7 Tips for First-time Screenwriters from THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN Writer Madelyn Deutch

By Shanee Edwards · June 14, 2018

The Year of Spectacular Men is a coming of age indie film about Izzy Klein (Madelyn Deutch), a recent college grad struggling to have healthy, rewarding relationships with men, but gets a little help from her sister (Zoey Deutch) and grieving mother (Lea Thompson) in the wake of Izzy’s father’s suicide. 

Madelyn and Zoey are sisters in real life and both are the daughters of actress Lea Thompson, who directed the film. I sat down with Madelyn to find out about her writing process what it’s like to have your mother directing you in a sex scene. 

The first-time screenwriter describes writing the script as a “bizarre spiritual journey.” While she says it was the hardest thing she’s ever done, it was also confirmation that she had the brain of a writer. “After a lifetime of different creative ventures, this was the thing I was programmed to do. On one side, I thought ‘this is impossible’ but on the other side, I thought, ‘this makes the most sense.’”

Here are Madelyn Deutch’s 7 tips for first-time writers:

1. Get a mentor you trust.

While studying at the music conservatory at the New School in New York City, Deutch took an intro to screenwriting class during her last semester. “The universe is funny. Now looking back, I can see how influential this class was to me.”

Deutch studied the basic three-act structure, but credits her teacher, Jon Danziger, for making the screenwriting process seem accessible. “He didn’t try to make screenwriting a mystical beast in a forest that you have to hunt down and drink its blood. He said, ‘Go watch a movie you like and write down all the details that you think are pertinent about it. Then write a movie using all those same details. So I did that 100%! It’s an amazing place to start.”

2. Keep at it at least 20 minutes a day.

Deutch also took some advice from one of her favorite musicians. “ I remember she was so frustrated with all her professors in college and she said, ‘I just wish that they would tell people if you just did something for twenty minutes every day, eventually you’d get good at it.’ That’s how screenwriting felt to me. I thought if I just sit in this chair, eventually, the script will get finished and eventually, maybe it will be okay. That was the thing that got me through.”

3. The thing to remember about sex scenes…

Deutch says she planned from the beginning to have her mother direct the film, so I had to ask what it was like during the multiple sex scenes to have her mom telling her what to do. 

“Two of them were not hard. But I do have to say the guys were so respectful and amazing, so generous. So they were the ones freaking out, not me. I talk to my mom about everything. But they were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Lea Thompson!’

But the most important thing about a sex scene is that it’s a scene. Otherwise it doesn’t need to be there, right? So something is happening in that scene, we’re furthering the story, we’re furthering the character. So all the sex scenes feel like real scenes. 

But Deutch admits it was awkward filming them in front of her mom.

“So the physical aspect of it was weird. But the hard part of doing those sex scenes was trying to be really focused on what we were doing to further the story and making sure we weren’t getting distracted by the fact that it was awkward. It’s personal, but I made big choices about those sex scenes.”

Minor Spoiler Alert: Deutch refers to one scene in the film where she has post-break-up sex with her ex-boyfriend Aaron (Jesse Bradford). “When people break up then get back together and hook up, there’s this impersonal nature of it, because you know each other so well.  Of course, Izzy left her dress on. And her boots, which is a choice telling you she’s done with that relationship.”

4. Love your actors.

Deutch says it also helps when you truly love actors. “If an actor comes to you with an idea, unless it’s completely asinine, for God’s sake, hear them out! Actors are super smart, they get a bad rap. Inside every actor, they just want to make you happy. Their suggestions and the things they’re bringing to the table are not malicious. They really just want to make it better.”

5. Fight for diversity.

“When it came to casting, I tried to offer people parts that I knew would be appealing to them as a human being.”

Deutch cites actor Brandon T. Jackson, who plays Logan, one of Izzy’s love interests. “I had to fight really, really hard to make sure the actors weren’t just a bunch of white guys. I had to fight tooth and nail and it says a lot about the business. I knew Brandon should play Logan because he’s one of the nicest guys in the movie. I had a conversation with him where he said, ‘Thank you for giving me this part. Being a black man in Hollywood, I only ever get offered rapper, drug dealer, pimp roles. I’ve never played a leading man.’ To me, that is the power of the written word. If you have the power to write a character a certain way, for a person who doesn’t get offered that kind of part, who isn’t seen that way – even if it’s messed up  – you can be the person to try and change that, even a little bit in your own small way.”

6. Make a mission statement.

“I always try to write down a mission statement,” says Deutch, “almost like a mantra, to go back to and meditate on, because it’s really easy to lose why you started writing the script.”

When I ask about her mission statement for The Year of Spectacular Men, she says, “This was meant to be a really honest look at the way I felt my first year out of college. That feels very general, but it was something I came back to a lot because you get farther and farther away from stuff and when the screenplay started to get more into family stuff or guy stuff, I would always go back to that mission statement and pull it back to [my protagonist]. What was her story? What was her truth? What was she going through?” 

7. Steal things.

Deutch admits she isn’t afraid to steal things. “I am an absolute thief in the night. I steal everything and I don’t care. Even if it’s something as stupid as 10 minutes into the film there’s an insert of blankety-blank. Those things help you create the world.”

The Year of Spectacular Men is funny, fresh and full of surprises. It opens June 15. See the trailer below.

Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera’s Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards

Photo Credit: Mar Vista Entertainment

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