The Best (Brief) Screenwriting Advice I've Ever Read
Throughout my 30 years here in Los Angeles I’ve run into many a prospective screenwriter. And really, who hasn’t?
Also, some of my favorite people are screenwriters.
And my greatest heartbreak was not being able to finish a pilot on a series about screenwriters that allowed me to interview arguably the two best screenwriters of their generations, Robert Towne and Lawrence Kasdan, at length.
My favorite book about screenwriting is ZEN AND THE ART OF SCREENWRITING, a collection of interviews with working screenwriters that delves, with good humor and insight, into how each has their own method of working, with just a few common threads.
(Author William Froug revamped UCLA's Screenwriting program)
But the best (simple-seeming) advice to follow as a screenwriter comes from the great Mike Nichols, who was a writer, director, actor and all around fantastic and rare talent.
(Oscar winner, Tony Award winner, Legend )
BTW, with this post I’m also promoting the BY KEN LEVINE blog, where I first found the Nichols advice and so much more. Ken Levine is a writer/director/show runner/Baseball announcer(!) behind some of our greatest sitcoms and has dedicated himself to being of service to the next generations of creative souls with his behind-the-scenes writings. And he seems like just one hell of a nice guy. I highly recommend his blog and podcast.
So, the advice Nichols gives as I understand it:
Every scene in a screenplay should be one of three things…
…or a negotiation.
Watch your favorite films and tv shows and see how this rule fits. In my mind the best films move well because there is conflict in each scene, mostly based in one of the above categories. Any other type of scene would be exposition, which is deadly to film storytelling, stopping any momentum built.
Try it, you’d be surprised how it works.
If you don’t believe me, believe Mike freaking Nichols.