The key to being a great screenwriter is…

     If you’re ever in a noisy Starbucks in Los Angeles and you’d like to silence the crowd, simply utter the title of this essay slightly above a whisper.  

If you find that you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.   

 Lorne Michaels.

When I turned 50, something very profound became crystal clear to me.  I was overwhelmed by the absolute certainty of the epiphany that…SOME PEOPLE ARE NEVER GOING TO “GET IT”! 

     If you’re wondering what “IT” is you may be among the lost.   Many have wondered what “IT” is. Some people have “IT”. Some people “get it”.  Not all that have “IT” “Get it”.  Some that “get it” don’t have “IT”.  What is it?  What it is.  

After the room is silent as you can hear the braistas hearts beating, the answer is, drumroll please…

Follow the golden rule.

That’s it? I’m suspending my grande, soy, caramel macchiato for THAT?  How dare you?  

     It’s truly that Simple. As a writer you are in a committed relationship with your reader, audience or listener.  All of your relationships are fulfilling and rewarding when you feel good in the company of those you are involved with.  You hang out with people who allow you to be yourself. You marry or date a person that makes you feel good about yourself.  We surround ourselves with people and things that make us feel good about who we are. 

     Apply this to your stories.  If you are a screenwriter, remember that a human being is probably going to make a decision based on what they feel when they read the first page and closes the last.  Reading scripts and doing coverage is the third to least desirable jobs in Hollywood to me.*.  It is ultimately a thankless and dangerous job.  Please be kind to these poor souls. 

      When I started in the Tracy Ullman show in 1990 I ventured into the Gracie Films office and saw a closet full of scripts.  There was a 6 x 8 x 2  space filled from top to bottom and left to right with scripts. I was overwhelmed. A reader/pa/intern told me that each and every one of those scripts were pretty much absolute CRAP!   I couldn’t believe him after all this was a major company and these had to be submitted by a literary agent.  He suggested that I grab one at random and start reading. 

      I randomly selected a bradded stack of 3HP and began to read. Within three pages I realized that what was in my had would never make it to the screen or stage. I tried again three times with the same results. At the time I was new to the business, had no idea what a truly great screenplay was and I still may not know. But what I do have is common sense and some perspective on what is entertainment and what for a lack of a more politically correct term is masturbation. 

     Just like the relationship I eveluded to above are about communication between two people to achieve a common goal this intercourse between a writer and a reader (viewer) can’t be all about  one persons perspective.  Just because it’s entertaining to you doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. Gaining perspective of you various characters and how they respond in different scenarios is what will allow you to become a great communicator.  Just like knowing a little about a woman or a mans body will give you clues on how to be a better lover. 

     If you’re born a man you’re not going to flip a switch and become a woman and vice versa.  If you were born into an Irish Catholic environment you may not have the perspective of a Southern Baptist minister.  It is for these reasons that most educators suggest that everyone in this business take an acting class at some point. 

     Actors transform themselves to their assignment characters through various means. Once they have completed that journey the true perspective and enlightenment begins.  It is called study.  Art directors, set decorators, directors of photography and many others in our creative crafts make decisions based upon what the story and character requires, not just what they think will look cool.  

      If you can only appreciate things from your own perspective you are lost as a writer and perhaps more as a human. 

    I’m not saying that you need to BE a ballet dancer to write a ballet story but perhaps an hour or two spent a rehearsal would fuel the authenticity of your story. How you get there is up to you but you must recognize that unless you are a poor black child born in Detroit in 1962 you really won’t know how she feels until you drop your assumptions about her and try to see things from her point of view. Learn how she views the world,  not vice versa. 

    I recently worked on a project that had the requisite number of African American characters accompanied by the requisite number of stereotypes, missing black father, angry black woman, obnoxious black child and of course,  a black maid.  It was a daily challenge for me to ignore these subtle jabs at my culture but I realize that most people live a a safe place that they never venture out of.  We all know that the only progress is made when we step out of or comfort zones. We must try to see things from perspective other than our own. You can’t see in the dark. We do need to open our eyes. 

Bruce Bellamy local 44 
3rd best on-set dresser and all around badass.


One thought on “The key to being a great screenwriter is…

  1. Bruce, my pleasure to visit with you and Marryann today in my desert near Joshua Tree. You are a gifted writer. I have some of the most popular screen writing material. If you would like them, let me know. Some of your comments here and on Facebook are keepers.

    Liked by 1 person

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