I recently started listening to the podcast “Scriptnotes” by John August and Craig Mazin. I picked the episode entitled “On screenwriting gurus” to start. Then I ran into an exchange that I enjoyed so much that I decided to share it with you:
John: I want to get on to our main topic today. Now, Craig, a question I get a lot, and sometimes at panels or forums or other things is: What books should I read if I want to become a good screenwriter? Are there any really good manuals or how-to guides for screenwriters?
I never have a good answer, because the short answer is that I don’t have one that I should say you should absolutely read. The longer answer sort of make me sounds like a jerk, because I end up sort of espousing too much opinion about other people who write books about screenwriting.
What do you say when people ask you that?
Craig: Well, I mean, look: Obviously, a big difference between you and me is I don’t care about sounding like a jerk. I just do it. I immediately go to answer number two.
I mean, okay, short answer number one. What book should I read? You can read any book you want. None of them will be as useful as reading screenplays and watching movies and thinking about story and then writing the script. That is the only basic instruction set that you need. And that works. The books are useless, I do believe.
1. READ SCREENPLAYS.
2. WATCH MOVIES.
3. THINK ABOUT STORY.
4. WRITE THE SCRIPT.
Not much to add. This insight you probably heard before (I sure did). The deeper you dig about screenwriting, you will encounter the recommendation to just read more scripts and find the time to write more consistently. Everything else you need can be found online. (I’ve been using twitter to interact and discover new things from the screenwriting community there. Check out the trending stuff from the hashtag #scriptchat.)
I sort of wished the Scriptwriting program I took utilized these ideas more. We should have had assigned readings to screenplays like in a creative writing course. Or even had a course to supplement screenwriting and TV writing by actually watching full movies and episodes AND THEN a discussion period. Just like something you would find in film studies.
Let’s say that finding screenplays to read is hard. Sure studios are forcing sites to remove pdfs copies of screenplays but there are still sites like Simply Scripts and IMSDb that have html versions. Or even pretend that you don’t have access to these scripts. Watch a lot of movies. If you are reading this and have the same desire like me to make movies than this is a given. Just don’t make it an excuse to sit on your ass all day and watch movies. Because you would have no time to reflect/brainstorm/meditate and write.
Especially, the writing part.
It seems like I’m spiraling the same message across posts but who cares! It’s important that this becomes a mantra. You want to learn how to write screenplays? THEN READ SCREENPLAYS! You want to write screenplays? THEN WRITE SCREENPLAYS!
Okay, I’m done.