Six Second Screenwriting Lessons from Brian Koppelman

Tired of reading the same advice in screenwriting books? You’re in luck: Brian Koppelman is here to help.

Brian is the writer of such films as Ocean’s Thirteen, Runaway Jury, and Rounders. In a recent interview with Rachel Syme of The New Yorker, Koppelman explained his frustration with the business surrounding writing that tries to help new writers succeed, usually by making them pay for a product or service that is, in truth, total bullshit:

What he hates, he tells me, channelling Hecht’s twilight slash-and-burn attitude toward the business, is the industry that surrounds screenwriting, the world of how-to books and motivational retreats that cinch the craft like a belt. He hates the gurus, the seminars, the “For Dummies” guides that tell aspirants how to churn out popcorn hits. “If Ben Hecht woke up in a screenwriting genre seminar being taught in a conference room at the Radisson, I think he would puke all over everybody,” Koppelman says, with a boyish grin. “I mean, I have friends who do that, and I don’t want to sound like a jerk! But I think that, somehow, screenwriting became this golden cash cow that everyone wants a part of, and then, on top of that, the industry creates the feeling in people that there is some mystery to doing this work, and so in the end it can very easily prey on dreamers.”

But Brian has a way to help:

Last month, Koppelman allowed these observations to bubble over into a side project, a series of short, forceful videos about screenwriting and the perils of the industry which have quickly gone viral online. He calls them Six-Second Screenwriting Lessons. Koppelman records his thoughts in tiny snippets using Vine, a social-media app that can record six seconds of video that play on a loop. As of this writing, he has made thirty-eight of them, posted almost daily, with thousands of likes, shares, and retweets. Koppelman records his lessons on the fly, usually while walking around New York, the city rushing by in the background. They are not formal or planned. He usually shoots in extreme close-up, with few blinks. His voice has the no-nonsense tone that some might describe as “real talk.”

Because of their short length and repetitive looping, his statements can take on the quality of zen koans, little mantras one might chant into belief. In Koppelman’s case, that belief is that the screenwriting-education industry is essentially fraudulent and confining, that good stories are personal and cannot be taught, and that learning how to write a script from a book is like learning how to build a rocket from a V.C.R. manual.

Brian’s first few mantras?

Koppelman’s statements on Vine are not complex. They are straightforward, simple, and affirmational, like something a quarterback might yell right before breaking the huddle:

Lesson No. 1: “All screenwriting books are bullshit, ALL. Watch movies, read screenplays, let them be your guide.”

Lesson No. 14: “Forget about contests, agents; focus on what you can control. Words, pages, and the intention behind them.”

Lesson No. 25: “When I’m stuck on a first draft, I remind myself that no one gets to see this until I say they can, which gives me permission to finish.”

Lesson No. 37: “Don’t stress about making your main characters likable or relatable. That’s development speak. Just make them fascinating, and we’ll care.”

Get more lessons by following Brian on Twitter: @briankoppelman

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