“Screenwriting 434″ Quotes

I recently finished reading “Screenwriting 434” by Lew Hunter. Here are the quotes I found most interesting:

“The idea is the most important. The structure is second. Ironically, the script itself is least important. Of course it takes the most time. But a story and a script can be “fixed.” An idea can’t.” (20)

“Always pick stories that scream for visualization.” (22)

“Greek theater, Shakespeare, and actually everything of quality known to Western persons has a significant undertow of sex or violence or a combination of thereof. To deny it is insane and even worse, wrong.” (23)

“This does not mean blood and gore and naked bodies. Sometimes the most extreme form of violence is psychological violence.” (23)

“One screenwriter friend periodically comes out of his Bel Air cave and rides city buses without any geographic destination. His creative destination is to overhear “real people” talk for dialogue, stories, and scenes.” (28)

“If you get something in your writing teeth you have got to do, do it. Forget about the marketplace. Follow your obsession. Obsession makes the best screenplay character drive for screenplays, and obsession makes the best screenwriter drive for you.” (30)

“Forget writing for money, which means trying to second guess what the marketplace wants. By the time you write the screenplay, the marketplace will generally have gone on to another fad.” (35)

“I suddenly realized that I, by then, knew more overall than most people who had been catapulted into that tragedy of American history. It was time to stop researching and start writing. Too much research can be the disguise of procrastination or fear.” (35)

“Individualism is what makes screenplays great, not their uniqueness.” (40)

“Even if this “love story in a madhouse” or any of your scripts you write “on speculation” never sell, you must love the process. That should be more important to you than acceptance or sale. Make your principal reward the very act of writing. That will keep you psychologically afloat and able to handle those difficult and numerous rejections. (41)

“Forget making a living, being famous, or getting rich. If you’re targeted on any of these goals, you’ll fail yourself, your society, and your world.” (42)

“You have to make the audience care about your on-screen people and their dilemmas, and when that occurs you’ve created believable unbelievability. Audiences will just not get with a film that starts with what they perceive as unbelievable unbelievability.” (49)

“Beware of such “friends.” Yes, you need feedback because the isolation can be debilitating. Just make very sure it’s good feedback from an intelligent, feeling fellow human.” (55)

“Extremes are the best choice we all have.” (60)

“You want to establish your heavy is a monster. For instance, a character is about to rob a bank. Have him, just before opening the bank door, shoot an old lady’s dog. The audience will hate him. Ironically, probably much more so than if he had shot the old lady.” (75)

“The best flaw is obsession. Your hero should want something so badly, he or she will battle any equally obsessed heavy to get it against all odds. That is the supreme conflict.” (76)

“Every classic human heavy has one of two motivations. Greed or power. Period. Don’t look for more than greed or power. That’s it. Villainy emanates from those two motives.” (77)

“When you’re in a corner, always look to your characters to lead you out. They will show the way.” (81)

“People who can really matter in getting your script made may feel that your numbered characters are superficial, and hence that could carry over to the star roles.” (85)

“At all steps along the story way, make sure the scene you’re in was caused by the scene that went before. And the following scene you’re in was caused by the scene that went before. And the following scene is there because of the one you’re in. Keep that rhythm going and you’ll have a damned good story.” (89)

“Anticipation is often as wonderful, or as suspenseful, as the realization of the end result.” (97)

“John T. Kelley wrote: “No matter how little you feel like working, force your mind to continue thinking about the story or idea under consideration. Eventually the wheels will begin to turn. Usually it won’t take more than five or ten minutes at the most.” Jack London said: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”” (98)

“Pick and start with the most passionate, exciting, funny, or tension-filled scene you can find.” (99)

“The audience’s “need to know” should always be in your story mind, but especially in Act One. Withhold as long as you can.” (100)

“Don’t ever rely on the last half of your script being brilliant. Few will get to that section if the first five and ten pages don’t happen and happen strong.” (132)

“Joseph Heller wrote Catch 22 from four to seven each morning, before taking the train into New York for his 9-5 advertising job.” (137)

“Life is when thing happen one after another. Structure is when things happen because of the other.” (162)

“The scenes in question have the couple waiting to learn about their son’s condition, and then being informed he has died. These are two potentially boring, obligatory scenes. I heightened the drama and the interest level by using the third party trick. You see, generally when someone else is in front of your two people, they can’t be so on-the-nose with their dialogue. Restrained subtext is what the scene’s dialogue must contain.” (172)

“A viewer cannot set a movie down. He can set a book down. He can stop, take a break, pick it up later. But when a viewer is bored for more than three or four minutes, the movie is irreparably harmed. The flow is broken.” (180)

“I am generally far more interested in being effective than right, and being effective means selling. During my thirty years of selling scripts I have been inculcated with a David Susskind admonishment about what “they” want: “Happy people with happy problems and happy endings.”” (268)

“Most of Hollywood hates unhappy endings. I recommend the happy, even ecstatic ending to make your script saleable. Later in the process, you can suggest considering the unhappy ending. The purchasing party will probably turn you down but you’ll be pleased you tried.” (268)

“We writers can always write. We may not be getting paid, but we can always work. Not so for anyone else in this collaborative art called filmmaking.” (318)

“Consider Dr. Samuel Johnson’s words to a fellow writer: “Your manuscript is both good and original. The part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.”” (319)

“Remember, audiences remember characters even more than story. Salt the mine. Make your characters memorable. Here and now.” (325)

“Sooner or later you may have to accept the fact that your ability does not best reside in comedy or drama or action adventure or whatever. It’s all right to lack strong aptitude for certain story forms, but deluding yourself is not alright. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses in writing is as important a self-recognition as you can have as a beginning or established writer.” (329)

“Don’t be an “anything you like I like” writer because you will be as undesirable to those persons able to buy your wares as a writer who won’t listen at all.” (335)

“Many writers who have been working a long time have huge attitudes, yet blame their lack of employment on ageism. Often that’s real, but as often their attitude in meetings is simply insufferable. They’re almost always dealing with people younger and less experienced than themselves. They find it hard not to come off as “the teacher.” Quinn Martin said: “We’re not doing Shakespeare. It’s a game. Play it, enjoy it. If the day comes when you can’t, get out.”” (335)

“If you must say “no,” make sure you’re not destroying your future relationship with that person. You’d rather be effective, and not be replaced by another writer, than be right. In this business of show, you can be “right” but wrong in the long of the haul. Do not be “wrong by being right.”” (336)

“We do not need to like Citizen Kane, most of the Humphrey Bogart characters, or the pedophile Howie in Fallen Angel. We need to understand them. To understand them means to dimensionalize them. To develop the character beyond the stereotype. To make Butch and Sundance more than robbers. To make E.T. Not a monster from outer space, but lovable and loving.” (338)

“Don’t worry about making the character lovable. Worry about the role’s having dimension so that “they” and the audience understand why the character is what the character is. Put in “pet the dog” scenes.” (338)

“UCLA’s John Wooden constantly tried to psychologically condition his team to have as close to the same demeanor when they lost as when they won. He believed if the lows were too low and the highs too high, the slams at each end would be destructive to the team’s season-long morale.” (341)

“Many professors, professionals, and others in the midst of life seem to be locked in the mode of not believing a majority of people have talent.” (344)

As always, if you find these quotes useful, please buy the full book here.

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