Whether you’re in the business of film, television, theater, or new media, storytelling is at the heart of your craft. At Austin Film Festival, it’s our goal to champion writers across mediums, and help you find the right path to propel your story forward.
So what is the process for writing a compelling stage drama, and how can your experience as a playwright help you crossover into the world of film and television? We’re looking back on our conversations with past AFF panelists who have worked in multiple mediums and how their playwriting backgrounds have informed their careers as screenwriters.
Here are five writing tips for improving your craft across storytelling mediums:
EMBRACE THE PROCESS
When you’re coming from theater or you’re coming from film and you go into television, especially network, it’s a really collaborative process that’s been going on for years…and if you go in and you think, “Oh, I’m going to completely do it differently,” it’s just a bad way to go into it. There’s a reason for the writers room, and you have to embrace the writers room. You have to embrace that you have other writers that can help you…the more I learned how to communicate, the better the drafts came in, and the less rewriting I had to do.
-Liz Meriwether (creator/executive producer New Girl; writer No Strings Attached) at AFF 2016
BE SELECTIVE WITH YOUR STORYTELLING
I ask myself before I really go deep on something, two questions: Am I going to be irrevocably altered for having told this story? Is it going change me? And if it does, box one. And then box two is, Do I believe it? I can’t know for sure, but I have to believe in some way.
-Peter Hedges (writer/director Ben Is Back) at AFF 2018
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE AUDIENCE
What I always say about the audience is, the audience can be all idiots. Together, they’re a genius, and if you ignore that, you ignore it at your peril, because the audience is smart—really smart, and the second that you do something that you already know the answer to, they smell it and they go to sleep.
-John Patrick Shanley (writer/director Doubt, Joe Versus the Volcano; writer Moonstruck, The January Man, Congo, Burlesque, Five Corners, Live From Bagdad, Alive) at AFF’s 2016 Year Round Event
RELINQUISH SOME CONTROL WHILE WRITING
The neurotic quality that playwrights tend to over stage-direct their stuff is similar to a film director editing. We’re doing it while writing the play, down to the pauses, but also to character descriptions, all these things you want to have happen…but knowing I would get to manage on the back end brought some relief, so I probably did away with some of that dictatorial stage direction in the screenplay versions of those movies.
-Stephen Belber (writer/director Management, Match; writer Tape, O.G.; co-writer The Laramie Project) at AFF 2018
BE A RISK TAKER
There are two types of perfectionists: the type that must move towards perfection in a constantly polishing fashion, and they’ll get very, very close, but at a certain point, it gets so polished and shiny that it loses its heart. And there’s another kind which says, “Yes, we want it to be as polished and shiny as possible up to a point, but we also want to be willing to toss it out entirely and start over, try a new idea and take a big risk, because that’ll actually get us to the more perfect thing.”
-Beau Willimon (creator House of Cards) at AFF 2013
Visit onstory.tv for a closer look inside the creative process from today’s leading writers and filmmakers.
Have a play you’d like to submit? Our Playwriting Competition’s final deadline is next Wednesday May 15. Advancing playwrights will have access to exclusive panels, workshops, roundtables, and unique networking opportunities with professionals in theatre, film, and television. Submit your work for consideration here.