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12 Working Writers In Movies And TV Share Their Top Advice

Screenwriters Advice by Andrew Zinnes and Genevieve Jollife

One of the most Googled terms leading to this blog is the search term ‘advice for screenwriters’.  This means I was delighted to chat with Andrew Zinnes all about his and Genevieve Jollife’s new book, literally called Screenwriters Advice!

It’s a great book, packed with insights, tidbits and actionable advice from screenwriters for both movies and TV, in the UK and USA. It’s super-readable too. But don’t take my word for it, here’s some great tips from the book, courtesy of the best and brightest screenwriting talent. Also, don’t miss out on the discount code at the bottom of this article. Over to you, Andrew!

Top Advice From Working Writers

Our new book, Screenwriters Advice, contains loads of tips from working writers to help you get your stories told. Here’s a list of some of them to get your creative juices flowing. Let’s go … 

1) Practice makes your writers stronger

 Eli Craig (Tucker & Dale Vs Evil):  “Theres this old saying: Bruce Lee is not afraid of the man who practices 10,000 kicks one time. Hes afraid of the man who practices one kick, 10,000 times.” So there is something to honing in on what your genre is and just doing that well!”

2) Pay attention to what interests you

Bill Nicholson (Gladiator): “The brain of a writer is like a strip of flypaper – that sticky stuff they used to hang from ceilings to catch flies. Your brain is like that and things stick to it. Anything that sticks to it that begins with some dim idea, begins to grow.”

3) Your story must be entertaining

Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place): The most important thing in a good pitch is making your audience lean in. Obviously, a pitch is about story, character, and all these elements, but if you are not entertaining the person on the other side of the table, then youve really got nothing. Thats what you should think about first and foremost – is it engaging, exciting, and entertaining?”

4) You rarely know how people are truly feeling

Hilary Galanoy (Love, Guaranteed): Honestly, its difficult to read the room. Weve pitched to cold rooms where no one cracked a smile, and they bought the pitch. And weve pitched to warm rooms where the executives laughed the entire time, enjoying the story, and then they passed. Instead of trying to judge how its going in the moment, do your pitch, keep it professional, and keep it short.”

5) Find holes in your story early

Julie Sherman Wolfe (The Birthday Wish): For me, the hard part is the outline, because thats where you find out if you have a story that can sustain itself for nine acts, or if you really have nothing to fill the middle of the script.”

6) Know your ending

Paul King (Wonka): “Personally, I have to know an ending in order to chart out the emotional journey of the movie, but of course, things change radically from draft to draft…We knew we wanted Paddington in prison for Paddington 2 – that was going to be our comic motor – but people were anxious about that. Oh, dont have him in prison too long!”

7) Your plot and characters should be tempered by emotion

 Meg LeFauve (Inside Out): “I think emotional thematic first, which is experienced through the main character, and therefore the plot would come out of that. I do know great writers who work completely the opposite, so there is no one way. Its how your brain works. I learned storytelling from actor/director, Jodie Foster. If you wanted to pitch her a script that youhad read, she would ask me, Whats the big, beautiful idea in here?” Its always: What is this about?”

8) Specificity helps you build stories

Briana Belser (Grey’s Anatomy):  I find that it is easier for me to generate a story when I have a very specific character. And then I can put that person in a world that I know very well. From there, many things can occur and I have a semblance of a plot.”

9) To thine own self, be true

Tony Jordan (Life On Mars): You have these voices, and its the only thing you have that makes you unique. Its the only thing that commissioners want. Thats the other reason why this quantification, if thats a word, is a bad thing. It has to be five acts or seven acts. Scenes cant be longer than this. If you take on that, everyones voice gets taken and we all sound the same. In a world where everyone sounds the same, nobody excels. No genius can grow. You have to hold onto your unique voice and not let the industry or the machine take it away from you.” MORE: 3 Top Tips From Tony Jordan On Writing Craft & Careers 

10) It may be your voice, but your characters are individuals

Mohamad El Masri (Severance): “Ive noticed that characters become rich and compelling when they speak for themselves, instead of for the writer. My favourite characters believe in their own argument for why they make the choices they make and can deliver the argument passionately and convincingly.”

11) Three-dimensional characters are memorable

Dan Mazer (I Give It A Year): I think if you make the protagonist too exaggerated, you immediately lose sympathy. Heres the difference between Borat and Brüno and why Borat is beloved, enduring, and three-dimensional in a way that Brüno isnt. I love Brüno and I think hes a great character, but he is really a vessel for stunts and things to happen.”

12) Don’t wait. Just write

Alex Litvak (Predators): Find the best story you have at this moment in time and tell it the best way you can.”

We agree, Alex!

For more sage ideas, concepts, and stories, pick up up your copy of  Screenwriters Advice. 25% off at on print and e-book copies using the code BANG2WRITE at the checkout. 

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