14 Working Screenwriters & Their Top Advice

Adam Sternbergh of The New York Times recently put together profiles of fourteen up and coming screenwriters. Each writer shares their top screenwriting tips. Take a look:

It’s notable that many of these writers — most, in fact — also directed their own scripts (Bell, Bujalski, Chandor, Holofcener, Jonze, Linklater, Polley), and several also star in the films they wrote (Bell, Delpy, Gerwig, Hawke, Seth Rogen). Here, though, we simply want to focus on their work as writers and highlight the written word — that part of the process that makes the rest of the process possible…


Notable writing credits: “Frances Ha” (2013)

What screenplay inspired you to become a screenwriter? I think “Another Year,” by Mike Leigh, is a great screenplay.

What are your three best screenwriting tips?Whenever you have an “idea,” as in a concept that you could explain to someone, like a hook or at worst a gimmick, that is a bad thing. It feels good, but it’s not good. The best ideas reveal themselves, you don’t “have” them. For me, anyway.

Let your characters talk to each other and do things. Spend time with them — they’ll tell you who they are and what they’re up to.

I have gotten into baseball recently, and whenever I have trouble writing, I think about the pace of baseball. It’s slow. You strike out a lot, even if you’re great. It’s mostly individual, but when you have to work together, it must be perfect. My desktop picture is of the Red Sox during the World Series. They aren’t winning; they’re just grinding out another play. This, for me, is very helpful to have in my mind while writing.


Notable writing credits: “Mud” (2013); “Take Shelter” (2011)

What screenplay inspired you to become a screenwriter? I’d answer this by talking about a writer, Horton Foote. I discovered “Tender Mercies” in college, and it sent me down the Horton Foote path. I, of course, revisited “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but a professor in school introduced me to an older Robert Duvall film called “Tomorrow.” The simplicity of Foote’s storytelling combined with the power wrought from it is incredibly unique and something I aspire to.

What’s the trick to writing a gripping story? Find a way to get around linear thinking. Stories, even ones with jumbled timelines and time periods, are linear. They start, stuff happens, they end. When working out a story, I try to stay away from traditional outlines. Trying to sit down and begin by listing the scenes in order seems overwhelming. My answer is to use notecards that I spread out on the floor. Ideas for scenes go on a card and initially aren’t required to work in concert with other scenes. This process ends up creating connections and story lines that might not have been discovered otherwise. You never know where a card might land on your floor.


Notable writing credits: “All Is Lost” (2013); “Margin Call” (2011)

What movie inspired you to become a screenwriter?No one film did. One day when I was 18, I just found myself sitting down and writing one. I didn’t even really know what a script looked like, but I was trying to write one.

What’s the trick to writing an entire screenplay with (almost) no dialogue, as with “All Is Lost”? When I write a screenplay, I am usually just putting a road map for a film that has been bouncing around in my head down on paper so that other people can read and see it. So in this case, the movie in my head had no words, so I trusted that and just went with it.

How about a fantastic villain, as in “Margin Call”? Always remember that the person (character) probably doesn’t think that they are evil in any way.

Or an inspiring (but not sappy) survival story? Trust your gut.

Read the rest at The New York Times.

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