The Way to Last is Always to Be a Creator: Dee Rees on Screenwriting

The first thing about starting to write a movie needs to be that you love it. Don’t start with what you think is commercial or what audiences will like.

What are you obsessed with? What are you afraid of? What makes you excited? What makes you laugh? Whatever that is, that’s what you should write about. Because writing is hard. Your first draft is not going to be your best draft. You’re going to be churning out hundreds of pages. So it has to be something you are obsessed with and are trying to uncover. That’s going to be the basis for a screenplay that has heart.

Try to start away from the computer. The blinking cursor can be a turn off. I like to start with a handwritten draft. Get a composition book and get everything out. When you’re typing, your brain is in a corrective process—you’re editing yourself, and that interferes with the creative flow. Don’t worry about things like format. Instead, give yourself the space to vomit it all out onto the page. You’re going to throw half of it away, but you need to get it all out. Do whatever frees you the most to explore; even stream of consciousness, something that’s not on topic—anything to get your pen moving.

Every, say, Thursday, type what you have so far, and you’ll surprise yourself with how much you’ve written. Typing is like your first edit—when I type, I’m changing or cutting lines.

Writing, if you have a connection to the material, is something that goes on through the process. It never stops. Even on the set, you’re adding lines, you’re changing lines. And in the edit you’re rewriting again. You’re constantly challenging the material; the characters aren’t who you think they are; everything keeps getting deeper, and you just gotta flow with it.

This is corny, but keep going, keep writing. You’re probably going to write a ton of stuff over your career that doesn’t get produced, but be self-generative. Be able to create your own subjects—that’s your power to say yes. Longevity is the thing, it’s about lasting, and the way to last is always to be a creator. Don’t rely on agents to find you jobs or producers to find you material: You have to self-generate. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s 2018 Complete Guide to Making Movies, on newsstands now.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Luca

    November 13, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Liked reading this. Knew much there already, but learned something too. Thank You for sharing. Love MOVIEMAKER, I always find something new or interesting.

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