David Guggenheim broke into the business in February 2010 by selling the spec script Safe House which was produced and has grossed $208M worldwide. Since that time, Guggenheim has sold two more spec scripts: “Black Box” to Universal and “Narco Sub” to 20th Century Fox, as well as the pitch “Puzzle Palace”. With several other projects in development and having made the Black List twice (2010, 2012), it’s safe to say Guggenheim is one of the hottest action-thriller screenwriters in Hollywood today.
I recently spoke with David about his background, some of his writing projects and the screenwriting craft. Today in Part 4, David reveals some tips about writing action scenes and sequences, and talks about what it was like to make the Black List:
Scott: It seems to me one of the biggest challenges for writers of action or action-thriller movies has got to be, how to come up with fresh ways to do action.
David: Oh, for sure, yeah.
Scott: How do you do that?
David: One of the tricks is coming up with location first. That can help dictate what the action’s going to be. The other thing is really about who is involved in the action, because they’re going to dictate how the action can happen. Like I said, if you have a main character who’s never been in an action scene, you can’t give them a Bourne‑style action scene, because only Bourne can do the stuff that Bourne does.
Obviously, for the sake of the read, you want the action to jump off the page as much as possible, but what’s more important than the actual choreography is to come up a fresh way figuring out how the characters got into the action scene in the first place and how they get out of it. Because once you have those beats you can then play with the action inside the scene. You can reconceive it, and reconceive, and reconceive it and it won’t change anything that happens before or after the story. My advice for action writers isn’t to sweat the action, Make it fun, but remember the director’s going to come up with amazing ideas how to do an action scene, or the choreographer’s going to come up with some great ideas or turns out the location where the script was set, we can’t get there, so we have to improvise and come up with something else entirely.
Scott: Let’s talk about the Black List. You’ve made it twice. What has that experience been like?
David: Unbelievably humbling and I’m honored by it. It was unbelievable. The first time, I couldn’t’ believe it. I thought it was just the coolest thing, because as an up‑and‑coming writer, you want to get on the Black List. You should aspire to write a script that people really love and that they remember. When I’d heard, I couldn’t believe it. Then with “Black Box,” it was just really special as well because I really love spec writing, so it’s nice to get acknowledged for that.
Scott: Did you follow along when Franklin [Leonard] was tweeting all the people this year, or how did you learn that you were on the Black List?
David: Alexa Faigen at Scott Stuber’s company. She was the executive producer on Safe House and one of the producers on “Black Box,” and she emailed me. Again, I was shocked.
Scott: At this point, I assume you could go up for virtually any writing assignment. Yet you still like writing spec scripts. What’s the appeal of a spec script?
David: I just personally get so much more satisfaction from coming up with my own concepts and selling them, working on them, than I do taking on an assignment. That’s not to say I’ll never take on an assignment. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about doing that lately but as long as I can come up with ideas and write them and sell them, and get them into a place where the movies could get made, I hope to do that.
Scott: Do you have any desire to write outside the action or action/thriller genres?
David: Absolutely. But I’m not as fearless as other people so I’m probably gonna stay in the genre a little longer — but try to evolve within it. For example, Safe House was an intense chase movie whereas this script I set up, Narco Sub, with the late great Tony Scott was a submarine drug thriller. So they’re both action movies, but with different action.
Scott: How about directing? Any interest?
David: Oh God no. No. After seeing people do it, they’re like superheroes to me. Just watching how many things they have to juggle, I just don’t think I could do that. I don’ think I have the confidence to be a director. I like doing what I’m doing. I like being the writer.
Scott: What about TV?
David: I did a pilot two years ago and it was one of the greatest experience I ever had. Unfortunately, the thing with me is that I’m based in New York so I can’t really commute to LA to work on a show. I still love coming up with ideas for shows and breaking stories for shows, but I’m not skilled enough to make a lot of what I like to do producible on a TV schedule.
Tomorrow in Part 5, David digs into some specifics of the screenwriting craft.
For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.
For Part 3, go here.
Please stop by comments to thank David and ask any questions you may have.
David is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.