20 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS

Posted by admin  /   November 26, 2015  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on 20 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS

Hi There,

20 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS

This week anther guest blog. I’m currently in the midst of processing / reading 1400 submitted scripts for the 2016 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course (and have to admit, even with the help of 12 excellent script readers, I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the process) – so I’m enormously grateful to those screenwriters who took the trouble to answer my ’20 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS’ challenge (over a year ago now – apologies that they have taken so long to hit the newsletter!)

Two very contrasting – but equally interesting contributions from a US screenwriter – and a Scotland-based Kiwi! (Hello David – and thank you!)

ANDREW SCHRADER

Hi Philip,

I saw your post on LinkedIn, and had a few minutes, so I thought I’d contribute! Best of luck on the blog and thanks for posting. Hope you get something out of this, thank you!

1 WHERE DO YOU WRITE ?
At home, facing a wall. I try to limit distractions as much as possible. In the winter or summer, I like to have a fan or heater for the white noise effect.

2 WHEN DO YOU WRITE?
I’m sitting down and writing at 9 AM. I break for a half hour to an hour around noon, and then pick up again until the early afternoon.

3 WHAT SORT OF STORIES EXCITE YOU?
Whatever I haven’t seen before. It must be compelling. I definitely like a good anti-hero, but a good high concept story is also exciting. Just something new.

4 WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF BUILDING A GREAT CHARACTER?
Figuring out why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s very simple, but not easy, especially when you have to justify a necessary plot point.

5, 6 2 WRITERS WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Woody Allen inspires me, I think because he’s so prolific. Even when his movies flop, he comes back strong. He’s robotic; he almost always releases a movie a year. Midnight In Paris was magical and it made me fall in love with movies again.

Shane Black’s work in the 90s was inspiring when I was younger. Mostly because all his work gave a big middle finger to the industry and the culture. Movies like The Last Boy Scout are so ridiculous for a good reason. It’s great satire.

Also, Bob Gale (Back to the Future). When I ran a screenwriter’s co-op at UC Santa Barbara, I would organize screenwriting seminars. Once a year, Bob would come and hang out with us. He’s just a cool guy. But he also impressed on me the importance of rewriting – he said it took him and Robert Zemeckis a year-and-a-half to write Back to the Future, with 120 drafts. Seriously. The lightning and the clock tower device that Marty needs to get home didn’t even make its way into the script until just before shooting. Until then, he and Doc had to go to a nuclear power station to get the energy needed to send him back. So it just shows that perfection takes time.

7, 8 2 TV SHOWS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Uh, Seinfeld of course. The greatest selfish and most unapologetic characters I’ve ever seen. Also, Orange Is The New Black, if for no other reason than that every character is seriously flawed. It cheerfully celebrates their dark side. Plus, it moves really fast.

9, 10 2 FILMS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
There are too many, but off the top of my head… I love Evil Dead 2. Its insanity has never been duplicated. It also relies almost completely on style, and a different style is always a major plus.

And, off the top of my head, My Dinner With Andre. I never knew two people talking could be so compelling and interesting. They rewrote and rehearsed for a really long time before shooting that. Also a testament to rewriting.

11 1 THEATRE SHOW THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Noises Off! is one of my favorites. It’s such a great idea for a play. It moves fast, is never dull, and the characters are freaking awesome. Good movie, too.

12 DO YOU OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START WRITING?
Yes, yes, yes. I outline using a combination of techniques from Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and the sequencing method. I spend more time outlining than writing, for sure. I make sure all plot points and characters are as clearly defined as I can. This takes time, but my first drafts are always in a pretty good spot.

13 1 PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SCREENWRITERS JUST STARTING OUT
Writing is rewriting. Don’t worry that your first drafts suck. They will.

Oh, and don’t let Facebook suck your time. It will.

14 WHAT SHOULD THE FILM \ TV INDUSTRY BE DOING FOR SCREENWRITERS THAT IT ISN’T?
Please stop “hiring” us for free.

15 WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT THAT MADE YOU START WRITING AND IF SO WHAT WAS IT?
In high school, I loved movies, but wasn’t as technically proficient as other people. I did realize, however, that the writing was… not great. So I decided to focus on that (although I started writing prose when I was seven).

16 WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN THEN THAT YOU KNOW NOW?
Nothing. If I had known what I was getting into, I would have been discouraged.

17 WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
Choosing the right idea. The worst feeling is spending a whole bunch of time writing a script, only to find that the concept wasn’t solid in the first place. I think this is one of the most important aspects of writing in general; that’s why I spend more time developing a script than writing it.

18 WHAT IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
I think those times when we write something truly great – and for that moment we become our own favorite writers – are rare and rewarding.

19 WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF (AS A WRITER) FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?
I also direct (two features produced, and a third shooting next year), so I’d like to be in a position where I can write scripts full-time for others so I can continue making indie films.

20 AND FINALLY – ONE SURPRISING (NON-WRITING RELATED!) FACT ABOUT YOU.
I once spent six weeks driving around the country, sleeping mostly on the ground. It was great. On that trip I was run out of a bar in Montana by bikers, stayed in a teepee in the Rockies for a few days, (barely) avoided arrest in Missouri, stayed in New Orleans a year after Hurricane Katrina (which was terrifying), and had a Drambuie hallucination in Georgia. I’m too old for all that now. But it was exciting.

 

DAVID BISHOP

David Bishop is a writer with credits on Doctors [BBC1], Nina and the Neurons [CBeebies], two radio plays, twenty published novels, numerous comics scripts and computer games writing. His current work includes transmedia project Sister Worlds for The Secret Experiment, a returning children’s drama pilot called Tealeaf and – rather incongruously – a rom-com feature screenplay with the working title Nobody’s Perfect.

Best regards,

David Bishop.

1 WHERE DO YOU WRITE ?
Short answer: at home. Longer answer: for years I developed and wrote first drafts in my office upstairs. But my work was feeling stale and the office had too many distractions [e.g. the internet]. So I’ve taken to working at the kitchen table and it has unlocked my creativity again. The cliché is true: a change is as good as a rest.

2 WHEN DO YOU WRITE?
I try to keep office hours, as it means I can relax in the evenings without feeling guilty about not writing.

3 WHAT SORT OF STORIES EXCITE YOU?
Purposeful stories – narrative that tell me something I didn’t or show me something I hadn’t seen before; stories where I can’t predict the outcome but which engage me emotionally as much as they do intellectually. I’m unfussed by what you think about Britain today. Spare me didacticism, just make me care.

4 WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF BUILDING A GREAT CHARACTER?
Contradictions. The conflict between their explicit, external wants and their intrinsic, subconscious needs that make them compelling.

5, 6 2 WRITERS WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Abi Morgan – the range and rigour of her work is astounding, both for TV and film – The Hour, Shame, The Iron Lady, etc, etc, etc.
Hugo Blick – writer, director and producer of The Shadow Line, An Honorable Woman, Marion and Geoff – intelligent, surprising, funny and visionary.

7, 8 2 TV SHOWS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Doctor Who – the ultimate flexible format, able to go anywhere and tell almost any story in any tone.
Friday Night Lights – ostensibly a series about American football, but really a drama about relationships with the most credible on-screen marriage ever [in my humbles].

9, 10 2 FILMS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Rocky – because he loses in the first film. I’ve been writing stories about thwarted characters and Pyrrhic victories ever since.
Zulu – because I love a good siege narrative, always brings out the best and worst in your characters, shows who they truly are.

11 1 THEATRE SHOW THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
David Auburn’s play Proof. Stunning writing, and it leaves out so much. No fancy staging required, just glorious writing.

12 DO YOU OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START WRITING?
Always.

13 1 PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SCREENWRITERS JUST STARTING OUT
Seek out strong criticism. When getting feedback, always get it from three different sources. One person’s opinion is just that, but if three people identify a problem in your narrative, it’s a problem.

14 WHAT SHOULD THE FILM \ TV INDUSTRY BE DOING FOR SCREENWRITERS THAT IT ISN’T?
Let the writer in the editing room. If that’s where a screen narrative is constructed for the third time, why not involve the person who started that narrative?

15 WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT THAT MADE YOU START WRITING AND IF SO WHAT WAS IT?
Reading made me a writer. I devoured the school library and, having run out of things to read, decided to write my own.

16 WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN THEN THAT YOU KNOW NOW?
Quality and quantity are rarely the same thing.

17 WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
The fact that all the experience and expertise in the world only gets you so far, and thus a new project always starts with an empty screen or page.

18 WHAT IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
Those glorious lightbulb moments when your subconscious answers the problem that has stymied your writing. I can’t claim to be an Ancient Greek [although I am fond of feta], but most of my eureka moments do happen in the bath.

19 WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF (AS A WRITER) FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?
Writing. If not for the screen, then prose – but I’ll be writing.

20 AND FINALLY – ONE SURPRISING (NON-WRITING RELATED!) FACT ABOUT YOU.
I won £1570 as a contestant on The Weakest Link. Because I’ve had 20 novels published [Doctor Who, Judge Dredd, etc] Anne Robinson called me the Barbara Cartland of science fiction. Anne’s face was remarkably immobile.

A huge thank you to DAVID and ANDREW for their generosity in sharing and for the quality of their insights!

Until next week,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Nov 27th 2015

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