Blog: Screenwriters Compass By Guy Gallo
Film is an unpredictable animal best tamed by a skilled screenwriter wielding a mighty pen. One must look to their inner compass in order to find the right direction when writing a screenplay. It isn’t what others have been successful at producing before you, but what you can create using your own life experience. These are not my thoughts, brilliant as they sound- they come from respected screenwriter and Columbia professor, Guy Gallo. Last night Gallo came to the NYU Bookstore to promote his book, ‘Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North,’ and spoke before a crowd of eager writers looking for a way to express themselves on the page.
Even though Gallo’s speaking engagement was in the large NYU Bookstore, the lecture and Q&A session was rather intimate. It was the perfect setting to get the most from the man’s breadth of experiences. Budding screenwriters and students posed questions to Gallo and the lecture quickly transformed into a discussion. Topics ranged from the saturation of ‘texting’ and ‘Skype’ in film all the way to supporting character development. Many of Gallo’s answers pointed the writers to themselves to solve their own issues by working out the situation and not depending on an already proven formula.
LocalBozo was fortunate enough to speak with Guy Gallo following his engaging lecture. The screenwriter of 1984′s classic, ‘Under the Volcano’ spoke candidly about the current state of screenwriting, gave advice for writers seeking a unique voice, and recommended how to get out of a dreaded writers block.
LocalBozo.com: How have you seen screenwriting conventions evolve through the past thirty years?
Guy Gallo: I feel that what makes a good film now as in the 1970s is fundamentally unchanged. If anything, the more difficult question for me is how do you get back to more fully formed and character driven story telling when so much of the industry is focused on the single tent pole film that costs $240,000,000. A lot of dramatic writing has been slighted or is no longer interesting to the studios. There is always a struggle to get independent pieces done these days. So much has become remakes, or these very high concept story telling. I feel a lot of the films of the ’70s would never get made today, just because they’re not so spectacular. They are smaller, more character driven pieces.
LocalBozo.com: What would your advice be for a budding screenwriter who is stuck in a writers block?
GG: There’s lots of little things you can do about blocks. One thing I recommend to my students on occasion is to put the computer away, and take out a legal pad and start writing from memory, just to see what you remember from the first scene and see how far it goes. I also recommend printing out what you already got so far, after taking some time away and reading it very closely. But sometimes you just have to grin and bare it, you got to let it happen. There are times when it doesn’t flow so would on something else for a while or even take the character out of the plot that’s giving you trouble and just write anything. It’s better then not writing at all.
LocalBozo.com: How would help a struggling writing who is too inundated with the culture around them, which consumes them and keeps them from writing an original work?
GG: You know that’s impossible to avoid. And especially with the amount of information overload that’s happening now. You are going to be influenced by other people. You just have to accept that as a given. That was the case throughout literature, its nothing new. Perhaps the intensity is a little bit more extreme, because of the computer, web and everything. As a writer you must commit to your particular vision. You must presume that you are going to do something new, because it is coming out of you.
‘Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North’ By Guy Gallo is published by Focal Press and is available in book stores everywhere.
- Jay Rubin