What is the best advice for beginning screenwriters?
Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.
Here we feature Film Courage’s interview with Hollywood script doctor and screenwriter Peter Russell to find words of wisdom and inspiration for screenwriters and filmmakers.
Peter Russell started as a story analyst in the 1990s, and has read over six thousand screenplays for major film and television giants like Imagine Entertainment, Participant Productions, HBO, CBS, Walden Entertainment and many others.
While reading those thousands of scripts, he started to see deeply hidden patterns in the best stories. He wrote these down and later started to get jobs fixing other writers’ stories.
UCLA invited him to teach in 2004 and he also taught television pilot and film story creation at Pepperdine University’s Seaver College Screenwriting MFA program, at Story Expo in LA and New York, and many others.
In 2017, he decided to take a break from teaching and sold two television pilots.
Here are three of Russell’s key points of advice for beginning screenwriters.
“You must be super passionate about your story. You must be totally in love with your story like nobody you’ve ever been in love with… if you’re not in love like that — and you’ll know — then drop it and find something else. Either write another story or don’t write at all.”
Passion is something that is completely necessary if you want to become a professional screenwriter. It is a tough trade. If you’re in it for the money, and the money alone, you’re not going to have the passion to push you through the difficult times.
“The thing that makes people succeed in this business is persistence.”
Russell admits that this notion sounds cliche, but it’s so true. Persistence is what every screenwriter needs to have a chance at making this dream come true. Passion fuels that persistence. If you’re not passionate about your story, you won’t be driven enough to have the persistence to push it forward until somebody reads it.
“Almost all of the writers I work with that are super successful are people who can be told they suck, repeatedly, and simply go, ‘You’re not right.'”
He goes on to tell the story of a successful television writer that he has worked with. She was extremely successful in television and wrote her first feature comedy. Three talented actresses were attached, and the film was made. When it debuted, it was an immediate box office and critical failure.
For a group of friends, she played videos of critics saying the cruelest things about her film. But instead of getting upset and believing that she was no good, she laughed at them. She then went on to work for one of the most critically acclaimed shows on cable.
Watch the whole interview for more.
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