Helping A Screenwriter Get Out Of Their Own Way by Larry Wilson
Film Courage: What are a few things you do to try to get people out of their own way?
Larry Wilson: In terms of teaching and writing and in that regard? One thing that I love doing when I’m doing workshops is having like a “free write” and I will pick something…a topic that has happened to me that week…or something that is making me really happy or really bothering me in the world (it can be really personal and all of that). And I will ask people to write…let’s just spend the first half-hour of the class just writing about that. And that could be “I was on the phone yesterday and before I knew it, I was saying things that I really regret and I wish I could take back. Have you been on the phone and said things to someone who you really care about that you really regret that you can’t take back?” And of course, everyone has. And people will write and I will be ruthlessly honest with myself and that will give people permission to be honest with themselves.
And some of the most amazing writing I’ve had come out of my workshops are those “free writes.” And writing…there is going to be so much rejection, indifference…there is going to be so many people saying “No, other people do that. You don’t do that! Other people make movies. You don’t make movies.”
I was with a very talented writer/director on Sunday night. Who was from Georgia. And when he said to his family he was moving to New York to make movies he might as well have been saying ‘I’m going to Mars to colonize the red…No! That is what other people do. A kid from Georgia doesn’t do that.” And I just try to convince people to just relax. Oh my gosh, relax! Just write it. Don’t worry about it. Yeah, some people will hate it. Some people will love it. BEETLE JUICE got a lot of terrible reviews. They were wrong. I was told by one of the most prominent executives in Hollywood I was ruining my career. He was wrong. But so what if they’re right? You’ll do another one.
“But it’s hardly a perfect process and so many people will be so afraid of how they’re going to be judged by words on a computer screen for Gosh sakes. It’s a screenplay, okay! It’s an f’n screenplay. Get over it. But they will be so afraid of how they will be judged (and they will be judged a failure) that they will just quit and figure out something else to do.”
I love doing “free writes.” I love saying ‘reveal a little something about yourself. This is a safe place.’ And it’s amazing what comes out if people give themselves permission to do that. But it’s hardly a perfect process and so many people will be so afraid of how they’re going to be judged by words on a computer screen for Gosh sakes. It’s a screenplay, okay! It’s an f’n screenplay. Get over it. But they will be so afraid of how they will be judged and they will be judged a failure that they will just quit and figure out something else to do. So I try and I try and I try to just loosen people up and say “feel free to fail.”
I started surfing again after 40 years of not doing it. And I was a really good surfer 40 years ago. And I started again and was I terrible. I mean everything I thought I knew…I mean I knew it in principle but I had to learn it again. And then all the sudden I started getting good again. But it was after a lot of falling off of a surfboard and embarrassing myself. But it’s that same thing, you fall off…you fall off…you fall off..and then you don’t. And writing is you’re going to write badly…you’re going to write badly and then you’re going to write good.
Question for the Viewers: Take a moment to write about a conversation you had in real life that you wish you could have back.
Larry Wilson: Maybe this is a good story for aspiring screenwriters out there. When I went to work with Michael McDowell [co-writer] on BEETLEJUICE, we had been working for a couple of weeks and he sat me down and said “Larry, this is not working out. This is not happening.” And I was taken aback and I said “Why? What do you mean?” and he said “Because you are just sitting around waiting for inspiration. And I don’t work like that. I’m not going to sit around waiting for you…..(Watch the video on Youtube here for more of this interview).
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