BEYOND WORDS 2018 – Insights From Writers Guild Award-Nominated Writers

Photo by Michael Jones

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild Foundation, The Writers Guild of America, West and Variety brought together several of this year’s Writers Guild Award-nominated writers for a panel discussion to reflect and share insights about creating their films.

Moderator Graham Moore (THE IMITATION GAME) led writers Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (THE SHAPE OF WATER), Greta Gerwig (LADY BIRD), Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK), James Mangold and Michael Green (LOGAN), Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (THE DISASTER ARTIST), Jordan Peele (GET OUT), Steven Rogers (I, TONYA), Aaron Sorkin (MOLLY’S GAME) and Virgil Williams (MUDBOUND) as they talked about how they decide what story to tell, the relationship between the words on the page and what’s seen on the screen, the craft of writing from treatments to inspiration and dealing with notes.


Virgil Williams – The best advice I ever got while I was starting out was to write. Honest to God, someone sat me down and I went, “What am I gonna do? What do I gotta do? Tell me what I gotta do.” She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You want to be a writer? Write.”

Michael H. Weber – This will be so simple as to seem stupid, but write every day. Write especially when you’re not in the mood or when you don’t have any good ideas or when you have other things to do. Treat it like a job before it becomes a job.


Guillermo del Toro – As far as ideas, it’s the one that you feel that you’re choking to do. Like literally the one that you can’t stand that it hasn’t been made.

James Mangold – For me, it’s looking for something that you haven’t done. It’s kind of scaring yourself. Finding a set of challenges that don’t seem familiar.

Vanessa Taylor – Sometimes it’s just a what if that seems so full of possibility that I want to imagine where it goes. I’m always looking for that place where I might have the opportunity to be carried away.


Jordan Peele – I spend the vast majority of the time on treatments and outlines and studying. I didn’t know that this would end up in a movie. I thought this was gonna be a project for me and for fun. Part of the project was the impossible task, how do you make a horror movie about race that works. That was this thing that engaged me for about five years. I had the whole outline. I had every element of every scene sort of laid out and then when I sat down and wrote it, it took about two months.

Michael H. Weber – We don’t write a word until we feel pretty good about the outline. For practical reasons, just that it’s easier to diagnose problems. You can never diagnose all of them, but you can solve quite a few of them when you’re looking at a five or six page outline than when you’re on page fifty and go, oh wait a second.

James Mangold – We try, but I look at an outline and I’m nauseated. Me and my partners will all dive in and try to execute a few pages of something and go, what does it feel like? How does this scene surprise us in some way? It’s not like I hate outlines for anyone to do them, but I do feel that any process religiously followed, starts to affect the way we make movies. I do think the bumper car way of writing may be inefficient, but some of the inefficiency can be beautiful. You can end up writing something that never would have seemed at home in the through line of a document that’s two pages long.

Greta Gerwig – I don’t outline. I think whenever I outline or do treatments, it’s like I’m pretending to write a movie that I have no idea how to write. It feels fraudulent to me. I have to write into a hunch and write into something I don’t totally understand. Because if I could understand the whole of it, before I started writing, I wouldn’t be able to get to the end.


Jordan Peele – I developed this mantra when I was writing, designed to break me out of writer’s block. It was, follow the fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right. There was a point in the process where I got to something that was very vulnerable and the fun evolved into tears. The thing that stops so much of my art if I let it, is when I lose track of why I want to tell this story.

Emily V. Gordon – When I’m starting a project, I’ll write down this is the reason I want to do this project. When I get so angry or bored, I go back and look at why I wanted to do this. I keep reminding myself this was the headline of why I wanted to do this and at one point in my life I wanted to do this.


Kumail Nanjiani – Taking pressure off having it be good the first time really freed me up to just write. A lot of stuff I wrote that I thought would be terrible was actually stuff that was good.

Aaron Sorkin – It’s a very good idea to get to the end of the screenplay. Don’t keep going back to the beginning. Get to fade out. That’s really important. By the time you’ve gotten there, you’ll have learned a lot about what you’re writing.


Aaron Sorkin – Trying to figure out what people want and trying to give it to them is a bad recipe for storytelling. When I write, I try to write what I like, what I think my friends would like, what I think my father would like and then I keep my fingers crossed that enough other people will like that I get to keep doing it.

Guillermo del Toro – The entire choices you get as a storyteller is to appease or awake an audience. Is this going to be a lullaby for the way it is or am I going to slap you in some way and make you react differently? The temptation always is the lullaby, the appease, and the one you need to seek is the awake.

Virgil Williams – What I was trying to do with MUDBOUND is make you look at yourself in the mirror naked, because MUDBOUND is America and everybody can connect to one or two people in that story. What I wanted to do is grab you by the face and make you look.

The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to

Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: Highlights from the Austin Film Festival & Screenwriting Conference

Austin Film Festival’s Matt Dy with writers Daniel Petrie, Jr., our own Kelly Jo Brick & Jimmy Mosqueda. Photo by Arnold Wells.

by Kelly Jo Brick

With days packed with panels, workshops and roundtables and evenings jammed with films and parties, the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference brings professional and aspiring writers and filmmakers together in a celebration of the art, craft, and business of writing.

In this, the event’s 24th year, attendees found a slate of educational, informative and inspirational panels on screenwriting, television writing, playwriting, and podcasting.’s own contributing editor, Kelly Jo Brick, was in Austin as a panelist this year and she brings us highlights from the festival.


  • You have to be bad before you can be good and you’ll never get in the game if you haven’t written anything.
  • If you want this to be your job, you have to treat it like a real job. Give it your good hours, not your tired hours. — Dana Fox (COUPLES RETREAT, creator/showrunner BEN AND KATE)
  • Distinguish between what you love and what you are good at. Don’t just listen to your interests, but also to what comes out when you write. — Michael Green (co-creator/executive producer AMERICAN GODS, writer BLADE RUNNER 2049)
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re coming to writing later in your career. People who come with experience from outside the entertainment industry have soared, because they often have great discipline, as they’re happy to not be in their old profession.
  • Have a community around you who supports you. Find your crew, including your fellow writers, family and friends.
  • You don’t have to wait for someone else to empower you as creators. You can make your own projects. — Gale Anne Hurd (executive producer, THE WALKING DEAD, co-writer/producer, THE TERMINATOR)
  • Remember to take time to have a life.


  • Write about something specific that you are passionate about, an interesting world, a story never told, a hobby you know a ton about. — Megan Amram (writer/producer, THE GOOD PLACE, SILICON VALLEY)
  • People are getting hired off of short stories and plays, as well as TV and feature samples.
  • Character is key. Writers who can bring unique, diverse characters to life on the page stand out.
  • Many readers judge your script on the first ten pages alone. Make those first ten to fifteen pages as solid and interesting as you can. — Raamla Mohamed (writer/supervising producer, SCANDAL)
  • If you try to write something for the marketplace, it won’t sell. You succeed when you write something that personally connects with you. — Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL, THE THING, FINAL DESTINATION 5)


  • Procrastination is a problem for many. Find an accountability partner, someone with whom you can check in regularly to keep you on schedule.
  • Set tiny, achievable goals and deadlines. If you feel overburdened, think only of the next thing you have to get done. Accomplish that then move on down your to do list.
  • Just finish your first draft. Nobody will see the script until you are ready to share it so don’t hold back. Write quickly. The fun comes when you can go back and build on that foundation you’ve set.
  • Recognize where your own internal resistance comes from. Don’t fight who you are naturally. Find a way that works for who you are. If that means writing early in the morning, late at night, in a coffee shop, at your dining room table, go with it. That’s how you’ll do your best work.
  • Imposter syndrome, don’t let it get in your head. You are in that meeting or in that room or working on that project because you are you. You deserve it. You earned it. Keep reaching for what’s next and be focused on where you want to be.
  • Get rid of the negative voices around you. That includes silencing your own inner critic.


  • When first meeting with prospective representatives, listen closely to their thoughts and approaches toward your career. Do they talk exclusively about working on just one project? Are they talking more about their business goals and successes than you and your writing? Are they forward-looking, concentrating on your career?
  • You want someone who has a vision for you and your career and is dedicated to putting a plan together on how to get there.
  • As a writer, your job is to write. Focus, be creative and productive. Be the artist first and let your reps concentrate on the business side.
  • Always talk with your representation before writing a project. It’s not bugging them. They want to be involved from the idea stage. Agents and managers have a better beat on what has legs and what doesn’t.
  • A perfect client is someone who appreciates the craft, takes it seriously and understands the business. You are the CEO of your own company. Always be writing. — David Boxerbaum (literary agent, Verve Talent and Literary Agency)
  • The more people you have on your team, the more contacts and connections you have behind you, the further you can get. — Alisha Brophy (LICENSE TO DRIVE, WHITE GIRL PROBLEMS, SWIPED)


  • Be able to talk about who you are and your own story. What shows do you watch? Why did you get into TV?
  • Be yourself. Be likable. — Bradley Paul (LODGE 49, BETTER CALL SAUL)
  • If you get a staffing meeting, that means the showrunner likes your script. He or she meets with you to find out if the like you and want to hang out with you day after day.
  • For a good meeting, follow the flow of the conversation. It’s okay to veer off target and talk about other things if that’s where the meeting leads. That’s how you bond and develop the relationship. — LaToya Morgan (INTO THE BADLANDS, TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES)


  • In a podcast, your primary job is to design a story that will serve the sound and vice versa.
  • Podcasts are very intimately consumed. It lets you tell a story as a fly on the wall.
  • Many make the mistake by thinking if they can’t make their film, they’ll just make it into a podcast. To be successful, you really need to lean in and take the medium seriously.
  • Actors do a lot of heavy lifting with their voices. Podcast scripts often contain more parenthetical instructions for actors as there’s a greater reliance on tone and inflection to convey the story.
  • Keep things simple. In an audio medium, less can be much more. More can confuse your listeners.
  • Bringing aboard name talent can draw advertisers. It can also bring its own set of complications, which can be challenging for first-time podcasters.

Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 7/10/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Simon Rich is adapting his book, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, Man Seeking Woman, into a comedy series for FXX. (The show is described as being about a man who “enters the dating scene, a nightmarish hellscape of untold horror.” Hey, they got that right. Now we’ve just got to hope for a few laughs.)
  • Dan Harmon (where have we heard that name before?) is prepping a 6th season of COMMUNITY for Yahoo, of all places, now that the show has been axed once again by NBC. (Which could mean that we’ll have to take Yahoo seriously when it comes to laughter. Um, anybody see what Yer Friendly Neighborhood Munchman did there? Anybody care?)
  • Jeff Pinkner (FRINGE), Josh Appelbaum (LIFE ON MARS), Andre Nemec (STAR-CROSSED) and Scott Rosenberg (LIFE ON MARS) are co-writing the pilot for the new CBS drama series, ZOO, based on the novel of the same name by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge. (Which means a big payday for all the writers involved, you can bet your muncher on that – and also big aggravation for the WGAW credits department, which is not known for its love of 4-person writing teams. As in they’re generally, you know, denied.)
  • Bryan Fuller (HANNIBAL) & Michael Green (THE RIVER HEROES, whatever that is) are co-writing a pilot for a Starz series adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s, um, masterpiece actually, American God. (Which my munchiness would greet with unmitigated pleasure if I hadn’t wanted that gig so #@!$ing much. But this is still the best TV development news I’ve heard since I started writing this department! Fucking AMERICAN fucking GODS!)

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 7/11/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • Graydon Sheppard & Kyle Humphrey (NEWBS) have made a deal with Style Media to develop their Twitter/Web series, SH*T GIRLS SAY, for Style Network, an NBCUniversal production company. (To which we can only add, “See, you lazy motherfuckers? Your insane interweb ideas can get you the love and money you want, you just have to, you know, write the damn things!” Yep, that’s what we say.)
  • John McLaughlin (THE BLACK SWAN) has written the pilot for a drama series to be based on James Patterson‘s book series, PRIVATE, and some actor name of Robert De Niro is pitching it all over town. (Well, actually, Bobby isn’t the one who does the pitches. His genius – we mean it – production partner, Jane Rosenthal, handles that end of things, which means you can bank on getting to see the series on the air somewhere important soon.)
  • Nigel Trantor’s historical novels about Scottish heroes William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are being adapted into a miniseries for Discovery Channel. No word on the writer, so have your people talk to Discovery’s people ASAP. (And if you know Ridley Scott and/or David W. Zucker, who are executive producers of the project, well, that can’t hurt, can it?)
  • Michael Green (HEROES) is adapting Alan Moore‘s LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN series of graphic novels into a series for Fox Network. (The good news: It’s bound to be better than the feature film version. The bad news: Nobody’s telling us how Alan Moore feels about this project.)

Million $$$ TV Writer Deal, Yeah!

Be nice to this guy

Michael Green Signs Overall Deal With 20th Century Fox TV
by Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: In a competitive situation, writer-producer Michael Green has signed a two-year overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV. The rich seven-figure pact is for development only, and will focus on cable as much as broadcast. Green will work with 3 Arts’ Erwin Stoff on projects, which the two will executive produce together. The deal comes on the heels of a development deal Green had with 20th TV, which resulted in Gotham. The supernatural procedural, about a female cop who discovers a magical world that exists within New York City, went to pilot at ABC, which landed Francis Lawrence as director.

The project got very close to a series order, with ABC extending the pickup conversations with 20th TV beyond the upfronts, but ultimately a deal couldn’t be reached. “Michael delivered a fantastic pilot for us in Gotham, and we knew we wanted to stay in business with him exclusively going forward,” 20th TV chairman Gary Newman said. “He has an incredible talent for creating new worlds, which are richly inventive and yet undeniably accessible at the same time. He’s one of the most sought-after writers in both features and TV, and his projects always attract the best talent.”

Read it all

This announcement teaches us 2 things:

  1. Make sure you send Deadline.Com a big, high-resolution pic so you show up better on the page
  2. You don’t necessarily need big successes to get big bucks

Embrace this.