When a man like Joss Whedon talks, you'd better be prepared to listen. The amazing director that gave us the gift of The Avengers knows his stuff and, luckily for us huge Joss fans, he gave a talk to share his wisdom!
Whedon was part of a roundtable discussion hosted by actress Lily Cole for Impossible. It's a website and global community which aims to help people out by sharing ideas, objects and - more importantly - time, by matching an individual's skills to someone who needs them. Considering Joss it one of the hardest-working guys in the business it's so awesome he was able to take time out of his busy schedule and share his wisdom about screenwriting. This time it was five aspiring writers who benefited and got to hear Joss's enlightening words.
Whedon sat down with a small group and imparted upon them his words of script writing wisdom (which you can more about here). He injected the talk with his trademark humor, anecdotes, and a generous dose of real talk, and left behind a recipe for a successful script.
Read on to check out what Joss Whedon considers the most important things to take into consideration when writing scripts, and be prepared to take notes - I know I did!
1. In a script everybody matters
It became apparent to me very early on, that not only do I need to understand my characters, I need to understand the characters that you don't generally need to understand.
Have you ever watched a movie and been distracted by a sideline character? Instead of focusing on the big bad guy, your eye catches the henchman to the left, and suddenly all you're wondering is 'who are you and why are you here?' Joss Whedon has, and not only does he notice those minor character, but he believes they can be integral to a film:
I think it’s almost insulting to hire someone to be someone and you don’t know who he is...it will ultimately inform what happens.
Whedon stressed to the Impossible community members that, for a scriptwriter, knowing each of your characters and turning them from 'paper people' into a fully-formed role only helps to service the plot and strengthen the main characters. Turning a two dimensional character into a three dimensional one can make the difference between a script being a weightless spoof, or becoming a story and a journey.
2. Lean on your genre
I need genre, I lean on it, because there's always structure as well. If it's a musical video – they're going to sing - if it's a horror movie, they're gonna be scared... I love that - the humanity obviously comes within. Every - Every - story is a story about people, or - or it sucks.
Whedon is a script writer who always writes in genre. The structure of having a genre to rely on can be a useful thing for a script writer as it gives you something to come back to when you're stuck, a direction to go in when you're inspired, and it also let's you know the expectations for your script.
If you're writing for the superhero genre, then you obviously need to make sure you have a superhero! The Avengers doesn't confuse itself with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it sticks to its own superhero genre, and you have to agree it rocked the hell out of it!
3. Believe in your concept
Time travel is a concept that has been done and so is every other thing you will ever think of. So the thing that makes it worth saying is only going to be you.
Sorry to break it to you, but the concept behind your current film has already been written. And your next one, and the next one. Films through space and time, films about superheroes and underdogs - it's all been done. However, don't despair because all hope is not lost!
Just because it's been done before, doesn't mean it won't work. There is a key difference about that film about time travel and your film about time travel, and that is YOU.
Your ability to take a well-worn concept and inject it with new intent and a fresh spin on the subject makes it something that will be worth reading in your script, and something that will be worth watching in your film.
4. Enjoy your craft
I myself have never enjoyed anything more than writing. I love to live in that world. In fact, I need to.
It sounds obvious, but in order to write a good film, you first have to have the need to write, Joss Whedon explained to Lily Cole and the other writers in the Impossible community:
I've had so many people come and be like, 'y'know, I'd like to write,'...and I'm like, 'just leave.' I know writers who, it's torture for them, they hate it, it's like 'AARGH AARGH!' but they can't stop.
Whedon shared that he firmly thinks a successful writer doesn't just want to write but needs to write. The reason for this, he says, becomes clear in the life of a writer whose career might be met with heartbreak after heartbreak, the only cure for which is the overwhelming need to go back in and create more.
Simply put, if writing feels more like a chore than a necessity or compulsion, perhaps script writing is not for you.
5. Embrace your weirdness
Whatever makes you weird, is probably your greatest asset.
Normal is boring, no decent movie was ever written by a normal person. There's a reason all the best filmmakers are often classed as kooky or crazy, and that's because they have a point of difference: their weirdness. Embrace it, nurture it and use what comes from it to create wonderful things. It is, after all, "your greatest asset."
You can listen to Joss impart his words of wisdom and wit below:
Did Joss Whedon's words of wisdom help your writing?
This awesome interview from Joss Whedon is part of Lily Cole's Impossible, a site where people with cool ideas come together to make great things happen - to make the impossible possible.