What are the best screenwriting tips from Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar, When We Rise, Big Love)?

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 turn to the Viceland video Screenwriting Advice from Dustin Lance Black: VICE GUIDE TO FILM and feature the quick and amazing advice from Dustin, accompanied by our own elaboration.

Film Degrees Don’t Matter in Screenwriting

“I graduated from UCLA’s film school, like top of the class, and that got me all the way to serving orange juice at this breakfast/lunch place.”

It’s great to learn — especially when you’re learning at some of the top film school programs (UCLA, USC, NYU). But unlike other industries, those degrees don’t get you that far in the eyes of Hollywood. That’s not how the film and television industries work.

Film schools are best utilized for making major contacts within the industry through guest speakers and instructors — and by making future connections with your peers that will hopefully go on to have their own success.

Don’t Chase Trends — Find YOUR Thing

“I was frustrated. A lot of people have a lot of advice. They’re like, ‘You know, right now romantic comedies are selling…’ or ‘Just write a good horror film.’ I tried doing that and I was just terrible at it. And the truth is, even if I was kind of good at it, there’s all these people out there who live for horror, or they live for science fiction, and they’re going to kick your ass. The thing I tell my students and anyone who asks is, ‘Who are you? What is your thing?’ Because it’s that thing that makes you unique that’s marketable.”

Chasing trends never works. You should do your best to avoid those points of advice that you are sure to get from people that either think they know the business or those currently within it.

As William Goldman (and others) famously said, “Nobody knows anything.” 

There are hundreds of thousands of directors and screenwriters trying to chase trends right now. The truth is that only studios can chase the current trends because they have the money and the resources to hire Hollywood’s best to write, produce, direct, and star in them while the trends are booming.

For you, the undiscovered screenwriter, it will take years to get a single script developed, written, rewritten, marketed, read, considered, picked up, developed, shopped, produced, and released. And even getting to any of those points is difficult for a single screenplay.

Instead, give the industry what they didn’t know they wanted. Find what you love. Find your strengths. And write what you know and love.

“I think it’s how you, frankly, build careers. By being defiantly you in the face of everyone telling you to go do this genre of that. Figure out you, and I think you become marketable.”


Watch the whole video here!


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Michael Lee

Author Michael Lee

Michael Lee has worked in development as a script reader and story analyst for a major studio, Emmy Award-winning production company, and iconic movie director.

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