Scott W. Smith: From the original conception of the idea for Bride Wars to when it finally got produced how many years went by?
Greg DePaul: It might have been five years, 2004 to 2009.
Scott: So there’s a lesson there. Michael Arndt talks about writing 10 screenplays over ten years before he sold one, and that one (Little Miss Sunshine) took five years to get made. I think he was 40 when he got his first produced credit.
Greg: That’s more common than the person who goes out to Los Angeles at age 27 and breaks in on their first script. The average age of someone entering the Writers Guild [on the feature side] I’m going to guess is at least 35, if not 40.
Scott: In your book Bring the Funny you talk about hearing Michael Arndt talk about his writing process at a Writers Guild event. What did you learn from him?
Greg: What I learned from that discussion years ago was that he’s a typical Hollywood screenwriter in that sense. I learned from Blake Herron who I met back at the Writers & Actors Lab who I looked up to. He wrote Bourne Identity and some other movies. And he told me like 15 or 20 years ago when I first got to Hollywood, that he sold his 13th script. That’s very common because you generally get better each time. And what most of what writers learn they learn through trying and failing, not books on theory. So you have to keep be willing to push it out there and get humiliated over and over again. That’s really the system.
Scott: I have a whole list of screenwriters I’ve gathered over the years who said they wrote many screenplays before they sold one or hand one made. Oliver Stone said he wrote 12, Sheldon Turner was 10, Dale Launer told me he didn’t even show anyone a script he’d written until he’d written 10. Not too many people selling screenwriting books and workshops address that because who wants to face the daunting task of writing 5,10,15 scripts before they get any traction? I think the record was Geoff Rodkey who wrote Daddy Day Care, which was his 18th script but his first to get produced.
Greg: I’m on the East Coast now and have been here for about seven years, but I spend a lot of time with other writers. I run a writers group called Stillwater Writers (Stillwaterwriters.com), which is New York City playwrights, screenwriters, and TV writers all hanging out together talking and reading each other’s scripts. But I founded a group called the Clark Street Players back in LA with my old writing partner Hank Nelken, I was in the Writers and Actors Lab in LA that’s how I met people like Jim Uhls (Fight Club), Blake Heron, and other great writers that helped me. So I’ve always been involved in these writer’s groups. And I’ve seen how people develop and it’s a long time coming.
So I’ve taught workshops, I teach at NYU, and I teach at the New School and I’m completely straightforward with people about that. I don’t say it’s easy. And I tell them don’t go to pitch festivals, conferences like Austin Screenwriting are useful, but when you go to those things you’re not going to walk up and pitch some executive an idea and he’s going to give you a million dollars. I’ve never heard of a movie that got made that way.
Scott: Michael Arndt also said that 99% of your focus as a screenwriter should be on the writing. And that’s what you hit on in your book. You talk about the AIC—can you explain that to people?
Greg: Ass in Chair. And I didn’t make that up I read it in an article some place from a romance novelist—I think it was Nora Roberts. But I use it. It’s ass in chair. The biggest problem I see with my students is perfectly understandable. I have this problem too, everybody does. It’s a fear of being in the chair too long, and yet you can’t succeed unless you commit wild amount of hours to sitting in that chair.
Scott: How do you quantify to your students how much time in the chair they should be writing?
Greg: More is better. Not a time or page limit. It’s to make yourself do more. If you’re in Hollywood and you’re getting work and you’re a working screenwriter, there is some virtue to write all morning and take meetings in the afternoon theory. But most people don’t have that luxury. If you’re trying to break in, more is always better when it comes to writing.
When Hank and I started working together and got serious, which was probably 1997 or ’98, just to have a goal I think I came up with it, I said, “Dude let’s do seven pages a day and see what happens.” It became silly and arbitrary and sometimes we’d just add lines on the page to hit CUT TO:, and go on to the seventh or eighth page and then go drink. When I was working with a partner it was usually two shifts. We write from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon and then say we can’t stand each other anymore and then we’d take a break for three hours and go home and have dinner, and come back at 8:00 and write until 2 in the morning.
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