What screenwriting advice can Marvel Cinematic Universe screenwriter Zak Penn (The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers) offer beginning screenwriters?
Here we turn to the Viceland video Screenwriting Advice from Zak Penn: VICE GUIDE TO FILM where Penn offers some excellent screenwriting wisdom. We pull the best information from the video and elaborate on his points.
1. “If someone can convince you to give up, you should give up. The people who make it are the ones who refuse to stop.”
You know you’re meant for this industry if you hear all of the naysayers trying to convince you it’s not going to happen but you stick with it regardless. That means you have the inner drive necessary to push through the difficult times and struggles that are sure to come.
“If you find yourself easily swayed that maybe this isn’t for you, that’s a good sign that it isn’t for you because it is a brutal business that has a lot of rejection. And you do have to have this compulsion to continue in order to make it through.”
2. “You’re going to have to move to L.A.”
Most screenwriters need to be in Los Angeles at one point or another. You need to be there for meetings when you get representation. You need to be there for development meetings when you’ve become established. Yes, you can see a screenplay of yours — or an assignment — produced while living outside of Los Angeles, but it’s much more difficult to see that happen living outside of Hollywood.
“If you want to be in this business, it’s a degree of difficulty harder if you’re not [in Los Angeles].”
3. “Anything you can write that in itself feels like a good piece of writing is worth doing.”
Too many screenwriting gurus focus solely on the need for writing specifically marketable concepts — and too many novice screenwriters fall in line with that out of fear. Yes, you should always try to choose projects that offer you the best chance to succeed. But, even better, you should be searching for the perfect hybrid of what you’re truly passionate about and what may be marketable as well.
If you have a passion for something you’re writing, and it feels like great writing, go for it. Sometimes it’s better to focus on great writing — not just something that will sell.
“Anything that you are enthusiastic enough about — that you’re psyched to get up and write it in the morning — you should do.”
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4. “You have to find smart people who are willing to read your work and give you advice. That’s a really crucial thing that people forget.”
You need to share your work. And you need to share it well before you begin to market it or submit it to contests, competitions, or fellowships. Feedback and notes are vital to your growth as a writer. You don’t have to apply everything that mentors and peers offer, but you’ll benefit greatly from having different eyes on your work.
“It’s impossible to be your own editor and your own censor… you need to find some people whose opinions you trust and keep them around you. And working with a writing partner is good for that reason too if you can find one. Just because it kind of forces you to make decisions.”
5. “You’re not writing a movie. You’re writing a screenplay which is an advertisement for the screenplay that will become a movie that might someday get made.”
Film is a collaborative medium. And it only begins with you as the screenwriter. Your screenplay will change. It will be rewritten. You’ll be given notes that you must apply, based on the needs and wants of those above and around you within the collaborative process.
Check out the whole video below!
Michael Vanju has over twenty years of Hollywood experience in screenwriting, script reading, story analyzing, and development.