For Screenwriters

I recently bookmarked two articles that helped me understand the creative processes screenwriters employ.

The first article spoke about the necessity for an unforgiving work ethic to succeed as a screenwriter. The writer admonishes us for our over-indulgence in screenwriting tools – such as stationary, screenwriting software and other such paraphernalia. Instead, he asks us to focus on the only thing we need to indulge in to become better writers – to write. This reminds me of what Sudeep Sharma, writer of NH10 and Udta Punjab said in this chat with First Draft.

I’m a very structured sort of person, when it comes to writing or when it comes to doing anything for that matter. It’s a lot less talent, and more of hard work. I’ve never considered myself a particularly talented writer, it was more like 100% hard work… One reason I’ve also been able to survive here (in the industry) is because I work hard. I’m not as talented as a lot of people around me, I can’t write naturally if you will, it takes me a lot of time to think about every sentence I put down. It’s a very studied process. It took me a while, at least 3-4 years to even grasp it.

When I got in the industry, it took me far longer to approach directors or walk up to people and say I’m a writer. What happened as a result, is I studied a lot. I would read at least one screenplay and watch one film every day, over 5 years, almost like a ritual. You end up finding clever ways to make it happen, it was the only way to grasp and understand the structure. I religiously pursued it for that long because it was the only way to learn. I also read books by Robert Mckee and William Goldman to expand my horizons.

The second article dealt more with the process of creation. How do screenwriters go about writing stuff? The writer spoke with three screenwriters to share their processes.

The first screenwriter talked about finding fodder for her writing by going out on the streets of Los Angeles. She believed that because the city is such a thriving ecosystem of people on the road, she could observe them and interact with them (“They want to talk” she says in the video) to takeaway whatever creative fodder she could use now or in the distant future.

She also spoke about spending a lot of time walking and documenting anything that moves her. She works out of a little library where there’s a gentle hum of silent people around her. She said that it’s the best atmosphere for her to get some writing done.

People watching is a big part of her process, and she likes clicking photos of stuff that interests her. She then marks these photos and sends an email to herself titled ‘XO’ like a little cheesy email to herself saying ‘Hugs and kisses’. She later uses this material whenever she’s writing, pulling out whatever little trinket of inspiration that she can use for her assignment.

My favourite part of video featuring her was about a little single-screen theatre she watches movies at. She believes that watching people on-screen is also watching people. Because it’s observing people doing things.

This other dude who spoke about his process was the writer of Life of Pi.

This Life of Pi dude said a couple of nice, informative things. The first thing he said was about how we aspirants get really disappointed when we meet our heroes. We see how much they’ve accomplished and feel that the gap between them and us is so huge that there’s no point trying. If, instead of this outlook, we were to look at improving ourselves bit by bit every single day, dutifully giving to our craft what it deserves, we’d become very successful screenwriters. This makes a helluva lot of sense.

The other thing he said was a more personal and tangible thing. He speaks about process where he plots out characters, relationships and story arcs using little post-it cards which he sticks on his office wall. He then keeps going back to it to check if he’s getting the flow right. While showing off this stuff, he highlighted how it’s important for a writer to be able to write one scene using multiple POVs. This, he said, is important because you, as a writer, end up understanding more about your character when you whip up multiple viewpoints for the same outcome. This, in turn, helps you explain it better to your director, actors, etc.

This note helps me immensely whenever I’m struggling with a process and want a refresher course on how to get started. I hope you find this useful too.

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