It's no secret that my favorite movie of 2021 was Licorice Pizza. I pretty much told anyone who would listen that I thought it was the pinnacle of emotional storytelling and just this warm hangout movie that deeply explored young love and maturation.

The movie was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. You've probably heard of him, but he made his feature-film debut with Hard Eight (1996), found critical and commercial success with Boogie Nights (1997), and received further accolades with Magnolia (1999).

Then came masterpieces Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and There Will Be Blood (2007). Licorice Pizza marks Anderson's ninth film. It's another Valley story and his warmest film since Punch Drunk Love.  

Today, we're going to look at a video of Anderon giving some screenwriting and directing tips and then go through them one by one to see how we can apply them to our work. 

Let's dive in. 

18 Screenwriting and Directing Tips from Paul Thomas Anderson

1. Allow your story to naturally emerge, rather than making sure you know the theme or the meaning of your film straight from the start.

Often, I figure out the theme much later. I have to get the plot, characters, and lots of other stuff down before I can see what it all really means. You can always go back to the theme later and layer it in. When starting out, just let yourself be open to where it will take you. 

2. It's fun to have an ego when you're writing by yourself, so it might seem terrifying to become selfless and share your script with your collaborators, but that's when it starts becoming good.

I love writing. When things are going well, you can feel like a maestro on the page. Conducting thoughts, feelings, etc.—but then it comes time to get notes, and someone always comes in to bring you back to reality. The notes stage can be so hard. And revealing. But you have to have the gumption to do it and make your work better. 

3. If there's a problem with something in your film, it usually means you need to track it back to writing.

Screenplays are the foundation of every great movie. Before you start shooting, make sure you give the strongest foundation possible. You want to have a screenplay that not only brings people together but that can deliver a great movie. So work as long as you can on the script, write and rewrite. The film will thank you later. 

4. Create without fear. 

Sharing a piece of you can be so scary. But the best films and TV shows are personal and darting. Don't be afraid of the audience or gatekeepers. Be afraid of not giving everything you have. 

5. Spectacular ideas come from the mundane situations of life. Explore the core elements of our everyday lives and relationships, and then use your writing to find a deeper truth about what it means.

The start of a movie idea does not have to be some bonkers event.

Be open with the world. Take things in. Go out and just listen to the way people interact and the situations that arise. Some of my best work just came from being out in the world and hearing things. You can do that too. Take a notepad and begin to write the stories of the people you see. 

6. Writing can happen really fast if you've done your research about the setting, time, and characters.

Take your time with the ideas, and the story will come quickly. If you see everything in your mind, it can be a lot easier to translate it off the page. The reverse of this requires a lot of sitting and staring at a blinking cursor. Think long, hard, and jot notes. When it's ready, it will flow. 

7. Your job as a director is being an audience member and a collaborator. 

Filmmaking is about sharing ideas with the world and getting them to react. Your work should have specific beats that help build certain reactions to the audience. Craft that on the page, and it will translate on the screen. 

8. Writing makes or breaks a film. Good writing makes directing and making a film easier, and poor writing makes it harder.

The best script to turn into a movie is a great script because you don't have to fix as much and it takes the stress out of the story and emphasizes the filmmaking. That's why spending time on drafts is important. Never rush into a film until you're confident in the screenplay. 

9. No matter how unique your idea, there is probably something with a resemblance out there. Watch it, study it. See where you can take ideas and critique and avoid mistakes.

What's original about any idea is your take on it. See where others have gone right, and steal. See where they went wrong, and fix it. There's so much you can do—your voice is what makes something special. Develop that, and don't sweat the similarities. 

10. Don't be too descriptive. Show your character's motivations through their actions and their dialogue. 

Write lean. This is not a novel, it's a screenplay. Just give us enough to understand, and let the character's actions and dialogue fill in the rest. Your screenplay should read easy, not get bogged down in prose and unfilmable descriptions. 

There_will_be_blood_fire'There Will Be Blood'Credit: Paramount Pictures

11. Think about the songs you feel match your story, and why. What about the themes of the song, the style, tells your story? This means your music, and your writing will be more unified and natural overall. 

I like to write with a little groove behind me.

Make yourself a playlist. It can be just for you or you can send it out with the spec to give people the mood when reading. No matter what, make sure there's cohesive energy behind each scene. Make it feel whole. 

12. Film school can provide you with a great leg up, but ensure you learn from watching and creating films first and foremost.

Not everyone can afford film school and the debt that comes with it. That's why we've worked so hard to make sure you have free lessons and access on this site. No matter where you go and what you study, watch as many movies as you can. You will learn from watching, reading scripts, and just steeping in cinema. 

13. When on set, take the work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously. Make sure you've already had all the key conversations and meetings before shooting takes place.

Not only is making a movie expensive, but it can take a lot of time. Never skip out on prep work. Prep can help you dig deeper into ideas and visuals, and can help craft characters that are not only believable but who help deepen your story. And thus, improve your filmmaking abilities. 

14. Leap from project to project. Harness your excitement from each project to motivate yourself to do the next. Never allow your filmmaking to simply end.

It can be so hard when 99% of all your work ends in a "no." Trust me, I have been there. I am there.

But you need to find a way to keep the spark for writing alive and well. What makes you believe in your work? What keeps you going? Stay with those ideas and beliefs. Never let them go. 

15. As a writing exercise, write someone else's words down to get inspired and work your own script from there.

One of my favorite exercises I do with newer writers is to ask them to watch their favorite movie, pick a scene, then try to write it. Then we compare their work with the work of the writer in the actual screenplay. You can see how a pro described things, and compare them with your ideas. This is a good way to work on your voice as well. 

16. Never just stare at the blank piece of paper. Build a momentum where you can write every day without it ever tiring you out, even if you only have vague ideas about what to write about.

If you take the time to outline or form a treatment, you can avoid that dreaded notion of writer's block. Do some prep work and be willing to write scenes out of order or just randomly to find the perfect way to finish. 

17. Don't start with a theme. Start with characters.

Who do you want to follow around on screen for two hours? Are there certain kinds of people that you're attracted to, or stories you think are underrepresented? Allow yourself to create people, and find situations and message after. 

18. Constantly practice writing. If you don't know where to start, use stories or ideas you've written down when you were younger.

I know some people tell you to write every day, but I think the best thing you can do is just spend time imagining every day. Look for stories in art, in life, in everything. Take time to imagine and hone your skills. You'll be a professional as soon as you learn that the ideation is most of the initial battle. 

Source: Outstanding Screenplays