What Does the Writing Process of Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black Look Like?
Writing processes are as diverse as the writers who labor through them. There’s really no one way to churn out a script, but if you’ve just started on this incredible screenwriting journey, or are in a rut and looking for some new tools to help you become more productive, then Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar) might be able to help. In this Academy Originals video, Black details every step of his creative process, from how he goes about researching to how he lays out scenes written on a myriad of index cards.
The very first screenplay I wrote was not written using the process I use now — not by a long shot. I literally sat down at my computer and wrote from beginning to end in linear fashion for three months until the story came to a natural conclusion. No research. No index cards. Just — fade in, stuff happens, fade out. I couldn’t replicate that process now if I tried.
So now, as I labor over my current screenplay — researching every slightest detail (what do janitors in hospitals wear?) and mull over the endless possibilities of how I can unfurl every single scene — I find myself in dire need of a concrete and logical process, because my affections are so fickle and my brain so obsessive that taking a single step toward completion seems impossible. However, I also need something that flows and allows my imagination to run free like the guileless flower child that it is.
And Black’s process offers some helpful solutions to many issues I and many others have faced as a screenwriters. It isn’t confining, but it’s organized. It’s thorough, but not rigid. He also says something quite profound in terms of content and style, that specificity can translate into uniqueness (which is where hardcore researchers can really shine). If you make a character specifically “them” instead of relatable, this will read as a unique character. It’s really true, because if you think about it, the majority of the characters that are written for film have the characteristics of the age-old archetypes – the Hero, the Fool, the Warrior, etc. (or any variation out there) — but if your characters truly abide in an identity that you’ve carefully and dutifully crafted for them, then they will become an individual rather than a stereotype.
Watch the video below to get the full story on Black’s writing process:
Again, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to screenwriting, but if you’re looking for a new tool or activity to implement in your process, or if you’re just feeling stuck, I think Black’s dedication to research, as well as practice of laying out index cards could potentially help get you closer to finally finishing your script.
What is the most helpful and productive part of your writing process? What works/doesn’t work for you and what would you suggest to other screenwriters?