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Things I’ve Learned: Hank Nelken

Things I’ve Learned: Hank Nelken

Articles - Screenwriting

Never leave a leave behind. As a writer, you are constantly pitching to studios—original ideas, assignment jobs, rewrites. Often, after you give your impassioned pitch, which energizes and excites the executive, they will ask you for a “leave behind.” Say your agent won’t let you. Say it’s only your copy. Point to something out the window and then eat it. Whatever. Just don’t give it them. It can never convey the excitement you did in the room.

Trust your instinct. You are a storyteller. That’s what you do. Whether you are writing a spec or pitching for an assignment, listen to your gut about what makes the story work. Be open to a producer or a studio’s ideas, they are often very good, but don’t wreck your story in an effort to please them. As much as it seems like they want you to use their ideas, and you absolutely should if they work, what they’re really looking for is someone who’s confident in their ability and can deliver a great script that will ultimately get the movie made.

Don’t believe the hype. Good or bad. If you’re just starting and things are tough, don’t listen to your inner critic who tells you that you suck, or your friends who think you’re nuts, or your parents who want you to get a real job. And if you’re starting to find some success, don’t let it go to your head. If you do start letting it go to your head, rent Overnight. Actually, rent Overnight either way. It’s amazing.

Find a connection to every project. If you’re writing your own material, write what you know. What makes you laugh. Or what you want to explore. If you’re given an assignment, find something you love about it. I think passion for your work is the difference between a good script and a great script. That and really high quality paper.

Surround yourself with positive people who believe in you and themselves.

Try new stuff. It’s fun and it gives you ideas.

Watch TV less.

Read more.

Don’t give up. Ever.

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