The Oscar nominations for 2022 have been officially announced, and many of us writers anxiously wait to find out who will be named ‘the best of the best.’ In honor of the 94th Academy Awards, we fondly look back on memories with Oscar-nominated AFF panelists- and share their wisdom with you.
“I never broke the rules, I was a very well-behaved, people-pleasing kind of kid. I really colored inside the lines, so I think in some ways, writing this script and writing this character and inventing this character was a way for me to explore something that I wasn’t able to do as a person.” – Greta Gerwig (writer/director Lady Bird; Little Women)
Credit Line: 2018 Oscar Nominee: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay & Best Picture (Lady Bird)
2019 Oscar Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay & Best Picture (Little Women)
2. Trust Your Gut
“I wasn’t just thinking about the whole thing unconsciously, but anything that seems right, I trust is right, and if it feels wrong, I trust that it probably is wrong…I feel I could talk through each of- everything that I’ve written and kind of say where am I structurally, but I guess what I object to in screenwriting manuals, and- and in dogma generally, is that it’s a- it’s an analytical process. It’s an after-the-fact analysis of something that is not that helpful when you’re actually in the middle- trying to produce something, and I think believing in your- what they call an actor’s truth, you know, really know what you’re performing when your writing, is, will do a lot more for you than wondering about what has to happen in the second act or the third act.” – Kenneth Lonergan (writer Manchester by the Sea)
Credit Line: 2016 Oscar Winner: Best Original Screenplay (Manchester by the Sea)
“My philosophy has always been, we’re gonna write it within an inch of its life to get it where it works before we show it to anybody. So no, we didn’t get a lot of notes on it, but we put so much time in it. You know what I mean about that? As writers, somehow you’ll think about notes, I’m not gonna worry about that part. That’s, I think, not a good way to go. Fix it, you know. There’s a problem, don’t wait for somebody to tell you. I do that when, before I preview my movies. I don’t wait for the preview audience to tell me it’s slow. I can feel it in the editing room, so I fix it before I get to the preview.” – Nancy Meyers (writer Private Benjamin)
Credit Line: 1981 Oscar Nominee: Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Private Benjamin)
For more from Nancy Meyers, watch our On Story episode Complicated Relationships: A Conversation with Nancy Meyers at onstory.tv
4. Structure Supports Strong Emotion
“I always say this to every audience who’s interested in writing that you’ve gotta know drama. And that I do know. I know classical Greek drama, you have to have a first act, second act, third act. Or at least a first act, second act, catharsis and a third act. I don’t care what movie, what play you’ve ever seen all have that. They may have five acts, four acts, it might be PULP FICTION everything stood on its head and it doesn’t matter how avant-garde the movie is- you will, you have to apply those rules or otherwise there’s, it’s nonsense. So within that sense, I’m very structured, but my mind works I think somewhat more incidentally than in classical story terms, you know? I’m very, it sounds kind of formula in a way, but I’m very big with theme- it’s the thing that’s always attracted me.” – Eric Roth (writer Forrest Gump; co-writer Dune)
Credit Line: 1995 Oscar Winner: Best Adapted Screenplay (Forrest Gump)
2022 Oscar Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay (Dune)
5. Write with Urgency and Without Limitations
“I had this crazy thing happen where I got this idea and I felt like something had come to me, and I had this responsibility to get it on paper. It consumed me. Like, literally, I would wake up in the middle of the night. I’ll never forget waking up in the middle of the night and I wrote the scene where, you know, Thelma has to call Darrell to find out what he knows, and she’s saying, if he says anything at all, I’ll just hang up, and I wrote that scene, I woke up in the middle of the night, wrote that scene, ‘He knows, *click*.’ I went back to sleep, and that doesn’t happen to me, you know. It just doesn’t, unfortunately. I wish it did, because when it does it’s a damn sight easier than sitting there having to think of it. That’s not to say I didn’t have hours and hours where I would sit there trying to think of, because I knew where the story was going at the end, but I wasn’t sure of how I was getting there. Like, I didn’t outline it. I didn’t know each scene, so each time I sat down, I just knew I had to progress the story, and I knew nothing about screenwriting. I didn’t read any books. I remember I was in a book store one day, and I picked up a Syd Field book, and I opened it and there was a diagram, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, math,’ and I was like, I closed it, and I knew if I started, like, trying to learn rules or whatever, that there were any kind of limits or anything that somebody said, I wasn’t going to be able to do it.” – Callie Khouri (writer Thelma & Louise)
Credit Line: 1992 Oscar Winner: Best Original Screenplay (Thelma & Louise)
For more from Callie Khouri, watch our On Story episode Thelma & Louise: A Conversation with Callie Khouri at onstory.tv
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