50 Hollywood Screenwriters Reveal Their Writing Process

What’s Your Personal Writing Process?

In screenwriting, sometimes the biggest challenge is discovering the most effective writing process That Works For You.

For example, each and every writer has a different approach to how they:

  • summon key plot points
  • establish characters
  • use subtext
  • utilize themes
  • generate dialogue
  • control pacing
  • optimize structure
  • stay disciplined, hit deadlines, manage workloads
  • generally generate inspiration
  • etc.

As explored in our “Which Species of Screenwriter Are You?” article, no two writers are the same.

And their writing process can be wildly different, accordingly.

Ergo: we have collated a list of 50 of the industry’s finest screenwriters, sharing their creative writing process, where and how they find inspiration, and the tactics and strategies they use to get the best out of themselves.

The Writer Speaks: Billy Wilder

1. Billy Wilder’s Writing Process

“If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

I have ten commandments. The first nine are, thou shalt not bore. The tenth is, thou shalt have right of final cut.

“The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.”

Billy Wilder Writing Process

2. Joel & Ethan Coen’s Writing Process

“We go to the office every day when we’re writing – or supposed to be writing. It’s not always productive, and there’s a lot of procrastinating, just staring at the wall, like any other writing. But we just make ourselves go to the office every day for more or less the whole day.”

“The characters are the result of two things-first, we elaborate them into fairly well-defined people through their dialogue, then they happen all over again, when the actor interprets them.”

“When you do a writing job for a studio, one of the things you want to do is satisfy the expectations of your employer. That’s a little bit different than when you sit down and write something to satisfy yourself, because then you’re the employer.” 

coen brothers writing process

3. Amy Holden Jones’ Writing Process

“I have several notebooks all over the place, and a scrapbook in my computer where I jot down ideas as they occur to me as I’m writing. “

“Reading the newspaper is a big source for me. True stories of things people have done and the way they actually behaved often surprises me.”

“When I have to, I’ll work on one [project] in the morning, and one in the afternoon, or I’ll work on each on alternate days or weeks. It can be good because you get to move away from stuff and come back to it a little bit fresh.”

Amy Holden Jones Writing Process

4. Charlie Kaufman’s Writing Process

“There’s this inherent screenplay structure that everyone seems to be stuck on, this three-act thing. It doesn’t really interest me. To me, it’s kind of like saying, ‘Well, when you do a painting, you always need to have sky here, the person here and the ground here.’ Well, you don’t.”

“The way I write is very much without kind of a goal. I have something I’m interested in and then I decide I’m going to explore it. I don’t know where the characters are going to go, I don’t know what the movie is going to do or what the screenplay is going to do. For me, that’s the way to keep it alive.”

“So when I write characters and situations and relationships, I try to sort of utilize what I know about the world, limited as it is, and what I hear from my friends and see with my relatives.”

Charlie Kaufman Writing Process

5. Steven De Souza’s Writing Process

“I believe in free association. I always carry a bunch of three-by-five cards where I write ideas that come to me – bits of dialogue or odd observations. Eventually, a couple of them will collide to form a whole new idea, or they’ll achieve a critical mass, and a light bulb will flash in my head and I’ll say, that’s a story.”

“If I were doing a Western, I’ll watch a bunch of Westerns, put on Dimitri Tiomkin soundtracks from Westerns and I’ll write ideas down on three-by-five cards for, like, you know, days or weeks.”

“You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.”

Steven De Souza Writing Process

6. Woody Allen’s Writing Process

“I always found it was a mistake not to know the ending in advance because one of the common traps that writers fall into—and I fell into many times when I started—you get a great initial idea that doesn’t go anyplace and then you have no story and you find you’ve written 20 pages or 50 pages or 70 pages and you’re out, you’re gone”

“To me, the torture is getting the idea, working the idea out — its general plot, structure and story. But once I know that, I can write a screenplay in two, three weeks. It’s the difference between writing it and writing it down. It becomes pleasurable for me and flows easily because I’ve done all the spade work beforehand.”

“During the course of the year a number of ideas just come up automatically. I could be walking down the street. Or shaving. An idea will hit me and I’ll write it down. Then, when I’m ready to write, I check my little matchbooks and napkins and find that it is good or it’s pretty terrible.”

Woody Allen Writing Process


7. Oliver Stone’s Writing Process

“When I’m working with another writer, I tend to make a lot of effort. When I collaborate with a writer, I’m not interested in credit, but I’m feeding him stuff all the time that I feel is important to shaping the script.”

“Set a limit for yourself. Get the idea out, at least in
a treatment form, because treatments can excite the imagination of the buyer,
but going to a full screenplay, and going all out on it, can be a huge downer
[if the project stalls].”

“What I love about original writing is you can really let out some of your deepest feelings. Sometimes you’re amazed what comes up. You say stuff that you don’t think as a civilized being you’d say.”

Oliver Stone Writing Process

8. Callie Khouri’s Writing Process

“Part of being a writer is getting yourself quiet enough and out of the way enough that the character can just speak.”

“Your goal is to get a movie made, and you may get a movie made or you may not. But if your goal is to tell your story, the story that you want to tell, then you have a much better shot at having that happen, because it’s a much more specific goal. There has to be a single-mindedness about it.

“It all begins with the picture in my head. It doesn’t begin with the word. It begins with the picture that I find words to describe that picture.”

Callie Khouri Writing Process

9. Aaron Sorkin’s Writing Process

“I’ve never written anything that I haven’t wanted to write again. I want to, and still am, writing ‘A Few Good Men’ again. I didn’t know what I was doing then, and I’m still trying to get it right. I would write ‘The Social Network’ again if they would let me, I’d write ‘Moneyball’ again. I would write ‘The West Wing’ again.”

“Any time you get two people in a room who disagree about anything, the time of day, there is a scene to be written. That’s what I look for.”

“I’m very physical. When I’m writing, I’m playing all the parts; I’m saying the lines out loud, and if I get excited about something – which doesn’t happen very often when I’m writing, but it’s the greatest feeling when it does – I’ll be out of the chair and walking around, and if I’m at home, I’ll find myself two blocks from my house.”

Aaron Sorkin Writing process

10. Spike Lee’s Writing Process

“I’m just trying to tell a good story and make thought-provoking, entertaining films. I just try and draw upon the great culture we have as a people, from music, novels, the streets.”

“You have to do the research. If you don’t know about something, then you ask the right people who do.”

“I think it would be very boring dramatically to have a film where everybody was a lawyer or doctor and had no faults. To me, the most important thing is to be truthful.”

Spike Lee Writing Process

11. Stanley Kubrick’s Writing Process

“You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit at the table calmly and think about whether it’s really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.”

“I think it is essential if a man is good to know where he is bad and to show it, or if he is strong, to decide what the moments are when he is weak and to show it.  And I think that you must never try to explain how he got that way or why he did what he did.”

“[After the first read], then it just becomes a matter of, almost like a code-breaking of breaking the thing down to a structure that seems to be still truthful and not losing the ideas, the content, and the feeling of the book. And trying to get it into a much more limited time frame of a movie.” 

stanley Kubrick writing process

12. Akira Kurosawa’s Writing Process

“Memory is the source of your creation. Whether it’s from reading or from your own real-life experience, you can’t create unless you have something inside yourself.”

“You need to get used to the task of writing. You must make an effort to learn to regard it not as something painful but as routine. But most people tend to give up halfway. I tell my AD’s that if they give up once, then that’ll be it, because that becomes habit, and they’ll give up as soon as it gets hard. I tell them to write all the way to the end no matter what, until they get to some sort of end.”

“But if you genuinely want to make films, then write screenplays. All you need to write a script is paper and pencil. It’s only through writing scripts that you learn specifics about the structure of film and what cinema is.”

Akira Kurosawa writing process

13. Francis Ford Coppola’s Writing Process

“After I have, whatever it is, 60 or 70 pages, then I’ll read it… what I like to do now is then take it and write it as a short story… because I look at it from another way.”

“You outta love what you are doing… you really have to love the project and love the story because, over time, you’ll really start to hate it.”

“The way I write is like I have a great, big ball of dough – pasta. And I’m writing… once in a while I’ll take some and make pizza. Or I make a cake. But it’s all the pasta of my life. All the ideas I have. Something I saw, or I dreamed, or an observation.”

Francis ford Coppola writing process

14. Eric Roth’s Writing Process

“I’m very disciplined. You have to be disciplined. I know there’s people who sometimes can do it different ways where they just vomit it out in three weeks or whatever. But this is the way I have to do it. This is my process.”

“Usually I choose the things I do as to what the theme of the piece is. As to what will resonate from it. What will have something that will hopefully last.”

“Whether you’re writing real people or fictional people, I think you need to try to get into their heads and figure out what makes them tick. One of the things I think a good screenwriter knows is that the voices are individual voices. There’s a difference, everybody’s different.”

Eric Roth Writing Process

15. Akiva Goldsman’s Writing Process

“I don’t do anything. I just try to remember it. I believe good ideas stay so if I forget one, it probably wasn’t a good idea.”

“I start in the morning and write all day. Successful writers don’t wait for the muse to fill themselves unless they’re geniuses. I’m not a genius. I’m smart, I have some talent, and I have a lot of stubbornness. I persevere. I was by no means the best writer in my class in college. I’m just the one still writing.”

“Adaptation is always the same process for me, which is some version of throwing the book at the wall and seeing what pages fall out. It is trying to imagine, remember the story, read it, put it down, and then write sort of an outline without the book in front of you with some hope that what you like about it will be filtered and distilled out through your memory and then that will be similar to what other people like about it.”

Akiva Goldsman Writing Process

16. Gerald Di Pego’s Writing Process

“I keep testing the idea in my head, trying to draw it out into a beginning, middle, and end, thinking about what it really means, what it’s about”

“You can’t force ideas to show up. They appear when you are in the shower, on a walk, in your car, or even in the middle of a conversation.”

“It’s very important to know how the world you’re writing about works, to know it as your character knows it. I don’t mean that if you’re writing about a surgeon you have to go to med school, but you do need to know what it looks like and how it feels to cut open the human body.”

Gerald DiPego Writing Process

17. Richard Linklater’s Writing Process

“Storytelling is powerful; film particularly. We can know a lot of things intellectually, but humans really live on storytelling. Primarily with ourselves; we’re all stories of our own narrative.”

“You can take the most colorful life of someone and you can make a very boring movie out of it if you don’t break convention, or everything’s the same and we’ve seen it all before, no matter how exciting.”

“There are a million ideas in a world of stories. Humans are storytelling animals. Everything’s a story, everyone’s got stories, we’re perceiving stories, we’re interested in stories. So to me, the big nut to crack is to how to tell a story, what’s the right way to tell a particular story.”

Richard Linklater Writing Process

18. Robert Towne’s Writing Process

“The single most important question, I think, that one must ask one’s self about a character is what are they really afraid of? What are they really afraid of? And if you ask that question, it’s probably for me the single best way of getting into a character. That finally is where stories are told… with a character that’s real.”

‘If you don’t set everything up in the beginning, you’ll pay for it… in the middle or in the end. So I would rather pay for it at the beginning.”

“In rewriting what you have to be able to do is read a piece of material, say what’s wrong with it, know how to say what’s right with it, and then be able to do it yourself. That’s really what it comes down to.”

Robert Towne Writing Process


19. Quentin Tarintino’s Writing Process

“I steal from every single movie ever made. If people don’t like that, then tough tills, don’t go and see it, all right? I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”

“The way I write is really like putting one foot in front of the other. I really let the characters do most of the work, they start talking and they just lead the way. I had heard that whole speech about the Sicilians a long time ago, from a black guy living in my house.”

“Basically, my writing’s like a journey. I’ll know some of the stops ahead of time, and I’ll make some of those stops and some of them I won’t. Some will be a moot point by the time I get there. You know every script will have four to six basic scenes that you’re going to do. It’s all the scenes in the middle that you’ve got to—not struggle, it’s never a struggle—but you’ve got to write through—that’s where your characters really come from.”

Quentin Tarantino Writing Process


20. Diablo Cody’s Writing Process

“I always say when you write a book, you’re a ‘one-man band.’ Whereas, when you finish a screenplay, it’s just a sketch.”

“The stuff I write isn’t strictly autobiographical, but it’s personal, if that makes any sense. It draws all these little incidents and people out of my life and then contorts them.”

“I was kinda sitting in my kitchen in Robbinsdale, and thinking about the image of a teenage girl sitting across from these uptight yuppies in their living room. They’re basically auditioning to be the parents of her unborn child. And I was like, that’s possibly the most awkward thing I could imagine, and it is therefore hilarious. And I wound up building the film around that image.”

Diablo Cody Writing Process


21. Paul Schrader’s Writing Process

“If you write interesting roles, you get interesting people to play them. If you write roles that are full of nuance and contradiction and have interesting dialog, actors are drawn to that.”

“Look into yourself and say ‘what do I have that no one else has, but other people can understand and identify with?’, then you’re only in competition with yourself.”

“I was only writing on spec. At the time, I felt that I could work faster on spec – by the time you pitched an idea and made a deal, you could have written the script.”

Paul Schrader Writing Process

22. Paddy Chayefsky’s Process

“Artists don’t talk about art. Artists talk about work. If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.”

“The best thing that can happen is for the theme to be nice and clear from the beginning.”

“The worst kind of censorship is the kind that takes place in your own mind before you sit down to a typewriter.”

Paddy Chayefsky Writing Process

23. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Writing Process

“Screenwriting is like ironing. You move forward a little bit and go back and smooth things out.”

“The better way to go, in terms of better writing, is having two characters that are more opposite. That way you can get more traction.”

“I think if I have a problem as a writer it’s writer’s block in reverse, which can be just as detrimental as not knowing what to write. I think I have so much shit in my brain that sometimes I just kind of vomit a lot of it out.”

Paul Thomas Anderson Writing Process

24. Nicole Holofcener’s Writing Process

“I have my own voice, which is unique to everyone – everyone has their own voice; if they would just write from a vulnerable embarrassing place, it’s going to be universal, and it’s going to be entertaining. Because everyone is the same, and everyone is unique.”

“The next day I read it and inevitably throw most of it out but I’ve started and I just keep moving forward from there. It’s one step forward, two steps back. It’s more fun for me to write like this, it flows out of me in a much more creative, enjoyable way.”

“I get an idea or a vague theme or a character with a particular job and I start taking notes. Eventually I want to stop with the notes so I start typing the script.”

Nicole Holofcener Writing Process

25. AlexanderPayne & Jim Taylor’s Process

“I think a badly crafted, great idea for a new film with a ton of spelling mistakes is just 100 times better than a well-crafted stale script.” – Jim Taylor

“If you make a decent product it all comes to you.” – Alexander Payne

“We have the best time writing when the characters are leading us somewhere and we’re not so much trying to write about some theme.” – Jim Taylor

Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor Writing Process

26. John Singleton’s Process

“I make notes about things I see in films that really affect me, like the ending of ‘Jules and Jim.’ I think about how I can utilize things in my work. And I have a team of people who keep me down to earth.”

“I write everything longhand and then type it up. I feel like the mind moves quicker than your hands on a keyboard can. If you can write it out, you can change your idea, you have it in your notebook, it’s organic. It’s there, you can touch it, you can feel it.”

“When I write, not only do I write it, but I improvise the dialogue as I write. So I’m saying the dialogue to myself as I’m writing it.”

John Singleton Writing Process

27. William Goldman’s Writing Process

“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it, putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before.”

“The writing is never what takes the most time. It’s trying to figure what you’re going to put down that fills the days. With anger at your own ineptitude, with frustration that nothing is happening inside your head, with panic that maybe nothing will ever happen inside your head, with blessed little moments that somehow knit together so that you can begin to visualize a scene.”

“A good writer is not someone who knows how to write- but how to rewrite”

William Goldman Writing Process

28. David Mamet’s Process

“The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always, ‘What does the protagonist want?’ That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants.”

“Every scene should be able to answer three questions: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”

“A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.”

David Mamet Writing Process


29. Orson Welles’ Writing Process

“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.”

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

“Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible.”

Orson Welles Writing Process

30. Nancy Meyers’ Writing Process

“I have something I sort of want to say, but it evolves. It’s a process. It’s always interesting to see what it becomes, what it is I really do want to say. It isn’t always crystal clear in the beginning.”

“Movies don’t look hard, but figuring it out, getting the shape of it, getting everybody’s character right and having it be funny, make sense and be romantic, it’s creating a puzzle. Yes, having been a writer for so long, I have an awareness of when things are going awry, but it doesn’t mean I know how to fix them.”

“Sometimes when I’m writing I’ll play Cole Porter, just because the rhythms and the lyrics are so perfect that it’s like having a smart partner in the room. I have a huge collection of music that I listen to when I’m writing.”

Nancy Meyers Writing Process


31. Bill Marsilii’s Writing Process

“I write a very detailed outline, usually between twenty and twenty-five pages. Each scene has a slug line in caps that tells me what it is, followed by a prose paragraph about anything and everything I know about the scene.”

“You can’t just ask someone who’s never met you to read your script. When you walk up to a total stranger with a 110-page screenplay in your hand, shove it at them and say, “Would you please read my script?” it’s like asking a stranger, “Hi, you don’t know me, but would you help me move this weekend?” You’re asking for five hours of somebody’s time – time to read it, to prepare notes, and the time they’ll spend with you over the phone trying to talk you off the ledge. When it comes to connecting with others who are in a position to help you, you should look at it this way: It’s an imposition to be asked for a favour, but it’s flattering to be asked for advice.”

“I’ve never started writing a script without knowing what it was really about, whether it’s a character’s redemption, or trying to regain their self-esteem, or trying to love again. Without theme, I wouldn’t know how to write it.”

Bill Marsilli Writing Process

32. Cesare Zavattini’s Writing Process

“I believe in imagination, but I have more faith in reality, in people. I am not interested in prearranged encounters, in the drama of things that happen to come together.”

“I am against ‘exceptional’ personages. The time has come to tell the audience that they are the true protagonists of life. The result will be a constant appeal to the responsibility and dignity of every human being.”

“One shouldn’t be astonished that the cinema has always felt the natural, unavoidable necessity to insert a ‘story’ in the reality to make it exciting and ‘spectacular.”

Cesare Zavattini Writing Process

33. Wes Anderson’s Writing Process

“Usually when I’m making a movie, what I have in mind first, for the visuals, is how we can stage the scenes to bring them more to life in the most interesting way, and then how we can make a world for the story that the audience hasn’t quite been in before.”

“There’s no story if there isn’t some conflict. The memorable things are usually not how pulled together everybody is. I think everybody feels lonely and trapped sometimes. I would think it’s more or less the norm.”

“Do you know how writers often say the characters take over… But that is more or less what it always feels like to me, too. Even though that’s just a way of describing how your brain is working, it’s still what you tend to feel.”

Wes Anderson Writing Process

34. Ed Solomon’s Writing Process

“I work in generations. By this I mean, I get the idea and I can easily fit it on a page, often even in a paragraph  then I stop. I start again a few days later and try to expand it to a few pages. Then keep expanding until I have a complete script.”

“It’s a hard world because there’s a lot of duplicity. People say one thing and mean another. They use flattery as a kind of lubricant and it works because we are highly sensitive to it. We tend to blend people’s opinions of our work with opinions of us. But most of the time they don’t mean it, so we find ourselves confused. We don’t really know what’s true anymore”

“I’ve come to really believe that every story we tell has its own unique needs. Its own unique rules. And it wants to dictate how it needs to be told, and your job is to listen and then to collaborate with it as you develop the story together.”

Ed Solomon Writing Process

35. Steven Speilberg’s Process

“You can’t start a movie by having the attitude that the script is finished, because if you think the script is finished, your movie is finished before the first day of shooting.”

“All good ideas start out as bad ideas, that’s why it takes so long.”

“Audience members are only concerned about the story, the concept, the bells and whistles and the noise that a popular film starts to make even before it’s popular. So audiences will not be drawn to the technology; they’ll be drawn to the story.”

Steven Speilberg Writing Process

36. Sofia Coppola’s Writing Process

“With writing, I need a lot of time to sit around and do nothing. But now that I have kids, I just don’t have that luxury. I have a babysitter for three hours a day, which is how long I have to write.”

“Whenever I finish a movie, I usually go through a period where I think I’ll never have another idea. And then, somehow, you get another idea.”

“I’ve always written my own scripts, I really like doing everything from the beginning and taking it all the way through.”

Sofia Coppola Writing Process


37. Frank Darabont’s Writing Process

“If you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to be like one of those punch-drunk fighters in the old Warner Bros. boxing pictures: too stupid to fall down, you just keep slugging and stay on your feet.”

“I think a story should take as long to tell as it is appropriate to that particular story.”

“I’m still learning. It’s all a learning curve. Every time you sit down, with any given episode of any given show, it is a learning curve. You’re learning something new about how to tell a story. But then, I’ve felt that way about everything I’ve ever done – television, features or whatever. Directing or writing, it always feels like the first day of school to me.”

Frank Darabont Writing Process

38. Ernest Lehman’s Writing Process

“I had absolutely nothing for the final act of the picture. I found myself in the second week of not having written a single page. I said, “Hitch, we’re in trouble”. He said, “I’ll be right down”. I didn’t know why we were in Mt. Rushmore, and I told him my dilemma. I suddenly heard myself saying: “She takes a gun out of her purse and shoots him.” Where did that come from? The right brain. The right brain keeps working all the time.”

“And the only way I could get out of it was to write my way out of it. And I think that, despite the unpleasantness of having to work under those conditions, I wound up at the top of my form as a writer, and, later, Hitch was at the top of his form when he directed the picture. In a sense, it’s unlike any picture he ever made. And it seems to have legs…It’s just incredible what endurance it has. It’s kind of timeless.”

“You have to understand that people feel threatened by a writer. It’s very curious. He knows something they don’t know. He knows how to write, and that’s a subtle, disturbing quality he has.”

Ernest Lehman Writing Process

39. Tony Gilroy’s Process

“The bulk of my career has been built between three o’clock and seven-thirty pm.”

“We need a spark, we need some place to start, and for me – for us, “me” will be “us” now – we need something really small. Small is good, small is really, really good for me. Something small and very, very specific. The big ideas don’t work. It’s death if you say ‘I want to do a movie about class warfare’ or ‘I want to do a movie about corporate malfeasance or I want to do.”

“The writing is really hard. You’re alone. It really pulls it out of you. You pull it out of your head. But when you’re a director, you’re shopping – you’re picking this actor, you’re picking this scene. It’s like the most intense kinetic high-speed shopping of all time. You sit in a chair and it will all come rushing at you like a wind tunnel.”

Tony Gilroy writing process


40. Shane Black’s Writing Process

“Sometimes I’ll have a scene that strikes me, I just feel like writing a scene, a mini-story that seems like it might lead somewhere. But that is such a tentative, fishing-hook way to go about it that these days I’ve found it’s easier to kind of at least have your concept and start attaching things to a skeleton.”

“Well, it’s sort of like being lead by the nose by the process as opposed to having any particular control over it. As ideas occur to me over a period of time, I’ll write down little bits and snippets for scenes and pieces of dialog — ideas for a character, interesting little anecdotes, things that amuse me, whatever — and throw them all in a shoe box.”

“So, the idea of creating characters you just want to hang out with, although it seems a bit banal as a concept, I think holds some water. Grounding even the most mythic or iconic characters in something that’s a vulnerability or wondering what someone’s hiding can be just as important as watching them put on their mask that they present to the world.”

Shane black writing process


41. Frank Pierson’s Writing Process

“Writing becomes an addiction so that if you don’t put something down on paper every day, you get really mean and awful with withdrawal symptoms.”

“What’s happening is that your unconscious is writing all the time. It doesn’t stop. In the middle of a dinner party or just playing with the dogs or what have you, you suddenly have in idea. Sometimes it’s important to go write that down, but it won’t go away. If it’s a good idea, it’ll linger in your mind. If it’s a bad idea, you’ll forget it.”

“Walter Newman, who was the writer on it before me, had the inspiration to do it as a comedy, but he was fed up with the whole damn thing, so he sketched it as a comedy. Then he quit, and that was my opportunity to come in and pick up where Walter left off. He just gave me such a gift because he showed how to do it as a comedy, and all I had to do was follow in his footsteps. It was extraordinary.”

Frank Pierson Writing Process

42. Melissa Mathison’s Writing Process

“I avoid listening to too many people’s comments about my script. I have learned to take in what is of use. It’s too frustrating looking at somebody’s notes who didn’t get what you were doing. If somebody says, ‘This stinks, and here are all the reasons,’ that’s not going to help you.”

“My idea of a good fantasy is something that’s absolutely grounded in reality. And there’s a little element that doesn’t belong there – and that’s the fantasy element – that you have to react to and deal with in a completely real way.”

“If children are given some real content, they can feel powerful with their own understanding of it. I think a movie like ‘Indian in the Cupboard’ will instruct them how to proceed as people. They can think about whether they would have done something the way a character did, how they would have felt about an event in the story.”

Melissa Mathison Writing Process


43.  Jim Kouf’s Writing Process

“The toughest thing is to keep coming up with original ideas. You have to go through a hundred ideas to find one thats right.”

“The difference between an action film and an adventure film is that adventure is more exotic. There has to be some element beyond the usual car chase. There’s a sense of history about an adventure film.”

“You know bad writing when you read it. The dialogue is not sharp, the characters are not as interesting or as funny or as charming as they should be, the story is not as clever as it can be. Ultimately, good writing can’t be boring. You’ve got to be clever. Why are we going to sit through it for two hours?”

Jim Kouf Writing Process


44. Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi’s Process

“Well, I think in my own work the subject matter usually deals with characters I know, aspects of myself, friends of mine” – Martin Scorsese

“Try something experimental. You push further. It’s not just experimental for experiment-sake. But you push the boundaries further.” – Martin Scorsese

“You want to get films made that express what you have to say.” – Martin Scorsese 

Martin Scorsese Writing Process


45. Scott Rosenberg’s Writing Process

“You definitely try to watch a lot of movies. I prefer not to read scripts because I don’t want to know what is out there. When I’m not socializing, most of my free time is spent reading. But more importantly, it is about getting out there and living a life that’s not related to the movie business.”

“When I feel ready, I sit down with a legal pad, number it one through seventy, and I write a simple sentence for each beat of the story. I end up with an outline where I’ll know what my first-act break and my second-act break are. Of course, this outline will constantly change, and I tool with it for about a week.”

“I always had a day job, so I always wrote nights and weekends. The pact I made with myself was the minute I made dollar one, I would never again write nights or weekends. Writing would be my job. And it’s pretty much what I do now.”

Scott Rosenberg Writing Process

46. Ron Bass’ Process

“Finding ideas has never meant that much to me. I’ve never felt very proud of that. I’m a storyteller. I’m not necessarily the person that gets the initial idea. They could come from anywhere, personal experience, people who work with me. Very often it comes from buyers they tell me their idea and then I’ll write the story around it, like spinning the pearl around the grain of sand.”

“Once I get the germ of an idea, there’s a process I call ‘matrixing’, which is everything that happens before I outline, a sort of gathering of ideas. I think about things in a deliberately disorganised way because I want to be free and open to anything. I gather everything in whatever way it strikes me. I got to the park and pace around and write out every idea that comes to me, whether it’s about plot, structure, character, dialogue, theme, or tone. I’m writing everything like crazy for days or weeks.”

“A screenplay is about distilling the essence of a story and its characters.  You really have to find the heart and soul of your story and hew to it.”

Ron Bass Writing Process

47. Anthony Minghella’s Writing Process

“I have to sort of freeze myself to write because it’s about focus, it’s about concentrating as hard as I am able to in a creative space. You’re trying to inhabit a series of fictional environments with fictional dynamics, and you have to surrender to them absolutely. The route into how you write the next line or create the next action is to somehow inhabit the virtual reality of that scene.”

“I’ve been writing for over twenty years, all my adult life, and so I suppose that I’ve made peace with myself and my hopeless, undisciplined technique. I’ve stopped unravelling everytime I’m unable to write. I wait. The drawer opens. Waiting is part of writing. When I write the word ‘waiting’ by hand it even looks like ‘writing.’”

“The imaginative leap for me of writing for women is no more difficult than the one of writing for men. I’ve always wanted to have women well represented in the work that I’ve done because I’ve always been around them and around the way they look at the world.”

Anthony Minghella Writing Process

48. Robin Swicord’s Writing Process 

“I spend a lot of time thinking and making notes and playing little scenarios in my mind to figure out the central theme of the story and things about the characters. I imagine ways to make it as visual as possible, how scenes will push other scenes, or whose voice will be heard above the crowd. It’s a very long process.”

“[My writing place] opens into a garden so I don’t feel like I’m in jail. I have lots of natural lighting, a lamp on my desk, and my books all around me, which makes it easy for me to look up stuff. I know that not everyone can have the luxury of having a room of their own to just write but I think it’s important to not sleep in the room that you work. One of the hardest things for me when I was living in a one-room apartment in New York was that I could never sleep very well because my work would be right at the foot of my bed waiting for me.”

“What’s good about giving your script to more than one person is that in the end, the notes are not so personal. If I give it to a few people someone will like something. The most important thing is that if you hear something once, they could be wrong, but if you hear the same problem more than once, you have to pay attention.

Robin Swicord Writing Process

49. Michael Schiffer’s Process

“I do some book research, but most often I go out with a tape recorder and spend as much time with people as they’ll possibly give me. I like to talk to people who do the job I’m writing about. I spent six weeks in a bulletproof vest with cops and sheriffs for Colors. I’ve been on a nuclear submarine for Crimson Tide. It’s the most fun part of my job.”

“What puts me in the mood to write are desperation and fear. I had it when I had no money and no credits, and now I have a family to support. I like writing first thing in the morning, starting with the first ‘Okay, I’m alive and awake and now I’m going to work.'”

“The first thing you listen for is whether the words move you in some way. The language itself speaks to you. As a writer you hope that your words generate a feeling of excitement, and in a crazy way, that maybe there’s something there. Initially, reality testing may tell you otherwise. But what you’re looking for is that spark, hoping that others will see it too.”

Michael Schiffer Writing Process

50. Michael Brandt’s Process

“I find the right music and turn it up loud. Writing for me comes in bursts, and a great burst of 45mins is usually than 5 hours of forced typing”

“When you’re working on an assignment you have to have an outline, because the studio wants to know what you’re going to be writing.It isn’t terribly detailed, so you can still have inspiration as you write. But outlining does solve the big issues of the script ahead of time.”

“I like to think that I write in the mornings, but usually it happens near the end of the day when the guilt takes over and I feel like I need to jam something out. Guilt is a master motivator.”

Michael Brandt Writing Process
  • See also: 31 Screenwriting Books You Must Own
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8 thoughts on “50 Hollywood Screenwriters Reveal Their Writing Process”

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