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5 Screenwriting Tips from Gina Prince-Bythewood

By January 21, 2021No Comments

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Gina Prince-Bythewood is a powerhouse American film director and screenwriter. She is known for directing the indie hit LOVE & BASKETBALL as well as THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, BEYOND THE LIGHTS, and most recently, the Netflix action flick THE OLD GUARD. She has had an impressive career in the film industry, and is one my personal favorite filmmakers.

Here are some memorable writing and career tips from Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Overcome “no”

I first heard Prince-Bythewood tell this story on the WGA podcast 3rd and Fairfax. She didn’t get into UCLA Film School and decided to appeal that rejection.

“…My junior year, I applied for the film school and didn’t get in; it was the biggest shock of my life. I didn’t know what to do, I felt my life was over. After a good cry, I decided to appeal. I went to the counselor and was told I could not appeal,” said Prince-Bythewood. “Determined, I wrote an impassioned letter to the head of the film department explaining why I felt they made a mistake. Two days later she called to say, ‘I got your letter, you’re in.’ Overcoming ‘no’ early on set the tone for the rest of my career because the majority of my projects I had to fight to get them made.”

Be passionate about your projects

Gina Prince-Bythewood is a big believer in the power of her passion being the driving force for any project. She’s been very vocal about the obstacles she faced getting all of her movies made, passion is the one component she always counts on.

Prince-Bythewood said, “I make my choices on what stories I’m going to tell by my gut. It is absolutely a thing I have to feel. And when I read a script, if I got the guttural feeling of “I have to do something”, as opposed to “I want to”, it’s that “have to” that drives me and makes me say yes. You have to be passionate to get you through the tough moments.”

Action sequences should tell a story

If you haven’t seen LOVE & BASKETBALL, make sure you check it out! In this video below, Prince-Bythewood breaks down the importance of making sure your action sequences are also telling a story.

“What makes great action is telling a story. What you’re shooting has to have a story to it. A beginning, middle and end.”

In this particular film, there’s a lot going on with the characters, so the outcome of the game has deeper meaning than just one team winning and the other losing.

You only need one “yes”

It takes a lot of passion and perseverance to get anything made in this business. But it only takes one yes. No matter how many times you hear “no,” that yes is just around the corner.

“I learned very early on, with LOVE & BASKETBALL, because everybody turned that down,” said Prince-Bythewood. “And it’s so soul-crushing to have something so clear in your head and not be able to express it and have others see it, so I learned I just need one yes and if it was a story I was passionate about it, and on paper, it shouldn’t have been made. But I was passionate about it, and that fueled the fight and that was so helpful.”

More Diverse Stories Need to Be Made

Prince-Bythewood has always been very honest and very candid about the power she sees in telling compelling stories with black women front and center.

“I want to put black women on screen and often center them in their own stories. And, it’s tough to tell our stories, but I know, growing up, how hard it was just watching TV and going to the movies, I never saw myself reflected, and it makes you feel invisible. I wanted to give little black girls the opportunity to go to the movies and see themselves reflected, because I know what it can do for you.” Said Prince-Bythewood.

We want to hear your stories! Submit to the Diverse Voices competition today.

Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.