5 Screenwriting Lessons from the 'Almost Famous' Script

It's been 20 years since we saw William Miller go out on the road with Stillwater...

Cameron Crowe is one of the best writer-directors of our time, but it's hard to imagine the hot streak he was on at the turn of the century, with Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky. Out of that trio, Almost Famous is the one I go back to the most. 

Not just because I love a great coming of age story but also because I think it's a perfect movie. 

There are so many things we can learn from this flick but I think the best lessons Crowe can teach us all root from his storytelling—his amazing writing. So, I picked the 5 things that were the most important to me, and we'll cover them today.  

Read and download the Almost Famous scrip!

5 Screenwriting Lessons You Can Learn from the 'Almost Famous' Script

1. Worldbuilding 

So many people think they only need to build the world if they are writing adventure or fantasy, but no matter the genre, you need to build the world. We actually straddle two worlds in this movie. There's one inhabited by rock gods and one inhabited by quiet home life with Mom. 

William Miller matures in front of our eyes, and he does it by learning to exist in two worlds. 

To build the worlds, Crowe focuses on what makes them different. One is pure chaos, which William loves. The other is pure order, which William loathes. What the movie does so well is showing how William gets lost in the chaos and craves the order later. 

But the only way to sell that is to make sure the audience understands the differences. 

2. Character Arcs

There are a lot of different kinds of characters in this movie, and all of them arc. We mentioned William up top, but it would be criminal not to mention Penny Lane. She's this crazy party girl who doesn't have the confidence to demand better from the rock and roll world. 

But over the course of this movie, she steps into her power. She demands better for herself and although it takes some really dark turns, you can tell she's not a manic pixie dream girl at the end, at least in my opinion. 

When it comes to William's arc, he's a boy who becomes a man. He understands the world and is no longer coddled by his mother. He gets a win and gets to become the reporter he always wanted to be. 

3. Write What You Know 

I know I have said this is bad advice before, but if you have an experience like Almost Famous, it needs to be a movie. The truth is, sometimes you know your characters or protagonist intimately. Sometimes they can be very similar to you.

Crowe knew this world very well, one that no one else knew. 

I call this "writing what you're an expert in" more than writing what you know. 

So, what are you an expert at? What do you know that you can tell other people about? 

Tell us that story. 

What makes your point of view special? 

4. Plant and Payoff 

This is not just about the objects that characters find along the way. So much of what you plant and payoff are the emotional beats of the story. The biggest one in this movie is Penny Lane's real name. This is a huge reveal that solidifies the bond between her and William. 

But what about the idea of something tangible, like William needing Russell's interview? 

That also gives him complete closure between his old life and his new life. 

The important lesson here is to always be planting. So much of these things come up in the rewrite so don't feel bad if your first draft doesn't have all of them. Just keep at it. 

5. It's All About the Ending 

Want people to remember your work? Give them a killer ending. One that brings all the emotions to fruition and hammers home the other 4 pillars of storytelling we covered here. In this movie, William gets what he wanted, validation that he can write, as well as a glimpse of his bright future.

We also get his mother understanding how to let her kids age without meddling too much, ultimately accepting that, no matter what, they will always come home.  

What are some lessons you got from this movie? 

Do you agree that it is Cameron Crowe's best work? 

I want to hear from all of my Almost Famous stans in the comments. 

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.      

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