Hollywood Screenwriters Answer Burning Questions from the Rest of Us

Emma Thompson, Steven Knight & James Schamus Answer Screenwriting Questions from the Rest of Us
Maybe the one rule in screenwriting is there are no rules.

Okay, perhaps that's not exactly true, but sometimes what might seem like a fundamental approach to writing a screenplay is actually only how one particular screenwriter approaches the process. Certainly, screenplays follow a particular format and often share an underlying story structure (not always though), but each script should have its own nuances and style because of a writer's unique voice. Otherwise, screenplays would be spectacularly boring to read because they would all look and sound the same.

So, thanks to BAFTA Guru's "Ask the Screenwriters" series, we get three different opinions on how to approach screenwriting from Emma Thompson, Steven Knight and James Schamus as they answer questions from us, the masses, in the videos below.

Personally, I love how all three of these screenwriters admit to loathing treatments right off the top, because I'm currently trying to make the transition away from writing treatments and sticking with outlines before the script stage. Sadly, it's been a struggle, but I hope it will help me streamline my writing process in the future.

My other main takeaways from these videos include:

  • Thompson encouraging writers to make their action lines between dialogue funny so the script is a more entertaining read
  • Schamus describing how he moves to writing a different scene later in the story when he isn't inspired to write the current scene, which contrasts with the linear approaches of Thompson and Knight
  • Knight explaining how a 15-page treatment or outline should capture the essence of the story, but the screenplay should not be restricted to the initial treatment and should diverge when better story points arise during the process of writing the screenplay

What are your main takeaways from these BAFTA Guru Ask the Screenwriter videos? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.     

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Your Comment


Some great thoughts and advice there and it's actually made me feel better about my processes. I'm always becoming disillusioned by my writing because I'm constantly second guessing myself. To hear that even the pro's are constantly changing ideas and lamenting outlines and treatments is a real comfort.

April 23, 2015 at 6:35AM, Edited April 23, 6:35AM

Jamie Sergeant
Selfshooting Filmmaker, Writer

Thanks for the post Chris, useful and informative. Special thanks to the Screenwriting greats for sharing their thoughts and the team which made this video ( it was immersive like a one on one )

April 23, 2015 at 11:07PM

Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making

I love these!

April 24, 2015 at 7:15AM, Edited April 24, 7:15AM

You voted '+1'.
Matt Carter
VFX Artist / Director / DP / Writer / Composer / Alexa Owner

To me, this is comes down to writing a scene - if you can do one scene well, you should be able to do a feature length screenplay well ... enough. It's like that Howard Hawkes' line, "Three great scenes and no bad ones". Read any Oscar nominated screenplay. It will usually have a great opening scene. When a writer is capable of revealing the main characters and their background within a couple of pages - a few visuals, some dialog - it tells pretty much everything you need to know about a writer.

One of my favorite examples is Ronald Bass's (Oscar winner for "Rainman" and one of the Hollywood heavyweights) opening pages from "My best friend's wedding". They let a reader know who the characters are with a quick and witty exchange in a restaurant. The script slips in the excitement levels after that but ... if you can do your openings like that, you will find paying gig in this business.

April 25, 2015 at 12:16AM

Dan Leo

They've misspelled James Schamus's name!

June 9, 2015 at 5:54AM

Sandro Prezotto
Screenwriter, Journalist