Paul Schrader on How to Make Your Words Turn into Images
We come up with the images in our brains, but how do they get onto the screen? You need to write clearly so anyone can interpret the words...
I think you would agree that it would be incredible to take a writing course from Paul Schrader. But the guy is busy and only teaches 6-7 people at a time in his university classes. So in lieu of that, we have YouTube and the awesome BAFTA Guru series. Recently, Paul Schrader sat down with them to give some screenwriting lessons out for free and to talk about how our words hit the screen.
I love this video series for how honest Schrader is when it comes to how lucky he got in his career. But one of the main takeaways I want to focus on today is the quality of writing. We all know you need to have a voice on the page and the dialogue needs to sign and define the character. But just because your action lines are beautiful and your dialogue is snappy doesn't mean your story is any good.
Remember, a screenplay is a blueprint for something to come. While some will argue the script is a literary artifact, most would agree that the intention of a screenplay is to design a movie that will be released later. That means all it needs to do is communicate a story that can be visualized by a group of people in the production.
So when you're typing don't worry about how flowery you can make your ideas sound.
No one really cares about that.
Worry about how you can communicate the ideas on the page visually and simply. One thing I tell the students I teach is that "if it's not on the page, it won't be on the stage."
Be economical. Don't use 100 words when three will do. Everything needs to be done in service of the story. Not of ego, of ideas, or of anything besides the narrative.
Minutes into the beginning of his BAFTA Guru lecture, Paul Schrader espouses, "This is not an overview of screenwriting, this is my method." He goes on to say, "Even if what I'm saying doesn't work for 75% of you, it still has value, because it works for me."
My favorite thing about Paul Schrader is that he has no filter. He's not here for goofy methods. It's all blue collar, brick and mortar for him. He loves writing. He loves people. He's going to tell it like it is. While I like to use things like the Story Map and Character Arc Infographic, Schrader dives right into the character and structure.
Click the link to watch the whole chat!