'Keep your audience guessing': Hollywood scriptwriter from Teaneck schools local teens

TEANECK — What part of a movie or TV show is most important to its success?

For film writer Chris Brancato, the Teaneck native behind "Narcos," "Godfather of Harlem" and many others, there is no question: The script's the thing.

"If you're bored watching a television show or a movie, it's the writing," Brancato told 20 high school and college students at the Richard Rodda Community Center on Sept. 16 in the first of a six-part master class on scriptwriting as a career. "Our job is to create characters that make the viewer want to turn the page."

The free series is a collaboration among Brancato, fellow Teaneck High School alumnus Darryl Greene, and education company founder Ryan Pruitt, grandson of Teaneck educator Eunice Pruitt and Englewood educator Henry Pruitt.

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"I wanted something different in the way of an after-school program to get kids involved, get kids excited," said Greene, a film production entrepreneur who reconnected with Brancato at a screening of "Godfather of Harlem" during the Teaneck Film Festival. "I pitched the class to Chris and he loved it."

Greene then enlisted Pruitt to help round up interested students via hisBe All You company.

"We help students to foster their passion and strengths to pursue a fulfilling career path that can help them thrive," Pruitt said.

Film writer, producer and Teaneck native Chris Brancato (not shown) gives the first of five lectures on screenwriting at the Rodda Community Center in Teaneck, NJ on Friday September 16, 2022. Kayla Williford-Jones answers a question during the lecture.

The result will be five more Friday Zoom segments where Brancato will discuss how Hollywood works, writing a television pilot versus a feature film, and producing for film and television.

"The script is the blueprint," Brancato told the class. "The key is to keep your audience guessing."

Truly great scripts

Brancato may have gotten early inspiration from his father, John Brancato, supervisor of the Teaneck High School English department and director of its musicals; or from his mother, Robin, an author of young adult books. But Brancato concedes he was guessing about his direction after graduating from Brown University.

"I heard you could be well compensated for writing spec scripts," Brancato said. "I knew you had to be in Los Angeles to be part of it. So I volunteered to work for someone in the business and did something else at night until I found a job that paid the rent."

Film writer, producer and Teaneck native Chris Brancato gives the first of five lectures on screenwriting at the Rodda Community Center in Teaneck, NJ on Friday September 16, 2022.

It is this kind of practical "how to get in the business" knowledge Brancato hopes to pass on to his students. But Brancato was pleased to hear that some students were already sampling the art form. Teaneck High School junior Nicole Beltre described a storyline she was developing about three college-age women.

"It's sort of like thoughts coming to you as clouds," Nicole explained. "You get a specific visual in your head how the story starts, the slant you want to take."

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Dwight Morrow junior Lyndaura Freitas said she hopes to combine her love of movies with her love of writing.

"I want to learn how to put it together, how to get there," Lyndaura said. "A lot of things I want to do require this knowledge."

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Brancato admits that even he sometimes needs to take direction from other sources, such as "Godfather of Harlem" star Forest Whitaker.

"He told me to make a speech shorter," Brancato said. "I did."

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Teaneck NJ screenwriter Chris Brancato holds master class