Today in Part 6, Aaron offers some observations about the craft of screenwriting and breaking into the business:
Scott: OK, great. Some craft questions for you. First one. How do you come up with story ideas?
Aaron: I don’t use any particularly way. I think I just try and take in everything around me, and, obviously, I have a ton of books and comic books, and, like I said, I’ve watched way too many movies, and I just sit around and think about things and see what occurs to me.
I guess I don’t have a specific way of doing it. Something occurs to you while you’re driving down the street, and it just seems like a good idea. I think anything that presents itself in my brain as something that I’d like to see on‑screen, and then you just want to make it real so you can see it. It’s all very selfish [laughs] .
Scott: How much time do you spend in prep writing, say if you were writing a spec script, and what do you focus on ‑ brainstorming, character development, plotting, research, outlining. What’s your approach to prep?
Aaron: For prep, it’s tough to say. I usually write some kind of an outline, and I’ll spend a couple of weeks on that just trying to get everything figured out, but not too figured out, but just figured out enough so I know where everything ends up. I don’t do a hell of a lot of research, usually. I usually research after I’ve written the script to make sure I haven’t gotten anything too terribly wrong.
Research is a great deal of fun. I do like researching, but it can kind of just become a way of procrastinating. At the end of the day, unless it’s really integral to the story, I just try and tell the best story I can possibly tell and then go back and then research and figure out, “Oh, is this thing I’ve written is completely implausible or not?”
Scott: How about when you’re developing your characters? Are there any specific tools or approaches you use to dig into them and figure them out?
Aaron: Not so much. I think that I just usually kind of pull from people I’ve known from my life or you can trace it. I grew up mostly drawing, so I have to draw scenes from my head, and then I write them so it’s the same sort of thing with characters.
I get a feeling for that they look like and get pictures of their life and try putting it together that way, kind of like a mental collage. Then if you come up with one that sort of sticks, and you want to follow them for a little bit, then that usually means it might be a good character for the script.
Scott: What about dialogue? How do you go about finding your characters’ voices?
Aaron: I think it’s all trial and error and rewriting and also just. Everyone has a rhythm to the way they talk. It’s like writing different kinds of songs for different characters, different songs and different bands, and everything has it its own rhythm. I think if you can just sort of find the rhythm that belongs to that character then that’s a big part of it.
Scott: Let’s talk about theme. I read an interview with you where you talked about Prisoners, and you said basically the theme of the story is what happens when you take away something somebody loves and then give them a very narrow path to get it back. How important is theme to you, and are you one of those writers that starts with that up front, or is it something where the themes emerge as you’re writing the story?
Aaron: Definitely that they emerge whenever I’m writing the story. I definitely think a little bit about it at the beginning, but usually it’s more after you’re writing the story, the theme just emerges. If it’s a story that’s working, then themes generally just start to bleed out of it, and they just present themselves to you. They just appear.
I think if I came up with a theme first and then was trying to bend things to match to that I don’t know if that would work for me, I mean for me, personally, anyway. They just kind of come about as I’m writing a story.
Scott: What do you think about when you’re writing a scene? Do you have specific goals in mind when you approach writing a scene?
Aaron: Not so much. Like I said, it’s the scene I would want to watch. I just start writing it, and, “Oh, this would be this cool if this happened, and wouldn’t it be fun if we did this over here?” It’s all this trying to reconstruct something so when you play it back in your head, it’s fun to watch and it’s compelling, and it makes you want to know what’s going to happen next I think is the big one.
Scott: You might be the perfect person to ask this question to, Aaron, if indeed as I’ve heard, you wrote 20 drafts of Prisoners before it even went out to the marketplace. Rewriting. Do you have a process and if so what are your keys?
Aaron: I think you just have to continually keep yourself excited about it. You can’t really look at it like you’re rewriting. You have to look at it as if you’re starting from scratch even if you’re not really doing that. I think when you get notes and stuff like that, and you’re trying to execute notes you have to find something inside the note that appeals to you and changes how you want to make the story to make it more interesting to you and look at it that way.
I think it’s all just finding ways to trick your mind into not knowing that you’re rewriting, that you’re not working on the same material endlessly. You have to find interesting ways to trick yourself into believing it’s all fresh and new and look at it that way.
Scott: What’s your actual writing process?
Aaron: I write all day, but I get my best stuff done really early in the morning. I wake up at five or thereabouts and just work in the early, early morning, and I work in a room. I definitely don’t like working in public. Just a quiet room or with music is always the way to go for me.
Scott: What’s your single best excuse not to write?
Aaron: [laughs] I don’t know if I’ve been able to afford myself such an excuse yet. I’m trying to think. My wife’s having a baby is probably the one. That baby stuff has always been a good excuse. Beyond that even when I fucked up my back I still tried to dictate into and iPhone or something. I think the best excuse is just be horribly cruel to yourself and say, “There is no excuse,” and just force yourself to do it very day.
Scott: That’s the built‑in excuse. You can just go play with the kid.
Aaron: Playing with the kids, anything kid‑related is always a good way to get out of writing.
Scott: Conversely, what do you love most about writing?
Aaron: It’s hard to say. It’s just the surprising things that come out of it. It’s hard to even say. It’s a weird relationship, because I think at times, it’s a painful endeavor, but something about it that’s sort of addictive. I couldn’t even say. I couldn’t even say what I love about it. It’s a mysterious thing.
Scott: You mentioned you wanted to get into directing, so let me ask you, where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? In an ideal world, what are you dong?
Aaron: Oh, I don’t know. Hopefully, just making movies and TV in some way, shape, or form. Obviously, I want to continue writing, and I’d like to direct so I think just continue making stuff for the screen and being able to do that would be my ideal future for sure.
Scott: Finally ‑‑ and this is a standard question ‑‑ what advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers about learning the craft and breaking into Hollywood?
Aaron: I think learning the craft is how you break into Hollywood. You just need to do it everyday and love it and be passionate about it and write things that you care about and that you want to see made into movies. I think that’s the best way to do it and just continually work at it, way beyond the point that seems logical. I would say you just have to keep working at it and just love the doing of it, and I think that’s the best way to go.
Aaron is repped by Verve and Madhouse Entertainment.