Posts tagged ‘rules’

November 26, 2013

Joe Eszterhas’s 10 Rules of Screenwriting

Joe Eszterhas was once the highest paid screenwriter in the business. Before turning to film, he was a senior editor at Rolling Stone. The rules below, which he recently shared with (a great site that you should absolutely check out), are… unique. Some of his rules you should take to heart. Some you should probably never follow.

As the saying goes when you take notes on your writing, find the note behind the note. In this case, find the advice behind the advice:

1. Don’t see too many new movies. Most movies in theaters today are awful. They will depress you. You will think to yourself: How can they have made this abominable script instead of buying and making mine? Spare yourself the anguish. Read a good book instead.

2. Don’t mince words. If the idea a studio executive gives you is a shitty one, don’t say “Well, that’s interesting, but…” Say “That’s a really shitty idea.” The people you’re dealing with aren’t stupid—they’re just vain. Deep in their hearts they know it’s a shitty idea.

3. Don’t let ’em convince you to change what you’ve written. A director isn’t a writer. Neither is a producer or a studio exec. You write for a living. You’re the pro. They’re amateurs. Dilettantes at best. Treat them that way. Make them feel that’s what they are.

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June 24, 2013

Why Nobody Would Buy ‘This is the End’ From an Unknown Writer

This-Is-The-End-PosterThis is the End is a hysterical film. It features several of Hollywood’s actors playing hell-bound versions of themselves, a perversely comedic interpretation of the book of Revelation, and the biggest demon penises you will ever see. Gross, over the top, eccentric — Yep, it’s all of the above, and it’s going to go down in history as the peak of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s creativity.

But if this exact script had been written by an unknown writer, there is about a zero percent chance that it would have been made.

I’m not talking about the problem of casting celebrities as themselves. (No unknown can hope to sell a script that requires such a specific cast — that’s a given.) I’m talking about the numerous leaps in logic and the countless comedic sequences that don’t just cross the line — they eviscerate it.

Don’t get me wrong: the film is great, and I think it works very well, partially in spite of and partly thanks to the many ways it breaks the rules. It’s meant to be a shocking, crazy comedy, and it is. But that’s not what readers want to see.

What do readers want to see, you ask? In my experience, and from all of my reading and study, I’ve found that readers want to read scripts that fit the mold.

I’m being a bit cynical right now, and I will admit that there are agents, managers, and producers out there who are willing to take a chance on something that is out of the box. Some producers are even actively searching for  scripts that break the rules.

But the sad truth is, if you haven’t been recognized for your writing talent just yet, you need to start by coloring inside the lines.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t take risks. You absolutely need to use all of your creative power and create a story that approaches an old form in a new way. This comes first and foremost. But alongside all of that creativity, you must  study, practice, and become an expert at the craft of screenwriting as it has been established by all of your predecessors. Only once you have become a master of the rules can you start breaking them.

Seth and Evan have done that. They’ve paid their dues and shown the film industry that they know how to get butts in the seats. If you haven’t done that, you can’t hope to write a script about celebrities facing demons with giant willies in the midst of the apocalypse from the safety of a house that is somehow magically fireproof and expect readers to take you seriously.

I mean, you can try, and you should try. Just make sure you have a deep and abiding knowledge of the craft of screenwriting before you start throwing the rules out the window.

That said, once you are established, once you know you’re that good, throw out rules to your heart’s content. Take chances, break boundaries. That’s the only way you will make film history.

March 21, 2013

Quote of the Day: Joe Eszterhas

Screenwriters are supposed to be neither seen nor heard. I certainly violated that rule. Among others.

November 19, 2012

Quote of the Day: E.B. White

There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.

October 3, 2012

Quote of the Day: Frank Capra

There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.

May 4, 2012

Quote of the Day: Somerset Maugham

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately no-one knows what they are.

April 24, 2012

7 Screenwriting Paradigms

Dave Herman has written a useful article about some of the most commonly used screenwriting paradigms (e.g. Blake Snyder’s 15 beats, three act structure) and how they can both help and hinder writers. Dave writes:

In a recent episode of the On The Page screenwriting podcast, screenwriter Irving Belateche related how he changed his attitude to what he calls ‘screenwriting paradigms’ and the dramatic improvement this had on his writing. The essence of his story seems to me to encapsulate everything that’s good and bad about screenwriting templates: He discovered that he could write much more freely and creatively if he only started checking for plot points, sequence breaks, act breaks and the like, afterhe’d finished writing the story. He found that too much ‘thinking about the writing’ too soon, detracted from his ability to create.

I don’t believe there are any rules about whether it’s better to check for plot points before, during or after writing an outline or even a first draft. But I think it’s wise to be aware of the essential difference between a creative and an analytical mindset.

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April 10, 2012

The 11 Commandments of Writing

Henry Miller, author of the novel Tropic of Cancer composed this list of writing commandments for himself while working on said novel. Though Miller is a novelist, his commandments apply to any type of writing project:

(Thanks to Treasure LA for sharing this list with me.)


  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
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