Adam McKay has had a long career blending comedy and drama in new and interesting ways. He's found success in both film and television. He won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay forThe Big Short (2015) and he was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Vice (2018). His newest film is Don't Look Up, which was nominated for Best Picture, and he executive produces Winning Time, which has been very popular on HBO.
Sounds like he's a great person to listen to when it comes to writing.
Check out this video from Outstanding Screenplays, and let's talk after.
10 Screenwriting Tips from Adam McKay
1. Think about what genres we are living in at the moment you are writing your script. Then try combining those genres, even if they don’t usually go together.
Writing a different genre can be challenging. And mashing them up can create quite the balancing act. Still, providing yourself a challenge you nail can excite the reader later. Keep them on their toes.
2. When making a film about a hated character, the film should be about how that person ended up being who they are.
Heroes and villains aren’t born. There is a twisty, confusing path to where characters end up and that path ought to be explored.
Everyone has heard that the villain is the hero of their own story, but not everyone actually utilizes that in their storytelling. Reasoning makes people who they are—we don't need endless backstory, but we should have a support system for why characters behave the way they do.
3. Even if you’ve been tied to one genre or have been doing similar types of movies your whole life, it’s never a bad idea to switch to something new if you are passionate enough about it.
Find a new challenge. Whenever writing feels easy or I feel like I am leaning too much on tropes, I try to find a new genre to tackle that challenges me. Let iron sharpen iron.
4. When writing a script that has a lot of information about an unfamiliar topic, first make sure you research enough to know everything about your story. Then find the easiest way you would explain it to an outsider.
Research makes your world and characters feel authentic. You'll know enough about a topic when you can sum up hard concepts into easy-to-understand snippets.
So work at it, come in humble, and learn the material. Let your words be authentic and true.
5. Don’t back away from giving too much information to your audience if your movie is about giving that information. However, present that information in a fun, engaging way that correlates to the story.
Exposition is hard to write because it can be boring and heavy. Think about what's absolutely necessary for an audience. Write it all out. Then work to deliver that in the most interesting and exciting way possible.
6. In a serious film that has funny moments, let the funny moments happen, but don’t push them just in order to make it funny. It has to stay natural.
Life is funny, even when it's sad. Never shy away from humor. It can bring layers to the people you've introduced us to in the story. Allow for these layers to take us somewhere special.
7. The key to improvising scenes is creating an environment in which the actors are comfortable doing anything because you don’t ever tell them what they’re doing is wrong. You do that by supporting their ideas and making them more comfortable by occasionally throwing in some bad ideas yourself.
As a filmmaker, leave room and time to try new things with actors. It can be lines, situations, or even just different moves. These little improv moments will do wonders and help you bring everyone into your process.
8. When pitching a comedy, only give them the broad strokes of the story, then talk about the style of the film, the actors you see for these roles, and specific scenes you find funny.
This is a new way to look at pitching. People want to understand the story, but they also want the selling points.
Don't forget the art and commerce aspects. You want to emphasize the vibes and the tone, and even big trailer moments.
9. You don’t have to define the genre of your film. Real life transcends genre, so your movie can too.
I think this mostly applies to more senior people. But I would say don't be limited by tropes or storylines. Your only job is to entertain us. It doesn't matter what way you do that, just keep us engaged.
10. Sometimes you need to make the goal of releasing your film to get people angry about an important topic. In that case, aim for your movie to be at least a small part of an overall movement or awareness.
This comes down to ideation. What are you trying to say with this story? What are you reflecting on? What part of the narrative is yours to tell and what does it have to say about society?
These are heady goals, but the "why now" of your idea and the emotion you bring to it will be what sets you apart in the marketplace.
What's your favorite McKay film?
Source: Outstanding Screenplays