Last night we attended The Multi-Hyphenates: Jay & Mark Duplass (hereafter referred to as “The Brothers”) on Doing it All at the Writer’s Guild Foundation. Events hosted by the non-profit are open to all and are very informative.
Here’s what The Brothers had to say.
A volume of work is helpful in this industry and if you’re a writer, you should have 100 stories to tell. Don’t allow yourself to be held up. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, have an affair with another script. The one you have the affair with is the script you should be doing.
The Brothers suggest waiting to write until you know exactly what story you want to do. And know your first draft is going to be anything but perfect. Try writing a vomit draft or a sprint, where you cannot stop until you’ve written the entire movie. Almost stream of conscious. You can even try dictating your first draft and transcribing it later. Assume only 30% of your vomit script will make it into the final draft, but your pacing will be organic and right for the piece.
And once you’ve written the story you want to tell, share it with a few trusted friends who can and will tell you the truth and help you clean it up. Obviously your first draft is going to stink. And that’s okay. Value yourself and your work but let go of your ego.
Keep your story really simple so you can adapt. Sean Baker (writer/director of “Tangerine” shot entirely on iPhone) advises to greenlight a project that is 70% controlled, 30% uncontrolled/unstructured. Why? Because certainty does not make good art. Art is uncomfortable. Be okay sitting in chaos. It’s going to be painful but happy accidents will happen. Accept them.
And then when you’re closer to shooting, have your editor read the script. His input is invaluable. Are you writing the same scene over and over again or are you missing a scene that will help tell the story?
The Brothers do caution adding a lot of collaborators onto your project. The bigger you go with your budget or through a studio, the less power you have, especially creatively. They advise you don’t need to overextend price points. Look for the bare minimum you need to not lose money on the project and stick to that budget. Your project will be more magical and can potentially earn you more on the back-end. In this current world of content overload, you should aim for extreme niche audiences. You will be more successful than if you try to cater to all four audience quadrants. And your project may become more popular than your wildest dreams.
Most importantly, the Brothers stressed that no one is going to do anything for you. You have to do it yourself. They say immediately set a date for the shoot once your script is written and proceed with or without help. When in meetings with potential financiers, they say, “We are making this with or without your financial backing on such-and-such date. If you would like to be a part of it, great, but we are making it either way.” They have found success because people want to be a part of something that already has momentum.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and create!
In a network general meeting, ask what they need, and then take one of your existing ideas and creatively tailor it to fall into that need. It’s a good way to develop a show you can deliver and be excited about. And has a better chance of selling.
It’s helpful for writers to have directing experience. An easy way to start is to take the best scene from your feature and direct it with actors you know. Shoot with an iPhone, with no money and just experiment. Keep shooting the same scene over and over. You’ll discover the best way to illustrate the scene. And the final scene you shoot can be a great asset when pitching your project. Who knows…you may end up being hired to write AND direct your project.