1. Interpret literature by how it makes you feel
I had one professor whose approach to literature wasn’t so much of talking about the intent of the author, as much as he talked about the affect of the thing written. What does that play, what does that poem, allow your mind to do when you hear it? And that was really revolutionary for me to look at literature in that perspective.
2. A surprise on every page
People always say, ‘what’s a great screenplay? What’s the key to writing?’ And it is very simple - there is a surprise on every page. Whether it is a line of dialogue, stage direction, a plot turn, if there is a surprise on every page then it is a great script.
3. Declare yourself a writer
I was hired by as a Staff Writer and then was moved up to Story Editor, and then I became the Director of Creative Affairs. And all of this time I was writing, and it got to this point where I realized that if I was an executive who wrote I couldn’t get people to take me seriously because I wasn’t taking myself seriously. In other words, I didn’t have enough courage to declare myself a writer, so how can I expect them to treat me like one? Now the interesting thing is, I reached that conclusion five seconds after I had gotten fired.
4. Create universal themes
Moneyball had been on the best-sellers list for 13 weeks, it had been out for a year and a half, and no one had figured out how to adapt it. Everyone wanted to do this book, but nobody could figure out how cause it is a 400-page book about statistics. I looked at the book, and there is a sentence pretty early on in the book where Billy quits to become a scout, and he has just gotten divorced and he is worried about his relationship with his daughter Cassie. There was one sentence saying that he was worried that he wouldn’t be a part of Cassie’s life. So I said, Moneyball is the story about a guy who needs to rebuild a baseball team and in the process of rebuilding a baseball team he rebuilds his relationship with his daughter.
Now that in fact is fictional. Billy has a great relationship with his daughter, but for the movie, that told everybody that it was a universal story. It was a story about a man struggling to be a good parent. Then I said, it is the story of a man who discovers that it is more important to know his value than his price. Suddenly, I was able to reduce the book down to two sentences; one had the plot, the other had the theme. That is what essentially sold Moneyball.
5. It never hurts to have George Clooney sitting next to you
I pitched a movie to Warner Brothers; they passed, they didn’t buy it. I came back later and changed one thing, and they bought it. And the thing I changed was I had George Clooney sitting next to me to pitch the movie. Suddenly, it was a great movie.
6. A character is only as good as their secrets
In the first two drafts, I opened with this montage, kind of a prologue, in which you go from Billy Bean drafted to Billy Bean quitting. It covered 10 years of his life, from 18 to 28. The reason (the opening) was a mistake was, as Aaron Spelling says, characters are all about their secrets. And we were giving all of Billy’s secrets in the first five minutes of the movie. So that was the draft that moved all of Billy’s secrets later into the movie as flashbacks, so that the audience discovers Billy’s secrets as the story unfolds, and that really elevated the film.
7. What a character wants isn’t always what they need
As a rule, I still go by that classic three-act structure, which is that the character gets the thing they want at the end of act two, by which time, they’ve discovered it has no value, and they give it away in order to get the thing they really need. It happens in Up. Carl announces that he just wants to live in Paradise Falls, so he moves his house and by the time he lands on Paradise Falls he realizes that he has to sacrifice that to go save Kevin, the little boy, and the dog.
8. A great script sells itself
Never under estimate the power of a truly great script. I am one of those people who believes that there are so many people in the film industry whose job is to do nothing but find that next great script that if you threw a great one in the middle of the 405 freeway it would eventually get made. That’s how rare they are, and that’s how many people are looking.
If you haven't already seen Moneyball, then I suggest watching it! You will enjoy it even if you are not a fan of baseball. It is truly a great movie! x