Daniel Pyne is a director, producer, novelist, and the prolific screenwriter behind Hollywood hits like Any Given Sunday (1999), The Sum of All Fears (2002), and The Manchurian Candidate (2004).
MovieMaker sat down with Pyne to discuss Los Angeles, the process of writing, the culture of Hollywood, and much more. His latest film is Fracture, for which he developed the story and wrote the screenplay.
Value counts in the long term.
I worked at becoming the best writer I could be—the best writer in terms of character, dialogue and dramatic intent—and I keep working at it. I never stop, and by doing that it makes me valuable in the long term, not in the short term. I’ve written lots of spec scripts that don’t sell, but it makes me valuable over the long term because ultimately what Hollywood craves is the Nobel Prize winner who they can make write romantic comedies.
The frustrating intersection of art and business.
It’s not really anyone’s fault, but there are ideas you’d like to explore which are not exactly marketable. Well, I write it anyway, but I can’t sell it. I’ll write a script and the response will be, “Well, this is great, but who’s gonna make it?” And I think that’s sad. I think movies have changed. The economics are so huge now that there’s a real need for the company to make this money back.
Don’t be afraid to share ideas.
I think it’s good for writers to understand that there’s a community of writers and not be afraid to share ideas. Everybody’s so paranoid in the beginning. The fact is ideas can’t be copywritten and, frankly, there are very few ideas that are that great and unique that somebody hasn’t already covered.
Experience breeds imitation.
I love writers who haven’t been corrupted by Hollywood, because their ideas are fresher and they tend to be more interesting. Hollywood writers tend to ground their ideas in other movies. You would think it would be the opposite—that amateurs would be more likely to ape another movie—but no, they really are taking from their life, which is very inspiring, which is what they should be doing.
LA doesn’t matter.
They say you have to be in LA to pursue the career. But if you’re not in LA, you’re probably gonna get more interesting, diverse, real-life material to work from.
You’ll always have to face a blank page.
What I do hasn’t changed at all from when I was starting out. My process is the same. I’m always learning, but the process is the same. I still have to get up in the morning and face the blank page. Success or lack of success, or getting paid or not getting paid, for me anyway, is irrelevant to the actual writing of the script. So one of the pitfalls is thinking it’s gonna change—that somehow there’s going to be this revelation that you’re going to suddenly be successful and the whole thing will get better. It doesn’t, it’s always the same.
Write what you care about.
What you should be doing is writing stories that you care about, characters that you care about, things that you’re interested in, regardless of whether you’re writing your first screenplay or you’re in LA and you’re writing your tenth.
Don’t expect to ever make money.
I think it’s a pitfall, when you’re starting, to expect to ever to make money in this business. You better be doing it because you love it. Have a back-up plan, a side plan. I still have fallbacks. When I travel I’ll look in the want ads just to see if there’re other jobs I could do, just in case this gig doesn’t work out. Maybe a copywriting job or a newswriting job I could qualify for. I love it. I would write for free.
Don’t go to the movies and decide you need to be writing what you’ve just seen. Don’t listen to a producer at a conference who says, “You have to anticipate what’s coming, the next big thing.” The problem is, the minute a movie’s in the theater it was written two years ago.
The Manchurian Candidate was written two years ago, so whatever “it” is, it’s over. You’ve got to be thinking two years ahead, and who knows what’s gonna happen in two years? So, it’s better to write what you know and write what you like. MM