Black List writers on the craft: Theme (5 Part Series)

August 29th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I am running a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 1) – What is theme?

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 2) – Begin the story-crafting process with theme

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 3) – Discover theme during the writing process

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 4) – Not come off as “preachy”

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 5) – Being personal

Once again, we see a variety of approaches to a key aspect of the screenwriting craft. Test out some of these ideas in your own writing. When you find something which works in terms of themes, stick with it.

In my opinion, the Black List is the most important brand related to screenwriters and screenwriting in Hollywood. Therefore it makes sense we should study the creative processes of writers who make the list. More insight and inspiration coming in next week.

Interview (Written): Steven E. de Souza

August 29th, 2015 by

An August 24, 2015 Creative Screenwriting interview with prolific screenwriter Steven E. de Souza. His movie credits include 48 Hrs. (1982), Commando (1985), The Running Man (1987), Die Hard (1988), Die Hard 2 (1990), Judge Dredd (1995), and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003).

Do all your screenplays have a single theme?

I don’t know if that is necessarily true. A student at AFI once did his thesis on me. He said I do ‘misdirected expectations’ which means I deliberately lead the audience to think something was going to happen and then do it differently or do something else. When I thought about it, I said, ‘Yes, I do do that.’ I would also say I have anti-authoritarian heroes and never really did the vigilante-take-the-law-into-your-own-hands kind of thing.

In your opinion, what does a screenplay need in order to be an action thriller?

I would argue that the genre of an action movie is a completely false creature. There is no such thing as an action movie. All movies have action. ‘Action movie’ is a term that was invented in the ‘80s. I think Commando may have been the first one in 1985. They noticed for the first time that a handful of American movies were making more money overseas than in America. This had never happened before. Commando made 60% of its money overseas and 40% in the US. Action speaks louder than words. You don’t need to read the subtitles to know it was a bad idea to kidnap Arnold Schwarzenegger’s little girl. I disagree with the idea that there is such thing as an action movie, but we are stuck with that term now.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Twitter: @StevenEdeSouza.

Daily Dialogue — August 29, 2015

August 29th, 2015 by

“Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), written by John Hughes

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Hysterics.

Trivia: This movie has four Saturday Night Live (1975) alumni: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brian Doyle-Murray, Randy Quaid and Chevy Chase.

Dialogue On Dialogue: One of the classic hysteric bromides. Reminiscent of another John Hughes tirade… which we’ll feature tomorrow. Can you guess what it is?

Go Into The Story Movie Analysis: Straight Outta Compton

August 28th, 2015 by

Starting Monday, we begin our next installment of the Go Into The Story Movie Analysis series: Straight Outta Compton, screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff.

To date per Box Office Mojo, Straight Outta Compton has grossed $119M in domestic theatrical revenues. The movie’s production budget is a reported $28M. In other words, the movie is a big hit even before rolling out in international markets.

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 Straight Outta Compton and join the discussion beginning Monday, August 31.

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

The movie’s website here.

Screenwriting Twitter Rants

August 28th, 2015 by

This week, there were three quality screenwriting Twitter ‘rants’ which reminded me of a basic fact about learning the craft in 2015:

THERE ARE SO DAMN MANY RESOURCES AVAILABLE TODAY!!!

Not just resources, but free resources. And not just free resources, but great free resources.

For example, check this out: Here are links to all of the Twitter ‘rants’ by industry professionals I’ve aggregated over the last year or so:

F. Scott Frazier (@screenwritten): On Writing Action Set-Pieces

Katherine Fugate (@katherinefugate): Black Facts About Hollywood

Katherine Fugate (@katherinefugate): On What is “Perfectly Okay” for a Screenwriter to Write

John Gary (@johngary): On How He Used Query Letters to Find New Representation

Gary Graham (@thegarygraham): On Some Keys to Screenwriting

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Drafts, Parenthicals and Respect

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Finding the Joy in Your Writing

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On How to Treat a Film Crew

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Loglines

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Losing the Love for a Story

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Minimalist Screenwriting Style

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Pitching

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Procrastination, Precrastination and Productivity in Writing

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On Subtext

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On the Current Slate of Action Heroes

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On the Screenwriter’s Creative Power

Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer): On When a Writer Should Walk Away From a Project

Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman): On Fear and Writing

Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman): On Writing Advice and the Courage to Risk Failure

Daniel Kunka (@unikunka): On OWAs (Open Writing Assignments)

Daniel Kunka (@unikunka): On Being a Productive Writer

Geoff LaTulippe (@DrGMLaTulippe): On Studio Script Development Process

Justin Marks (@Justin_Marks_): On Script Page Count

Justin Marks (@Justin_Marks_) : On Exposition

Craig Mazin (@clmazin): On the Working Relationship Between Studio Execs and Writers

Craig Mazin (@clmazin): On Script Consultants

Rachael Prior (@ORachaelO): On How a Development Team Works

Rachael Prior (@ORachaelO): On Life as a Development Executive

Rachael Prior (@ORachaelO): On the Self-Delusion Imperative

Rachael Prior (@ORachaelO): On Treatments and Outlines

Rachael Prior (@ORachaelO): On What Makes a Writer Stand Out

Zach Stentz (@MuseZack): On Being ‘Good in a Room’

Mike Sweeney (@Courier12): On Focusing on the Quality of Your Spec Scripts, Not the Quantity

Mike Sweeney (@Courier12): On ‘New Screenwriting Rules’

Mike Sweeney (@Courier12): On Not Writing to Stats, Metrics, and Trends

Jake Thornton (@jakethornton): On His First Two Years as a Hollywood Screenwriter

Jeff Willis (@jwillis81): On Copyrights and Protecting Your Written Material

Jeff Willis (@jwillis81): On Query Letters

Jeff Willis (@jwillis81): On Should You Pay for a Script Consultant

Jeff Willis (@jwillis81): On the Reality of Spec Script Sales

Jeff Willis (@jwillis81): On Writing Compensation

Nate Winslow (@nate_winslow): On the Black List, Uploaded Scripts and Genres

Sure, it’s never been more competitive, trying to break into Hollywood as a writer. But there have never been more resources available to feed your learning process. Hell, Go Into The Story has over 17,000 posts. If you check out the Archive links, the content there just about covers everything you would need to know.

So count yourself fortunate. If you don’t, I’m prepared to bust out my “When I first started out in 1987, I had to slog through five feet of virtual snow with a 28.8 BPS modem” speech.

And you don’t want to hear that!

Let me end by extending our collective thanks to those members of the online screenwriting community who take the time to share their insights about the craft.

Onward!

Script Analysis: “Nebraska” – Part 5: Takeaways

August 28th, 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: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

Today: Takeaways.

This week, we have been reading, analyzing, and discussing the script and movie Nebraska. 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?

Written by Bob Nelson.

IMDb plot summary: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

For Part 1, 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 Themes, go here.

REQUEST: We have some incredible scripts in the GITS library which we have yet to analyze including 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street, and many more.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

Birdman – Doc Kane
Dallas Buyers Club – Devin Dingler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Gone Girl – Ashley
Looper – Michael Perkins
Nebraska – David Joyner
Nightcrawler – Marija

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 45 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

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: Nebraska.

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 5)

August 28th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I am running a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

The diversity of responses among the Black List writers I have interviewed is fascinating. Monday we explored various articulations of what ‘theme’ is. Tuesday we looked at some writers who begin the story-crafting process with theme. Wednesday we hear from writers who discover theme during the writing process. Thursday we considered writers who carry a concern about theme: Not to come off as “preachy”. Today writers who emphasize the importance of theme being personal.

Stephanie Shannon: “Theme is really important to me. They emerged in my research– learning about what made “Alice in Wonderland” different from other children’s stories and learning about what was really special about Lewis Carroll and what was going on at Oxford at the time. In my research I found so many interesting things to mine in the story. I think I ended up embracing the themes that also meant something to me personally. Father/daughter relationships are an important theme with me. I think it was important to me that the theme not only serve the story but also was something that was close to my own heart personally. I think those are always the stories that I want to tell, that I’ll end up telling the best.”

Brian Duffield: “Usually it’s a theme I want to explore because it’s really locked into my head as a person, as something I’m going through or struggling or interested with, so even if I throw out the characters or genre surrounding that theme a dozen times, the theme stays intact because it’s an itch I need to scratch.”

Seth Lochhead: “I leave theme to my subconscious (I’ll let it come out as I pursue the more tangible elements of the story – although according to my previous answers, tangible doesn’t seem to be one of my writing pursuits). If I’m obsessed with something, if I’ve noticed something, some illness in the world, some crack in reality, I let it in and if it wants to come out in my work so be it.”

Spenser Cohen: “Movies are there to teach us about the human condition, what it’s like to be in difficult or impossible situations… Every writer has their own life experiences, their own point of view, so the way they see the world often dictates the theme.”

Geoff LaTulippe: “The good news is that, in talented writers, I think theme comes out organically. It’s not something you have to force. But it is something you have to consider, or why are you writing the fucking thing in the first place? Why bother?”

Takeaway:

* You are more likely to write an empowered script if you have an emotional connection to its themes.

* You can also reverse this: If you can identify your points of emotional connection to a story, there’s a good chance some of its themes are to be found there.

For Part 1 of this week’s series with Black List writers, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Script To Screen: “Alien”

August 28th, 2015 by

Here is a memorable scene from “Alien” (1970), screenplay Dan O’Bannon, story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.

Setup: There is an alien on board the spaceship Nostromo. The ship’s captain Dallas has entered the air shaft to find the alien and kill it using a flamethrower. The other crew members are tracking Dallas’ location:

               
        INT. AIR SHAFT

        Completely dark.
        Dallas turns on his helmet light.
        Flips switch on throat mike.

                                 DALLAS
                  Do you receive me.  Ripley.
                  Parker.  Lambert.

        INT. EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE AREA

        The hum of vast cooling plants.
        Large air shafts run off in different directions.
        Parker and Lambert stand ready by a duct.
        Lambert hits the wall amp button.

                                 LAMBERT
                  We're in position.  I'll try
                  and pick you up on the tracker.

        Parker hefts his flamethrower.

                                 DALLAS
                         (voice over)
                  Parker, if it tries to come
                  out by you, make sure you drive
                  it back in.  I'll push it forward.

                                 PARKER
                  Right.

        INT. AIR LOCK VESTIBULE

        Near the starboard air lock.
        Ripley pops open the hatch.
        The air lock now open and ready.
        She moves to the air duct opening.

                                 RIPLEY
                  Air lock open.

                                 DALLAS
                         (voice over)
                  Ready.

                                 RIPLEY
                  Ready.

        INT. AIR SHAFT

        Dallas begins to crawl forward.
        The tunnel is narrow...
        Only a foot or two wider than his shoulders.
   
                                 DALLAS
                  I'm under way.

        Turns a corner.
        Several more tight turns.
        Instinctively Dallas pulls back.
        Raises the flamethrower.
        Fires a blast around the corner into the darkness.
        It roars loudly in the confined tube.
        Smoke drifts back into his face.

        INT. MAINTENANCE LEVEL

        A large rectangular duct in one wall.

                                 PARKER
                  That's where it's got to come
                  out, if it leaves the main shaft.

        He throws a switch.
        A metal pane rises and seals off the opening.

                                 LAMBERT
                  Let's keep it open.  I'd like
                  to know if anything's coming.

        Reluctantly, Parker again throws the switch and raises the
        metal pane.

        INT. AIR LOCK VESTIBULE

        Ripley waiting.

        INT. AIR SHAFT

        Dallas still crawling on hands and knees.
        Ahead the shaft takes an abrupt downward turn.
        He moves toward the corner.
        Fires another blast from the flamethrower.
        Then starts crawling down, head first.

        INT. EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE AREA

        Lambert sees something on the tracker.
   
                                 LAMBERT
                  Beginning to get a reading on
                  you.

        INT. AIR SHAFT

        The shaft makes yet another turn.
        Puts Dallas into an almost immobilized position.
   
        INT. FOOD STORAGE LOCKER NUMBER 12

        Ash staring at the ventilator opening.                                                           

        INT. AIR SHAFT

        Dallas against a wall of the shaft.
        Clutching his flamethrower.
        Whispers into his throat mike.

                                 DALLAS
                  Ripley.

        INT. AIR LOCK VESTIBULE

                                 RIPLEY
                  Read you clear.

        INT. AIR SHAFT

                                 DALLAS
                  I don't think this shaft goes
                  much farther... It's getting hot
                  in here.

        He readies the flamethrower.

        INT. EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE AREA

        Parker readies his weapon.

        INT. AIR SHAFT - DOUBLE-TIERED PASSAGEWAY

        The air shaft tributary opens into a larger two-tier air
        tunnel.
        Dallas crawls out and stands.
        Moves to a catwalk floor.  Looks about.
        Moves forward.  Reaches a repair junction.
        Sits.

        His feet dangle beneath the catwalk floor to the next level.

                                 DALLAS
                  Lambert, what kind of reading
                  are you getting.

        INT. MAINTENANCE LEVEL

        Lambert huddled over her tracker.
        Puzzled.

                                 LAMBERT
                  I'm not sure.  There seems
                  to be some kind of double
                  image.

        INT. AIR SHAFT DOUBLE-TIERED PASSAGEWAY

        Dallas sitting.
        His feet still dangling in the dark beneath the catwalk.

                                 DALLAS
                  It may be interference.  I'll
                  push on ahead.

        Dallas begins to rise.
        From below, a gentle movement toward the hanging feet.
        A hand reaches up.
        Misses his leg as Dallas moves ahead.

        Further on.

                                 DALLAS
                  Lambert, am I coming in any
                  clearer.

                                 LAMBERT
                         (voice over)
                  It's clear all right, but I'm
                  still getting two blips.
                         (pause)
                  I'm not sure which one is
                  which.

        Dallas stops.
        Turns around.
        Looks back down through the catwalk.
        Lowers the nose of the flamethrower, his finger on the
        trigger.
        From behind him, the hand reaches up.
        The Alien is the front signal.

        INT. AIR LOCK VESTIBULE

        Ripley bends forward.
        Hears the sounds of the struggle...
        And Dallas' screams.
        She cries out.

                                 RIPLEY
                  Dallas...Dallas...

        INT. EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE AREA

        Lambert and Parker.
        Hearing it all.

                                 RIPLEY
                         (voice over)
                  Oh my God.

        Then silence.

And here is the scene in the movie:

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

[Originally posted July 13, 2011]

Daily Dialogue — August 28, 2015

August 28th, 2015 by

Breaking the Waves (1996), written by Lars von Trier and Peter Asmussen

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Hysterics.

Trivia: The first film in Lars von Trier’s “Golden Heart” trilogy in which the heroines remain naïve despite their actions. The two other parts are The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000).

Dialogue On Dialogue: It’s a scream. A primal guttural scream. Bess yelling at the waves. A hell of an image.

Reader Question: How to balance screenwriting theory and the actual writing?

August 27th, 2015 by

From Traci Peterson:

I’m an intuitive/organic writer discovering the sometimes overwhelming scope of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung’s influences on character and story.

Any suggestions on how to balance the two in order to get the first script down?

It can be overwhelming, especially on the front end of the process where a writer studies various theories, paradigms, and approaches to the craft. This is a necessary thing, at least for most writers, but how to make sense of all that information and intellectual stimuli? And then more to your point, how to balance all of those ideas with the actual practice of writing a story?

First off, I need to lay out my standard line: “There is no right way to write.” Every writer is different. Every story is different. Blake Snyder may work for Writer A, but not at all for Writer B, whereas Robert McKee may work for Writer C, but seem like a foreign language for Writer D.

Whenever you hear talk about a “writer’s voice,” this is part of that process. You learn what you learn, sort it out, pull together what works for you, and that becomes a key part of your voice.

With that frame, let me offer two words of advice on the matter. The first is a macro take, what we may call “A Writer’s Odyssey.” The second is a micro perspective, what we may call “Write Here, Write Now.”

A WRITER’S ODYSSEY

The very first moment we open a book, read an article or take a class about screenwriting, we begin an odyssey, our own Hero’s Journey. Along the way, we may experience something like the stages below:

Some things we learn, stick. Others, don’t. Some things we learn, help. Others, hurt. We cross thresholds, we get knocked back. We feel high, we feel low. Things make sense, things confuse the hell out of us. But all along, we are learning how to think about the craft.

Along the way, we are also writing. Much of what we write doesn’t work. Some of it may downright suck. But the more we learn and process what we learn, the more we write and process what we write, we advance along in our odyssey, hopefully getting better as screenwriters.

Now I don’t believe this odyssey ever ends, we are always on the road to discovery. However whenever we write a script, I like to think of myself as having gone around the circle and wound my way back home. It’s important to claim that, to assert to yourself, “I’ve learned what I’ve learned, know what I know, I feel passion for this story, and I’m going to write the hell out of it.” You are home now. Don’t worry about what you’ve learned in the past or what you will learn in the future, just be here now as a writer in direct contact with your story in the present.

[By the way, after we finish a script, we go back out on the odyssey, learning more stuff until we come back home to write the next one.]

WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW

All that stuff you’ve learned, all the theories, paradigms and approaches, you can use them in prep-writing as you wrangle your story. But along the way of prepping your story, you increasingly need to trust your gut. Great stories require all aspects of the writing psyche, but perhaps nothing as important than your instincts. Ideally as you work your way through story prep, your gut will be taking over the decision-making process.

Once you type FADE IN, it’s time to take all that theory, all those approaches, all those paradigms, and set them over there. Clear them out of your consciousness.

Be. Here. Now. Just you. Your story universe. Your characters.

Engage all that narrative material directly, then —

Write here. Write now.

Naturally your theories, paradigms and approaches will creep into your mind. Don’t freak out. They’re trying to help you, they’re your friends and they’re useful in their own way. Just very nicely tell them, “Hey, theories. Thanks for dropping by. But you know what? I’m gonna go with my gut right now. You remember, we’ve talked about this. You were there to help me during prep. You’ll be there to help me after I get done with this draft. But right now, I’ve got to write now. So why don’t you and approaches and paradigms go off and play a few rounds of miniature golf or something. I’ll catch up with you in a month or two. Ciao!”

When you are page-writing, that’s all you’re doing. Engaging your creativity with the story universe and those characters, a direct experience of each scene in the here-and-now.

Dare I say it? You go… into… the… story… and write what emerges.

Now when I say to tell your theories and what-not, you’ll be calling on them in the assessment part of the rewrite stage, I mean that. You will want to apply that stuff in helping you pull the story together. Use them in prep, use them in analyzing your drafts and figuring out what to do in rewrites. But when you are page-writing, go with your gut. And write here, write now.

How about it, GITS readers? What Traci asks is a hugely important question. How do you find the balance between screenwriting theory and the actual writing?

[Originally posted April 18, 2012]

UPDATE: Subsequent to this entry, I did another post with relevance to the subject: “Don’t think… feel.” Here is that post:

“I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads ‘Don’t think!’ You must never think at the typewriter — you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.” — Ray Bradbury

I stumbled across this quote recently and it struck me as profoundly right.

I do a lot of thinking about the craft of screenwriting. I come by it honestly. I never went to film school or had any formal training before I broke into the business, so I had to do whatever I could to get my act together to sustain a career as a screenwriter. Moreover I had trained to become an academic, albeit in a completely different field, before I took my “year off from school” which subsequently became the rest of my life.

Put those two together and the result is applying a significant amount of my gray matter to reading, studying, analyzing, questions, concerns, ideas and concepts related to writing screenplays.

When I began teaching screenwriting in my spare time about a decade ago, that only intensified my thought process. Writing is one thing. Teaching writing is quite another. The former is pretty much just ‘doing.’ The latter requires one to… well… think about the doing, then articulate that process in a coherent form which can be conveyed to students.

In the ten years or so I’ve been teaching, I have created dozens of classes and taught well over one hundred of them to over a thousand writers. All of that required considerable thinking.

And yet while I’m proud of the approach I have developed which I teach — grounded in solid theory and years of experience working as a professional in Hollywood, not formula, not pap, a comprehensive, character-based approach to the craft — when I send writers off to write their scripts or accompany them in workshops, I always make a point similar to Bradbury: No matter the books you’ve read or theories you’ve ingested, no matter what you’ve come up with in your prep work, whatever your thinking has brought you to, you must be willing to trust your characters, follow your feelings as you write. Because writing is a journey of discovery no matter how much thought you’ve put into it.

Now I would hasten to add a proviso: Bradbury was a genius. He was destined to be a writer, perhaps even born with a writer’s soul. So it was probably natural and easy for him to ‘cut off’ his intellect and trust his gut when writing. Those of us who exist on a more terrestrial plane may not be so lucky and will have to rely at least somewhat on our intellect as we write.

But it’s that last point that really grabbed me: Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.

Wow. I love that. Because it describes in succinct fashion the very process I try to convey here on the blog, in my teaching and in my own writing.

Learn the craft as best you can through study and analysis. Immerse yourself in your story universe during prep-writing. Brainstorm. Character development. Plotting. All of it. That should engage both your intellect and your heart.

But when you hit FADE IN, default to your emotions. At the end of the day, you want a script reader to feel something. What better way to ensure that than by feeling something ourselves?

Look, as I say ad nauseum, there is no right way to write. But consider the potential of Bradbury’s imperative when you launch into writing page: Don’t think! Feel. If you’ve done sufficient prep work, the intellect with be there as a sort of ‘subtext’ to your feelings.

And that combination could be the ideal one for your creative process.

Every writer has to figure out for him or herself, the balance between theory and writing. However while not diminishing the importance of screenwriting theory, at the end of the day generating authentic human emotion in a reader is going to go a lot further in selling your script than writing principles and practices.