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A Recent Screenwriting Interview

I hope you guys are enjoying your holiday season. Personally I had a fantastic time last weekend as a guest lecturer at U.C. Riverside. It was great seeing so many students who were eager to make their mark on the entertainment industry.
A few weeks ago, Ebony Gilbert, Masters of Fine Arts candidate at Loyola Marymount University approached me to do an interview about screenwriting. She asked some fantastic questions and I enjoyed the exchange so much that I wanted to share it with you. Joyeux Noel!

EG: What types of stories do you find yourself writing about most often?

Rob: I gravitate to the stories that resonate the most with me. I have two sons, so father and son stories are my favorites. I can turn just about any relationship into a father and son story. I also gravitate to stories about American tribalism. I grew up in Detroit and then boarded (in 7th grade) at an elite prep school (the same one Mitt Romney went to). I got to see both sides up close and I love stories that exploit those differences. That’s what drew me to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”… that and Will Smith. Every great writer will tell you, there’s nothing like a great actor to make your words look good.

EG: Do you think what you write about is influenced most by what you desire or by what you feel will sell today?

Rob: I think, if you chase box office, you’re going to end up heartbroken. Movies take a long time to make. They take years to develop, months to pre-produce, shoot and edit and then add more time to promote and distribute. If you’re trying to copy something that just did well at the box office this weekend, you’re just going to embarrass yourself and make a crappy movie that doesn’t do business.

Andrew Stanton at Pixar (FINDING NEMO, WALL-E) has a saying, “Be a filmgoer first and a filmmaker second.” Put yourself in the movie seat. Write the movie you and your friends would most like to see. If you’re writing your own favorite movie, you can’t go wrong. More importantly, you won’t get caught following trends with movies that mean nothing to you.

EG: My all-time favorite, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, captures the authentic voice of Blacks and their experiences, while also being able to have a universal message. What do you think contributes to your ability to capture such a story?

Rob: First off, thanks for the compliment. A lot of people worked very hard on that movie so I share credit with hundreds of incredible artists and craftsmen at Disney. I think all filmmakers are looking for that crossover between the intimate and the universal, so I’m glad you thought we got it right. For me, the most important part to get right is the specific emotional truth. The fun part was sharing those stories with the directors and story artists and finding out that everybody else is just as stupid about relationships as I am.

For THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, I drew heavily on my courtship with my wife of 25 years. I was the son of a doctor. I was in my early twenties. A private school, sports-car spoiled kid. I think I’m easy on the eyes. She was working three jobs. Three crappy jobs. I was all play and no work (my job was writing jokes for television, how easy is that?) She was all work no play. Just transcribing our conversations and fights from memory (and adding a little flair) gave the movie a reality and a believability that it wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t drawn on my personal experiences. Black, white or purple everybody should be able to relate to Naveen and Tiana in one way or another.

EG: In addition to film, you have worked on television shows such as “The Parent ‘Hood”, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, “In Living Color”, “A Different World”, and plenty of other shows that made an impact on television and American culture. Why do you think it was important for you to have a career outside of film writing?

Rob: Television is the greatest bootcamp in the world for movie writers. The demands are tremendous. The hours are ungodly. There were times on “Fresh Prince” when a joke wouldn’t work on the first take and we would have to rewrite a new one before the cameras were ready for the second take. And it had to be funny. That’s pressure! Movies are different. You write a joke and you have to wait years to hear somebody laugh at it. You have to be absolutely certain that it’s going to get a laugh. For me, I was glad I had all of those years in television to give me that certainty.

The fun question here is “why did I decide to write for television first?” I was a film student at Syracuse University. I should have gone right into features. The answer is simple. When I started writing I got the advice to read every biography I could…so I did. Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon…everyone I read had the same pattern. They all started as TV writers, so I did that. Some went on to do standup, so I did that. Then, after ten years in TV, they all broke out and started writing movies. Great movies. So, I figured, if it was good enough for all of the guys I admired, it was good enough for me.

EG: How has the business changed from when you first started?

Rob: Ha! It changes every 18 months. If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to get swamped. Every new movie has the chance to change the course of movie making. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG was the first of the Disney princess road pictures. TANGLED and FROZEN followed in the tradition and improved on the model. Once Chris Nolan’s BATMAN came out, it changed superhero movies forever. BRIDESMAIDS owes a huge debt of gratitude to THE HANGOVER. So, to answer the question, everything has changed… I wrote my first teleplay on an IBM Selectric typewriter; now you can’t even buy one.

With all of that, good old-fashioned craftsmanship still rules the day. I still break stories on 3×5 cards. I still write my first draft with pen and paper. I go to the computer long after I’m done creating. The end product is much different, but I still use the tools that I’ve grow comfortable with over the past 30 years.

EG: What advice would you give to an aspiring screenwriter?

Rob: Forget everything they tell you in film school. Ha! Just kidding. Read as many screenplays as you can. Break them down. Study them. Rinse and repeat. If you want to be a great painter, you study the works of the great masters for decades. The same with musicians. Why writers feel like they can just start typing and have their work compete with somebody who actually knows what they’re doing is beyond me.

Also, there are a bunch of fantastic blogs out there, including mine — RobEdwards.net. I try to share everything I’ve learned about screenwriting as do a lot of other fantastic writers. These kinds of resources weren’t around when I started. I had to take guys out to lunch and buy scripts from bookstores. Now, all of that magic is a click away.


Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays Class,

Tis the season to eradicate bad screenwriting! In that spirit, I’ve been Santa Claus-ing it all over town. I’ve been spreading holiday cheer in the form of articles for Talentville and ScriptLab and doing interviews for a few magazines, so let’s give a warm welcome to everyone who has enjoyed the science I’ve been dropping and then decided to click over and check out all of the fun you and I have been having for the past few years.

I encourage you all to check out TheScriptLab.com for their incredible articles and Talentville.com for their amazing resources. We will be partnering with both websites next year to give you guys outlets to share all of the thoughtful, emotional and well-crafted screenplays that you’ve learned to write on this site. Stay tuned for those announcements.

Also, 2015 is going to bring a few changes to RobEdwards.net. I’ll be announcing those in January, along with two Master Classes I’ll be teaching next year… that are basically excuses for me to get away from my computer for a few days. I’ll also be announcing a few book deals in the works along with release dates for some of the movies I’ve been writing while I’ve been doing this blog.

This is the first of a 3 part series I’m doing for TheScriptLab. If you’ve ever been looking for a way to go to film school in three essays, this trilogy should do it for you. The first article explains why we should break down other great filmmaker’s styles. Every other type of artist on the planet does it. If we’re going to get great… well, just read the articles and let me know what you think below.

http://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/3034-rob-s-piece

This is the second of my 3 part series for TheScriptLab. It explains what I look for when I’m breaking down a filmmaker’s style.

http://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/3048-a-writer-s-breakout-with-screenwriter-rob-edwards

Fear not, those of you who have been tuning in every week for the step-by-step breakdown for how to write amazing screenplays! We’ll get right back to that and take it through to its bitter end right after a quick review for newcomers next week. Until then, enjoy this article and the ones to follow. Happy Holidays! Class dismissed!


My Trojan Vision Interview.

Hello Class,

Last week some wonderful people over at USC invited me to be interviewed for their “CU@SC” TV show. The host, Haley Spence Brown, asked some great questions and, for once, I wasn’t embarrassed by my answers. Enjoy the interview and let me know what you think below.

-Rob.



Class 13, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 5

Welcome To Class 13, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 5!

Right now your stack of 3×5 cards should be in the following piles…

FilledIndexCardsHorizontal-pic

So far, so good. Now, what do we do with #3? How do we tell the “Story of the Inciting Incident” in a way that will yank the reader through the first 15 pages of our screenplay? Click here and I’ll walk you through it.

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Class 12, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 4

Welcome to Class 12, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 4

Class12-Hobbes2-picI’m writing this one on an iPhone while sitting on an Amtrak train from DC to Baltimore, so bear with me. This week I’m teaching a Master Class at Howard University. Last week I did a panel at USC, and we’ll be posting the link to that podcast soon. Over the past year I’ve given workshops, panels and lectures at Syracuse University, USC, UCLA, NYU, Boston U, The Screenwriters Network, Digital Media, The Screenwriters World Conference and The Animation Expo among others. Each event brings us one step closer to eradicating bad screenwriting by bringing more and more people to this website.

If you’re new to the site, click Class 1 to start at Step 1 and catch up. If you’re a vet, you know that in our last class, we broke our INC/INC in a way that was so mindblowingly easy that you’re probably still scraping your brains off the walls. Today we’re going to attack the dreaded first page. And, in subsequent classes, we’ll build a bridge between the two and create an exciting opening 15 pages that will slingshot your reader through the rest of your screenplay.

Let’s go…

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Class 10, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 2

Welcome to Class 10: Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 2

Class10-reel-scissors-picThis unit is all about breaking the story of your screenplay. Reel by reel, sequence by sequence, scene by scene, line by line, word by word. But, first, I’m gonna tell you how I sold my first screenplays before I learned any of the stuff you’re about to learn…

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Class 9, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 1

Welcome to Class 9, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 1

This is the unit you’ve been waiting for! We’re going to break down the way movies work from FADE IN: to CUT TO BLACK. I’ll introduce you to “The Wheel.” It’s my own secret sauce for figuring out movie structure. You won’t see it anywhere else. Nothing close. By the way, I’m going to try to keep these posts a little shorter so expect them to be shorter…but more plentiful. Now let’s get right to it, shall we…

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Class 8: Brainstorming, Unit 3, Part 6

Welcome to Class 8: Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 6

2014-08-20_SuperfreakMagnifyingGlass-picI’ll tell two stories so you’ll have some perspective as I give today’s assignment.

Story 1: The first time I saw IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the last few minutes of it were on television when I walked into the room. Bailey was running through the snow-covered streets screaming. People were throwing money into baskets. Meaningful glances were exchanged. People cried. A bell rang. Some guy got some wings (I was disappointed later when I learned they weren’t Buffalo hot wings, but whatever.) It was about stuff that I cared about. The Spirit of Christmas. Community. Spirituality.

Story 2: During a Master Class a few months ago, I screened the last fifteen minutes of FINDING NEMO. Before I knew it, I was bawling like a baby. Yes, I’m that sappy. Now, I’ve seen that movie a million times so why did I have tears in my eyes? Because the dueling values in that thing are so strong you can’t help but lose it–no matter when or how many times you’ve seen it.

It’s easier to tell a good movie from a bad movie by its SUPERFREAK, so this week, we’re going to take a look at the SUPERFREAK you wrote last week and give it a road test. It’s about to get real y’all!

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