November 3, 2015

Hard Hitting Screenwriting Advice from Aaron Sorkin, Danny Boyle, & Steven Spielberg

The Academy Originals YouTube channel is chock-full of excellent educational content from world-renowned filmmakers. Their most recent video, however, might very well be their most star-studded and insightful one yet. It features a whole roster of famous directors, screenwriters, and actors as they tackle the question of what advice they'd give to screenwriters. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHRmfIjSF2c

My favorite piece of advice from this piece doesn't come from any of the big-name players in the title of this article, but instead from comedian and actress Sarah Silverman. Perhaps it resonates so strongly with me because it's something that's not only applicable to screenwriters, but all writers. That advice is simply to start writing, and then keep writing until you've finished a draft. Even if it's the most atrocious piece of writing ever conceived, just get the damn thing done.

The reasoning behind this is that writing is more like sculpture than anything else. It's all about the small refinements, chipping away bit by bit until a finished whole emerges from the dust. When it comes to writing, it helps so much to have a draft that you can continuously refine and experiment on until something great comes from it. On the other hand, if you try to write your polished final draft from scratch, you'll likely end up frustrated with the fact that your draft isn't living up to your high expectations.

What's the best piece of screenwriting advice you've ever received? Share it with us down in the comments!     

Your Comment

18 Comments

Hard hitting really does sum it up.

November 3, 2015 at 3:48PM

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Awesome video from the Academy! Regarding the best approach - I think it REALLY depends on the person. I personally find far more success when I'm slow & methodical. When in a slump - I often read everything I've written from the beginning and the next scene or piece of dialogue just comes naturally.

I think the flow of a screenplay and writing with the emotional context of previous scenes is incredibly important.

I edit in a very similar way. Take it from T.E. Lawrence (An absolute master of the English Language)

"All the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft: for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the first conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!"

November 3, 2015 at 3:51PM

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Alexander Manning
Director
81

I always end up referring back to Aristotle's famous essay, The Poetics. It eloquently describes the major storytelling components of Greek and Roman tragedy.

Here are links to the main sections of The Poetics:
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.1.1.html
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.2.2.html
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.3.3.html

November 3, 2015 at 5:57PM

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Glenn Bossik
Videographer
542

Know your ending.

While it's romantic to write and "let the characters dictate the story", etc., you've only got 90 to 110 pages to get to your destination. If you don't know where you're going, I find that by page 50 or 60, you often realize you're getting nowhere.

November 4, 2015 at 12:29AM

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Trey Lindsay
Filmmaker
74

If it's getting nowhere, then apparently the characters have nothing to solve?
If you let characters dictate a story without conflict, they'll just stay on their couch :-p

November 4, 2015 at 1:17AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9075

True. But for me, knowing my ending (even if the specifics change due to characters developing in surprising ways) is huge, because it dictates the nature of the conflicts they face.

For example, if you don't know your ending, how do you know that your conflicts are escalating? How do you know your stakes are getting more dire?

November 4, 2015 at 8:58AM, Edited November 4, 8:58AM

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Trey Lindsay
Filmmaker
74

Just like a war escalates without knowing the ending.
It just gets worse. Either because people react or because people do not react.
In both occasions there are consequences.

I agree it can be very helpfull to know he ending.
But I think it is more important to understand the implications of the conflict, so you can have the characters make decisions based on their personalities or situations. This can lead to unforseen situations and thus unforseen endings.

November 4, 2015 at 9:44AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9075

War is an interesting analogy, but I'm not entirely sure how applicable that is to the mechanics of screenwriting. I'm also not sure how that helps in the actual process of writing, but that's just me. (I'm guessing, from your responses, that you don't outline or use scene cards either.)

This site itself offers up some good thoughts on knowing your ending:
http://nofilmschool.com/2012/07/good-screenplays-start-great-endings

And another:
http://scriptshadow.net/screenwriting-article-how-to-write-the-perfect-e...

I just think, that along with character, premise, conflicts, etc. - all the things you come up with at the start of a writing project, for me, I've learned having my ending in mind is invaluable. I don't think that the best endings are accidental discoveries in the first draft.

But if you can sit down and just write from page one, and have it all work out in the end in a dramatically satisfying conclusion, more power to you! I envy that ability... (Novelists do that all the time.)

November 4, 2015 at 10:31AM, Edited November 4, 11:18AM

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Trey Lindsay
Filmmaker
74

OMG!
I am all battered and brused now!

;-)
Just kidding...
I just felt I need to overract to a hyperbolic title :-p

Anyway: that's really some nice and sound advice, but nothing shocking to me.
I think what makes this video great is that all those different people have something different to add.

November 4, 2015 at 1:15AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9075

Well, the video didn't turn out to be what the title of the post led us to think it would be.

November 7, 2015 at 9:10AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1785

Didn't really teach me much I wish we could get something a little more in-depth... On the other hand I totally enjoyed hearing the Pros speak, Academy Originals subbed!

November 4, 2015 at 5:10PM, Edited November 4, 5:10PM

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Stefan Foderingham-Garraway
Director/Cinematographer
216

Did they need to put Jeff Daniels opinion in it?

Which was essentially "Do a extra script for me that doesn't tell me what to do..."

Of course the actors need to put themselves in the character but that's what you have a director for.

November 5, 2015 at 9:10AM

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Viktor Ragnemar
Director/Cinematographer
1243

What rang the bell for me was Ridley Scott's nudge to write one at a time. I've got a rotating platter of stories in progress with varying degrees of development that I have been nurturing for years, according to my moods and cycles. It wasn't until I said Stop! and focused on one that I finished a pilot script that has gotten good feedback.

So this great video inspired me to continue what I have been doing nightly after work: finish the next one.

Thanks for posting!

November 5, 2015 at 5:39PM

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John Robert Dorsey
Scriptwriter
81

You don't need a story. You just need awesome CG. Michael Bay has proven this conclusively.

November 6, 2015 at 5:49AM, Edited November 6, 5:49AM

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Willem Van den Broeck
Sound Engineer
8

We can't expect To Kill A Mockingbird from every movie, can we?

November 7, 2015 at 9:06AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1785

And Sarah Silverman is in this because why?

Some tips from David Mamet would have been very nice. :-)

November 7, 2015 at 9:02AM, Edited November 7, 9:04AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1785

I think it's all great advice. Some of the statements are less important than others.

The best advice I ever found on writing was in Stephen King's book of the same title. One of the best books about writing ever penned.

All that being said, "never say die" can't be repeated often enough either. :)

November 8, 2015 at 3:57AM

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Dare Stevens
Writer/Director
81

It is a relief to be able to relate to what these big names advise.

A great quote I always go back to is: "Nothing is written, everything is rewritten."

We've got to follow two rules 1) Start 2) Don't quit.

November 13, 2015 at 4:06PM, Edited November 13, 4:06PM

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