First Step In Writing A Screenplay by UCLA Professor Richard Walter

Film Courage write.film.create
8 min readApr 1, 2017
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

Film Courage: What is the first step in writing a screenplay?

Richard Walter: Getting your butt in the chair and hands on the keys and seeing where it goes. I believe you have to have an outline, but then you have to throw away that outline. It will take paths that are surprises to the artist that created it. I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t surprised by lines of dialogue that characters seem to invent by themselves, twists and turns in the story.

I remember asking Neil Simon “Do you laugh at your own jokes?” And he said “Sure I do, the first time I hear them.” And I think that’s fantastic that he actually hears them. It’s as if someone else is telling them…telling these jokes to him. And that’s the experience of a lot of artists.

I wrote…I sold a TWILIGHT ZONE episode years and years go about a muse, some sort of composer of commercial jingles and his muse that proposes…I’ll spare you the story. If I told you the story you’d think “Hey, what a good story!” But the thesis underneath it was the notion that muses don’t desert their artists. It’s really the other way around. You have to be available. It’s never easy to get into. And you have to own that. And you have to know that.

Not sure that answers What is the First Thing You Do? Usually something occurs to you that seems kind of odd. Imagined if this happened or that happened? I remember when our first child was going to be born we went to birth preparation classes which were held at Cedars Sinai. And everybody was supposed to bring a pillow. So suddenly outside you know, Beverly Blvd. near San Vincent [in Los Angeles] all of these couples, all of the women are quite pregnant and everybody is carrying pillows “What’s that about?” Imagine you drive past the bus stop and there are like 60 people at the bus stop and they all have accordions. I don’t know they all have accordions for some reason. “What could that be?” You start to think about that and also you don’t think about it you just sort of let it simmer and cook…

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Film Courage write.film.create

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