When Screenwriters Talk…

Of all the players in the film industry, the screenwriter is meted the least respect. He or she fights for agents and meetings with executives, is forced to rewrite at least seven or eight times, and often is underpaid for the effort. Then when a director does come on board, the existing document is rewritten to fit completely new specs. There is never really a time when the screenwriter can truly speak up and be heard.

Unless, of course, that screenwriter is giving a lecture. Because so many people want to be screenwriters, and so few actually are, the seven or eight who have something produced are in high demand. These lowly, nerdy specimens get to stand on the other side of the podium and for once in their lives, be looked up to. Some screenwriters abuse this power. Others are so oblivious they give boring talks. Still others are so self-obsessed they have little patience with an audience.

So here are some simple guidelines for the screenwriter asked to speak. This comes from much experience watching screenwriters; I haven’t been asked to give a talk, yet. If you have other points, or have had an equally bad experience at a lecture, please let me know in the comments.

1. Be on time. There is nothing that tests my patience more than a late speaker. Whatever your excuse, if you are being paid to lecture, then please, leave your previous appointment early.

2. How? How did you get into screenwriting? If it was your famous father, tell us that. Do not give us some crazy story about your script reaching the eyes of some producer who immediately went “Eureka” and gave your movie a green light. The ways people reach the top in this industry may be passé to you, but to us, it’s the verbal equivalent of catnip. We need to know.

3. Tell Us What Works for You. I am not entirely interested in advice, but I am interested in routines. When do you write? Do you outline your scenes or do you just write whatever comes to mind? What classes, textbooks do you recommend? Which writers give you inspiration? How do you approach adapting an original story? What are the most difficult moments for you? How do you overcome writer’s block? When do you know a draft is finished? These are all questions I want answered. If you need to phrase it as advice, fine, but try not to be too preachy, OK?

4. No attitude, please. No matter how famous you are or how far you have come, you must know what it is like to be a struggling screenwriter. Treat us with respect, we already have to deal with so much rejection. And remember, us screenwriters are always the first to buy your DVDs, read your celebrity blog, and stalk you at conferences. It’s a good idea to pander to the fan base.

5. Meet and Greet. I cannot stress this enough. However interesting your lecture, with the invention of podcasting, the internet, and personal recording devices, it’s a synch to download it the morning after. The reason I would plunk down fifteen dollars or more would be to meet you after the speech. If you rush out of the auditorium on another “assignment” you have essentially wasted my money.

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2 responses to “When Screenwriters Talk…

  1. I LOVE #3 — knowing what works for other writers. It used to be I was looking for the Secret Method, the one that I could follow that would make me rich & famous. Now I realize we all work in our own ways, and I just like knowing how other people do it.

    #5 is a really good point for anyone who sells products but also themselves (i.e., most artists). My favorite author talks (and frankly the only ones that lead me to continue taking interest in the authors) are the ones where they take some time to talk to me (or at least other members of the audience).

    Being funny doesn’t hurt either, but thankfully it’s not required, because I’m not funny and plan to do some of these one day.

  2. Agreed, being funny is icing on the cake for me. Not necessary, of course. There’s nothing more excruciating than a truly serious person trying to crack a joke.

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