The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 10th Anniversary Edition
eBook - ePub

The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 10th Anniversary Edition

Insider Secrets from Hollywood's Top Writers

Karl Iglesias

  1. 272 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
  4. Disponibile su iOS e Android
eBook - ePub

The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 10th Anniversary Edition

Insider Secrets from Hollywood's Top Writers

Karl Iglesias

Dettagli del libro
Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti

Informazioni sul libro

You can struggle for years to get a foot in the door with Hollywood producers--or you can take a page from the book that offers proven advice from twenty-one of the industry's best and brightest!In this tenth anniversary edition, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 2nd Edition peers into the lives and workspaces of screenwriting greats--including Terry Rossio (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Aline Brosh McKenna ( Morning Glory ), Bill Marsilii ( Deja Vu ), Derek Haas and Michael Brandt ( Wanted ), and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne franchise).You will learn best practices to fire up your writing process and your career, such as:

  • Be Comfortable with Solitude
  • Commit to a Career, Not Just One Screenplay
  • Be Aware of Your Muse's Favorite Activities
  • Write Terrible First Drafts
  • Don't Work for Free
  • Write No Matter What

This indispensable handbook will help you hone your craft by living, breathing, and scripting the life you want!

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Cats gotta scratch. Dogs gotta bite. I gotta write.



1. Be Creative and Original

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Creativity is an essential skill for the professional writer, especially in screenwriting. Too many aspiring writers don’t understand its importance. Ideas are king in Hollywood. Anyone who has read hundreds of scripts and listened to thousands of pitches could tell you that most of them are derivative of other movies, with familiar characters, uninteresting ideas, and clichéd plot twists. Beginners tend to develop the easiest idea that comes to mind, rather than working hard to generate original ones.
Tony Gilroy: Having a great imagination is 98 percent of the work. Originality is the job. It’s what you do. Craft is craft, but it’s imagination that puts you on the map. I’d rather work with someone who’s imaginative with no idea what he’s doing than an experienced writer with a limited imagination.
Derek Haas: You have to be creative and original or you won’t get hired again. Even on sequels, assignments, or remakes, you have to find that original, creative spark. You have to take whatever the project is and make it your own.
Michael Brandt: Derek and I spitball together. We get together and smoke a cigar, usually with our manager, and we talk out the scenes or characters. We’ll constantly call each other on being derivative or common … and we challenge each other to be more original or clever. When we hit on an idea that feels unique, we know.
It’s crucial to understand that to be successful inside the studio system, a script has to be centered around a big idea. A big idea doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive one, for the record. Three documentary filmmakers going into the woods to see if the Blair Witch legend is real is a big idea, shot very inexpensively.
Laeta Kalogridis: Original ideas and creative approaches are the heart of successful writing and moviemaking, even within the framework of established franchises or recognizable “brands.” You can’t survive in the business unless you’re bringing something original to the table. That said, you can’t make anything if you can’t collaborate and do it well.
Bill Marsilii: The funny thing about Hollywood is that they want you to be original just like some other hit movie. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “We want something original and edgy, Tim Burton-esque.” And I’d think, “Gee, Tim Burton has already done Tim Burton-esque!” But this is what you will deal with once you break in.
Before this, however, as you work on your spec, it’s crucial to avoid “first draft theater,” where it seems that what you’re reading is literally the first thing that popped into the writer’s head. They didn’t bother to examine it, to make it better, or to find a more clever or original way of writing it. They just settled for the first thing they could think of.
One of the ways I ensure that I go beyond the cliché is to go through a process I call, “Doing the 20s.” I’ll be writing a particular moment, and I’ll stop and force myself to list twenty different ways to do it, like twenty cool ways my two characters could meet, or twenty cool chase scenes. The further you get down the list, the better they’ll start to get. If you make yourself write twenty ideas, not worrying about whether they’re any good or not, often the ninth or tenth one will be golden because you didn’t settle for the first thing that popped into your mind.
Tom Schulman: Imagination and originality are crucial traits everyone is looking for in a writer because if someone has already seen what you’ve written, chances are they’ll be bored by it. So when you conceive your story, characters, and plot elements, the key question is, “Is this something I’ve seen before?” and if so, you need to find an original approach to the material.

2. Be a Natural Storyteller

We’re only interested in one thing: Can you tell a story, Bart? Can you make us laugh, can you make us cry, can you make us wanna break out in joyous song?
You may love stories, whether you experience them through films, TV shows, novels, short stories, commercials, jokes, or plays, but if you can tell a story in the best possible way, make someone laugh, cry, feel pity, tension, curiosity, surprise, relief, or even inspire them, if you’re compelled to captivate an audience, and know deep down that the most important factor in a story is its visceral effect on the audience, you may be a natural storyteller.
Robin Swicord: Writers have the sort of mind that puts together narrative in a way that has a beginning, middle, and end. They notice cause and effect—that because this thing happened, that other thing is happening. These are the kinds of traits that come together into a mind that makes drama. People who don’t have that natural bend for it have a very hard time really understanding what it is writers do. There’s nothing more humbling for people who say, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer” than to actually try to create an alternate reality, only to find out it’s really hard to play God.

3. Be Comfortable with Solitude

Writing is a lonely life, but the only life worth living.

Writing is a lonely business. As a writer once said, “It’s like volunteering for solitary confinement without knowing the length of your stay.” Writers must spend a lot of time alone, but because they tend to be introverted by nature, they find more psychological comfort in a book or in writing than in social interactions.
This is not to say that if you’re not comfortable with your solitude, you won’t be able to write. One of the many surprises in chatting with our mentors is that many of them are actually extroverts who force solitude on themselves in order to do the job.
Ron Bass: I really prefer to write alone. Generally, when I have staff meetings, we talk about story and criticism, but I don’t like to write with somebody else sitting there, because I’ll talk out loud and I’ll pace around. I can be physically active when I write. I usually sit but I also have standing desks wherever I go so I can write standing up, which enables me to pace around and charge back and forth, move my arms. It’s a physical process, not just an intellectual one. I cross things out and I write bigger or darker depending on the emotion. If I’m in the park, I’ll pace around. I must look really peculiar to people, so I try to find a place when I’m relatively alone, and certainly where I won’t hear another human voice.
Leslie Dixon: In order to do the job really well, you must spend prolonged periods of time in total isolation. I loved it for the first few years where I had total control of my time without anybody telling me what to do. But I still haven’t figured out how to strike a balance between spending enough time by myself to produce a better grade of work versus not becoming a hermit.
Tom Schulman: You need to create solitude so that you can hear the voices, and you need a willingness to live in the world of the story for long periods of time, forcing yourself into the world of the characters so that you can believe they exist. Many spouses of writers understandably complain that we’re not living in the present.
Robin Swicord: A friend once gave me and fellow writers a personality test, and we all turned out to be introverts, which I don’t think is a coincidence. Something like 20 percent of the general population is introverted, but I think most writers probably fall into that category. They feel very comfortable with solitude. They’re probably better in one-on-one situations rather than dealing with lots of people. I know that when I’m in a room full of people, I tend to fall back as an observer.

4. Be a Natural Observer

Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.

In order to describe, you need to observe. Most of us go through life only half seeing what goes on around us. We have too much going on to bother with observing details in life and in human nature. As a result, novice writers tend to reference what they’ve just seen on television and at the movies, rather than draw from what they’ve observed in the real world.
Successful screenwriters develop the habit of observing others, which gives them an ear for the way people talk and an eye for the way they behave. They’re aware of the minutest details of the world around them, silently making notes on everything, and seeing things vividly and selectively. Whether in coffee shops, airports, or restaurants, they cannot resist eavesdropping on a conversation or people watching. In short, they pay attention.
Gerald DiPego: Beginners don’t do enough observing or enough listening when they’re out and about in the world, on buses, or in restaurants. Often, when I read a beginner’s script, I find that the writer is not referencing life but rather what I see in movies and television.
Eric Roth: Everything is writing-related, you live with it twenty-four hours a day, so when you’re out in the world, you’re an observer of what people do and details of what’s around you. Unconsciously, you try to save them and hopefully use them at a later time.
Robin Swicord: Writers have the particular makeup of a person who looks at the world, observes human behavior, and finds themselves amused, intrigued, or emotionally moved by watching people.

5. Be Collaborative

Your mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open.

In no other form of writing is collaboration as important as in screenwriting. It’s so engrained in the way scripts become movies that without this attitude, no screenwriter, unless he’s a genius, can become successful. Once you receive interest from a producer to turn your screenplay into a movie, you will have to collaborate with development executives, directors, and actors. If you’re difficult to work with, no one will want to be around you and you will develop a negative reputation that will hinder your screenwriting career. Collaboration is crucial.
Gerald DiPego: It’s a whole skill you have to develop apart from writing. Call it compromise, negotiation, or debate. You spend a lot of time in development, trying to do your best to explain and defend the material against harmful ideas, but at the same time you have to stay open to the good ideas. Some people shut down and say, “The hell with them! They’re all stupid.” That’s not going to work. Then again, you can’t sit there like a stenographer and accommodate them because that will kill the material.
Derek Haas: You have to be willing to collaborate. Screenwriting doesn’t end with “fade out.” You have to be willing to work with producers, studio execs, directors, actors, cinematographers, stunt coordinators. If you think you’re just going to type the words and the movie is going to reflect exactly what you wrote the first time, you’re in the wrong business.
Michael Brandt: If you have a partner, it makes it much easier to collaborate. We’re constantly rewriting each other. Our one rule is: just make it better.
Aline Brosh McKenna: One of the reasons I picked screenwriting as a career is that it’s collaborative. So when I think of a new project, I also think about who my collaborators might be. And I usually have at least one primary collaborator on every project, whether it’s a producer or director attached to the project, someone who can see the same movie I’m seeing, who has the same sensibilities about the project, who I can shoot small questions to or have conversations with to get me over the rough patches. That’s enormously helpful. The more people you have, the better the experience.
Terry Rossio: I love collaborating with writing partners. It takes a team to make a film, so why not start with a team? That one decision naturally builds in a dozen key safeguards. You’re less likely to work on a project that is of limited interest. You’re less likely to procrastinate. You’re less likely to work on something that has already been done. You’re less likely to miss a key story problem. When working on a story together, neither person will have the answer to the problem alone, but somehow together you arrive at the answer. One plus one can equal three. One downside, though, is that the work takes about twice as long. It takes time and energy to reach consensus.



6. Have a Driving Reason to Write

You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.

All of the successful screenwriters interviewed here have been writing for many years. They didn’t get where they are today without having a driving and passionate desire to write. They may have other reasons why they write, but unlike many aspiring writers, not one of them only wishes to write a screenplay that will sell for a million dollars in order to have the freedom to do whatever else they really want to do.
Whether it’s their primary way of expressing themselves, an outlet for their fantasies, or a desire to entertain people, real writers don’t get satisfaction out of doing anything else. They love writing for its own sake. They love movies and they love to tell stories to a mass audience.
Ron Bass: There’s only one reason to become a screenwriter, or a writer of anything, and that is you can’t avoid it. It’s what you love to do. It’s who you are. I write because there’s no way I couldn’t write. I was writing stories when I was six years old because I loved to do it and tell stories in my own way. I wrote a novel when I was teenager, then I became a lawyer to support my family and was away from writing prose for sixteen years. And I really missed it. So I went back to it and didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. The second I started again, I just said to myself, “Why on earth did I take so long to come back to this?” There’s absolutely nothing else in life that makes me feel the way that writing does.
Gerald DiPego: For me, writing borders on an obsession. It’s almost like I don’t have a choice, like breathing. While you can certainly rack yourself with doubt, there is a persistence about it where it isn’t this sense of “should I do this or not?” but more “I can’t help this, I love it, I need to do it.”
Leslie Dixon: I was one of those little girls whose English teacher always told her she should be a writer. I had a dreamy identity that I was going be a writer since I was eight years old. I wanted to find some form of writing where I didn’t have to work a crummy job and write at night, and since I was obsessed with movies, it seemed like the logical marriage of passion and commerce.
Akiva Goldsman: I couldn’t think of a more perfect job for me. The act of writing is itself wildly solitary, but the act of making a movie is very social, so this is the perfect alternation: the solitude of writing and the community of building and making movies.
Nicholas Kazan: I started to write because I heard a line of dialogue and wrote it down, then I heard another one and eventually I wrote a play. Without knowing anything about the play when I sat down, I wrote this forty-minute play simply by transcribing these lines of dialogue. And the experien...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Dedication
  4. Copyright
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Contents
  7. Introduction
  8. Part 1 Passion: The Urge to Screenwrite
  9. Part 2 Creativity: Summoning the Muse
  10. Part 3 Discipline: Applying the Seat of Your Pants to the Seat of the Chair
  11. Part 4 Storycraft: Weaving a Great Tale
  12. Part 5 Marketing: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Your Writing
  13. Part 6 The Four Ps: Patience, Perseverance, Passion, and Practice
  14. Conclusion: Fade Out
  15. Index of habits
  16. Index of screenwriters’ panel comments
  17. About the Author