Screenwriting 101: Lisa Joy

April 22nd, 2014 by

screenplay“The thing that is first and foremost to me is, ‘Do I love the character? Do I empathize with them?’ I even think you have to love and empathize with the villains you write, especially them, in a way. Otherwise it just becomes caricature.”

– Lisa Joy (GITS Interview, March 6, 2014)

Screenwriting 101: Nancy Meyers

April 15th, 2014 by

screenplay“I think it’s a mistake to write something you think people will like, or a combination idea, or this year’s version of last year’s movie. I don’t think you’ll ever get noticed doing that. I think you’re only going to get noticed by following your own instincts and doing original work, and writing the thing that only you can write.”

– Nancy Meyers

Screenwriting 101: Richard Brooks

April 8th, 2014 by

screenplay“I can make a movie with half-assed camerawork, or with actors who are not quite up to par, or with composition that misses, and the picture may still work because of good structure. But if the structure is not right, you can have forty great scenes in a movie and still have no movie. Structure is the beginning and end of a movie.”

– Richard Brooks

Screenwriting 101: Billy Wilder

April 1st, 2014 by

screenplay“I find with young writers, and some of them with very good ideas, that they get lost in technical descriptions of which they know very little. Nobody will say, ‘This is a great screenwriter because he always has the camera angles.’ Just have good characters and good scenes and something that plays.”

– Billy Wilder

Screenwriting 101: Richard Matheson

March 25th, 2014 by

“Most of my ideas have come from films. When I lived in Brooklyn, I went to see a Dracula film and the idea came to me: If one vampire was scary, what if the whole world was full of vampires? That became I Am Legend.

Another time, I went to see a comedy with Ray Milland and Aldo Ray [Let's Do It Again, 1953]; and Ray Milland was leaving an apartment and he put on Aldo Ray’s hat and it came down way over his ears. At that second, I thought, “What if a guy put his own hat on and that happened?” That’s where I got the idea for Shrinking Man.

Through the years, I have been able to get more and more into character, but I never went into stories based on characters. I went into stories based on a story idea. Then I put characters in the story that I hoped would be believable and realistic in real life and maybe move you. But I’m a storyteller. The story is the thing. They can put that on my tombstone: Storyteller.”

–Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Twilight Zone, Stir of Echoes)

Screenwriting 101: Horton Foote

March 18th, 2014 by

“For me there was a whole period of unlearning the bad habits I had picked up in my conventional training as an actor, which was to be very vocal and to work things out vocally rather than to find my inner life. They gave us a whole series of exercises for actors… The whole sense of the through-line, the sense of actions, what people want on stage.

It applied to me wonderfully as a writer, because in my work as an actor, I would break a play down so that, without really knowing it, I was studying its structure in the sense of what it was the characters wanted. That’s really much more important than the result of the character: what do they want, what causes the conflict between them, what is the structure of the scene, what is the overall through-line of the play, what is the spine, what does everything kind of hold on to. That was one way in which I could instinctually, as an actor, work on trying to understand the play.”

– Horton Foote

Screenwriting 101: Ted Tally

March 11th, 2014 by

“It [a treatment] is about twenty-five or thirty single-spaced pages normally, in paragraph outline, and it has a very conventional three-act structure and it’s my attempt to describe the movie scene-by-scene. If it’s an important movie, I’ll go into some detail about what happens and why. There’s virtually no dialogue in it unless it’s really important to the scene–it’s suggested but I don’t want anybody to pin me down on that. And if it’s a small scene or a sequence of them I might just say “And now there’s a montage” without going into too much detail. But it’s pretty specific; act one, scene one, two, three…

There tend to be eight-to-ten scenes per act, and I reference the book. If I give this kind of thing to a producer or a director, I don’t know if they’ll sit there with the treatment in one hand and the book in the other, but if they care to look, I cross-reference, say, “Scene four of the movie uses pages thirty-five to forty-seven of the book, but with the following changes,” and I will suggest how it will change. It’s already beginning to change from the book by the time it’s a treatment. And then, usually by the time I’ve finished the treatment and maybe done some revision, I’ve absorbed almost everything from the book I’m ever going to. Very often the book is hardly referred to from that point, and the treatment becomes the blueprint for the screenplay. Only if I’m confused about some point or if I really want some bolstering of specific details am I going to go back to the book — or if I want to crib some dialogue. But basically I work off the treatment as I work.

The treatment is really intended as a tool for myself, it’s to reduce the book to a manageable level and to give me the illusion that I have a road map for the screenplay. It never quite works out that way: when you’re writing you’re continually finding out what you thought you needed an didn’t need after all, so you tear out three pages of the treatment, throw them away and do something else, wing it. I wish there was a way of knowing those things in advance; you’d save a lot of time and a lot of heartache. But I can’t, I just have to write my way into it–which you wouldn’t think would be true with an adaptation but it happens anyway.”

– Ted Tally

Screenwriting 101: Nicolas Winding Refn

March 4th, 2014 by

screenplay“I’ve always liked characters that because of the circumstances, have to transform themselves, and in the end, it’s inevitable that what they end up becoming is what they were meant to be. And Drive is similar in the sense that The Driver was meant to become a superhero, and he’s denied all these things—relationships, companionship. And why would he be denied that? It was because he was meant for something greater.”

– Nicolas Winding Refn

Screenwriting 101: Leigh Brackett

February 25th, 2014 by

screenplay“I sort of went off into corners and wept a few times at things that made me very unhappy. I think the hardest thing about adapting to working with other people was that. Because I was a fiction writer primarily, and I was used to writing in a little room with the door shut, just myself and the type-writer—all of a sudden I’m sitting in this room with film people and I’ve got to talk ideas. God I froze. Everything I was about to say sounded so dreadful. It took me quite a few years to adapt and also to learn my craft, because I don’t think there’s anything better than screenwriting to teach you the construction of a story.

I was very poor on construction when I first began. If I could hit it right from the first word and go straight through, then it was great. If I didn’t, I ended up with half-finished stories in which I had written myself into a box canyon and couldn’t fight my way out. In film writing you get on overall conception of a story and then you go through these endless story conferences. Hawks used to walk in and he’d say: “I’ve been thinking . . .” My heart would go right down into my boots. Here we go: Start at the top of page one and go right through it again. But you still have to keep that concept. It’s like building a wall. You’ve got the blocks, and you’ve got the wall all planned, and then somebody says: “I think we’ll take this stone out of here and we’ll put it over there. And we’ll make this one a red one and that one a green one.” You’re still trying to keep the overall shape of the story, but you’re changing the details. It took me a long time, but I finally learned how to do it.”

– Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back)

Screenwriting 101: Michael Werwie

February 18th, 2014 by

screenplay“When you’re first breaking a story and when you’re doing that first pass, it’s important to not really censor yourself too much or judge yourself or the work. It’s important to just get it out and get to the end. Now that’s much easier said than done, and it’s something that I still struggle with because I’m a perfectionist and I want to write it perfectly the first time through, but that’s never how it works. On the other hand, I think the analytical part of writing is just as important, if not more important. I think rewriting is more important than first‑draft writing and that’s the place where I really excel. So if I can force myself to crank out a first draft, it becomes a lot easier for me to go back and assess it in an analytical way.”

– Michael Werwie [GITS Interview, January 11, 2013]