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Scott W. Smith: Part of my emphasis on this blog is to put the spotlight on filmmakers doing things in unlikely places, which are often micro budget filmmakers. Do you think there’s a place with Amazon, and Netflix , and all the other outlets for indie filmmakers anywhere in the world that could that morph into a farm league for producing bigger budget stuff? Or just doing stuff at a smaller level that brings filmmakers an income stream?
Screenwriter Greg DePaul: I guess so, but I don’t feel like I know what’s going on in the rest of the world. I’m so focused in the mechanics of writing and every little thing that goes on the page. Students have so far to go on the mechanics. Everybody I meet in my classes is making webisodes. Every actor I know is appearing in short films. Some of them are really good and I think that’s a great thing. My friends at The Collective are making short films. They’ve done some really wonderful work, and they’ve performed a lot of stuff I’ve written and I love them. And they’re a perfect example of a New York group of actors who are now getting into making movies, short films, and they’re appearing on the TV show Inside Amy Schumer, and they’re producing plays. If anyone can do it they can do it. And then you have Tyler Perry in Georgia.
Scott: I drove by his studio a couple of years ago and it’s amazing what he’s built.
I like what Edward Burns (a New Yorker) did to reignite his career by making micro-budget films, and one of his lines was don’t try to compete with Hollywood. And it was Tyler Perry who told Burns to “Super-size his niche market.” Focus on what you’re good at. I just heard a Billy Ray quote where he said eventually we’re going to hit a place where we can’t pack any more special effects into a movie. And people are going to revolt. I’d like to think that when that happens that there will be a crop of writers prepare, via playwriting or whatever, and be ready to write the next new thing. Perry followed his own vision there in Atlanta and became one of the wealthiest filmmakers ever.
Greg: There is a difference between those that want to be writer/directors who can probably get a lot out of film school. And there’s people like me who are at their core really writers. For me it doesn’t bother me that Hollywood is going down a peg. Because I’m a dramatic writer. I write plays. I write comedy sketches, I’ve written and sold TV, I’ve written and sold screenplays, and so I have to just focus on the writing. And if you’re a true filmmaker and you’re shooting stuff the writing is just part of it. You either do as much writing as you need to make your low budget film. Or you work with someone who will help you do the writing then you go off and shoot it. They’re both valid and can both lead to great work, but that first group is what I’m more beholden to. And I’m not worried about Hollywood collapsing if that’s what’s going on because relatively speaking, the theater world in New York is really blossoming with lots of small plays kicking up everywhere. And TV is exploding and I think it’s the home of great writing.
Scott: Let’s turn our focus to the new writer. The person who maybe hasn’t written anything. They’re not at NYU, they maybe don’t live in New York or L.A., maybe they’ve read Syd Fields’ Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story, maybe they’ve tried to read those but found them too technical. Some people think screenwriting gurus are toxic. What’s square one that you like to point people to start writing screenplays. Is it breaking down movies?
Greg: Well, first you should read every book. Like Bring the Funny by Greg DePaul. You should probably buy ten or twenty copies at a time. If you read six or seven copies at a time that’s the best way to do it.
Scott: And give them away to your friends.
Greg: Yeah, give them to all your friends. You should be reading every book, come on, if you’re going to change your whole life, books are pretty cheap. You should have a wall full of screenwriting books and you should be able to compare them. I have a bunch of them; the McKee book, don’t forget Blake Snyder—
Scott: —Save the Cat.
Greg: Yeah, Save the Cat, that’s a great book. And you should read them all and study them, and diagram every script. You should be an expert in movies, that’s the Tarantino lesson. Be an expert in other people’s movies. The most common mistakes of screenwriters are they don’t read enough scripts by other people. So they don’t become expert in their genre, they don’t see the mistakes that others make that they could learn from. They’re scared to watch movies and read scripts that are too close to what they’re writing, which is the opposite of what you should be doing. They think it will ruin their originality. It won’t, it’s just going to inform what they do and help them. And the other mistake is they don’t realize you have to network as much as you write. And you have to do both all the time. And, of course, it’s all about the writing.