Another screenwriter talk

Last week I went to another talk at the Writers Guild Foundation in LA.

This time it was the turn of Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, writers of more recent blockbusters than you can shake a dilithium crystal at (the recent Star Trek moves and Transformers movies as well as Mission Impossible 3 and the new TV series, Sleepy Hollow).

Here, in no particular order, is their advice:

At first a gig is a gig, but then only take things you know you can close (love enough to finish).

Find the thing in the job that you like. They didn’t want to do Transformers, but saw it as a chance to write an ET or Back to the Future about a teenager and his car. They thought it was the best they could do when they had three producers, two studios, a toy company and Michael Bay to please.

Be pleasant.

Collaborate. And be ok with hat. It’s not cheating. They often hire a room full of comedy writers to beef up the gags in a script.

Look at movie sequels like TV episodes (they started in TV and regard big movies as initial parts of a series that needs to keep going in order to make financial sense for a studio).

Bet on yourself.

The audience is never wrong

Don’t be married to your words, be married to the spirit of your words.

A writer writes.

Record your conversations (to help with writing dialogue rather than to protect yourself legally).

Playing an instrument helps with the rhythm of writing.

They envisaged Kirk and Spock as Lennon and McCartney. Find great stuff in non-fiction and apply it to fiction.

Not ‘which actor would we cast’ but which actor’s character in what film (they didn’t just write for Denzel Washington; they wrote for Denzel’s character in Crimson Tide).

Write the crappy version on purpose so that you have the structure (‘Bob came into the room and said I hate you, I’m fed up with the kids, I need  to get away’ etc.).

Cowboys and Aliens failed because it was written for Robert Downey Junior. Then he got replaced by Daniel Craig and someone suggested they try to make The Searchers out of it, an obvious mistake for a summer popcorn flick called Cowboys and Aliens.

Transformers Two: Alex said that to say it’s bad would offend the word bad .


And that was that. They seemed as nice as millionaire screenwriters could be. At one point the moderator kept swinging his arm to make emphasis what he was saying and almost knocked over a vase of flowers. Bob noticed this and moved them, but took a sniff as he did so, a move that came across to me as wanting to disguise his gesture for fear that it might make his friend’s clumsiness obvious.

Or maybe I read too much into that.

PS: apparently Bob may not be as lovely as I thought.