Screenwriting 101: Wells Root

August 25th, 2015 by

screenplay“Generally speaking, the most successful stories are those of human character. The most important thing in a script is to have strong leading characters. Plot and structure and the rest are really secondary. It’s how your characters behave and what they say that really makes a film live. The most effective screenplays and films are those solidly based in human characters.”

— Wells Root

Screenwriting 101: Frank Pierson

August 18th, 2015 by

“Frank Daniel, who started AFI and was the head of Sundance, said a very interesting thing–we can have 10 or 15 very different advisors, people who do radically different kinds of pictures, but we all see the same problems in a script. He remarked that that insight is enormously encouraging because it indicates there is some science and craft to the making of motion pictures. But then he added that when we sit down to discuss how to solve the problems, everybody goes in totally, wildly different directions, which is also encouraging because it indicates that making motion pictures is an art. It is our craft that gives us the ability to hang on year after year and keep on writing. As far as the art, the mystery is concerned, we hope we can always stay in touch with our demons and our childishness, as God knows, the divorce courts can testify to the writers’ record on that score. Both are necessary, there’s no question about that. But the craft may dominate because it allows us to accommodate the art.”

— Frank Pierson (WGA Journal, February 1993)

Screenwriting 101: Whit Stillman

August 11th, 2015 by

“I find scriptwriting pretty painful until enough of the world and characters are in motion–which can be a very long time. At the start, I find it’s all lame and bad–it’s just bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, and then more bad. I don’t like to write too many hours in any one session because I find, after a few hours, I just keep going down the pike of some bad idea. The scripts that worked and became films took me years to write–18 months at least. I feel writing is like this stream that does not have a lot of gold. I’m prospecting, I’m panning for gold–or, rather, anything of value–and this stream is very weak on precious metals. Look at Woody Allen’s productivity versus my productivity. Or, rather, don’t look at it! I mean, he really is a comic genius–incredibly fecund with ideas. I feel that I don’t have that many ideas and I really have to work them. It’s the tortoise and the hare–and I’m a total tortoise.”

— Whit Stillman (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, P. 148)

Screenwriting 101: Eleanor Perry

August 4th, 2015 by

“Each writer starts differently, but I think the only valid way is to start with character. Character is plot. Character is story. The human behavior and human feelings and emotions and thought is what makes a story.”

— Eleanor Perry

Screenwriting 101: Stanley Kubrick

July 28th, 2015 by

“I think the best plot is no apparent plot. I like a slow start, the start gets under the audience’s skin and involves them so that they can appreciate grace notes and soft tones and don’t have to be pounded over the head with plot points and suspense hooks.”

— Stanley Kubrick

Screenwriting 101: Dorothy Parker

July 21st, 2015 by

screenplay“When I dwelt in the East…I had my opinion of writing for the screen. I regarded it–all right, sue me–with a sort of benevolent contempt, as one looks at the raggedy printing of a backward six-year-old. I thought it had just that much relationship to literature. I thought, ‘Why, I could do that with one hand tied behind me and the other on Irving Thalberg’s pulse.’

Well, I found out, and I found out hard, I found out forever. Through the sweat and the tears I shed over my first script, I saw a great truth–one of those eternal, universal truths that serve to make you feel much worse than you did when you started. And that is that no writer, whether he writes from love or from money, can condescend to what he writes. What makes it harder in screenwriting…is the money he gets.

You see, it brings out that uncomfortable little thing called conscience. You aren’t writing for the love of it or the art of it or whatever; you are doing a chore assigned to you by your employer and whether or not he might fire you if you did it slackly makes no matter. You’ve got yourself to face, and you have to live with yourself. You don’t–or at least, only in highly exceptional circumstances–have to live with your producer.”

— Dorothy Parker

Screenwriting 101: Larry McMurtry

July 14th, 2015 by

screenplay“It might be, indeed, that literary genius is a kind of encumbrance in Hollywood, but then even literary geniuses don’t need to wear their genius every minute of their lives. Bringing genius to Hollywood is like wearing the new blue suit to the beach — a bathing suits works better. What’s needed in screenwork is imagination, an agile mind, and a facility for on-the-spot invention; also tolerance, a sense of humor, and a willingness to compromise, the qualities of which are also useful in marriage. Genius, if one happens to have it, can be left at home; surprisingly enough, it will keep, and money needn’t necessarily taint it.”

— Larry McMurtry

Screenwriting 101: Joss Whedon

July 7th, 2015 by


“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”

— Joss Whedon

Screenwriting 101: Tim McCanlies

June 30th, 2015 by

“That second act, for me, is the most fun, because the first and third act have such clearly defined functions. The first act you have to set up the problem or problems, introduce all your characters–there are so many things that you’ve got to do, there just isn’t room for the fun stuff. And the third act is almost an extended scene in a way–the chase, the fight, etc. But in the second act, you really get to cut loose, find out who this character is, see his or her changes.”

— Tim McCanlies

Screenwriting 101: Ernest Lehman

June 23rd, 2015 by

screenplay“One of the most important feats in screenwriting is to convey exposition not only without it appearing to be exposition, but also without wearing the audience out, and there’s a limit to how much you can do in one long, sitting-down scene. One of the tricks is to have the exposition conveyed in a scene of conflict, so that a character is forced to say things you want the audience to know–as, for example, if he is defending himself against somebody’s attack, his words of defense seem justified even though his words are actually expository words. Something appears to be happening, so the audience believes it is witnessing a scene (which it is), not listening to expository speeches.”

— Ernest Lehman (“The Craft of the Screenwriter”)