12 Tips from the 2017 Oscar Nominated WritersFebruary 23rd, 2017
Hey there! Welcome to my slightly late February Newsletter. I hope all your writing goals are being met and you are working hard at advancing your projects and stories because it’s an exciting time in Hollywood.
Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, I attended a panel of all 9 of this year’s Oscar Nominated Screenwriters as they answered questions about their careers and their nominated films. And through their anecdotes and stories, I gleamed a number helpful quotes, tips and advice that I wanted to share with you.
Writing is Rewriting and sometimes it takes Years. Half the nominated writers wrote dozens and dozens of drafts of their script. The other half said they wrote only 3-5 drafts but over many years. There is no one process, but no script is ever done after draft 2. Tarell Alvin McRaney (Moonlight) wrote only 3 drafts of the original script but over 10 years. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) said his first draft took 8 months, the second draft took 2 years, the third draft was the production draft.
Put your character in a crisis of identity. The main character in each of these films faced an identity crisis in some way. Many of them reshaped the world they’re in to fit their needs or goals and find themselves. What are YOUR characters doing to find themselves and do they face a crisis of self in your story? How ingrained into your story is your character’s very identity?
“Writing (and character journeys) is about finding your true authentic self” — Mike Mills (20th Century Women)
“By unsuppressing things he held on to for so long, he was able to achieve his goals and find his identity.” — Luke Davies (Lion) on his main character played by Dev Patel.
Write who you are. Know why YOU are the only writer who could tell that story the right way. Allison Schroeder was a scientist at NASA before she was a screenwriter, so co-writing Hidden Figures was her destiny. It was also a writing assignment she got BECAUSE of her experience. Allison said, “It’s okay to be a woman and love dresses and heels and lipstick and also love math and science and want to be a screenwriter.” Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester) said, “Any good screenplay can only be written by THAT writer.”
“Understand the tone of what you’re trying to say.” And what your characters are trying to say. — Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
“Where’s the fun?” — Kenneth Lonergan. Know the fun of your story, your concept, your pitch. What is the entertainment factor of your story? If you cannot define that, why would anyone want to read or watch it?
When/If you feel you’re lost or ruined everything, put it into the creative. As I wrote in my own mantra in a newsletter about two years ago – write your way out. Desperation breeds achievement if you can channel it correctly. “Get out your last F*CK! and go do something.” — Eric Heisserer (Arrival).
Give yourself an inspirational and isolating place to write. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) went to Brussells and shut out the internet.
Every success story comes on the heels of horrible failure stories. Allison Schroeder gave 44 pitches around town and no one bought anything. Her manager literally told her ‘I can’t get you hired.’ Taylor Sheridan was unable to pay rent when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, so he started writing and didn’t stop. Eric Heisserer had two options die and his manager leave the business all in the same 45 days. Then he landed on the Blacklist. So, each failure brings you closer to success.
When stuck on an emotional scene, ask yourself – what’s the conversation you wish you could have with your parent and/or child? That will usually get the emotional and honesty faucet turning.
On Procrastination – “Procrastination is normal, if not inspirational.” Only ONE of the writers on the panel (Barry Jenkins) said he does not procrastinate. Everyone immediately hated him. He said his procrastination IS writing – he writes other things to get him in the mood to write the thing he needs to write. But every single other person on the panel confessed to “researching” for hours a day. Whether it’s creating playlists, setting the mood, cleaning the house, watching favorite films or TV series, clearing the DVR, driving around endlessly, etc. It’s normal. You’re not alone.
“I procrastinate by being depressed. I just recede from everything.” — Mike Mills
Luke Davies loves to read Poetry because it “puts you in touch with the primal linguistic energies of existence.”
“I do nothing as often and as intensely as possible. Procrastination is life.” — Kenneth Lonergan
“You have the right to write about anything you care about…If you care about it, others probably will too.”
— Kenneth Lonergan. True, however, you need to be budget and demographic conscious. If you know it would only appeal to a small demographic, then your budget needs to reflect that.
If you’re ever searching for story ideas, read the NY Times obituaries. Read incredible life struggles and stories and apply it to your own work. “Always go to the truth and your research” — Allison Schroeder
I hope these inspiring and talented writers help you on your journey to success, and I hope I can help you as well!