Somehow, Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Taika Waititi made a movie about World War II into a comedy. Which is no easy task. Before writing and directing Jojo Rabbit, Waititi co-directed and starred in the horror-comedy WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and directed the big-budget Marvel superhero movie THOR: RAGNAROK. And both were massive hits.
Waititi has a unique approach to screenwriting and filmmaking that’s made him one of the most sought after screenwriters in the industry today. Here’s a quick look at his writing process, how he approaches a story, and some of his best advice for new and emerging screenwriters.
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How Taika Waititi writes a script
Outlining is imperative
As someone who comes from an acting background, Waititi confessed that he didn’t always know exactly how to format his screenplays. He actually writes many of his screenplays by hand before typing them.
Waititi also never sits down to face the blank page without having a solid outline, some dialogue, and a lot of beats figured out.
“I do lots of notes and beats and I like to figure out the story before typing, because I found that typing is really horrible. And it just hurts your body and your mind to sit in front of the blank screen and go: “What’s next?” I like to just have the whole plan in front of me,” Waititi says.
Write a draft and put it aside
Although he himself doesn’t suggest you follow this method as sometimes he takes too long to revisit the scripts, he said he often likes to put his screenplays aside for a long time and then go read it again with fresh eyes:
“I will write a draft and then I will put it away for a year or so, and then within two years or three years I’ll come back and read it. And then I will read it like, two or three times and then I will throw that away and rewrite it from page one, based on the memory of what I read.”
Not everyone has time to let their screenplays sit on the shelf for three years! But it’s important to remember that screenwriting is a process. It takes time. Sometimes you have to walk away from a stubborn draft or give your screenplay time to breathe while you work on something else.
Write the opening scene and final scene first
“I’ll start with the beginning and the end. That’s what I really like visually, or (…) something like: ‘This would be a cool way to end a movie.’ And ‘Here’s a cool last image for an audience to see.’ Waititi says.
After that, he writes some pivotal scenes in between those two, and finally, fills in the blanks of what’s missing to get from one scene to the other. This “bookend” approach to screenwriting is a great way to hack your brain into diving in. Sometimes the progression from scene to scene can wear writers out. But knowing the start and endpoints can help guide the entire screenwriting process.
Find your voice and your style and make sure you love it
“I found the confidence in my comedic voice through testing my stuff in front of audiences and doing a little stand-up and sketches. And then developing that over the years, and finding my voice and also finding my audience. And making sure that it was stuff that I enjoyed doing. I didn’t want to find my comedic voice and be doing… nothing against Benny Hill, but imagine if that was my thing that people love but I wasn’t in love with it?” Taika says.
“My style is so specific to me, and a lot of my stuff is not even comedy. I found my voice is a mixture of those two and trying to find a balance between comedy and drama.”
Passion is a crucial part of screenwriting and storytelling. Take the time to find your voice and be true to the writing that you love, because that’s how you build a career.
Take risks as a screenwriter
“I find that by taking risks you reap bigger rewards. If I feel like I’m playing it safe and I’m a bit too complacent and a bit too comfortable then I feel like my work suffers and it’s happened a couple of times. The easy way ultimately becomes the hard way,” Waititi says.
There’s no one path to screenwriting success. Take risks, have confidence in your abilities, and work hard.
How Taika Waititi writes a script
Waititi will be the first person to acknowledge just how lonely screenwriting can be. But that solitude is an important part of the process. You have to just keep going!
Embrace the importance of outlining your script, writing key scenes as early as possible, and walking away from your script every now and then. Taika Waititi is a great example of how finding — and honing — your unique voice can make you a sought after screenwriter for almost any project. Even a WWII comedy.
Have a feature script ready to go? We want to read it! Submit your screenplay to the WeScreenplay Features Screenwriting Competition and get your script in front of judges who like great stories.
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.