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Tuesday 29 September 2009

Yet more screenwriting tips and advice - On Writing From The Heart

There is a lot of writing advice out there. And it's all really great. You can learn how to structure properly, you can learn the ten things script readers are looking for, you can learn about how many explosions you need to put in to impress studio execs, you can read up on the common mistakes new writers make and you can read articles on how to choose character names. You can read the books on 'How To' and you can take the courses on 'What Producers Want.' You can do all of these things.

But instead, you could write what you want.

Because, yes, it's true - Producer's do want safe pictures. They do want stuff to guarantee them money. But that doesn't mean they actually know what they're looking for. And if you go chasing what people want to read, it's unlikely you'll give it to them. I mean, they might say 'all scripts must have scenes about Elephants who enter beauty contests' and you'll write them into your story-- but it's not going to have truth, it's not going to be organic. Whereas if you just write what you want, write what you feel, write what you have to say - then believe it or not, someone is going to feel your voice.

Remember when you FIRST started writing---- do you remember? You'd write a little story, or a scene; then you'd read it back and be amazingly excited. These characters and these words are magically SPEAKING YOUR WORLD VIEW! They say everything you need to say. It's amazing how quickly we lose that.

Or the first time you found a writer who REALLY inspired you. Who made you bounce around with excitement. The first time you picked up Roald Dahl, or the first time you watched a film and had the realization that somebody had written those beautiful words. Well, when you think back to what those words were; they were probably written by someone who wrote what was in their heart. They spoke what was bursting to come out. That's what made you want to write.

It breaks my heart to see new, enthusiastic young writers, giving in so easily to this notion that they should be writing by committee. That they're okay with some slick guy in a business suit with a mobile phone stuck to his ear saying "yeah, scrap that scene. Scrap that character. Put in some breasts on page 5 and and a death on page 42." That is not what great writing is.

"Well, that is not what inspires people. That's not what inspires people. Shut up. Play the game. Play it from your heart"
-Jerry, in Jerry Maguire.

This industry is tough. We need all the advice we can get. You need to know what a screenplay is like and you need to have an idea of what works-- but here's the thing. There are thousands of people out there writing spec screenplays that suit a predetermined 'market' or some notion picked up about how screenplays are meant to be. You can do that-- or you can be one of the few people out there who is writing WHAT THEY WANT, saying WHAT THEY NEED TO SAY. I guess it just comes down to what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to inspire people? Do you want to say something REAL? Do you want to have HEART?

It's no easier to do that. To write who you truly are and say what you really need to say is even harder than writing a studio-executive-friendly-action flick. But I dare you, I double dare you-- write what you really want to write, say what you really need to say. "Hollywood sucks," "films aren't what they used to be" -- you've heard these things a million times. They're true. If we are going to find exciting, dynamic, truly gripping films-- they need to come from us, the new generation of writers. And we need to get out of this mindset that somebody knows what's the right thing for us to be writing.

Narrative feature films are less than a hundred years old. How to make a great film is not set in stone. Until the 1970's, nobody knew that disaster films would rake in the millions. Until 'The Blair Witch Project' nobody knew that an amateur looking handheld flick could be one of the most profitable films of all time.

"Nobody knows anything."
-William Goldman

If you follow all the advice, instructions and rules-- you might write a good screenplay. It might be exactly what someone wants and it may well get made. In that case, I salute you. You've achieved what you set out to do.

But, if you write what is truly you--- even if you have this idea about two people who are locked in a toilet at a Diana Ross convention......... if that is truly what you are excited and passionate about. WRITE IT. When we are passionate, truthful and writing from who and what we really are, that's when the nuggets of wisdom come out. That's when we truly comment on the human condition. That's when we inspire people.

So it's time to decide. Do you want to write 'Transformers' or do you want to write 'Shawshank Redemption'? The choice is yours. Right now you have enough time to decide-- realistically; with enough dedication, hard work and soul-selling; you could conceivably write a major popcorn-Hollywood blockbuster. But you could also use that same dedication to your craft to write something personal, moving and truthful. And, like 'Shawshank Redemption' - you might flop at the cinema. But, eventually-- justice would be served, as it always is by moving and honest material, such as Shawshank. If it's good, it'll find an audience. Even if that audience is seven people. If you move them enough, they'll tell seven of their friends. Seven by seven, the world will get to see your movie. It's up to you, decide who you want to be. Decide what you want to write. Write what you want. Or write what they want.


  1. If I were to write a movie screenply, I´d relay on what my short life experience is or a historical one, where noone can check what the persons actually said. :-p :-) Propz Pilgrim

  2. Okay...does any one really want to write Transformers? Really? One thing I hate about going to writing classes is when they tell me that I should write only what I know. If everyone did that it would be ridiculous. What if I want to adapt Shakespeare? I know nothing about the Elizabethan Era...but still.

    Anyhow, great post.
    PS. Did you find a money tree?

  3. Not a tree, my family has it. :-p

  4. I love todays blog and I totally agree... you should write what you love and let your imagination and the characters in your screenplay do the rest! Awesome.

  5. I started a screenplay over the summer, but it's been a while since I've looked at it.
    The thing that has stuck with me the most is rfom the Juno commentary, uttered by Diablo Cody. She said "I remember writing the movie, and I kept thinking 'I can't wait to write this scene!' I had no idea that it could be written out of order!"

  6. yay! well said. we need to be bold... and brave. and be ourselves. that way we will be unique.