Tony Gilroy’s 10 Tips for Writing a Blockbuster


Tony Gilroy is one of the most respected screenwriters working today. He’s the writer behind all of the Bourne movies (scripts for Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum), Armageddon, The Devil’s Advocate… he even wrote that awesome early 90s ice skating movie, The Cutting Edge. Needless to say, Tony knows how to write a blockbuster. He recently shared his top ten tips with the BBC. Here are my four favorite tips:

3. Start small

Big ideas don’t work. Start with a very small idea that you can build on.

With Bourne I never read any of the books; we started again. The very smallest thing with [Jason] Bourne was, “If I don’t know who I am and I don’t know where I’m from, perhaps I can identify who I am by what I know how to do.” We built a whole new world around that small idea.

You just start small, you build out and you move one step after the next and that’s how you write a Hollywood movie.

8. Get a life

If you don’t have anything to say and if you haven’t done anything except see a bunch of movies, then what’s the point? You can only write what you know about and that will either limit you or open the possibilities to everything.

Be interested in lots of things and stay interested. My knowledge is very wide and incredibly thin. It’s much more interesting when journalists and cops and doctors and bankers become screenwriters than 20-year-old film students.

There are some exceptions, of course, but if you don’t have anything to say, then why are you here?

This next one differs from the vast majority of the advice I’ve heard, but I think Tony’s viewpoint has a lot of merit:

9. Don’t live in Los Angeles

I don’t think there is any reason to live there, I think LA is probably very bad for you. It’s a bad place to feed your head.

In LA you are driving around all the time, surrounded by people who are making you depressed. I don’t think Hollywood really helps a young writer feel any sense of romance about their life.

Even if it’s a delusion, you want to feel special when you go to work in the morning.

10. Develop a thick skin and just keep going

I have assumed both positions of the Hollywood Kama Sutra – top and bottom.

It’s very important to be able to handle rejection. I think one of the reasons writers are shy is because we are all very suspicious of our own process because it fails so often.

It’s no different from being a novelist or a composer or a painter. When you get rejection from the outside world, you either move on or you don’t.

But I think the hardest times are all the days when nothing happens and everybody who has ever written anything knows what I’m talking about. A great day of writing tops everything.

Head to the BBC to read the rest of the list.

One thought on “Tony Gilroy’s 10 Tips for Writing a Blockbuster

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  1. Very good! Read all ten. I have a tendency to think that 1) a course or other will give you a head start, 2) if one just watches movies and tries to put things together, one will only write when inspired,versus writing continuously. Thanks.

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