Get some tips from the genre-bending Oscar winner.
What's your favorite Taika Waititi screenplay? The guy always seems to be working on outside-the-box ideas that focus on big, human emotions and characters.
When it comes time to write your own work, he's someone to look to when you develop your own voice as a writer.
No one knows more about your experience than you. So if you are writing about other people, go find someone like your character. Interview them, spend time with them, and get the details that make those people authentic. You have to do the leg work, not just make it up.
And some of that legwork is listening to the advice of others.
Check out this video from Outstanding Screenplays, and let's go over the lessons after the jump.
20 Screenwriting Tips from Taika Waititi
1. As a filmmaker, you don’t have the right to say, “They just didn’t get it.”
Cinema is your gateway to connecting with other people. While your lofty ideas may feel unheralded or stuck in a place where others don't see your vision, you still want to connect with audiences. Work to make sure your empathy machine is running. That you're getting the most out of your words.
Work on your logline and synopsis, and then get our FREE 100-page ebook How to Write a Screenplay, and get started!
2. Let your screenplay be the only pitch you need.
I don't know about you, but I've always been just fine in the room. I'm not going to overpower someone with my pitch. But I have a ton of confidence in what I've done on the page.
Don't freak out about connecting with them in conversation. Do enough to get them to want to read your real vision. and if you need help pitching, we got you covered.
3. 90% of all ideas are shit. Let this ratio allow you to relax when writing.
Throw away ideas. You don't need to write every feature idea you've had or chase anything for endless drafts. Bad ideas happen every day. Be okay stepping away.
Be okay with taking wild swings to change them and start anew.
4. The easy way ultimately becomes the hard way, because you pay the price, which is producing mediocre work.
Sometimes the trials and tribulations are good for a writer. You know that your work has to be great to transcend, so you won't have illusions when only the "okay" scripts don't make it very far. If things were too easy, you would be always struggling to push things out instead of making them great.
5. Never start with a theme. Instead, collect enough scenes that you think are cool until you find some sort of shape to your script and find your theme then.
Themes are important to writing, but it might be easier to write your story, and then work the theme in later. Sometimes to know what's inside yourself, you have to work in reverse. Themes show themselves after multiple drafts.
6. Massage the audience through the story. Test your script and film with multiple people to make sure you’re not boring or overstimulating your audience.
One thing I like to do is get the widest amount of readers for my drafts. People from different backgrounds or with different tastes.
Test it against people who are harsh and easy. See how they like characters and themes. Polish and rewrite based on their notes. Make sure your story holds them every step of the way.
7. Take as long as you can to write your script.
Some ideas will come fast and get finished in a week. Others might take time. Never rush the process or the story. Let words hit the paper and flow out of you at a natural speed.
After you finish the first draft, spend time in each act and let yourself think the story through over and over. And if the idea rushes out of you, don't slow it down. Just let it come. But polish it rigorously.
8. To keep jokes fresh, only use them in the script as a suggestion and explore what you can do with them while shooting.
Sometimes it takes so long for a movie to be made that jokes feel stale or old by the time cameras roll. Filmmaking is collaboration. Shoot what's in the script once, but leave elbow room for new ideas and new experiments.
Sometimes no lines work and you can do a visual gag. Other times, you might have something that feels part of the zeitgeist that you want to incorporate.
Always try new things.
9. No matter how unconventional your characters are, always make them more human and more relatable.
You can have aliens, vampires, and even figments of the imagination—what makes characters special is how we relate to them. Cinema is about empathy.
How do you empathize with what goes on in the story and connect with the characters? Make sure that connection transcends who or what they are, and taps into your soul.
10. Always do your own thing.
Your voice is what sets your project apart from the pack. What do you have to say about the world and our collective experience? What do you want the audience to understand after reading your material?
Do your own thing and let it bring others into the worlds you build.
11. Failure is a brilliant thing.
Failing is a good thing. It teaches you that 99% of the time in this town, people are going to reject you.
You're the brave one, going out on a limb and putting yourself out there. But those failures send you off to really dig into your best ideas and best work.
12. Work with friends. They’ll always be honest and you won’t have to beat around the bush.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to build a network of friends who can help you with your craft. You can trade scripts, support each other emotionally, and be there for the ups and downs of a career. They can also be the directors, writers, and cinematographers who help your visions come alive.
Be nice, make friends, and work with them!
13. Start with the beginning and the end, then figure out the scenes in between. Outline your whole story, and only then start the actual writing.
We're big believers in doing the steps to help you plan your ideas out. If you have an ending, you always know where your story is going. You laboring over the middle and other parts is the process.
So do your work. Prep, outline, and write when you can. But do the pre-work and mean it. It'll make the process go faster.
14. Allow your cultural background to flow throughout your work and be part of your writing voice.
I remember being in Lyn Elliot's screenwriting class at Penn State and learning the basics of storytelling. She told us it was not just the story that was important, but the way you told it. Every time I think about the idea of voice, I go back to that lesson.
Your voice is the most precious thing about your writing. It's a way to communicate your thoughts, beliefs, and vision to the readers. It's how you develop a signature. People should be able to pick up your scripts and expect a consistency that you deliver time in and out.
15. Filtering your writing is key to ensuring your scripts aren't bloated.
Does that line matter? Do you need all this dialogue? Is your action tight?
So many scripts go out into the world and lose readers because of all the superfluous words on the page. Cut, and then cut some more.
16. Make sure to do the opposite of what you’ve seen before.
Want to be original? Forge your own path. Subvert tropes and buck audience expectations. Work to make something you've never really seen. Or put a spin on an old classic.
Be the exciting movie you'd see on opening weekend.
17. Remember that film is an escape, so don't be afraid to embrace human absurdity in your writing and find the right balance between humor and drama.
Life is kind of crazy, and it's okay to have that craziness on screen. Tones need to be balanced, but you have your entire imagination to mine.
Bring everything in—humor, drama, stakes, and let them bring out your characters and the world.
18. Don't try to replicate someone else's career, stick to your own guns and follow your own vision.
One of the most frustrating parts of Hollywood is that there is no clear ladder upward. You cannot emulate someone who came before you, you can just find your own way in.
Write your stories, and the world will notice.
19. Write everything by hand first. Then, when you have the structure down, only then type it out.
It's incredibly valuable to take extensive notes and chase your wildest inclinations. They don't all have to make it into the screenplay, but if you start by hand, you can physically see all the threads of the story and see what comes together.
20. First do your work and write your whole script until It's ready to shoot, and only then go for finance.
So many new writers send out their great ideas... contained in bad scripts. This job is all about rewriting and reworking things until they are perfect.
Don't send things out too early. Make sure they are ready.
Let us know which is your favorite piece of advice in the comments.