Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
I’ve done pallet-loads of interviews. As a general rule, they’re useful for promoting my books and the blog. The hardest part is making the answers to the questions I’m asked over again sound fresh. My approach is to look upon them as another form of rewriting. Keep working out the answer until it’s finally right.
I recently received a request for a written interview from Diana Patino, a freshman at Emerson College and a screenwriter with indie aspirations. The interview was not for publication. It is just for a class assignment. She reached out seeking screenwriting advice. I responded. And in doing so, I might’ve landed on some actual replies worth recording. More importantly, worth reading… at least by some of y’all. Though Diana’s questions didn’t exactly cover new ground, perhaps it was how they were phrased, the order in which they unfolded, or even the mood I was in, that lent me to think the finished product was something worth sharing. So if inclined, read on and you tell me.
DP: Screenwriters write dozens of spec scripts that never get read, much less purchased or produced. Do you ever have really high hopes for a script that never leads to anything?
DR: I have high hopes for everything I write, be it a script or novel or blog. I expect it to be read, otherwise the work is a fool’s errand. It’s also a writer’s job to do what work is necessary to make sure the screenplay gets read and read by someone who can provide some form of yes–be it a studio boss or a lowly reader passing it along to his or her boss. There are no rules to this game because it’s an ever-shifting landscape. Writing something and posting it in the mail to some unknown addressee is generally a recipe that leads to landing miles short of success.
DP: What level of education do you think someone needs for this career?
DR: There is no required pedigree whatsoever when it comes to writing movies or TV. Any level of education that teaches one how to form a sentence and spell is way more than adequate. The most important education required for a career writing movies or television or books is to possess an overwhelming affection for the form. That kind of love is where it begins. And that kind of love is what gets you through the hard, lonely climb.
DP: Do you tell the story you would want to hear, or the story you think others want to hear?
DR: Both. It begins with a story that I want to write. But I need to apply the perspective of my potential reader, otherwise I won’t know how best to communicate the story I want to tell. It’s no different than a great conversation. Imagine yourself retelling the story of a personal experience. Would you spin the story the same way for an eight-year-old as you would a grandparent?
DP: How important would you say networking is in the film industry?
DR: Show business is no different than any other industry in that there is no replacement for face time and human interaction with decision makers. But still that assumes the networking is secondary to the quality of one’s work. If it’s not on the page, nobody is going to want to share a cocktail with you.
DP: You’ve written plenty of action and thriller scripts and novels, is it because it’s your favorite genre or is it because it’s the genre you write best?
DR: As a consumer of entertainment, I’m a fan of many genres. But that doesn’t make me the right writer for the same. For example, I love a great romantic comedy. But I wouldn’t hire me to write one. I can’t say the action/thriller genre is what I write best, either. It’s simply what I want to write.
DP: If there’s one thing about the industry today that you wish you could change or are not a fan of, what would that be?
DR: I would remove all marketing personnel from the movie development process. Now hear me out. That doesn’t suppose those remaining would make less than commercial choices. Otherwise, studios wouldn’t have survived up until all the corporate buyouts of the eighties and nineties. If the companies back then didn’t develop movies that made money, the studios would’ve collapsed and the development executives would have been out of jobs. The problem with the relatively recent phenomenon of marketing people inserting themselves into the creative process is that the pictures which get developed are only those that fit a current marketing scheme. This makes for an environment that crushes invention. And by invention, I’m talking about the next great and commercial genre yet to be unearthed or unspooled for the movie-going masses.
DP: What are some of the notable differences between writing for a movie and writing a novel?
DR: To know the differences is to first know the important similarities. Which are primarily getting to the work, writing something worth reading, and then gutting out the hard work of rewriting until the screenplay or novel is ready for the next stage of consumption. The differences go from obvious to subtle. Movies are sight and sound and often relegated to time length. Thus, I must write something that complements the medium. Novels have more elastic rules. Straight narrative allows for many more points of view, the ability to describe internal thoughts and feelings, and the poetry of language to put across any aspect of the story. Not them I’m that poetic. If anything, I’m often more about visuals and getting to the point. This, of course, might come from by screenwriting, get-to-the-drama background.
Another salient difference is the writer’s audience. As a novelist, my readers are looking to be entertained. As a screenwriter, my readers are–much like I said earlier–looking to quantify my work into something makeable, marketable, attractive to a movie star or director, or perhaps a project on which the reader might ride the screenplay’s economic or career coattails.
DP: How do you deal with writer’s block when you’re on a deadline?
DR: Writer’s block has never been an issue for me. At least in the classic, stare at the page knowing not what in the world to write. I’m big on pushing through and if it first doesn’t work, coming back later to revise the troubling sequence or passage until it’s finally right. Now, adding a deadline does create a definite measure of pressure. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through so many that I just have to trust if I move past the hiccup I’ll have enough time to return to fix it later.
DP: What’s the biggest mistake you think new screenwriters make?
DR: Believing there’s some magic formula to writing something successful, procuring an agent or manager, and/or getting a movie produced. Be it a how-to book or guru for hire or, as someone recently sent me, a set of educational, screenwriting-to-production infographics, there is no rule book. Zippo. Nyet. Nada. New writers need to embrace that they are their own best teachers. Find your voice. Tell your story. Rewrite your story until it works. Move on to the next.
DP: Lastly, what is some advice you were given about writing that you think every writer should hear?
DR: Be compelling. Sounds simplistic but it’s the truest of advice. Without being compelled by the writer’s command of the subject, use of language, or storytelling technique, why would anyone want to ever turn the page?
- Read more articles by Doug Richardson
- Balls of Steel: The ‘Magic Trick’ to Selling Your Screenplay
- Industry Insider: Q&A with Producer Judd Payne
Get Doug’s volume of Hollywood war stories in his new book
The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches