Screenwriting advice can be found everywhere. Today we turn to one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriting and producing duos behind comedy flicks like Superbad, Pineapple Express, This Is the End, The Green Hornet, The Interview, Sausage Party, Good Boys, etc for their top 6 screenwriting tips.
Rolling Stone featured the duo on their exclusive Youtube video Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg Teach Screenwriting 101. Here are some of the best quotes from the video and six takeaways so you can apply their advice to your writing.
Screenwriting Tip #1: Find an idea that you love
“Take an idea that you really like because it takes a long time to write a movie — and a lot of energy — and some people lose steam on their own ideas just because they slowly realize they don’t like [the concept] as much as they hoped they did.”
You need passion to fuel you. Writing a screenplay can be a challenging journey for most screenwriters. You will constantly battle with yourself, your insecurities, and plenty of roadblocks with the development of the story and characters. And you’re going to need to learn how to push yourself through all of that negativity to come out of the other end of the writing tunnel with a screenplay you can be proud of.
Passion for the concept is what will help you get through those difficult times. When you have a concept or idea that you need to get out of your soul and onto the page, that is when nothing will be able to stop you.
When screenwriters chase trends and try to pick concepts that they believe others will respond to, the passion isn’t there, and it usually ends with either a lackluster screenplay or you burning out on the writing of it. Choose an idea or concept that you love.
Screenwriting Tip #2: Ideas come from anywhere
“An idea can come from anywhere and start as anything. And we’ve had some movies where it’s born of characters — and other movies where it’s born of plot. And then the characters are kind of made to fit that plot.”
The most vital parts of the writing process are conception and development. The concept is everything. And sometimes, the concept is born out of a specific type of character, while other times it’s based on a simple premise.
It’s very common for newcomers to pick the first idea that comes to mind. Avoid that at all costs. As they mentioned above, you want to pick something that you have a passion for, yes. But you also want to do due diligence to the conception and development process by searching for ideas to choose from.
Ask yourself “What if…” questions. Observe those around you and see if there are any unique characters that you’d love to explore.
“Sausage Party started as a title,” Goldberg pointed out. They had this funny take on a title, and the concept and characters were born from that. The best ideas are all around you — they can come from anywhere.
Screenwriting Tip #3: Any screenwriting rule can be broken
“Any rule can be broken. They’re just basic guidelines that you can just shatter if the moment is right.”
General formatting is the single rule that most have to abide by. But even then, you can bend those rules with a little variance.
Beyond that, the guidelines of story, characterization, structure, page count, pacing, and others are there to help guide you through the process of telling your cinematic story in the most compelling, engaging, entertaining, and cathartic ways.
No manager or agent wants to gamble on something that’s already been done. The most successful original screenplays are those that break supposed rules and strict guidelines. Why? Because it’s something new and different, which you rarely get to see in Hollywood development that is always chasing the latest trends.
Screenwriting Tip #4: Make yourself the viewer
“Making yourself the viewer is very important.”
When you look at your screenplay as a viewer watching it on the big or small screen, you’ll get a sense of where the story and characters should go.
And when you write, you need to see what you’re writing through your mind’s eye before you type a single word. It’s a visual medium. To communicate your cinematic story, you need to have a perfect visual to explain through your scene description and character interactions. That visual doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it has to be something — otherwise, you’re just giving descriptions and stage directions instead of telling a cinematic tale.
If you see your story and characters first as a viewer and play those actions, reactions, emotions, story arcs, twists, turns, plants, and payoffs over and over in your head, you’ll see the movie coming together. You’ll see the opportunities to inject themes, tone, atmosphere, and character development.
Be the viewer before you’re the writer.
Screenwriting Tip #5: Keep the story simple
“This Is the End is just about a guy who has new friends, and his old buddy doesn’t mesh with them. And he just really wants everyone to get along, and they’re not. Sausage Party was about someone who goes on a hero’s journey to help everybody realize that they’re living a lie. They are just simple things that could work in a plain drama — and that has to be there, or nothing works.”
The movies they mention are full of special effects and animated action, but the stories are relatively simple. That’s the core of your screenplay. When you take away the scares, the laughs, the explosions, the melodrama, and the action, there has to be a simple and straightforward story that you are trying to tell.
Identify that within your concepts and screenplays, and you’ll be able to work around that core.
Screenwriting Tip #6:Who wins the argument in a screenwriting duo?
“One person generally feels way stronger about it then the other person. We’ll be disagreeing on a thing, and one of us feels 10 degrees about it, and the other feels like two degrees about it. It’s never that hard of an argument either. Generally, the person who just cares way, way, way more will win the argument.”
Collaboration can be a complicated process for many writers, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s all about give, take, and doing what is best for the characters and the story. If you’re looking to partner with another writer for a script, the key thing is to have a plan and an agreement. Each person needs to know what to expect from the other, and vice versa.
And remember that you’re there for the same purpose — to tell a great story.
Bonus screenwriting collaboration tip
Seth Rogen spoke with Off Camera with Sam Jones about how plot and story serve one another.
Plot vs. Story
“It’s tricking the audience. It’s luring them in with plot and giving them stories… plot is the things that are happening, and the story is what it’s actually about. The plot should be the thing that seems to be the most important at first, and the story should be in there, almost recognizable, but as the movie goes on, that ratio should reverse itself.”
Plots help you in the selling process. You give industry insiders a high concept plot so they can sell it to their bosses, investors, and distributors, but you inject outstanding drama, story themes, and characterization within. They’re buying the high concept plot but with the added bonus of a great character piece and emotional story—win/win for all.
Screenwriting wisdom from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Learn how to tell a simple story, start with ideas you’re passionate about, learn the rules of screenwriting (so you can know when to break them). That’s how you become a successful screenwriter. That and a lot of time. Happy writing!
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