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As a screenwriter I am questionable

A screenwriting student interviewed me recently. I thought I’d share.

The interview is interesting to me because it tells me, a professional screenwriter, what a screenwriting student wants to know about screenwriting and the film industry. And while of course I’m no font of limitless film business and screenwriting knowledge, I think my answers have value because I know what I’m doing as a screenwriter, and I’ve been doing it now for over 25 years.

So here are the screenwriting student’s questions, and my responses.

How did you get into screenwriting?

I met someone who needed help writing a screenplay. I had always dabbled in drama, so agreed to cowrite a script with him.

How do you prepare to write a screenplay?

65 screenplays in, I don’t need much preparation. My client will usually have an idea that they want me to turn into a film or VOD script, or a script outline of some sort. If it’s an adaptation, I use the book as my synopsis – though when adapting, the book story may need to be changed to reshape it into a screenplay. Because this is my job, as soon as the first payment come in, I’m ready to write.

I have been told by a few of my tutors different methods to write a first draft, the main one being to write the beginning, middle and end first and fill in the gaps. Do you prefer a more linear approach or is there a different way that works for you better?

It can be done that way, though I have never done that. I just start at the beginning and work through. The shape of the screenplay story (the structure) evolves organically for me by now; I don’t have to think about it too much – though I suspect I do subconsciously!

What was/is your method of getting over or avoiding writer's block?

I don’t get writer’s block. As a pro, you can’t. I love writing too much. It’s like breathing for me. The only issue is fatigue. More than 10 Final Draft pages a day, and tiredness becomes a factor. My screenwriting pages-per-day record is 22 pages when writing to meet a Working Title deadline. But block? That’s a luxury I can’t afford. Otherwise: gym, sleep, or a long walk will always sort writer’s block out. If you get it often I suggest you’re probably not cut out to write. Most people aren’t.

Where do you pull inspiration from when writing?

The love of drama. Film characters evolving before my eyes. A cinematic story well told.

How do you implement characters' backstory into the main story?

I don’t know! It happens automatically now. I don’t really create screenplay characters, story, or dialogue; I feel like I find them. The script talks to me. A cliché and sounds like BS, but for me it’s true.

What research did you explore when writing for Minotaur?

I can’t remember. It’s so long ago. I think the film producer had some materials prepared to give me. But of course I knew the myth of the Minotaur anyway. The work I did on that project was discarded anyway. A script I didn’t write was shot. The rest is what it is.

How do you build relationships between your characters in Minotaur?

Probably the same way I have ever since: By watching them and listening to them as they grow.

What advice would you give to someone trying to write a feature length screenplay for the first time?

Know that becoming a good screenwriter won’t make you a successful one (or vis-versa). You will be much better off becoming an average screenwriter with brilliant industry relationships. The film business functions on reputations and relationships; so it’s those that new screenwriters need to build, not screenwriting brilliance. But by all means get good at screenwriting (which of course there is no reason not to as a new or established screenwriter: anything worth doing is worth doing well, and the film busniess is always in need of good screenplays, which are rare, I can tell you.) How? Read a couple of hundred successful screenplays. Write at least ten. Get pro feedback (coverage) on those screenplays. Learn to handle the pain. Because hurt it will. Keep smiling and get a good brand of coffee...

The interview ends there.

What do you think? Were the screenwriting student’s questions expectable from someone hoping to break into the film business as a writer? Were my answers useful or interesting?

On a postcard. The answers. Or email me...

Happy screenwriting.


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