Keep Writing. And Writing. And Writing
Linklater: I never quite give up. My movie Waking Life, I thought about for 20 years, even before I was a filmmaker. It was a subject matter that was interesting to me and I thought there was a story to be told within it, but it was the technological end that completed the puzzle for me, a new way to look. Like, Oh yeah, that story works if it works like that. It doesn’t work live action. So it took 20 years for me to realize that it needed a new format altogether to encompass it.
Feig: The biggest roadblock on any script is finishing the first draft. There are so many opportunities to quit. I have a file full of half-finished scripts from my past that I gave up on. The middle of a script is a perfect time to bail. When you start a script, you’re filled with energy and excitement. The first act is a blast because you’re setting everything up. Then, you head into the second act with a head of steam based on all the great ideas your first act set in motion.
But it’s as you’re still approaching the middle of the script that you start to flag.What if I didn’t set things up right? What if I’m heading in the wrong direction? What if everything that seemed so good is actually shit? You start to feel lost because you’re not even at the halfway point and you’re suddenly plagued with doubts. And then you do what I think is usually a pretty bad idea — you have someone read what you’ve written so far.
I’m not saying it’s always a bad idea to do this. I’ve had it work on the occasions my wife ends up really liking what I did up to that point. But I also think it’s an energy suck, a way to break your writing rhythm and basically procrastinate while you wait for feedback. (My rule when I’m writing is five pages a day, no matter what.) And if whoever’s reading your pages doesn’t wax poetic over how great they are, you are in serious danger of getting demoralized and setting the script aside.
I say just blast through a first draft. Once you pass that halfway point, you start to get that downhill momentum. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I find that once I hit Act 3, I sometimes finish the rest of the script in a day or two. The best thing that ever happened to me as a writer was realizing that these fears and insecurities are standard issue and that I’m going to go through them every single time I write a script.
Holofcener: I remember doing a very drastic draft [of Enough Said] at one point, I remember I went to a motel and I went through the whole script and I rewrote so much of it in like two or three days, and thinking OK, I solved this problem. And then I remember giving it a week before I read it again, and it was just terrible, like I threw out the new stuff. And that doesn’t happen that often. It’s probably toward the middle of the second act where you realize you have nothing to say and this movie is going nowhere. That’s usually what happens, and I think that’s what happened there, too.
You just take a nap, a lot of naps, right? A glass of wine, naps, avoid working, leave your house. It’s when I’m writing, my mood in my life is so dependent on how the script is going and how I feel about myself. If I feel like I know what I’m doing, then I feel good about myself. If the script is a mess, and I don’t even want to pick it back up, I feel like such a failure.
Johnson: The Barton Fink edition of writer’s block, I’ve never encountered that, or maybe I’m just lazier than Barton Fink. If I hit a block, I just go to the movies. Basically I find stepping away from it for a day or two, it might be a little frustrating to think that, Oh I’m not making progress today, I find that stepping away and kind of recharging your brain by thinking about something else always solves the problem. Although, I guess the caveat is that again, I’m always writing my own stuff, I’m never under a deadline to finish one specific thing and that sounds horrifying to me, and that I can picture driving myself in that situation, and I’m lucky I guess that I don’t have to do that.
Feig: For years, my poor wife has had to listen to me fall apart around the midpoint of a script and say things like, “I think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written” and “I think it’s all wrong” and mope and sigh around the house. It’s why I now try to go hole up in my NYC apartment when I’m in the second act. It’s like the Wolfman locking himself in a closet when there’s a full moon — you know the beast is going to come out and so it’s best to make sure the rest of the world is safe from it. Or at least not annoyed by it.
Johnson: The thing I’m writing now, I’m finally actually getting into writing it out, but I had the idea a year ago. So it’s been a year of having this thing in my head and letting it grow I guess. I was about to say it’s a nice luxury to have but it isn’t. But the truth is it isn’t because I want to be making movies quicker, I want to be doing these things quicker; so my answer is I do it wrong and please don’t tell anyone they should imitate the way I do it.