My humble gift: Advice to aspiring screenwriters
by Lynnette Ramirez
Since it’s the holiday season and I hate shopping, I’m giving gifts that don’t cost much and don’t require me to leave my house. As part of my gift giving I’m ending my first year of blogging with such type of gift, advice to aspiring writers of all kinds but particularly screenwriters.
Some may ask what qualifies me to give this advice? Well, I spent the better half of my career working in film development. I was fortunate enough early on to sit in story meetings with accomplished producers, writers, actors and directors from Academy Award winners like Alvin Sargent and Jodie Foster to up and comers at the time like Rick Cleveland, Mike Rich and Antoine Fuqua. By the time I was 25 I was a full-fledged D-girl, responsible for not just taking down notes but actually giving my own critique.
Looking back sometimes I laugh at how ridiculous this may have been because even though I was an avid reader and moviegoer, my life experience seemed too limited back then to have had any great insight that an accomplished writer like a Bill Broyles might have benefited from. However, that was my job throughout my 20s. I managed to never get fired or yelled at, that much anyway.
Hollywood values youth and even more our willingness to be paid peanuts just so we can be in rooms with the caliber of A-list talent mentioned above. If you’re still not convinced, I also studied screenwriting in college, have been a reader for a half a dozen productions companies and websites and actually sold my own screenplay with a writing partner to Disney in 2007. I’m still a card toting WGA member. These are my candid, sometimes unorthodox, words of wisdom this holiday season. I hope for some it feels as if a gift has been delivered.
* Start with a theme that is personal to you. Whether it’s inspired by your life or your love of a scientific theory or a person, place or thing you admire or detest. Whatever! Think about what your unique POV is on the theme and whether or not you plan to share, make a statement or ask an open ended question about it. There is an old saying: write what you know. I hate that saying because what else would you write? In time I also have come to understand it better. How can you write about something you don’t have some experience with? You can’t, and yet you can, as long as you have a grasp on the theme.
* Don’t be such a procrastinator that you spend more time envisioning your Sundance speech, your WGA win and your nomination for an Academy Award. As well as how you’ll handle the disappointment if you lose, whether or not you’ll take your lead actress, mom, husband or that person you have a crush on that will certainly want to date you after you become award worthy. Be confident in your vision because you have something you feel that you must create. There is a good chance it will never see the light of day and high-bidding daydreams often just cause more than the acceptable norm of frustrating anxiety and insecurity when you come back to the blank page.
* You’re on the right road when everything around you starts to feed into or inspire your theme. When you can see your story points being actualized in real life. When an apple core at the bottom of a trashcan or a bag blowing the wind inspires a scene. Although keep some of this esoteric inspiration to yourself because one can become annoying when discovering the magic of storytelling.
* Know your vice to motivate you but don’t over use it. If you’re writing too drunk or too high or too caffeinated or too tired from a run, your story will likely go from personal to a personal mess.
* Don’t even attempt to write if you don’t love storytelling at its core and your core. I have great respect for cinema. Too many people think writing a movie is easy. Know your sh!t. See movies and read screenplays, novels, comic books and whatever pertains to the type of writing you hope to do.
* Don’t throw everything in the kitchen sink of your life into one story. As mentioned in #1, stick with the theme that began the inspiration. If you’re good and disciplined enough you’ll get to tell more than one story.
* Get an iPhone to write notes or some equivalent because inspiration often strikes at the most inconvenient times. Use a get out of jail free card once in awhile with your friends, family, significant other, etc. for when a revelation hits and you need to cancel plans. I once was given the advice we make time for what’s important to us, far too often we writers forget this one. However, don’t do it too often or take advantage too much as that will just make you seem like another flaky, douchebag L.A. screenwriter.
* Don’t ever get confused between what some consider “important” or “real” writing verses “commercial” or “comedy” writing. Good writing is good writing. It’s all equally hard to produce. One type also doesn’t necessarily determine success or financial gain over another. The writers of The Hangover are doing just as well as the writer of Schindler’s List. All writing is important when done well.
* Schedule writing dates when you want your house to be clean, your garage to be organized or any other mundane task you’d usually put off. Sitting down to write becomes the great equalizer between those of us with ADD and those of us without. However, don’t beat yourself up as leaving the computer to polish the silver sometimes is what allows the subconscious to be heard and writer’s block to be lifted. Worse case scenario you’ll be a writer without pages, but with a very clean house.
* Don’t ever steal from any other writer but if it’s a really a bad movie with a good theme, take the inspiration to create it better in your own version. Or if it’s such a brilliant film that has impacted your writing, reinvent it. You better believe many working writers today have “reinvented” lines from their favorite movies. Be original but also be inspired by those who have done it well before you.Tags: Alvin Sargent, Antoine Fuqua, Bill Broyles, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Hollywood life advice, Jodie Foster, Lynnette Ramirez, Mike Rich, Rick Cleveland, Screenwriter, Writing