5 Rules for Screenwriting that I stole from famous filmmakers
Grab your popcorn and get inspired!
Some time ago I did a similar article about “5 Writing Rules that I stole from famous writers”. But since I’ve been also learning how to write scripts and also wrote my first feature and shortfilm, I think it’s time we talk about screenwriting and what I learned so far.
Of course, I looked to the best of this craft to let myself be inspired and steal their rules. Because you should always learn from the best, right?
1. Start with WRITING!
Maybe you think right now: Duh! Of course, you should start writing? What stupid rule is that?
Calm down and let me explain.
Yes, I know that’s obvious but I think especially in screenwriting this is crucial because we can easily get lost in pre-thinking about the story.
Who are the characters? What are their flaws? What is the theme? What is my “all is lost”? What would be a great midpoint? What set-ups should I put in the first act and when should I pay them off?
Don‘t get me wrong these are all important thoughts. But I experienced that sometimes you overthink the story before you’ve even begun. You think about all the little details and think and think and think but nothing ends up on paper.
I don’t say you should just start blind … or maybe yes? You could try, why not. But I think when you have your idea, your character, maybe an idea for a theme and some of the pillars then just start writing!
I’m sure it’ll end up somehow in a broken and weird first draft but you can work with that! First you need to get everything out, be creative and just write without thinking too much about structure and all the important elements.
And like Mel Brooks says after that you support your vision, you idea. You rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until you nail it.
But first of all: write!
2. Trust your INSTINCT!
If you love writing and telling stories like me, then I’m a 1000001% sure that you have a great instinct for stories. The only thing you need to do is to trust it and go with it.
It’s similar to rule 1. You just start writing and go with it.
I think a lot of people overthink (guilty of it, too!). But that’s when your craft dies. I had phases when I was overthinking all my stories and characters in it.
Would he/she do that? Is that too harsh? Is that really a good all is lost? What about the start? I don’t think it hooks the audience in …
This “problem” is also called perfectionism! A lot of creative folks suffer from it and it destroys many good ideas.
Writing a story is all about trusting your instincts, your skills as a storyteller and overcome your f**king perfectionism. Because that bastard just slows you down.
So be like Greta Gerwig and trust your intuition!
3. Solve the PUZZLE!
Man, isn’t that the truth? I recently wrote my first draft of a feature movie and damn, know it’s all about figuring out how to fix and improve it. It’s really like a math equation because compared to a novel you only have a limited time to tell this story.
And there are some rules and structural indicators that help you shape your story but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to get to the great story that is hidden in your first draft.
If you’re a screenwriter, you’re also a problem solver. Someone who loves to have a challenge and find out how to solve it. And if you like these kind of puzzles like me, then you have a great love-hate relationship with your script.
But at the end, it’ll be worth it! Trust me.
So be your own Sherlock Holmes and solve your screenplay, find the weak parts, improve the good parts, and rewrite it!
4. Know your VILLAIN!
If you’re a Sherlock Holmes aka screenplay puzzle solver, then you need a good antagonist. Or let’s say your story needs a good antagonist. That’s smething the Godfather of Filmmaking himself, Alfred Hitchcock, already knew. A good villain will make your story good.
That doesn’t mean you can only write stories with a super villain and hero. Because the villain doesn’t need to be just a person. The villain can be external or internal forces that challenge your protagonist. Even if your protagonist is the villain, you still need antaginistic forces that kick his ass.
In my first script I underestimated the villain. I focused on my protagonist and some antagonistic forces but I didn’t really care about them. Which in the end made my story weaker than it should be.
The villain brings tension and makes the audience fear/feel for the protagnonist. And you need him to tell a great story.
Never underestimate the Dark Side, my young padawan.
5. You need DISCIPLINE!
Yes, all things writing need discipline. A great amount of discipline. But I totally agree with Robert McKee that screenwriting requires a hardcore discipline.
You have an idea and you create a first draft, then you rewrite and rewrite until finally you send it out there to hope that people might like it and sell it. But when you do that you already write on a new script or on other scripts, do some editing work maybe to get some money or proofread some other scripts.
I think because screenplays are so much shorter than novels you need to produce more and also have more feedback that you need to work into your story. Especially when you’re lucky and it gets produced.
Right now, I work on three different stories: I rewrite my feature, write a pilot for an original TV show idea and rewrite a spec script. These are all different stories and I need to find time to get into every single one again. Then I also write articles like that …
Writing requires discipline! A lot of it.
Especially in a fast-living and always changing industry like film and tv. There’s a lot of stuff out there and if you want to get things sold, you need to write a lot and get it out there.
So, stop making excuses and waste your time! Get on it and write your stories.
Because we need great stories like the one in your mind. We need storytellers like you!
I know screenwriting can be hard. I know it can be exhausting and draining, but don’t give up. Because I’d love to hear your story.
“Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t, but it should be.”
If you like what I wrote, share it and/or support it with a little tip. I’d appreciate it. ❤️
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