“The thing I’m always fighting off is wasted time and writer’s block.”
“I have a shoebox and—I have two of them actually. And every time I have an idea for a scene or a scrap of dialogue, or even just a snippet of an impression I have that seems to connote something in my head, I’ll put it in a shoebox. I’ll let six months go by until there’s all these accumulated papers in there. Napkins and business cards and everything that’s scribbled on and I dump it out. And I read through all of the things I’ve collected in the last six months. And some of the things you don’t even remember writing and you can’t even interpret what in the hell it means. Just see if anything connects. Just see if there is a thread that runs through any of the things that obviously that you’ve been thinking about or has been recurring in your subconscious in the last six months. You see what jells—what suggests a shape.
Writer/Director Shane Black
Speaking to students in Minneapolis
“I have three corkboards and then a wall in my office that I painted with the stuff that you can turn into a chalkboard. So basically what I do is I have one corkboard that is divided into four strips. The first act, the first part of the second act, then the second half of the second act, and then the third act. And within that I have index cards of reminders of every screenwriting book that I’ve read. So it’s just like when I’m writing and I’m stuck I’ll just stand in front of the board and say, ‘Oh, Blake Snyder says this, Syd Field says that, Robert McKee says this.’ And a lot of times I can just bust through that the writer’s block…It’s funny when I saw the documentary on Woody Allen and he has the bedside table with all these strips of paper—my version of that is my corkboards. If I have an idea I write it down and post it on the board. And then my chalkboard is basically—since environment is so important to me I want my world to feel very real—that’s usually a listing of my locations.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns
The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith
P.S. The above photo is actually a Nike shoebox of mine that has various ideas for screenplay ideas I’d like to explore. Because I played a little football back in the day, there are always themes there that I like exploring. The CNN article was written in 2009 after former NFL quarterback Steve McNair (whose nickname was Air McNair) was killed by his mistress in a murder-suicide. Then earlier this year I read an article about NBA great Michael Jordan who was quoted as saying basically he’d give up all his wealth and fame if he could just play professional basketball again. And that isn’t just an idea that has been percolating in my brain for the past five years, it goes back more than a decade.
The box has various articles and ideas including an insightful Sports Illustrated piece about former Cleveland Brown QB Bernie Kosar and how he went through the $50 million he made before filing for bankruptcy. (Kosar says he was good at making money, but not good at keeping it.) In my shoebox are reports on the lingering effects of head injuries on NFL players. Former players who’ve committed suicide. Index cards that read things like ”Watch North Dallas Forty“ and “Watch The Electric Horseman”—a 1979 Sydney Pollack directed and Robert Garland written movie starring Robert Redford who played a former rodeo star trying to hold on to his dignity. I don’t know if all those notes, thoughts, and articles will ever lead to a screenplay—but that’s all part of the process. Judd Apatow (This is 40) types notes/ideas/dialogue on his phone and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) says he “tricks himself into writing” by emailing ideas to himself.
So whether it’s a shoebox, a corkboard, cell phone, or email—find what works for you to gather ideas and move forward with writing your screenplay.