The SAA winners got a chance to sit down with seasoned writers for a long, frank discussion on screenwriting. The panel of WGA writers consisted of:
Howard A. Rodman (“Savage Grace”, “August”)
Scott Alexander (“Ed Wood,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt”)
Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects,” “The Tourist”)
Craig Mazin (“The Hangover, Part II,” “Scary Movie” 3 & 4)
Tom Schulman (“What About Bob?” “Dead Poet’s Society”)
So yeah, no big deal…
On sitting down and Writing:
- You’ll get the most ideas under financial strain.
- Shut off that internet. Those emails you “need” to reply to can wait til 3 p.m. (there are many programs available that will block the internet for you).
- Sometimes, wasting time is the best use of time.
- John Melius suggests writing 3 pages a day no matter what.
- It’s up to you to figure out your writing schedule. Find what works for you and don’t feel guilty about it.
- Out of all the sins in writing, the greatest is “boring.”
- Know the ending first. Build to that ending.
On the subject of Notes:
- You want lots of feedback from peers. Especially if they’re jealous of you and will give harsh notes.
- At the independent level, you don’t have to take notes from anyone. Listen well and do what feels right.
- Be open to all notes. You can still fix stuff before you face the audience in the dark theater.
- When listening to notes, put your anger or hurt aside. Try to make the note-giver feel better, even if you end up not taking their note.
- Remember that the subtext to every note you get is “help me like your script more”.
- Pay attention to the emotions behind the note, rather than the specifics.
- Keep giving the studio “you” until they realize that’s what they want.
On working with Directors:
- Collaborations with directors are case by case. Some will work closely with you, some will fire you and hire another writer, and some you will never meet.
- Key to the best movies are a strong writer/director collaboration.
- Story is the most important element but sometimes a director’s aesthetic choice will override it.
- The moment you start directing your screenplay, the “writer-you” dies. Have someone you trust be around to give you feedback and remind you of the heart of the story you’re trying to tell.
- It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees in the heat of production, so it’s usually helpful to have the writer on set.
- Don’t be too defensive of your screenplay. A director’s job is to challenge your script and elevate it.
- The only answers you may give to a director’s request for a change in the script are “yes, if…”, “yes, but…”, and “yes”.
- A good script is a blueprint for the movie. Just like two contractors would build similar buildings from the same blueprint, two directors should be able to make similar movies from the same script.
On once you start Making Money:
- Once you start getting checks for writing, fight to defend complexity.
- Don’t overextend yourself once the money starts coming, it won’t always last.
- Only take jobs you think you can love. Hard to do good work if you don’t love it.
- Save up money not for a house or a car, but for the luxury to say “no” to projects.
- Remember that they are hiring you to put things you love into scripts.
- Don’t worry, you’re going to go in and out of favor many times in this business.
- It’s not the film business. It’s a film business. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make stuff yourself.
The writers were mostly in consensus on all topics but, at the end, broke up into two opposite camps on the issue of Sending Out Scripts:
- There’s the Christopher McQuarrie/Tom Schulman camp of being very careful who you send your screenplays to. They say it’s a “me too” town and the more people that reject a script, the more likely others will as well. Also, original ideas are highly rare and easy to steal. And if you send someone your script, you’ve laid all your cards on the table and are not keeping them guessing.
- Then there’s the Craig Mazin/Scott Alexander camp of sending out your screenplay to any pair of eyeballs that will look at it. The idea being that you never know what will happen or who will pass it to whom. Also, your script is your calling card and the more people that read and like it, the more likely you are to get hired for a re-write job.
They were torn. Any thoughts, screenwriting Tumblrs?