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5 Tips Every Screenwriter Should Know, Care of Mike White

Filmmaker Toolkit
by /bent
July 7, 2014 9:12 PM
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Mike White working (seriously).

"Creativity is so much more than making something," Mike White says in a video from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences' new "Academy Originals" initiative. "Creativity is how we interact with each other… it's like trying to insist that you're alive."

There's few folks we'd trust more than White. The openly gay screenwriter and filmmaker, responsible for "The School of Rock," "Chuck & Buck," "The Good Girl," "Orange County" and the late, great HBO series "Enlightened" sat down to offer up various tips in that regard, from the value of procrastination to why you shouldn't be thinking about the money. Here's 5 in particular that we should all try and live by, writers or not:

1. Procrastination can actually be productive: "There's two creative phases. One is kind of more an open phase, and one is more of a closed phase. And the open phase is when you're just kind of ingesting and taking in… You're impregnating your brain with an idea and it needs to gestate. It's like I'm waiting as long as I can before I start writing. On the outside, that looks like me sitting on my couch or watching TV or watching movies or reading books or walking around the neighbourhood or picking my butt… It looks like I'm doing nothing."

2. But when the idea is fully formed, it's time to jump in: "The closed phase is like this is an idea and now I need to do it. It's like getting a fever, where you're like 'I am going to live and breathe this thing until it's done.'

3. Writing should be fun. "Sometimes I meet other writers and they are like 'you have to do your 10 pages or you have to… You know like writing is labor and pain. I mean, it is labor, but it should be fun. You should be excited to get back to the computer. If you're not excited to get back to the computer, then maybe something is fundamentally wrong with your idea. You should be writing about something else, maybe?"

4. Know what you're going to write the night before you write it. "I like to know what I'm going to be writing the next day before I stop working. I don't like to wake up and be like 'what am I doing today?' Because there's something about sleeping too.. You're wrestling with stuff in your head, so if you kind of know 'okay, this is what I'm approaching the next day,' by the time you wake up in the morning there is stuff there."

5. Don't be in it for the money. "I do think that if what you're doing is approaching screenwriting as a way to make money, it closes off your possibilities toward a certain kind of originality. But if you walk away from that, if you stop thinking like 'is this gonna sell,' 'are people going to like this,' 'is this going to put me on Variety's 10 screenwriters to watch list' or whatever some bullshit like that… Then it's almost hard not to write something original. It doesn't mean it's going to be good, but it will be original."

Watch White's video (more tips included) in full below.  It's part of the Academy's first original digital series, which aims to offer insight from folks' creative process.


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