3 Pro Writing Tips from Hollywood Screenwriter Derek Haas

By Michael Lee · January 7, 2020

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.

We turn to the Big Think video interview with Hollywood screenwriter Derek Haas (2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 to Yuma, Wanted) for some quick professional screenwriting advice and tips. We elaborate on his words and break it all down to three expert tips that screenwriters can apply to their own screenwriting journey.

Download the screenplay for 3:10 TO YUMA here for free.

1. Three Ways Professional Screenwriters Get Hired

There are generally three ways that writers can get hired.

You write an original spec script, and someone wants it and buys it.

You get hired off of a pitch. You’ve thought of the movie, and you partner with a producer who can bring it to studios and production companies. But be aware, Haas points out that, “You pretty much can’t sell a pitch like that unless you’ve sold a spec, because they want to say, ‘Okay, I’ve read [their] writing, [they] will deliver on this kind of a pitch. We like this story. We’ve read [their] writing, and we know they can deliver.’ So it’s hard to sell a pitch without having sold a spec originally.”

And the final way to get hired is by having a studio or production company buying intellectual property and hiring you to adapt it. Most of the time, the studios will open pitches to many writers at the same time, where they will pitch their take on the material, and the studio will choose who they believe are the best writers for the job. But, again, such writers are those with proven backgrounds and representation that can get them into the conversation.

2. Develop Big Ideas

“Have a big idea. And ‘big idea’ doesn’t necessarily mean an asteroid is going to hit the Earth and you have to send up oil drillers to stop it. A big idea can be a small movie like The Blair Witch Project, which had a tiny budget but had a great idea… what Hollywood doesn’t care about is the little idea of how you grew up in the suburbs and your dad was mean to you. There’s always going to be exceptions, and the independent world is full of those, but for [my co-writer] and I, it was to start from a big idea.”

Big ideas aren’t big tentpole films will cost the studio $200 million to produce. They don’t want those types of scripts from newcomers. What they’re looking for are big concepts that are less risky. Contained thrillers, compelling science fiction stories, and budget-friendly horror movies are always the types of scripts that Hollywood responds to.

But they can’t be your version of what’s already come. You have to push the envelope with your concept-conjuring.

3. Write with a Sense of Pace

“Write with a sense of pace… we just want you flipping those pages. And most beginning writers when I read scripts, they’re biggest mistake is that their scenes begin too early and end too late. So they just stretch out things where they feel like they gotta show the guy turn on the light switch and come into the room when you don’t. Every scene should just be moving forward.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a drama, comedy, action, science fiction, romantic comedy, or horror story. The script needs to be fastpaced. And you accomplish that by not stretching out scenes and moments throughout your script.

Don’t have characters entering and leaving rooms and location unless those moments need to be there for the stories. Every moment that you write into that screenplay has to matter.

Watch the whole video for more elaboration!

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