN (2017), a prohibition-era film about rum-runners trapped in the literal void of a theatrical play, earned him praise: “What Renner did with GUNN is so spot on perfect, you’re going to wonder why no one thought of trying it before… keep an eye on C.J. Renner because this may be the calling card of a superstar.” – Unseen Films, as well as the Paris Around Film Festival’s Best Cinematography Award.

His next feature, American Tender (2018), follows a woman who turns a first date into a small-time heist. Both sweet and exhilarating, it earned him Twin Cities Film Fest’s Achievement for Innovation: “C.J. always surprises us, he’s going places, and we’re so thrilled that so many smart filmgoers from across the country discovered his talent right here at the festival this year.” – Bill Cooper, TCFF Director

C.J. holds degrees in English and Secondary Education from CSB/SJU and an MFA in Studio Art.

Class Registration Guidelines & Cancellation Policy

  • Space is assigned on a first-come basis. Registrations must include payment in full. Registrations are accepted after registration deadlines if space is available.
  • If minimum enrollment has not been reached by 7 days prior to the start date of a class, FilmNorth may cancel it, in which case registrants will immediately be notified and receive a full refund within 2 business days. A check will be issued for registrations that were paid in cash. In lieu of a refund, students have the option of applying their tuition to another class scheduled in the same calendar year.
  • For those needing to cancel a registration at least 7 days prior to the first class session, 100% of the tuition will be refunded minus a $25 administrative fee. For registration cancellations received less than 7 days prior to the first class session, 50% of the tuition will be refunded minus a $25 administrative fee. As of 5:00 pm the day prior to the first class session, no refunds or credits/exchanges will be given (Friday at 5:00 pm for Sunday classes). 
  • Tuition is not prorated for missed class sessions.
  • By registering for this FilmNorth class you are agreeing to our Community Values Statement.




April 24 @ 6:30 pm
May 29 @ 9:30 pm
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C.J. Renner
Registration Deadline
April 19
Maximum Enrollment
Class count or Info
6 sessions: Wednesdays, April 24-May 29, 6:30-9:30 pm