Shawn Ryan on Writing for the Screen: 'Lead as Interesting a Life as Possible'

Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield and now The Chicago Code, is probably the best-known filmmaker to graduate from my alma mater, Middlebury College. Shawn broke into the industry after writing "thirteen or fourteen spec scripts," a testament to his drive as a writer. In a pair of interviews I found myself reading and watching recently, Shawn gives excellent advice for aspiring writers. The first interview is actually by a classmate of mine, Astri von Arbin Ahlander conducted by Evan Dumouchel, who asked Shawn, "What advice would you give to young people as they develop their craft?":

It wasn’t until I did more with my life that I think I became a better writer. My advice is to lead as interesting a life as possible, to surround yourself with as interesting people as possible, to do as many interesting things as possible. You don’t necessarily need a lot of money to do those things. You can sleep on people’s couches. You can backpack across Nepal and eat Ramen noodles for a month. I also really believe that you have to keep writing and work on your writing. You have to be, I think, more brutally honest about your writing than other people are.

When starting this site I felt the same way Shawn did, which was that I didn't have enough life experiences on which to draw, and I thought the best thing I could do would be to put myself through "life school" as opposed to film school. Thus the name of this site. Writing is challenging for everyone, but I think it's especially difficult when you're young, and I'm only now starting to feel like I've logged enough miles to have a sense of where I'm going. And of course I agree with his "sleep on people's couches" advice since I did exactly that for a year.

Here's Ryan's appearance on the Fox Movie Channel show Life After Film School from a couple of years ago:

Link: Shawn Ryan Interview - The Days of Yore

Your Comment


Thanks for all your posts on your website. As a filmmaker I try to write as much as possible so I can hopefully direct my own projects. It's true that life experience helps you draw up characters and plot devices. My scripts are never exactly what I went through, but they are sometimes the catalyst of the script. Keep up the great work!

December 19, 2011 at 4:05PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Kareem Kamahl

Bah! Damn you, Hulu, and your region locks!

December 21, 2011 at 3:28AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


get yourself an OpenVPN client, works like a charm. I use Viscosity through Witopia. Its not free but worth it, and I can tell you that the whole "life after film school" series thats on the Hulu archive is a NICE resource.

December 21, 2011 at 7:11AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


oh you backpacked to napal for a year, i guess you just floated there on your good vibes. worthless advice less grounded in reality than most hollywood movies.

December 22, 2011 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


@yeah... umm.... great advice actually if you understand the point of the article. The idea is to go out and DO something in life to give you experience to draw from as a writer. Hard to write about backpacking (anywhere) and get the feel of it into your writing if you haven't actually done it or something similar.... no?
Thanks for posting up with such a negative vibe... lol... if you want more details about it or don't understand why the comment was made and want clarification just ask. We are all on common ground of loving movie making here and most people are more than happy to help.

Just sayin....

Nice article Koo. I am 43, live half the year in Saudi Arabia where I work on maintaining air ambulance helicopters, used to travel to Papua New Guinea to do the same thing where I have had the opportunity to walk through the jungle and meet real cannibals and do all sorts of other interesting things while there.
Fought fire by helicopter all through Canada, was in the military and sailed around the world, been married, had a child die of cancer, owned my own business putting Turbine engines into off shore race boats, raced cars and motorcycles, been to the Arctic, and a few other things.

I went to theatre and film school right out of high school and it is only NOW that I feel close to having something worthwhile to say about life.

Keep up the good work Koo!

December 22, 2011 at 5:17PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I was amused to read "backpacking through Nepal" because I am from Nepal and Nepal is rarely heard of . Good post and interesting comments. Cheers/Rabin

December 24, 2011 at 6:10AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM