Reader Question: Given the odds against success, how do you keep motivated?

September 15th, 2014 by

Question from 14shari:

The road from unpaid screenwriter to paid screenwriter is long, winding and unpredictable. It’s not certain that you’ll ever be one. How can one keep yourself motivated?

Shari, what you say is true. The odds against success as a screenwriter or TV writer are long. Plus it may take many years before achieving even a modicum of financial success.

In the face of that, how to keep motivated? Let me propose three perspectives, each with a different tone. The first positive reinforcement. The second negative reinforcement. The third a plain simple truth.

Positive Reinforcement: Every year, writers break into the business. That’s a fact. Whether they write a spec script or original TV pilot, or make a short or feature-length film, they create a story that lands in front of the right people, and now they find themselves on the inside, not outside looking in. The numbers might not be huge, but at least several hundred writers per year manage to do it. If you want living proof, you need look no further than me: A complete Hollywood outsider with no formal training who wrote a spec script, sold it for a bunch of money, and saw it produced as a major studio motion picture along with a TV pilot and two sequels. The possibility of breaking in should be a strong motivational reminder.

Negative Reinforcement: If you aren’t writing, someone else is. Let’s face it: Being a screenwriter or TV writer is a competition. When we are not researching story, developing characters, generating concepts, reading scripts, watching movies, writing pages, and all the rest involved with honing our craft… other writers out there who are. That thought alone has been motivation enough to get my ass onto chair to write many, many times. Not a pleasant thought, but a persuasive image nonetheless.

Plain Simple Truth: I’m reminded of a story told to me that involves musician David Grisman, whose claim to fame is creating what is known as “Dawg” music, a mixture of bluegress (Grisman plays mandolin) and jazz. I should note for context, “Dawg” is Grisman’s nickname given to him by none other than Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead. As the story goes, a friend is talking with Grisman backstage at a music festival. Grisman patiently listens to his friend who is having some sort of life crisis. Should he do this, should he do that. On and on the friend goes until Grisman plants his hands firmly on the guy’s shoulders, looks him square in the face, then says this: “Do it. Or don’t do it. But you know. You… know.” Then walks away, happily strumming his mandolin.

The plain simple truth is you are either going to do this thing called ‘writing’… or not. Only the deepest part of your Creative Self and time will determine how that plays out. Every time you commit yourself to writing another story, another feature script, another original TV pilot, you are doing it.

You may choose not to do it. There is no shame in that. Chasing creative ambitions given the competition and odds against success is a crazy passion, and for some people, it’s just not worth it. In that case, I would choose to believe there is some other path for them to pursue.

So should you take up this new writing project or not? Should you do that scene-by-scene breakdown of the next movie you have on your list to watch or not? Should you do that sit-down session with the character in your story who has been so hard to get to know or not? Should you take yet another pass at revising this script or not?

Do it. Or don’t do it. But you know. You… know.

There you go, Shari. Three perspectives. Hopefully one to fit any mood you find yourself in. And for a little musical inspiration, here is David Grisman on “The Tonight Show” in 1979 with the David Grisman Quintet and the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. Check out Johnny Carson’s reaction at the end of their song.

How about you, readers? How do you keep yourself motivated to write? I welcome your thoughts in comments!

An Argument Against Screenplay Formulas (Part 1): They are selling you a lie

September 15th, 2014 by

When I first broke into the business in 1987, there were just a handful of books about screenwriting. Now it’s become this “thing”. You can’t walk into a Barnes & Noble in some remote outpost like Minot, North Dakota and avoid slamming into a whole section of titles related to The Craft. Or more often than not selling The Fantasy. You know… this!

There is a burgeoning cottage industry of ‘screenwriting gurus’ selling what some call The Hope Machine. The Hollywood mansion. Tesla Roadster. Movie premieres. Write a script… strike it rich!

How to get there? If you’ve spent any amount of time clicking through the online screenwriting universe, you doubtless have seen ads with messages like these:

The secret to a million dollar spec script! How to write a screenplay that agents will want and studios will buy! Your bulletproof path to screenwriting success!

What many of these folks are selling — and that is their bottom line, to get you to buy their product — is a screenplay formula. To convince you they have some unique insight into screenplay structure that can somehow magically translate into a script Hollywood would feel compelled to acquire.

The assumption is that there is some right way to write a script. Their way.

I am here to tell you this: They are selling you a lie.

The truth? There is no ‘right’ way to write a script. Every story is different. Every writer is different.

Worse, the increased presence of these progenitors of screenplay formulas is having a negative effect, both with individual writers as they strive to learn the ins and outs of screenwriting, and the perception and practice of the craft of screenwriting in Hollywood.

As a screenwriter, teacher, and blogger, I intersect with hundreds of aspiring writers every year, and they convey to me two general complaints over and over again.

The first: Confusion. They have bought this book or that DVD, attended this weekend seminar or that webinar, dutifully devouring the wisdom of multiple screenwriting gurus, each with their own formula. And where the writer ends up is profoundly perplexed about how to write because the result is a confusing muddle of beat sheets, paradigms, sequences, and language systems.

The second: Critiqued. They have used the formula of this guru or that, and written one or more screenplays, but after getting them reviewed by pro script readers or entered into screenplay competitions, the response has been tepid. Maybe the screenplay formula they relied upon helped them craft a plot that falls into what is generally perceived to be a conventional narrative structure, but there is no life or unique voice to the story.

And that right there is the main problem: There can be no such thing as a bulletproof ‘screenplay formula’ because a good story feels organic. There is a vitality and life to it, unfolding in the moment scene to scene with surprising twists and turns.

Instead of thinking about Story as a sort of paint-by-numbers formula, I argue we are best served by starting here: Characters.

After all it’s their story, their story universe. They have been living it 24/7/365. Nobody knows who they are better than them. Furthermore they want us to tell their story. The story’s structure will emerge naturally by immersing ourselves in the lives of our characters, the arc of their personal destinies manifesting itself in the form of scenes and plot points.

In my view, strong character work is the single biggest antidote to the stultifying effects of formula-based writing. However characters are unpredictable and, therefore, harder to package into a marketable commodity. The people who sell the idea of ‘screenplay formula’ seem to prefer trafficking in widgets.

This beat goes here. That beat goes there.

Much easier to sell.

Hell, there are outfits around who promote story structure software.

Think about that.

Story. Structure. Software.

As if we can reduce Story to binary code.

Friends, this is a slippery slope that for most writers leads nowhere but to the expenditure of lots of money, a fundamentally shallow approach to screenwriting, and a slush pile of rejected scripts.

So this week, a series examining the very idea of ‘screenplay formula’ and why it is such a harmful concept.

Bottom line: Learn conventional wisdom. Understand generally accepted principles. But please, do yourself a big favor: Reject screenplay formulas.

They are not helping you nor the overall state of the screenwriting craft.

Tomorrow: Formulas lead to formulaic writing.

Movie Science: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

September 15th, 2014 by

Via FilmmakerIQ and Screen Junkies.

Twitter Rant: Eric Heisserer on Minimalist Screenwriting Style

September 15th, 2014 by

Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, The Thing, Hours, Story of Your Life) is probably the Hollywood screenwriter most willing to go online and provide a Twitter rant on a specific subject related to the craft. Writer Tim Wainwright hosts a blog and has been posting Eric’s rants there for the last year or so.

After several GITS readers asked me about archiving screenwriting Twitter rants so they wouldn’t get lost down the online rabbit hole, I reached out to both Eric and Tim about hosting some of Eric’s previous rants here. They both thought that was a swell idea.

Today: Eric’s February 2014 Twitter rant on “Minimalist Screenwriting Style”:

All right my Twitter buddies, I wanna talk about a certain style of screenwriting. It will likely lead to today’s challenge.

I’ve seen a rise in a certain style of writing in the past few months. Half of the scripts I’ve seen use the “haiku” narrative style. By that I mean the extremely terse Walter Hill form of writing. Soft returns, loads of white space.

First off: Yay! Congrats to all of you swinging for this minimalist style. It’s incredibly hard to pull off. So let’s talk about pitfalls.

The Walter Hill minimalist style isn’t merely a matter of omission. You can’t simply cut out a ton of action and format the rest as a poem. Every choice must be a conscious one. We need to know who the characters are in a scene. What things look like. Details. Don’t be vague.

I’ve read scripts recently where the only description was character action, i.e. “Joe runs.” This is too minimal; non-cinematic.

Likewise, there should be reason why and when you choose a soft return. Usually that choice should be directorial in motive. Suggest a new shot with the new line. Or a movement within the shot to catch a detail. Make it a cinematic choice.

So the Tuesday Challenge is this: Try out the minimalist style for five pages with these constraints: 1) With each new location/room, pick three details in the location to describe at the head of the scene. Shine a light on three sensory tidbits (at least 2 visual). 2) When you introduce a character pick three words to describe them. Make 1 physical, 1 psychological, 1 metaphoric.

The Walter Hill style isn’t about omitting descriptive detail, but rather paring it down to poetics. Find the most powerful word and use it.

Do not write it like a kid in a dark room with a flashlight, waving it around and making light saber noises. Point it at the dead body.

The link to Tim’s blog post for this rant is here.

Eric has put together a book that arose from his Twitter exchanges: “150 Screenwriting Challenges” which is available for Kindle here.

Each day this week, I will be posting one of Eric’s Twitter rants via Tim’s blog.

Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to share your insights with the online screenwriting community.

Thanks, Tim, for making the effort to aggregate Eric’s Twitter rants.

Movie Trailer: “Young Ones”

September 15th, 2014 by

Written by Jake Paltrow

Set in the future when water is hard to find a teenage boy sets out to protect his family and survive.


Release Date: 17 October 2014 (USA)

Classic 70s Movie: “All the President’s Men”

September 15th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Arnaud Talaia.

Title: All the President’s Men

Year: 1976

Writers: Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward ( authors of the book) / William Goldman (screenwriter)

Poster All the President's Men

Lead Actors: Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman

Director: Alan J. Pakula

IMDB Plot Summary: Reporters Woodward and Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

Why I think this a classic 70s Movie: Watergate anyone? The biggest political scandal of the last century (relax now, W, I said, the LAST century : no need to lose the paintbrush…) happened right at the beginning of the 70s and this movie comes out 4 years after the Washington Posts white knights got on their horses and only 2 years after Nixon’s resignation.

Let’s join our hands for a minute, close our eyes and for those of you who had been born, let us remember the 70s. Do you feel the craving for it, the melancholy maybe?

This was the time when serious reporters did actually have some space to play investigative. This was a time when the press could call itself “the 4th power” in its own right. A time when bombs exploded on paper making real casualties amongst bad people with far too much power (for the kids reading : “paper” was kind of the same as an ipad except you had to move up the page in front of your eyes to be able to scroll down).

In fact, the very first image of the movie lets the viewer know that words are nothing less than a weapon, as a type writer crashes letters on a page with an amplified sound which would have had Bullit run for safety in ever tighter pants.

Sure, those reporters did have to pass their story through the unforgiving strander of their boss and their editorial board but that’s exactly the beauty of it! The whole movie is almost entirely about fact checking.

That’s it. Just that. The reputation of the Newspaper was on the line. And, as journalism ethic and wisdom would have it, the fountain of truth has to have many sources.

Easy you might say… And somewhere you’re right. Internet had yet to be invented. Reporters had some time to put in investigation. They were not yet in concurrence with bloggers and, come to think of it, I’m quite sure they had a salary too.

Ah, the good old days!

That is if you could bear the never ending white noise of 50 type writers and parkinson inducing phone dialers which you can accurately hear during 3/4 of the movie.

No wonder personal computers and touch pad phones were invented around that time !

All in all, “All the President’s Men” is a great piece about the anti-room of the 70′s History, adapted from the book of the very two men who uncovered the story of a President eavesdropping on his opponent and playing dirty tricks ( bad, bad President!). It’s a movie about professionalism, collaboration and free press. And it’s still a great watch!

My favorite moment in the movie:

Redford and Hoffman…

I mean, really : how good does that sound??

There’s a scene where the two reporters meet at Redford’s place to exchange notes. Hoffman plays the itchy caffeinated journalist who has been charming a witness into talking all night. He empties his pockets of napkins and wrinkled pieces of paper on which he wrote down information. Redford types feverishly on the typewriter.

The dialogue is flooding so easily, the alchemy between those two monsters is so sparkling that it hurts!

At one point, Hoffman and Redford face each other and the camera focuses back and forth on one actor at a time. Then suddenly, Hoffman gets a cookies jar and throws one crispy disk to Redford who catches it, adding matter of factly “I don’t want a cookie” and carries on with his line of dialogue.

If this was scripted, I wonder how many dead cookies find a last residency at the foot of the wall behind Redford. And if this was not scripted, well, these guys just showed what any playful actor can bring to the natural feeling of a scene. Loved this detail!

My favorite dialogue in the Movie: Bernstein and Woodward are bringing the news to their boss ( Ben Bradlee) that their lives could very well be in jeopardy. They take him outside his house for fear of being taped.

At that point of the story, the tension has gone up one more inch, yet the reporters don’t lose their cool and the character played by Hoffman shows he’s all the more ready to crack his wit into the wind!

Irony is best served cold in hot circumstances…

Bradlee: Surveillance? Who’s doing it?
Woodward: It’s been done. People’s lives are in danger. Maybe even ours.
Bradlee: What happened to that justice source of yours?
Bernstein: Well, I guess I made the instruction too complicated because he thought I said “hang up” when I said “hang on”…
Bradlee: Oh, Jesus.

Key things you should look for when you watch this movie: Pakula has been known for being a master at filming paranoia thrillers and this film takes the lead.

One scene plays specifically with our nerves when “Deep Throat”, the CIA secret informant disappears in a David Copperfield kind of way, leaving Redford all alone in a dark dark underground park house. As he walks back on the rain soaked and deserted street, he starts running anxiously. We start fearing for his life when he suddenly flips towards the camera, checking to see if he’s being followed. He’s paranoid and we get the jumps!

That was the moment I promised myself I’ll never stalk Redford ever again.

How about you?

Thanks, Arnaud! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

You may follow Arnaud on Twitter: @bubblybull.

We already have a set of 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 70s Movies.

The schedule for posts in this series and the volunteers below [I have put in bold those who have already sent their guest post to me]:

A2Jason: Taxi Driver
Rob Bell: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
chriscaleo: Being There
cilly247: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
cschillig: The Exorcist or Halloween
Markham Cook: Jaws
Jason Cuthbert: Taxi Driver
Kalen Deremo: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Mark Furney: McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Ryan Gilmore: The Godfather, Part I and Part II
pgronk: Chinatown
Kate Hagen: A Woman Under the Influence
John Henderson: Smokey and the Bandit
Steve Huerta: The Getaway
Jacob Holmes-Brown: Alien
Zach Jansen: Dog Day Afternoon
Will King: Colossus: The Forbin Project
Lynn: Carrie
Jack McDonald: The Last Detail
maveric1974: Apocalypse Now
Karla McNeese: Murder by Death
Debbie Moon: Three Days of the Condor
Nick Dykal: Network
Ivan Oski: Solaris
Daryl Powell: Rocky
Rahul Prasad: Apocalypse Now
Jon Raymond: The Conversation
Eric Rodriguez: Logan’s Run
Greg Scharpf: Shampoo
Arnaud Talaia: All the President’s Men
Barbara Thomas: Young Frankenstein
rich_trenholm: The Man With a Golden Gun
Weston Turner: What’s Up, Doc?
Mark Twain: The Parallax View
Liz Warner: Midnight Express
Michael Waters: The Sting
Thomas Wüstemann: Harold and Maude
Turk187: Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Bretton Zinger: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope

If you have volunteered, please email your posts to me by as soon as possible.

Thanks to all of you for your participation in this project, creating a resource for writers, movies we should all watch to help learn the craft of screenwriting!

On Writing

September 15th, 2014 by

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

– Flannery O’Connor

Daily Dialogue — September 15, 2014

September 15th, 2014 by

“Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not going to be ignored, Dan!”

Fatal Attraction (1987), written by James Dearden

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Adultery.

Trivia: When Glenn Close finally secured the part of Alex Forrest, one of the first things she did was to take the script to two different psychiatrists. She asked them, “Is this behavior possible and if it is, why?” The two psychiatrists who reviewed the script at Glenn Close’s request both came to the same conclusion: Alex Forrest’s behavior was, in its own way, classic behavior. Their diagnosis was that Alex had been molested and sexually tortured for an extended period of time while she was a child. As a result, she would naturally lash out at anyone who found her desirable.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Actions have consequences and with this famous line — “I’m not going to be ignored” — Dan starts to realize how deep into it he has gotten himself.

If you have a suggestion for this theme, please post in comments.

Go Into The Story Week In Review: September 8-September 14, 2014

September 14th, 2014 by

Links to the week’s most notable posts:

7 states to set your movie in

2013 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 1

2013 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 2

2013 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 3

2013 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 4

2013 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 5

2013 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 6

Classic 70s Movie: Chinatown

Classic 70s Movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Classic 70s Movie: Colossus: The Forbin Project

Classic 70s Movie: McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Classic 70s Movie: Network

Classic 70s Movie: Smokey and the Bandit

Classic 70s Movie: The Sting

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Adultery

Declare Your Independents: Volume 29

Great Character: Veronica Sawyer (Heathers)

If you’re in high school and want to learn screenwriting…

Interview (Video): Billy Wilder

Interview (Written): Craig Johnson, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins)

Interview (Written): Dennis Lehane

Interview (Written): Richard Linklater

Movies You Made: Chillr

On Writing: Kurt Vonnegut

Reader Question: Do reps (agents & managers) hate it when writers have directing and producing ambitions?

Reader Question: How long should an outline / treatment be before starting a first draft?

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: Chris Roessner

Screenwriting News (September 8-September 14, 2014)

Script To Screen: As Good As It Gets

The mysteries of writing dialogue

Twitter Rant: Eric Heisserer on Procrastination, Precrastination and Productivity

WOOT! The fall film season is here!

Writing and the Creative Life: “The Power of Structured Procrastination”

You want character development tools?

Screenwriters Roundtable, Part 6: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Chris McCoy, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, John Swetnam

September 14th, 2014 by

A special treat this week as I will be posting excerpts from a screenwriter’s roundtable I did with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Chris McCoy, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, and John Swetnam. How good are they? Between them, they have sold more than a dozen spec scripts and have multiple original screenplays on the Black List.

This is the third GITS screenwriters roundtable, the first two of which you can read here and here. Hopefully this will continue as an annual event as it’s a great way to take the pulse of what’s happening in the screenwriting universe, track the careers of these talented writers, and benefit from the many insights into the craft they share.

Here is Part 6:

Scott:  Continuing with some craft questions, what about dialogue? How do you go about finding your characters’ voices?

John Swetnam:  What does Channing Tatum sound like?


F. Scott Frazier:  I’d just hire him to come in and read all the lines for me.

John Swetnam:  That would be awesome.

Scott:  I’m serious. For an aspiring writer, they’re sitting there like how do I do this? Is it just an innate thing? Do you even think about it? How do you go about finding the dialogue?

Chris Borrelli:  I think how can someone get a point across in as few words as possible? Not making every character into a Clint Eastwood-like character. Again, the dialogue is just an element of it. We were mentioning earlier, I forget who mentioned, go out in the world and see how people do that. Go out in the world and see how people talk to each other.

Maybe that biography will help. If your character comes from the South or he comes from the Northeast he or she is going to speak in a different way. Dialogue, to me, is natural and it takes time. I think more people can do it than they probably realize. For me, it’s always been a natural thing.

Greg Russo:  I think you’re right. I think it is natural. I think that’s one of the inherent things about being a screenwriter. There’s a rhythm to it. And some people have an ear for how that rhythm ebbs and flows.

F. Scott Frazier:  The only thing that we’re writing that people experience is dialogue. I come at it from a I’ll do my vomit draft and then I’ll just overwrite the dialogue and the scenes are really long and then I’ll just go back in and edit. I think a lot of my dialogue just comes out of the editing, and being like, that sentence is terrible, so I just delete it.

You’d be surprised how many lines of dialogue you can fix just by deleting sentences and words and that sort of thing. For me, character voice is weird. I don’t know if I think about it that much just because the character voice is going to be whatever the actor is that they hire. Obviously, people have different ways that they talk and characters have different ways that they talk.

When they hire Bradley Cooper he’s going to say the dialogue how he wants to say it. The exact same words given to Channing Tatum are going to sound completely different. To me, I always focus more on making sure that my dialogue is funny and it gets the point across and there’s as little exposition as possible.

Otherwise, I feel like if I think about it too much more than that I just overthink it.

Justin Rhodes:  I feel like the better you know the character the more specific that dialogue is going to be and it’s going to flow. You’re going to know what that character is going to say next. That comes from being as specific with that character as possible.

F. Scott Frazier:  Yeah, I guess I’ve noticed that. When I go back and I’m in the seventh or eighth revision of a script dialogue is just coming out really, really fast whereas on the first draft it’s almost a chore to just get out one sentence. The further that you get into those characters you kind of know just how they’ll respond.

Chris McCoy:  I also write comedy, and a good rule of thumb is I try to think about what would make my sickest friends laugh. That seems to work pretty well.

Scott:  Do any of you read your scripts or read your dialogue out loud?

Chris Borrelli:  Oh, yeah, I look insane. I do voices, like women’s voices. It doesn’t matter. I absolutely do that. I think it’s contributed to me talking to myself, just more regularly. I look absolutely insane sitting there at my desk, like reading out the dialogue.

I’ve had times, before I was at a career at this, and I’d just go to friends for advice, who weren’t screenwriters. I would read them the script, the entire script, because they wouldn’t feel like reading, and I’d get advice that way. Anyway, I think it’s good to hear it. That’s just me, but I do like to hear it out loud, and usually I’m the only person around.

Chris McCoy:  I’ll read with you, man.

John Swetnam:  I think it also comes down to everybody’s process is completely different. I know some writers that do three, four, or five-page bios on their characters. Some can just do a paragraph. When I was first writing a lot of specs, I would actually cast them myself. I would, even with Evidence, I had pictures of the actors above my computer that was my dream cast.

I would always, at least, have kind of a touchstone, like if I was in the middle of a scene, I could look up and see, “Oh, it’s Kyle Chandler. OK.” It would just help me to keep that character consistent. That was a little trick that I did for a long, long time.

It was fun to, when you’re sitting in your room, to cast your movie, and imagine the best possible actor. Your character will become its own person. But it helped me stay consistent through the scripts.

F. Scott Frazier:  I’ve actually gone one step further, and I’ve given characters names based off of the actors that I think would be good in the roles. Just like first names, so that when somebody’s reading it, it’s almost subconscious that they think of that actor that I’ve associated with that role.

Scott:  That explains why you have so many characters named Scarlett.

F. Scott Frazier:  Oh, yeah.

Scott:  What are your actual writing processes like? Borrelli was saying he writes five days a week. Do some of you not do that? Do some of you tend to write in clumps, or do you write every day, or do you write in public, or do you write in private? What are your writing processes like?

F. Scott Frazier:  I do five days a week, Monday through Friday. I have an office at my house. I tend to start in the morning. I’ll write through lunch, and then stop in the mid‑afternoon or so. For me it’s more about page count every day than time. I give myself six pages a day to get through. If you do six pages a day you have a script in a month that way. It’s a pretty simple process.

Justin Rhodes:  I write every day, even if I just do a few hours. I feel like the way that you get to do this for a living is that you treat it like a job. Everyone, in L.A. especially, everyone is always “working” on a script, but nobody knows what that means. You’ve just got to look at it as a job, as a career. Do it every day for at least a few hours. It’s always surprising how much product you end up generating because of that.

John Swetnam:  I agree, you do have to treat it like a job. But for me, I just hate the word “job.” When I moved out here, my main dream was I just don’t want a job. That’s all I ever wanted was to not actually have a job. I think when you do what you love it isn’t a job. For me it’s more of an obsession. That’s probably why I’m such a fucked up person.

It’s an obsession. I can’t stop. For me it’s not a nine to five. It’s a 24/7. In the back of my head there’s something, some story, some idea, some actor, some packaging, some shot, and I can’t stop it. Luckily, I’m not in a mental institution. For me, I treat it like an obsession more than a job. I love it though. It doesn’t feel like work. It’s about the coolest thing ever. I’m afraid it’s going to end, so I don’t stop.

Scott:  Do you not say, “I’m going to write one to five today.” I mean just like, you actually sit down, butt on chair, you write whenever you feel like it?

John Swetnam:  Yeah, I’m in my chair, on the phone all day. But again, it’s not just typing pages. It’s thinking about stuff. It’s coming up with ideas. It’s meetings with finance people, writers, directors, actors, or other producers. The whole moviemaking machine, and television and all of it. I just love it all.

Scott:  Justin, how about you? What’s your writing process?

Justin Rhodes:  The honest answer is, “Who the hell knows?” I’m not a morning person, so in the morning, I hang out with my family. I do an early lunch. I usually write from about noon to five or so, and then I go home and I have dinner, and do the family stuff. Then I come back and I do another session from eight or nine o’clock to whenever I get tired, so around one or two.

Scott:  Do you have an office?

Justin Rhodes:  Yeah, I have an office, like in an office building. My old office used to be in my house, and then my daughter was born. Now everything’s pink with curtains. I had to come here. I’ve actually found it’s nice, because I get in a car and I drive to work. I feel like a grownup, finally.

F. Scott Frazier:What’s the space like? I’ve actually been thinking about that.

Justin Rhodes:  You mean like what is the office like?

F. Scott Frazier:  Yeah.

Justin Rhodes:  I’m in Burbank. I’m right by Warner Brothers. I’ve got three big windows looking out at the mountains, which is kind of nice. I’ve got, I don’t know, I’ve got a couch, a desk, a credenza and a fridge in there. It’s not huge. It’s like 13 feet by 10 feet maybe. It’s big enough just for me to come in here and do this. It’s like I read on the couch, and I type at the computer. It’s been good for me.

F. Scott Frazier:  Nice.

Scott:  Greg, how about you? What’s your writing process like?

Greg Russo:  Silence and solitude. I could never understand how someone could go and work the trenches of a coffee shop with all that godawful noise. To each his own, but that sounds like torture to me (literally). I need a lot of silence. My wife and I have a place in L.A. and in Brooklyn.

For me, if I’m feeling stuck, I’ll just fly out to New York, or vice versa and work there for a little while. I’ve come to learn over the years, that I work best, when I can get out of my space every now and then and return to the living world.

I’m a daytime guy and I try and go at it every single day if I can. Of course there are days when you can’t get the creativity going. But as writers, we’re blessed with these awful guilt complexes, these internal critics that keep us in constant check.

If I’m not working, the guy inside my head will tell me that I’m lazy and a terrible person and to get back to the keyboard. So if procrastination happens, it doesn’t last very long.

Scott:  Greg, that reminds me. I worked on a pilot for NBC, a one‑hour pilot, with Roy Huggins, who created the “Rockford Files” and “The Fugitive.” He used to get in his, I think he had a Jaguar. Whenever he was stuck on a story, he would just get in his car and drive. One time he said that he drove, and finally solved the problem, and realized he’d driven to Arizona.

Greg Russo:  It happens! I’ve spaced out behind the wheel and almost killed multiple people. Luckily, it’s L.A., so psychotic driving doesn’t warrant much attention.

F. Scott Frazier:  I’ve solved so many problems in the car than any other place, easily.

Chris McCoy: I run every day. I live on Venice Beach, so I just run the beach. I feel like you could probably gauge how effective my writing is going by how thin I am. You can tell from my body if I’m going on an eight‑mile run because I can’t figure something out, versus if I’m happily sitting and eating Twizzlers and writing away.

Scott:  Is this like a spiritual thing, or is it just the physicality of moving?

Chris McCoy:  Sorkin does the same thing where he says that he writes in the shower. I think it’s that thing where your mind is just focused on something else, like a mundane task that you have to do. The machinery behind-the-scenes is working and spits out answers for you.

Scott: I’d like to ask one last question. Then if you all have something you want to talk about go at it. We talked about there were so many great movies last year. I think this year has actually had a lot of great movies, too. Is there one particular movie, or maybe a script that you’ve read this year that just really inspired you? You just thought, “Wow, that is just great.” Any things jump to mind from what you’ve seen or read in 2013?

Chris Borrelli:  American Hustle, because not only did I love it for so many reasons, but it really is, I mean every performance is so on, but the dialogue is fantastic. I loved it. In a smaller way, Nebraska, as well, for a small movie. I thought it was terrific in its simplicity. But I came out of American Hustle on a small high.

It was just a really enjoyable experience for me. It was kind of a classic film. In some ways even simple and sort of good‑natured. I loved the dialogue, and I loved the characters.

Chris McCoy:  I’m still recovering from Her. Just blew my mind. I’ve been trying to process it. I can’t get it out of my head, so that’s the one.

F. Scott Frazier:  I think for me, maybe Pacific Rim. Just because I think it’s so damn hard to get a movie of that size and that quality made, and just be the level of imagination that was on the screen, and on the page. That thing was just awe‑inspiring. If I set a goal for myself, it would be to write the next Pacific Rim.

John Swetnam:  I think for me it was, I’ve been trying to figure out, everybody always talks about elevated genre. So the two movies for me this year that I just have been studying a lot are World War Z, which I just thought was, if you really look at the structure and the plot, it’s actually, in my mind, seems like a pretty simple sort of movie.

It’s an A to B kind of thing, but it was just so elevated in my mind. I mean the dialogue and the character work and the little subtleties. The other one was The Conjuring, which I thought was amazing.

Greg Russo:  For now, it’s Fruitvale Station, it just blew me away. The way that they were able to take a day of this guy’s life, and you felt like you knew him for 20 years. I thought it was remarkable. Quite an accomplishment.

Justin Rhodes:  The movie that I think impressed me the most was All is Lost. The way that you felt and understood, pretty much, everything that was happening in a meaningful way, without any dialogue. That’s amazing, like the script for that is something like 30 pages. That’s the one where I just came out of there going like, “Holy shit. This is like a feat.”

Scott:  Have any of you seen Short Term 12?

F. Scott Frazier:  It’s terrific.

Scott:  Let’s end it with that pull quote: “F. Scott Frazier says Short Term 12 is terrific!” A nice plug for a wonderful movie. Thanks, everyone! Continued best of luck with all of your projects!

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Each day for this series, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: John Swetnam.

John Swetnam wrote and produced the horror-thriller Evidence which was released in 2013. He wrote and produced Into the Storm, based on his original screenplay, and Step Up: All In, both of which opened in North American on the same day and will pass $200M in global box office. He just wrapped his directorial debut Breaking Through and is prepping to direct his second feature schedule to shoot in spring 2015. He was worked on a variety of studio projects and a pilot at a major cable network. His production company Mad Horse Films is developing numerous projects.

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

F. Scott Frazier: @ScreenWritten

Chris McCoy: @thatthere

Justin Rhodes: @twopointfour

John Swetnam: @JohnSwetnam

Many thanks to Wendy Cohen for logistical help with the roundtable.