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Thursday, 17 March 2011 18:09

Expert Advice for Scriptwriters

Written by  Deanna Dube
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Writer_Michael_ArndtIn a recent panel discussion equipped with an incredible line up of writers including Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3), Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture), Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing and Friends With Money), Billy Ray (Breach, Shattered Glass and State of Play) and moderator Robin Swicord (Memoirs of A Geisha and Little Woman), hot topics were discussed on characters, feedback and ambition.

Swicord started the panel mentioning the difficulty of giving up a script you wrote for someone else to direct. “Some of the work is so personal,” says Swicord.  “It can’t be handled by another director.” It can be tough to hand over something you put all your energy and heart in for so long. Ray added, “I don’t mind hating a director, but I can’t stand hating the movie.”

Michael Arndt admitted he had every intention of directing Little Miss Sunshine but deep down he knew he needed to hand it over into better hands and since he hadn’t directed a film since film school he knew he was making the right choice. “My main responsibility was getting the material served as best it could,” says Arndt.

It was agreed upon by the panel that there are writers who direct and there are directors who write. When the writers direct they are trying to save their material. “When that happens you are doomed,” said Ray. “You are trying to find out what’s living between those words. You have to be open to the ideas that are better.”

Arndt stressed the importance of making your characters as interesting as possible.  “We want crazy and outrageous characters!” says Arndt. The more crazy and obsessed a character is the more people want to see it. Think about your life after a hard week at work keeping yourself in control. The last thing you want to see on a Friday night is a confined characters. “Comedy is the art of desperation. I love crazy desperate characters,” Arndt concluded.

During the beginning stages of writing Toy Story 3 Arndt admitted there was always pressure due to the tremendous success of the last two Toy Story films. “You have to live up to the first two films,” says Arndt. “You just go on blind fate that you are going to pull this off.” The two goals that he went into the writing process was to make the film very funny and really weird but at the same time keeping the audience wanting more.
Writing should be a team sport. You need to get others involved and you a ton of eyes. At Pixar a rough sketch is shown to hundreds of people for their feedback. Lots of eyes equals more options and ultimately a better film.Writer_Billy_Ray

It’s important to get feedback on your work and see how people react. When you start to have people respond to you on an emotional level you know they are responding positive. When they say it’s just “good” you know it’s not good enough or where it needs to be. “Nothing is more important than getting good feedback,” says Arndt. “When you give it to enough people you start to see patterns.” Make people think about why they liked or disliked the script. Don’t except a one word answer and you have to be fearless about hearing notes.

When giving your script to a studio to read, Arndt agreed with Ray when he said “Listen to their problems and ignore their solutions.”

“You want to arm your script and make it bulletproof so people can’t say no,” says Arndt.

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