Screenwriting 101: Wes Anderson

March 3rd, 2015 by

“When I’m on a movie, part of that process is creating a setting for the story and a world that they live in. That’s the kind of movie that I like to make, where there is an invented reality and the audience is going to go someplace where hopefully they’ve never been before. The details, that’s what the world is made of. Those are the paints.”

— Wes Anderson (Vanity Fair, June 2012)

Screenwriting 101: Billy Ray

February 24th, 2015 by

“Here’s my day. I wake my kids up in the morning, I take my son to his bus stop at 7:30. I’m at my desk at eight. Somebody feeds me at one. I’m back at my desk at 1:30 and I write till five or six. My nights and my weekends belong to my family. I don’t surf the web when I’m supposed to be writing–I don’t look at porn, and I don’t gamble on some offshore site. I don’t do anything stupid–I just work all day. If you do that, you can get a lot done. I don’t spend three hours a day at Starbucks. I don’t consult my muse. I just work. I just try to solve problems all day long. I don’t know another way to approach it. And I can feel when the solutions I’m coming up with are functioning and I can feel when they’re not. You know the difference–you can’t kid yourself. At the top of my computer in big, bold letters, it says, ‘What is the simple emotional journey?’ That’s what I look at on my computer monitor all the time. When I get into a jam I just think, ‘Okay, what’s the story I’m telling? What’s the emotional journey that I’m telling?'”

— Billy Ray (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, P. 139)

Screenwriting 101: David Hare

February 17th, 2015 by

“My life was changed by Louis Malle, who asked me to do Damage, which I really, really didn’t want to do. I said, ‘You know, I’m finished with the cinema, I’m just getting worse at it.’ And Louis said, ‘Well, you won’t have to make this one–I’ll make it. All you have to do is write it.’ I said no. Later, I was on holiday, lying on a beach in the south of France. The phone ran and it was Louis. He said, ‘I’m coming down to join you.’ I said no, but he came down and said, ‘I know you’re not going to write it, but, on the other hand, why don’t we just imagine you were going to write it? Let’s talk about how you would write it.’

He had this incredible method which taught me everything about writing movies. Louis would start every day at 8:30 with a cup of coffee, and I would have a croissant. And he would say, ‘Tell me the story of the film.’ And I would say, ‘Well, there’s this conservative politician…’ And within about two sentences he’d say, ‘What sort of person is he? Why is he doing that?’ He’d just ask questions. And so maybe by lunchtime we had go through about six scenes, and it would be really solid. Then the next day, he’d get up and say, ‘Tell me the story of the film.’ And I’d try and pick up where I left off the day before, and he’d say, ‘No, no, you’ve got to go back to the beginning.’ And this went on for about 10 days. By the end of that process, I could tell the story of Damage in about 20 minutes. He said, ‘Well, you’ve done the hard work now–you’ve written the film. Just go and hang some dialogue on it.’ It was an incredible way to write. And writing the dialogue only took me a few weeks, because the story was already completely laid out. It was the most severe way that I’ve ever worked on structure, but it was also the best way ever of writing a film. It does drive you absolutely mad–you just think, ‘Oh, I’m going insane.’ But that’s when I began to realize why my own films were so bad: I’d never subjected them to this narrative test and created such a taut string on which you could just hang the pearls.”

— David Hare (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, PP. 109-110)

Screenwriting 101: Christopher Hampton

February 10th, 2015 by

“David Lean had several principles, that he repeated more than once. Lesson One was that the most important thing in any screenplay is the final image of one scene and the first image of the next scene and how they flow into one another. If you do that right, you will have something that is not a disparate set of 250 scenes–you will have about six to ten chapters within which everything flows from one scene to the next in the most effortless way. You can shock the audience–you can do all sorts of things–but you have to do it in a way that maintains the narrative integrity of the piece.”

Christopher Hampton (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, PP. 100-101)

Screenwriting 101: Anthony Minghella

February 3rd, 2015 by

“Nobody wants to make any film, ever. I mean, you can assume that every head of every studio would be perfectly happy never to make another film, because making films is dangerous, costs too much money, none of them make sense, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they’re going to work – the best thing is not to make any; you can’t get fired for not making a film – you’re going to get fired for making the wrong film. And so you realize that the first words anybody in the movies wants to say is no, and the job of the director or producer or writer is finding the area of least resistance to get the film made. There’s never been any movie I’ve made that anybody’s wanted to make, ever.”

— Anthony Minghella

Screenwriting 101: Carl Foreman

January 27th, 2015 by

“I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I know in advance that my so-called first draft will be in fact my tenth draft.”

— Carl Foreman

Screenwriting 101: Christopher Hampton

January 20th, 2015 by

“I’m not sure I’ve ever written a film with a traditional structure–I don’t believe in any of those rules for writing screenplays. What that gives you is a formula, and inevitably the result will be formulaic. I’ve always refused to do treatments, but I can do outlines: ‘This happens in this scene, then this happens, then this happens, then this happens.’ That way, you’re liberated within the scene, but you have your milestones along the way. If you do it right, the audience doesn’t feel the presence of a structure–if you’ve done it subtly enough, it won’t impose itself on them. But if you don’t have some kind of structure, they’ll feel there’s something lacking–I mean, I do as an audience. Whenever I think, ‘Well, why wasn’t that as good as I thought it was going to be?’, it generally turns out to be something to do with the structure and the fact that it isn’t properly organized. The foundation and the organization are something that should be invisible, but they’ve got to be there.”

— Christopher Hampton (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, PP. 102-103)

Screenwriting 101: Jean-Claude Carrière

January 13th, 2015 by

“All the great filmmakers from all over the world have developed the language of cinema. They have refined it–sometimes they have perverted it–but our main task is not only to know the language we are going to use, but also to try to make it better, if possible. The reason why so many novelist friends fail when they try to make a film is that they’re using a language they don’t know anything about. The language of film is very complex. It is made up not only of images and sounds, but it also includes acting. The actors and the actresses–they are part of this language. You must absolutely know if what you are writing can be transmitted by actors. The main question you are asking all the time when you’re working with the director is, ‘Is it possible to act this or not?’ … The world is changing all the time, and so is the movie language–it’s impossible to stop it. You must be in the flow of the river, not looking at the river passing by–you must be inside, you must dive.”

— Jean-Claude Carrière (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, P. 63, 65)

Screenwriting 101: Mark Rosenthal

January 6th, 2015 by

“The joy of screenwriting comes from its pure narrative requirements. It’s a little like haiku in its need for compression (prose is an expansive art form, by contrast), like comic books in the tumbling out-of-control gait that forms the rhythm for each beat, and, most of all, like storytelling as it first must have developed along with language–a secret shared that seeks to elicit ‘Tell me what happened next!'”

— Mark Rosenthal (Why We Write)

For hundreds more Screenwriting 101 posts, go here.

Screenwriting 101: John August

December 30th, 2014 by

“While working on Big Fish, I got very Method: I’d stare at a mirror until I could get myself crying, and then I would start writing. It was literally days of just staring at a mirror and crying, but it works–something about that process captures the right feeling. And by getting myself to the point of crying, it helped me get other people to that point. I had done it before with another project, a horror movie, so the process for that was to get myself terrified and then write. A lot of writers will play music while they’re writing, or they’ll have a scent that reminds them of the movie’s world and smelling gets them back into it. Anything’s fair game as long as it works.”

— John August (FilmCraft | Screenwriting, P. 43)