Screenwriters Roundtable, Part 5: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Chris McCoy, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, John SwetnamFebruary 8th, 2013 by Scott
A special treat this week as each day 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 second screenwriters roundtable, following up on one we did last year [which you can read here]. Hopefully this will become an annual event as it’s a great way to take the pulse of what’s happening in the screenwriting universe, as well as benefit from the many insights into the craft these writers share.
I will be running the series all week long. Here is Part 5 where the focus is on what to do when you hit a creative wall:
Scott: OK, here’s another one for you from a blog reader: “Any tricks that you’ve developed to keep moving when you’ve hit a wall? Do Cool Ranch Doritos do the job?” Do you ever hit walls or do you just get up and write no matter what, boom, there are no walls?
F. Scott Frazier: I have to tell you, that’s actually the secret to getting past the walls. I’m currently in the weeds on a script I’m writing. The only thing that makes it better is sitting down and writing every morning. It’s the only thing that helps.
Chris McCoy: I think a lot of days you hit a wall but you just keep going. You can throw away that whole day’s worth of work, but there’s still some value to it because you’ve been figuring something out during that day.
F. Scott Frazier: Absolutely.
John Swetnam: At the end of the day, We are now professional writers. This is our job. We have to show up. Even if you don’t feel like it, you have to show up. And I think as an aspiring writer, and I tried to do this, was to take that mentality. It’s a job, and you must always show up and work.
There are all these people out there that are working at this like a job. If they don’t feel like writing, and they hit a wall. They break through it.
And before I ever sold my first script. I kept thinking to myself, I can’t just stop if I hit a wall. I’m not going to fucking quit. Like these other guys, these professionals, and hard-working dreamers, they aren’t quitting, so I can’t
And I love that mentality of like no matter what, just keep working. Because there are 10,000 people out there and more and more every day that want to do this. So, for me it was like, I’m not the most talented guy, but I’ll outwork them. And I don’t care if I hit a wall. I’ll fucking bust through it. I have to.
Chris McCoy: Just treat it like a job. There’s a great Stephen King book called “On Writing” which is a fantastic book.
F. Scott Frazier: Best book on writing ever.
Chris McCoy: It’s great. King essentially goes to his office and writes for eight hours a day, and that’s the reason that man is so prolific. Regular people are at their jobs for eight or ten hours a day, and so is he.
Greg Russo: If I get stuck, it’s usually in the outlining process. My simple trick is, I try to always have three or four other things actively going. So if I get stuck, I go on to something else for a few hours. If that fails, I go out for a run.
F. Scott Frazier: Absolutely.
Greg Russo: And when you come back to it, it’s like, “Shit. There’s the answer right in front of my face” or I’ll think of it while running down Franklin or something. So instead of sitting there twiddling my thumbs, I now have two things moving forward.
F. Scott Frazier: I think there’s like a Patton quote or something about “if you find yourself in the middle of hell guess what, you’re only half way there” which is very apropos. I think it’s, you just have to do it. You just have to go.
Justin Rhodes: For me, the thing that’s kind of funny about blocks or, you know, when you don’t know where to go next, is that story problems don’t seem get solved by throwing yourself into the wall harder or something. Smashing your head into concrete doesn’t seem to work very well. It’s more about being relaxed. Take a shower. Take a walk. It will be there tomorrow.
And the answers normally come when you finally quit beating yourself up about the fact that they’re not coming. And then you relax and then your brain just kind of delivers you the answer. And you go, “Oh. There it is” and it’s always something really simple that you feel dumb you haven’t thought of.
Greg Russo: Isn’t it Sorkin that takes showers? Dude takes like seven showers a day or something like that. Every time he gets stuck, he takes a shower.
F. Scott Frazier: I love the shower. Shower’s great. Driving too. But, yeah if I get stuck I put my time in the office. I’ll write something else. I’ll punch up another scene or like Greg was saying, just do something else. But I’m not like, if I come up to a wall and I had no idea where to go it’s not like I’m going to go out of my office and screw around for a couple of hours. That’s definitely not the way through.
John Swetnam: If it’s an aspiring writer who’s working on one script and they hit a wall, like the great thing about what we do is watching movies is part of the job. Reading other scripts is part of the job. So if you’re working on one script and you hit a block, like go watch some movies. Like that might help you. Go read some other scripts that might help you. As long as you’re putting in the work.
Chris Borrelli: Very little of what do is actual writing. Most of it is just thinking, research. When I say researching I don’t mean you have to be looking up science or facts or anything like that. It’s just getting a feel for those scenes and ideas. And it really isn’t one thing. It’s not sitting at a typewriter or a laptop and typing away all the time.
But at the same time, I get up and I have work hours. I’m in that room, I’m thinking and then I’m walking or lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling and all that stuff, but I’m still in the script. So I agree, you work through it.
The only times I will give up is if it’s very early stages where it’s like an outline. There are a lot of movies that are … especially with younger writers I think… There are a lot of movie ideas that are actually just Twilight Zone episodes I always call them. Meaning like, OK that’s a cool 30‑minute bit, you know. But it isn’t a sustainable movie.
There are times where you will hit that and there’s a reason you hit it. And maybe there’s a way to make a movie out of anything. I don’t feel that way. I won’t pursue it if it’s so hard. There’s a time when it’s too hard in the early process. And then after that, if you know what movie you’re making, if you have just a general idea where the movie’s going, then those other things I think can all be worked through.
Each day for this series, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: John Swetnam:
John Swetnam’s original horror-thriller “Evidence,” which he wrote and produced, has been completed and will be in limited release later in the year. His original spec “Black Sky” (Formerly known as Category 6) which he also wrote and produced, has been completed and will be released by Warner Brothers. John is currently working on assignment, writing the fifth installment of the Step Up franchise, and a top secret (if he told you, he’d have to kill you) project at New Line Cinema. His production company Mad Horse Films is developing numerous projects with writers, producers, and financiers, and will be officially launched this summer. In his downtime, John likes to write and develop screenplays for film and television.
For my interview with John Swetnam, go here.
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.
F. Scott Frazier: @ScreenWritten
Chris McCoy: @thatthere
Justin Rhodes: @twopointfour
John Swetnam: @JohnSwetnam
Many thanks to Laura Stoltz (@LeStoltz) for logistical help with the roundtable. Laura is one of my UNC former students, currently an assistant at Haven Entertainment, and a talented writer in her own right.
For Part 1 of the roundtable, go here.
For Part 2, go here.
For Part 3, go here.
For Part 4, go here.
Tomorrow: Part 5 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.