Daily Dialogue theme next week: Subtext

July 4th, 2015 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Subtext.

“It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”

Sideways (2004)

Subtext. The meaning below the words themselves. Here Miles provides his thoughts about Pinot Noir… but the subtext is he’s talking about himself, even if he’s unaware of it.

This week, let’s come up with 7 sterling examples of subtext in movie dialogue. The best dialogue is often subtextual in nature. How about we up our dialogue-writing game by exposing ourselves to a week’s worth of great subtext?

Take part in the grand Daily Dialogue tradition — 2,500+ consecutive days and counting! How about your suggestion for this week’s theme?

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.

Our upcoming schedule of Daily Dialogue topics:

July 13-July 19: Survival
July 20-July 26: Last Line
July 27-August 2: Madness
August 3-August 9: Call to Adventure
August 10-August 16: Adultery
August 17-August 23: Callback
August 24-August 30: Hysterics
August 31-September 6: Monologue
September 7-September 13: Betrayal
September 14-September 20: Minimum Words, Maximum Impact
September 21-September 27: Depression
September 28-October 4: Opening Line
October 5-October 11: Rivalry
October 12-October 18: Cross Dressing

If you have some Daily Dialogue themes to add to the roster, be my guest to post in comments. But be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Subtext.

Thanks to all you loyal Daily Dialoguers! You rock!

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Barney’s Version

July 4th, 2015 by

This week, we have been reading, analyzing, and discussing the script and movie Barney’s Version, screenplay by Michael Konyves, novel by Mordecai Richler.

IMDb plot summary: The picaresque and touching story of the politically incorrect, fully lived life of the impulsive, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky.

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Major Plot Points
Wednesday: Sequences
Thursday: Psychological Journey
Friday: Takeaways

For my 7-part series on How to Read a Screenplay, go here.

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. A link to my reflections on that here.

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading movie scripts.

Beginning Monday, July 13, our next movie script read and analysis will be Flight. You may download the script here.

Saturday Hot Links

July 4th, 2015 by

Time for the 193rd installment of Saturday Hot Links.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Jurassic World’s Massive Success.

The ‘Jurassic Park’ Theme at 1000x Slower Speed Is Absolutely Gorgeous.

How do so many white, male indie directors leap to big blockbusters?

Guide to Indie Movies You Need to See in July.

The 12 Indies to Watch on VOD This July.

11 shows to binge-watch during summer’s TV drought.

Years With More Female-Driven Movies Make Much More Money in the Box Office.

Heroines Triumph at Box Office, but Has Anything Changed in Hollywood?

Weekend B.O. analysis: ‘Ted 2′ Disappoints, Is the Summer Box Office Past Its Peak?

Across the Universe: How World-Building Blockbusters Have Changed the Art of Screenwriting.

An Epic History of the Movie Trailer.

Comic-Con to Stay in San Diego Through 2018.

The Complete List Of 2015 Comic Con TV Panels & Events.

10 Futuristic Sci-Fi Movie Concepts That Could Actually Happen.

7 Ways ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Is Everything That’s Wrong With Movies.

Steven Soderbergh Picks 11 Favorite Films.

Where Are the Women? 73 wide releases in US in 2015 so far; only 18 have female protagonists.

‘True Detective,’ ‘Walking Dead’ Spinoff Bring TV Production Back to California.

U.S. Women’s Run at World Cup Title Lifts Ratings for Ailing Fox.

Fox Plans ‘Fatal Attraction’ Reboot as Event Series.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios Could Undergo $3 Billion Overhaul to Add More Star Wars, Pixar and Indiana Jones.

‘Extant’ Season 2: Showrunners Talk New Direction, Cast Changes.

TOP GUN 2 Will Explore Drone Warfare and the End of the Fighter Pilot Era.

The Impossible Problem of Forcing Diversity in Art.

The World’s 57 Largest Book Publishers, 2015.

Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last.

The Case for Writing a Story Before Knowing How It Ends.

Sonia Manzano (Maria) to Retire After 44 Years on ‘Sesame Street’.

Robert Zemeckis on ‘Back to the Future’ Remake: “Oh God, No”.

How original are Hollywood movies?

Hollywood sequels by numbers.

Lifetime Digs Into Original Movie Vault to Launch SVOD Service.

Lost Script by Jules Feiffer—Who Wrote Films for Nichols, Resnais and Altman—Sees the Light.

Binge-Viewing Is Becoming a Less Shameful Activity.

Rape Scenes Aren’t Just Awful. They’re Lazy Writing.

A ‘Clueless’ Musical Is in the Works.

Seattle House Linked to Pixar’s ‘Up’ May Be Demolished.

Did You Catch All of Pixar Animation’s ‘Inside Out’ Easter Eggs?

On Walter Hill, Renegade Poet of Action Cinema.

11 Reasons “Legally Blonde” Is The Greatest Feminist Movie Of All Time.

Quentin Tarantino’s List Of His 20 Favorite Spaghetti Westerns.

99¢ Movie: Psychological Jiggery Pokery and the Cultish Joy of Faults.

‘A Prairie Home Companion’ Gets a New Host — and Maybe a Future.

The 16 Best Movies About Time Travel.

The 25 Worst Ways to Be Killed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Black List Table Read: Terrible Parents (Part 4).

Chicks Who Script: Episode 47.

Scriptnotes: Episode 204.

The Black List Interview: Shawn Boxe.

Doug Richardson: Opinions and Quick Draw McGraw.

Bob Saenz: What is networking?

The complete 1968 Playboy interview with Stanley Kubrick.

Watch: 11-Minute Video Essay Explores Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke’s Differing Visions For ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ [video].

Watch: 10-Minute Video Explores The History Of ‘The Terminator’ Franchise [video].

Watch: 20-Minute Documentary ‘The Unfinished Films Of Stanley Kubrick’ Narrated By Malcolm McDowell [video].

Watch: 70-Minute Documentary About The Making Of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ [video].

Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary ‘Great Directors’ With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More [video].

Watch: Supercut Of The Music Scenes In Quentin Tarantino’s Films [video].

Watch: The Books in Wes Anderson’s Films [video].

Watch: Get Flipped the Bird by Tons of Famous Movies, Characters in This Glorious Supercut [video].

Watch: Amy Schumer Will Do Unspeakable Things To You If You Text In A Movie [video].

Watch: Stephen Colbert Filmed a 40-Minute Public-Access Show [video].

Screenwriting Master Class tip of the week: On Monday, July 6, I start the 2015 cycle of Core classes. These eight courses cover essential subject areas related to screenwriting, and in aggregate represent a comprehensive approach to both theory and practice. Here is the schedule:

Core I: Plot [July 6-12, 2015]
Core II: Concept [July 20-26, 2015]
Core III: Character [August 3-9, 2015]
Core IV: Style [August 31-September 6, 2015]
Core V: Dialogue [September 28-October 4, 2015]
Core VI: Scene [October 12-October 18, 2015]
Core VII: Theme [November 9-15, 2015]
Core VIII: Time [December 2-8, 2015]

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 6 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting, and much more.

You may take any of the individual classes, however a popular option is the Core Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course — all for nearly 50% off the price of each individual class. If you sign up, you can have access to all of the Core content today.

And there’s this: By taking each 1-week class together, writers who enroll in the Core Package become a kind of virtual community. I’ve seen many significant friendships emerge as well as writing groups among participants in the Core curriculum.

Finally let me say I am proud of the content in the Core classes as I can honestly say no one has put together a comprehensive, coherent approach to screenwriting theory as what you will discover in this curriculum. In terms of the breadth, depth, and quality of content, there is simply nothing like it available anywhere.

On Monday, the new Core adventure begins. Why don’t you join us by enrolling in the Core Package?

As always, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

30 Things About Screenwriting: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

July 4th, 2015 by

You can learn pretty much everything you need to know about screenwriting by doing these three things:

Watch movies.
Read scripts.
Write pages.

I coined this triptych nearly four years ago and it seems to have caught on. Here’s why:

Why watch movies?

Because to be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Movies must be in your lifeblood – and the best way to do that is to watch them. If you haven’t seen all of AFI’s Top 100 Movies or the IMDB Top 250, now is the time to start.

Why read scripts?

Because every script you read is a learning experience. If it’s a good script, you can break it down scene-by-scene to determine why it works. If it’s a bad script, you can see aspects of writing you do not want to emulate. By reading screenplays of great movies, you can see how the pages were translated onto the screen, thereby giving you insight into how to write cinematically.

But most important, you need to read screenplays because these are primary source material, the ‘stuff’ you traffic when you write. Reading other writers’ screenplays is a great way to expose you to different approaches, which will help you inform and define your own unique style, your own distinct voice.

Screenplays are the form through which you tell stories – and the best way learn that form is by reading scripts. If you haven’t read the WGA Top 101 list of screenplays, now is the time to get started. You can go to simplyscripts.com or other screenplay sites to access literally thousands of screenplays.

Why write pages?

I don’t really have to explain this, right? You know that you have to write to get better as a writer, not just the words you manage to write, but how you approach writing from a psychological, emotional, and spiritual perspective. Nobody is born a writer, we all become writers, it’s an active process that is ongoing throughout our lives.

But most important, you need to write to feed your creativity. Putting words onto paper is an act of incarnation. Rewriting and editing your words are acts of shaping the material. Screenwriting is a craft, but you have to be able to tap into your world of ‘art’ in order to make your pages come alive.

Writing is the process whereby you create stories — and the best way to develop that process is to do it. Every day. For this, I have no websites to which to point you. No lists with which to challenge you. Just this fact: When you aren’t writing, someone else is.

Screenwriting is an incredibly competitive business. There are no short cuts to success. But there are three habits you can embrace that can teach you everything you need to know about the craft, about creativity, and about your writer’s self:

Watch movies.
Read scripts.
Write pages. 

For the rest of the 30 Things About Screenwriting series, go here.

[Originally posted November 4, 2013]

Interview (Written): Jesse Andrews (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”)

July 4th, 2015 by

Indiewire’s Anne Thompson interviewed novelist turned screenwriter Jesse Andrews, who adapted his own book “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” for the screen. The movie won both the 2015 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury and Audience prizes.

How did you get to write the screenplay?

I wrote the book, but didn’t have any expectations to write the screenplay, or to hope to write it. My agent was shopping the film rights. Dan Fogelman the producer had the insane idea: “Hey, do you want to, if I was helping you, shepherding you, would that appeal to you?” I was sleeping on a couch at time.

It wasn’t published yet?

This was before it was published. He read galleys. He liked the book. Indian Paintbrush responded positively to Dan, and the writing/talent combination excited them. I’m sure if I had turned in something horrible, Dan goes in and writes it. He made himself available. I just wanted to be free to make mistakes. It was an organic process. Some mistakes needed to be fixed, some mistakes might be the reason the screenplay was distinctive and worth making. You’re not going to know until you make them.

I had no reason to believe the book would do all that well. It was a debut novel from an unknown author. It delivered some good reviews. It wasn’t on any bestseller lists. It was the sort of book that went deep into the young adult world. Barnes and Noble promoted it with displays in March 2012.

—-

Did you study screenwriting?

No, nothing. I never took creative writing. I had to read a lot of screenplays to get familiar with the form. I read a number of Fogelman’s, I liked his style, discipline and economy, the seamlessness of it, the combination of art and craft, he doesn’t show the seams of the story as he’s putting it together in a deft way to build to reveal inevitable and surprising things. I learned a lot from reading the scripts and talking to him. He would pitch me an idea or two to set my mind on fire. Everything he said opened me up to possibilities.

—-

What are the differences between the book and the movie?

Discipline, economy, collapsing exchanges into shorter more focused dialogue. A lot of profanity got lost along the way for obvious reasons, but that didn’t change much at all.

The movie is currently in theaters. Declare your independents and go see it!

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Daily Dialogue — July 4, 2015

July 4th, 2015 by

Dowager in Cab: I’ve never gone this way before.
John Winger: Well, I’m sure there are a lot of ways I’ve gone that you haven’t.
Dowager in Cab: What is your name? (reading the license) John Ringer? What kind of a name is Ringer?
John Winger: Winger. I’m adopted, I’ve spent most of my life in institutions.
Dowager in Cab: Doesn’t surprise me, who look like a typical low-life character to me.
John Winger: Actually I’m a photographer, I took this job because I love people. There’s nothing I enjoy more than meeting someone like yourself, getting to know you and then taking a few action photos of you while I drive.
[John starts photographing her]
Dowager in Cab: Will you stop! Turn around, watch the road. Turn around, stop with the pictures.
John Winger: Thank-you so much.
Dowager in Cab: Aren’t you going too fast?
John Winger: No, it’s not the speed really so much, I just wish I hadn’t drank all that cough syrup this morning
Dowager in Cab: Oh no…We’re going to be killed.
John Winger: Oh no. Not killed.
Dowager in Cab: Just keep your hands on the wheel…And slow down.
John Winger: Not killed.
Dowager in Cab: You should have your license taken away. I am going to write your name down and see that it is given to the proper authorities…g-e-r. You’re a bum! And that’s all you’ll ever be, a bum!
John Winger: Well, that hurts Ma’am. And I don’t think I want to take your abuse. And I know I don’t want to take you and your luggage to the airport. How ‘bout that, huh?

Stops the taxi in the middle of the bridge.

Stripes (1981), written by Len Blum, Dan Goldberg and Harold Ramis

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Quitting. Today’s suggestion by James Schramm.

Trivia: Part of a mini-cycle of Hollywood movies made during the early 1980s centering around military cadet training. The pictures include Taps (1981), Stripes (1981), Private Benjamin (1980), Up the Academy (1980), The Lords of Discipline (1983) and An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). Then the mid-late 1980s saw a few more: Cadence (1990), Biloxi Blues (1988), Heartbreak Ridge (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987).

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by James: “A perfect introduction to the lovable loser John Winger. We see him hit rock-bottom after this incident and we are cheering for him the rest of the movie. One of Murray’s best roles.”

Go Into The Story Movie Analysis: Jurassic World

July 3rd, 2015 by

Starting Monday, we begin our next installment of the Go Into The Story Movie Analysis series: Jurassic World, screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly, story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, characters by Michael Crichton.

To date per Box Office Mojo, Jurassic World has generated $1,265,861,759 in worldwide theatrical revenues. In official movie business terms, that is what is known as a shit-ton of money.

Our schedule for discussion next week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

Why watch movies?

Because to be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Movies must be in your lifeblood – and the best way to do that is to watch and analyze them.

This series is your Call To Adventure! So do yourself a favor: Watch Jurassic World and join the discussion beginning Monday, July 6.

If you have found interviews and/or analysis of the movie, please post in comments.

The movie’s website here.

“There are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them”

July 3rd, 2015 by

Last week, we had a terrific discussion about the movie Ex Machina. In it, Marija Nielsen made this comment:

My takeaway is that this movie beautifully demonstrates my belief that there are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them. We should always look for various ways into the story we want to tell and try out different walking shoes, even if they clash completely with the clothes we wear. That is the only way we can find the diamonds.

To which I responded with this:

Marija, you hit this one square on the head:

“…there are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them.”

Story ideas have all been done before. However…

The crafting of the story structure. The shaping of each character. The presence of our voice. The exploration of various themes. Pace, scenes, atmosphere, tone, and all the rest, those specific ways we bring a story to life are our conduits for originality.

That’s an excellent takeaway… and sounds like a blog post waiting to happen!

Name one movie released in 2015 that is utterly and wholly original, a story which has never been told before. There are none. Every basic premise or plot, story conceit or idea has been told or used before.

That’s the ‘similar’ part of Hollywood’s business theory: Similar But Different.

The ‘different’ part comes in when we, as writers, put our individual stamp on the material, hopefully reflecting an “original way” to tell the story.

In all honesty, I find this freeing. We are freed from trying to generate a new story idea because there are no new ones. On top of that, what we can bring to a script is something we can grow and control: Our voice. That’s where the originality comes into play.

So cheer up! Every story’s been done before. Now go about the business of discovering what is uniquely ‘you’ as a writer, then bring that awareness to bear on the stories you write.

HT to Marija Nielsen for her observation.

Script Analysis: “Barney’s Version” – Part 5: Takeaways

July 3rd, 2015 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Major Plot Points
Wednesday: Sequences
Thursday: Psychological Journey
Friday: Takeaways

Today: Takeaways.

This week, we have been reading, analyzing, and discussing the script and movie Barney’s Version. In some ways, today’s exercise is the whole point of the series: What did you take away from the experience of reading and analyzing the script?

Screenplay by Michael Konyves, novel by Mordecai Richler.

IMDb plot summary: The picaresque and touching story of the politically incorrect, fully lived life of the impulsive, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky.

Writing Exercise: What did you take away from reading and analyzing the script for Barney’s Version?

For Part 1 of our series on Barney’s Version, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read the Major Plot Points, go here.

For Part 3, to read the Sequences, go here.

For Part 4, to read the Psychological Journey, go here.

This series started here and we have volunteers to do 28 scene-by-scene breakdowns of contemporary movie scripts. The scripts we have already analyzed are in italics.

All Is Lost: Chris Faulkner
American Hustle: Jon Raymond
Argo: Nora Barry
Barney’s Version: jem
Belle: DaniM
Beginners: Ali Coad
Boyhood: Jacob Jensen
Enough Said: Ali Coad
Flight: 14Shari
Frankenwenie: Will King
Frozen: Christina Sekeris
Gone Girl: NateKohler1
Gravity: Matt Duriez
Hanna: John Arends
Lincoln: Paul Graunke
Looper: erikledrew
Moonrise Kingdom: Daniel Bigler
Mud: Alejandro
Paranorman: OhScotty
Prisoners: Melinda Mahaffey Icden
Short Term 12: Carolina Groppa
The Artist: Traci Nell Peterson
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Rob Hoskins
The Imitation Game: Rick Dyke, Sean Sauber
The Social Network: Nick Dykal
The Way Way Back: Ricky
Wadjda: iamdaniel
Whiplash: Steven Broughton

If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments or email me. We are using scripts available on our site here.

For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible. Thanks!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: Barney’s Version.

30 Things About Screenwriting: Learn the craft

July 3rd, 2015 by

Here’s one big problem with most of the screenwriting approaches I see floating around: Their focus is almost exclusively on writing a screenplay. Obviously this is important. You must be able to translate your talent, voice, and vision for a story onto the printed page. A script not only is a commodity which you can sell, it is also a representation of who you are as a writer.

But while a screenplay is an end product of what we do, there is so much more to actually being a screenwriter than simply writing a script. And much of what that is about, that ‘stuff’ we ingest along the way, impacts how we approach our writing, where we put our focus, and what ends up on the page.

In other words, it is not just about writing a screenplay. It’s about thinking and acting like a screenwriter. And to do that, we need to learn the craft.

How? Just as there is no right way to write, there is no right way to learn the craft. However here is a list of areas I think any writer would be wise to include in their learning process:

Theory: Some writers need less of this, some require more, but at least a basic take on the fundamentals of screenwriting theory.

Research: While it might not be necessary to determine a specific approach, a writer should know their way around a library or nowadays the Web. Perhaps more important, a writer should engender and feed their curiosity to dig into the subject matter of the story they are writing as that is the surest path toward being able to create a world that feels authentic to a reader.

Prep: While it may be fine to approach writing a novel with zero advance work, screenwriters who choose to work on assignment are not allowed that luxury. Generally we have about 10 weeks to turn in a draft and one key to managing to pull that off on a consistent basis is to break your story in prep. This varies from writer to writer, but often an outline becomes their best friend.

First Draft: Some call it a ‘vomit draft,’ others a ‘muscle draft,’ however a writer refers to it, they ought to develop a mindset whereby they can knock out that first draft without constantly going back or getting stuck. This is where the value of prep emerges in a big way because if a writer breaks the story before they type FADE IN, they are much more likely to be able pound out a first draft.

Rewriting: There is perhaps no other narrative form to which the saying ‘writing is rewriting’ pertains more than screenwriting. So part of this learning curve is not only developing an approach to the rewrite process, but also an embrace of this as an ongoing reality of what screenwriters do. For a screenwriter, rewriting is akin to breathing. It just is.

Production: If a writer is lucky, their script becomes an actual movie. That sounds wonderful, and it is, but it also means every scene gets translated by the film crew into the nuts and bolts of actual production. Therefore it behooves a screenwriter to understand the connection between what they write on the page and what that entails when a movie gets made. Helpful hint: Make some short films to put yourself on the set.

Post-Production: There’s a lot involved in post, but the single most important point of focus for a screenwriter is to be mindful of the editing process. Indeed a writer thinking like an editor when crafting a script, everything from scene construction to scene transitions, can make for a better read and benefit the entire production and post process.

Acting: One of the smartest things a writer can do is take an acting class (or two). Yes, this is about writing dialogue that is ‘actor friendly,’ but it is also about something incredibly fundamental: understanding characters. Actors ask the same questions about a character writers do: motivation, personality, backstory, want, need, goals. The more a writer can grasp how actors think about their craft, the more that can translate into strong characterizations on the page.

Business: While a writer relies on their agent, manager and lawyer for career advice as well as inside information about industry trends, it is important for a writer to understand the basics of the entertainment business. From acquisition to development to production to marketing to distribution to finance, a writer’s stories get touched by people in all of these areas, so it just makes sense for them to have a basic comprehension of how the film business works.

Producers: Per this last point, one of the most important ways of thinking about screenwriting is as a producer. The ability to put on their ‘hat’ and see things through their eyes can be enormously helpful for a writer in terms of everything from story decisions to business strategy. Producers are often a writer’s best friend on a project. Understanding their world view is a plus.

Critical Eye: The movie business is incredibly competitive and it is ridiculously hard to get any movie produced. Therefore a writer must adjust their analytical instincts accordingly. A good place to start is with this basic question directed at each story a writer takes on: Is this a movie? The ability to answer that question honestly and without prejudice is key. A writer can use that same level of scrutiny to story choices: Is this distinctive? Is this cliche? Is this the very best I can do? If not, do better.

The World of Cinema: Any writer who hopes to grow a career as a screenwriter must immerse him/herself in the world of cinema. See every movie. Read every script. Know film history. This is important for a myriad of reasons including the simple fact that everyone in the business constantly refers to other movies, therefore a writer must know their stuff to be able to converse knowledgeably in development meetings, meet-and-greets, social circumstances, and the like.

There’s a lot more I haven’t mentioned — how to pick your battles, how to incorporate script notes, how not to be an asshole, and so forth — but the point should be clear and worth repeating: Learning the craft is much more than knowing how to write a screenplay..

It’s about becoming a screenwriter.

For the rest of the 30 Things About Screenwriting series, go here.

[Originally posted November 3, 2013]