10 Screenwriting and Directing Tips from Robert Eggers

'The Northman'Credit: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features
Go into a new storytelling land with Robert Eggers. 

There are few writer/directors who tread into history like Robert Eggers. His films are a fantastical mix of history, horror, and surrealism. He is best known for his acclaimed horror films The Witch (2015), The Lighthouse (2019), and his newest film The Northman (2022).

Eggers is one of our favorite topics here. From the fact that he hates watching his own movies to the lessons he teaches at BAFTA about being a filmmaker, it seems like he's always pushing himself and the medium to unlock new ways to absorb and showcase his storytelling. 

Today, we wanted to go into detail on some of his writing and directing tips. Check out this video from Outstanding Screenplays, and let's talk after the jump. 

10 Screenwriting and Directing Tips from Robert Eggers

1. Embrace what is uniquely you.

It is not worth writing or directing something that doesn't feel like it's of you. The way to get recognized and transcend the slog is just to be authentically you. People try to write for the moment or write what they think is popular, but in essence, you're selling yourself short. What you like and what you believe is the most valuable. 

2. Find a harmonious balance of opposites in your writing. Your writing needs both Dionysian and Apollonian aspects.

In the video, Eggers said, “How do you create a balance of something that is rigorous and structure and clear (i.e., Apollonian/patriarchal), but also has enigma and mystery and atmosphere (i.e., Dionysian/matriarchal)?

The idea is, how can you balance these opposites of plotting while also keeping the audience on edge? Well, it's not an easy answer. I think the idea is don't get so caught up in Save the Cat that you lose being weird. And don't get so caught up in weirdness that you alienate Hollywood. 

3. Avoid writer’s block by researching things that interest you and research and write in tandem.

Sure, you can research too much. But I think this is an effective way to break out of a funk. Get some details that can help you through a scene or a plot point. Use them to broaden the narrative and see if using your brain on one thing opens it up to something else. 

4. Don’t start writing with a message or an intention in mind other than staying true to the world in which you’re trying to write.

Find your theme later. There's always an opportunity after to figure out what it's all about. For now, let the story come. Let all the emotions come out to play, and then in your rewrites, you can cut it down to the things you really want to focus on and go from there. 

5. It’s absurd to think that how well you follow a traditional structure is what makes you a good storyteller.

It's okay to buck tradition. Storytelling isn't about formulas, it's about connecting with an audience. So focus always on how you are interacting with them and the ways your story can pull them in. The structure will follow, but it's not always the most important part. 

6. Wherever and whenever your story is set, the conversations, the arguments, and other universal elements need to feel similar and relatable to today.

Eggers is famous for choosing different times and places for his stories. And yet, they all feel relevant to the deep emotions we feel today. Keep that in mind as you work through your movies. What do you have to say about right now? Why should people pay attention? 

7. Be extremely meticulous with your writing.

This is the hardest part for me. I love writing. I love getting the idea out and refining it. But being meticulous requires patience.

Be patient with the idea. Don't rush it out the front door. Love on it. Pick your words carefully. Refine it with an eye for cuts, and an eye to get into scenes differently. 

8. Historical accuracy is not important to filmmaking. You can make a great period story without it being accurate.

Accuracy is overrated. Just make something compelling. Unless you're trying to do a biopic or something that requires it, be okay picking a time period and then telling a story that shakes things up. Don't worry if they got the tools wrong or the technology. Just be captivating and precise. 

9. To get your first feature produced, make a proof-of-concept short film that includes some elements similar to the feature you are trying to produce.

We love the idea of proof-of-concept short films. If you have the resources and time, proving that you have a vision is half the battle. Plus, you never know how many contests or festivals you can get into to meet financiers or other people who want to be involved with your work. 

10. When writing, don’t think about how you’re going to get it on camera. You have to be blind to the realities of shooting and figure it all out later.

Never worry about the future. Writing is for trying everything and finding the best way. If you have to edit or change it later, fine. For now, let your imagination run wild. Do things that you think could be possible later. Don't get hung up on if they really are. Worry about making the story compelling and exciting.      

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