In March, 2013, I interviewed Rajiv and Scott while they were in Cleveland during the film’s production, and I’m happy to share that wide-ranging conversation this week as Draft Day opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, April 11.
Today in Part 6, Rajiv and Scott reflect on the ups and downs of writing, and provide some advice for aspiring writers:
Scott M: What do you think about when you’re writing a scene? Do you have specific goals in mind?
Scott R: Just to be entertaining, move the story along, surprise ourselves. Have something in there that makes it worth being shot.
Rajiv: Yeah, that’s especially been a nice surprise for us as we’re watching some of these be shot. In the last few days, I see a scene and, “Oh, God, that’s a nothing scene! I can’t believe we’re that all these people are working to make this one…” We’ll watch it, and I’m like, “That’s not a nothing scene at all! It seems vitally important to the script.” I’m glad that we’re surprising ourselves, because we’re a little separate from the script at this point. To see these scenes come to life is really great, and it reminds you why every scene has to matter.
Scott R: One of the big lessons I learned, when I wrote that script that got me into NYU. It wasn’t this great script, but it was definitely better than anything I had done prior. I had made a terrible movie with one of my really good friends in San Francisco a while ago. It was so much fun making a movie, but the script was terrible. I didn’t know it was terrible until we started shooting it and I saw it come to life. I knew I didn’t care enough about it, and no one else was going to care anything about it either, because of that. I think that was the first big jump my writing took, and I think why I was able to finally write something that was halfway decent, was like, “It needs to matter.”
It needs to matter to you. You’re not just doing this to entertain yourself, or to show that you can do it. It’s got to be much bigger than that. It needs a reason to exist and a reason for other people to rally behind it.
Scott M: That’s interesting and well said. How about the scene description? Most script readers hate reading it because it’s longer than dialogue. What are you thinking about when you’re writing scene descriptions?
Rajiv: That’s Scott’s forte, and he gets furious with me for going on, and on, and on. I have had to teach myself to be more terse with it. I think it goes along with the scene. He wants the experience of reading this to be like any other story. You don’t want someone to even be conscious that they’re reading stage directions, which is a challenge.
Scott M: How about when you finish a first draft, and you’re faced with the rewriting process. I know you said you guys rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, but what are the bases on which you’re judging whether it’s good or bad, or not working, or working?
Rajiv: Friends. [laughter]
Scott R: I think time away from the script is very helpful, to look at it with fresh eyes. After a few weeks, to put it aside when you’re done. You need to put your ego aside, and know, if you have a sneaking suspicion that something sucks, it sucks, every time. Every single time. You just need to be confident enough that you can make it better, or cut it and come up else. Particularly as a comedy writer, it was painful when I’d write a joke that I loved and made me laugh. I knew it just had no place, it was only there to make me laugh. It was always painful to cut those kinds of things. But as I did it more and more, it got easier and easier. You should know, or have a sense of when you’re doing good, and when you’re doing bad. It’s that Hemingway bullshit detector thing.
Scott M: Just a couple more questions. What is your actual writing process? When you’re together, do you tend to write every day, or sporadic bursts? Do you work separately and email each other things? Do you work together? How do you guys write?
Rajiv: All of the above. We work together and separate. We don’t write every day. I know that I’m a binge writer, we’re fueled by deadlines. My favorite way of working with Scott is us in the same kind of basic area. We wrote much of Draft Day in my apartment, him in my living room, me in my kitchen. Shouting questions at each other, but mostly just writing our 15 pages and then swapping and going back over them. Usually, we worked towards a certain moment where we could get our pages done, and then we’d have a drink and eat a good meal. That’s a very rewarding writing experience.
Scott R: At least in the early stages, as Rajiv alluded to earlier, it’s a lot of talking. It’s a lot of us going for walks and breaking story, and asking each other questions. That’s the fun part, just talking through some stuff. When it comes down to the actual writing, we like working together, but we can also work alone and email back and forth. I’m not sure how other writing teams do it, but I don’t think it’s essential to be in the same room, once you have broken the story and you know what you’re going to do. Like we said, we usually give each other…we have a beat sheet. I’ll take 1‑6, you’ll take 7‑13, or whatever. Then we email that back and forth, then have another conversation or two, then get back into the re‑writing. It’s not just one person taping and giving dictation.
Scott M: OK, here’s a fun question. What’s your single best excuse not to write?
Scott R: Mine’s my kids, that’s an easy one. Then second…everything else. [laughs] Food, coffee, museums, TV, ESPN.com, it is a constant, minute‑to‑minute battle between me and everything else my mind and body want to do. I find writing to be a huge struggle. It is not a fun process for me on a day‑to‑day basis. I think it’s Dorothy Parker, I love that quote, “I hate writing but I love having it written.” That is exactly how I feel about it.
Scott M: How about you, Rajiv?
Rajiv: I don’t hate writing as much as Scott, but I am as bad or I’m actually a much worse procrastinator, I think, than he is, because I just feel like unless there’s a white‑hot urgency to get something done, I just figure, why do it? My biggest procrastinations are just being social. They always say that a writer’s life is a solitary one, and so mine’s not. Yes, that’s the basic thing that Scott says, the world around you. But it’s important to write things that you’re passionate about. Having a writing partner certainly helps that, because when Scott’s writing his pages, I know I should be writing mine.
Scott M: That great quote that the best thing about writing is having written, but apart from that, what do you love most about writing?
Scott R: I still, and I hope I never lose this and I guess I will stop writing when I do, I still am constantly amazed at some of the things that come out of my head and on the page. Even though we’ve talked through our process, talking extensively about a thing and then writing an outline, which is the most boring document in the world to create and also to read, I am still constantly surprising myself on the page. That is everything. That makes me extremely happy and without that, I wouldn’t write. As much of a slog as it is to sit down and stare at the computer, I know that if I do it long enough that I’ll have one of those moments. If I could have that moment once a day, then it’s been a good day of writing.
Scott M: Rajiv, do you have any thoughts on that? What you love most about writing?
Rajiv: I get a real charge out of having written something. I like going back and reading stuff that I have written that makes me proud. I feel like being a creative person, in general, is a very good life, whether you’re making money for it or not. I think it’s part of the reason are human beings. That might sound cheesy, but that’s certainly is something I believe very deep down in my bones.
Scott R: I also love not having to have a “real job,” which is something I’ve tried to avoid my entire life. I feel so blessed that I’ve found a way to make a life doing this thing that I love, and I love being a screenwriter. It seemed so impossible 15 years ago, when I started. I love being able to say that and have no reservations about saying that. I love being a screenwriter, I love other screenwriters, I love the craft of screenwriting. I feel very honored to be in this very small, select group of people who are able to do it for a living.
Scott M: That certainly takes me into the last questions. What advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters about learning the craft and breaking into Hollywood?
Scott R: One of the things I see a lot is people saying, “I don’t love romantic comedies, but that’s what’s selling. I’m going to write a stupid romantic comedy, but then I’m going to be able to do the thing I love to do.” That’s not really how it works, that’s not the way I see it working. You have to care really deeply, and love what you’re writing, because that’s the only thing that’s going to connect with people. Even when I was writing my stupid fart comedies, I loved those things. I still love those things, and I wanted those to be the best fart comedies ever, ever, ever made. I hope that that’s what got them across the finish line for some people, that I said, even though they were stupid, they weren’t stupid to me and I cared as much writing “Frat Boy” as Steven Zaillian did writing Schindler’s List. I can say that with a straight face, as ridiculous as it sounds.
Rajiv: Our first screenwriting teacher that we had was a guy named Charlie Purpura, who we both loved, literally. He passed away a few years ago. He always had this story that I loved. It was very comforting, whether it was true or not, but I think “Draft Day” at least proved that there’s some level of truth to it. Which is that you can’t think about what people are going to love, or what’s going to sell, you have to think about what would you consider a great screenplay? If you write a legitimately great screenplay, and you go down your basement and you bury it there in the cement, the next day there’s going to be 10 people digging it up. I think that the idea behind that is that you can’t predict what people are going to like, you can’t predict what’s going to sell. What you can do is pay attention to the stories that matter to you and go ahead and write them.
Rajiv is repped by Gersh and Kaplan / Perrone.
Scott is repped by CAA and Kaplan / Perrone.
Twitter: @scottmrothman, @RajivAJoseph, @DraftDayMovie.