The Oscars Were Fun
(But here’s how to get inspired by how Hollywood screenwriters write)
There’s a spot in my living room that undeniably catches the best morning light. A leather armchair is catty-cornered into it, and if you sit there by the window, you only see my neighbor’s big, leafy tree and not much else, which makes you feel like you’ve temporarily fallen into some tropical oasis of leather chairs and sunlight and leaves. Then you open the window and hear the sounds of waves crashing footsteps beyond, seagulls squawking, palm trees rustling. So this is where I write, right?
As I type these words to you now, I’m half in the dark on the other side of my living room—the one with the worst possible light—hunched over my computer, knees tucked behind me, sitting on top of a way-too-expensive Pottery Barn pillow (yay adulthood!), eating half a carrot I found on my kitchen counter five minutes ago and wondering why I don’t sit in that idyllic armchair literally ten feet to my right. The truth is, I have no idea. But at least I’m in good company. On the morning after the 91st Academy Awards, I present to you a selected bunch of crazy-successful writers, who explain the weird and wonderful ways they produce their award-winning work:
Mindy Kaling, as told to Adweek for the publication’s Creative 100 series: “I always write in exactly the same place, which is sitting in my bed, with two pillows behind me. I’ve written 50 television scripts and two books on this one place on my bed! I think the lack of the formality of a desk makes me feel really comfortable, and I’m a creature of habit.”
Tina Fey, talking about the literary art of letting go in her memoir, Bossypants: “It’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it . . . You have to let people see what you wrote.”
Tony McNamara, on writing The Favourite with Yorgos Lanthimos: “I’d do a pass and we’d hang out or go for walks talking about it. I’d go off and do another pass and we’d do it again. We got closer and closer each time. It’s so creative and fun. You feel, as a writer that you’re making something bold. You try anything and it’s fun. You have a strong idea of where you’re heading and that’s also fun. I think that was the process.”
Kristen Wiig, on co-writing Bridesmaids via The Washington Post: “I went to [co-writer Annie Mumolo]’s house for the first day and she bought like chips and carrots and we had our book [Syd Field’s book on screenwriting] and we’re like …” *Excitedly rubs hands together* As Bridesmaids legend has it, the script came together faster than you could say indigestion-at-a-high-end-bridal-shop: “We knocked out a first draft in six days and handed it to [producer Judd Apatow],” Wiig told The Los Angeles Times. “And we were like, ‘We’re done! Is it good? Is it long enough? Is it too long?’”
Lena Dunham, as explained at a Film Society of Lincoln Center event on comedy writing: “I’ve literally found that sleeping well, and eating three meals, and exercising occasionally is the best thing that you can do as a writer. And read. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.”
Diablo Cody via ScriptFest: “I’m most productive when I leave the house. I used to go to Starbucks when I lived in the Midwest, but I don’t like doing that in L.A. because it’s such a corny writer scene. Sometimes I go to Soho House and write at the ping-pong table. If I write at home, I’m probably just on the couch eating Taco Bell like a slob. My eldest son tells everyone, “My mama works on a couch.”
Peter Farrelly (Green Book) talks to CreativeScreenwriting.com about how to become a good screenwriter: “I’ve said this about me and Bobby [Farrelly] a lot of times: everything we tried, failed. And yet, we’ve succeeded at writing. It’s not because we’re smarter than other people, and we’re certainly not more talented than everyone else. But what we do is, we recognize our limitations, and reach out for inspiration. We’re open to it. A lot of people write, and somebody will say something really funny, but it’s not in the direction that they’re going and everybody laughs and they say, ‘That’s good, but let’s go where we were going.’ Well, when we do that we say, ‘Whoa, that’s funny. Let’s look at that direction.’ Anything’s possible. You must keep yourself wide open to ideas. And these ideas, I don’t know where they come from. But they don’t come from us. Be open. Don’t go in thinking you know what you want to write. Let anything happen that wants to happen. A lot of times you open those doors and you go down a road and you hit a dead end and you back up. But if you don’t look down that road, you don’t know what’s there.”
And, because she’s the quintessential fairy godmother of excellence in romantic comedy screenwriting, Nora Ephron: “I don’t have much of a routine. I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece.”
So there you have it. Exercise. Don’t exercise. Sit on your couch. Get into bed. Go for a run. Eat your veggies. Eat your fast food and cookies. Why? Because it seems the birthplace of good writing is actually wherever you say it should be.