10 Screenwriting Tips from Taika Waititi

'Thor: Ragnarok'Credit: Disney
Taika Waititi wants you to be okay taking the hard way. 

Breaking into Hollywood can seem like an endless journey of letdowns and frustrations, but what if I told you that was the truth for almost everyone? Even people like Taika Waititi. Yes, the Oscar-winning screenwriter has seen struggles in his career. But he was able to surmount them and now has a pretty good gig directing movies for Marvel, TV for FX, and chasing his own ideas all over Hollywood. 

Today, we're going to go through 10 screenwriting tips Waititi has dropped across different interviews and even his Ted Talk. Check out this video from Outstanding Screenplays, and let's talk after the jump. 

10 Screenwriting Tips from Taika Waititi

1. The easy way ultimately becomes the hard way, because you pay the price, which is 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. 

2. 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. 

3. Failure is a brilliant thing. It teaches you what not to do, and you end up coming up with better ideas.

Like we said earlier, 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. 

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

7. Filtering your writing is key to ensure 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.

Make your script as tight as humanly possible, so the pages turn easily. 

8. 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. 

9. Write everything by hand first. Then when you get 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. 

10. Tell normal stories about general human conditions, but tell them in a very unique place from indigenous authentic people who know the specific culture.

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. 

Up next

Work on your logline, synopsis, and then get our FREE 100-page ebook How to Write a Screenplay and get started!     

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1 Comment

Thank you for the article. Great source of inspiration and a reality check for people yet to be successful from their writing

August 1, 2021 at 10:37AM

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Aaron Harper
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