Writer/Director Brian Koppelman Talks Screenwriting, Rewriting, and 'Breaking In'

Writers write. That sounds so painfully obvious, but more than anything, that two-word fact/idiom/mantra forces me to sit down every (week)day and do something that resembles writing. For some filmmakers, they end up becoming writers as a way to see their visions become reality on the screen. For others, writing comes first and filmmaking becomes the natural outlet for their storytelling. Writer/director/producer Brian Koppelman (Solitary Man, The Girlfriend Experience, Ocean's Thirteen, Rounders) falls into the latter category. In an interview with myPDFscripts, Koppelman reveals his natural instinct for writing, how he approaches the rewriting process, and gives advice to aspiring screenwriters. You can read highlights from his interview here:

NFS readers may be happy to know that Koppelman didn't go to film school to launch his filmmaking career, but was instead had an instinctual drive to write stories:

Well, writing was the point of entry for my filmmaking partner David Levien and me. We didn’t go to film school. Didn’t study camera. But always loved films and the way language was used in films. We were both also committed readers of fiction from our early teen years forward. Writing was just always the starting point for us. This seems like an appropriate place to make this point: almost all of it is instinctive for me. I loved to write. Needed to write. Was happier writing than doing anything else. That lead to getting movies made. Which lead to a desire to direct, to tell the whole story… None of it has ever been planned out in advance.

The approaches to rewriting a script are as numerous as there are screenwriters, so I'm always curious to hear how professional screenwriters approach this part of the process. Koppelman's writing/rewriting style sounds very fluid:

I don’t separate the writing from the rewriting. It is all one thing. I rewrite as I go, by reading up to the starting place as often as I can. And then, at the end of a draft, I wait a day, print and read with a pen, do those changes right away. And then put the script down for a week, read again on paper with a pen. And when we get notes, we absorb them, decipher, to the best of our ability, their true meaning, and then dive in.

As always, aspiring screenwriters like myself are looking for that piece of advice from professional screenwriters that will push us in a new direction. Here's Koppelman's simple and straightforward advice:

The only thing of real value I have to convey about this is: everything changed for me when I decided to commit a couple of hours each morning to writing. People want to know the secret to 'success' or 'breaking in.' I never thought about any of that. Or if I did, it was secondary or tertiary to just figuring out how to tell the story I wanted to tell. That’s it. Find a story you have to tell and tell it as well as you know how. And then do it again.

To read the entire interview with Brian Koppelman, check it out at myPDFscripts.

Was writing the starting point for you to get into filmmaking, or have you become a writer to further your filmmaking career? How do you approach rewriting your scripts? Tell us your stories so we can learn from our collective experiences.

Link: Interview with screenwriter Brian Koppelman at myPDFscripts

[via The Story Department]

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I went to art college for a short time and the most valuable item I walked away with was my sketchbook. My drawing teacher had us draw 5 sketches per week on our own time with a 15 minute limit on each drawing. Between that and the technique we learned in class (which can be found in many great books), at the end of the semester, I couldn't believe the progress I have made. At the beginning, I struggled with drawing a ball with proper lighting - and by the end, I was able to render full life images in 15 minutes. You get the foundation down quickly and then you are able to spend more time being creative. Just need to apply this to my sporadic writing.

June 4, 2012 at 7:22AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Jonathan Malko

I went to a four year university for broadcasting (Go App!!) but I've loved writing since I was like 7, but I also love production and found that this is the perfect profession for me. I think if I had to choose though, it would be the writing above all. I love to create worlds, characters that are unlike myself, and love the shit out of telling stories

June 4, 2012 at 11:25AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I like his attitude on feedback. Going the college route myself, I found that most of my peers in screenwriting class took offense at feedback, like it was the teacher or fellow student attacking their script and thereby attacking their credibility as a writer. That is such a terrible attitude and a sign of an immature writer. Good feedback is an invaluable and essential part of the writing process. Rewriting and restructuring your script to make it stronger is just as important as the first draft -which is just that, a draft, it is your foundation but it is far from finished. Originally the time machine in Back to the Future was a fridge. If a great script like that needed improvement, you may want to reconsider the supposed perfection of your own.

June 4, 2012 at 11:54PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I see that time and again with new(ish) filmmakers (not just screenwriters)... Film school was exactly like that, in my experience---no one wanted to hear what anyone (teacher, other students) had to say about their films, or even their scripts or rough cuts of films...

I compare it to skateboarding. The little kids that are worried about being seen as lame b/c they're not very good, they don't improve, they stand on the sides, they beat themselves up... The little kid that doesn't care about what big shots happen to be at the session that day learn way faster. ...and then the pros/ams/adults/big kids see this little kid that is pulling good tricks, they get stoked on the kid, and aren't so offended when they take a run (joining in on the session instead of being an obstruction to it)...and then get better even faster.

Fail often.

June 12, 2012 at 5:51PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Daniel Mimura

I'm a director/actor and I'm just starting to get into writing. So I am on the opposite track as koppelman. I wasn't finding scripts that had characters that I wanted to play/direct, so one day I decided to write my own! I'm still very new to writing.

June 7, 2012 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Dennis Corsi