Austin Film Festival: On Story

Thanks to Amanda the Aspiring Writer, I now have a couple very interesting videos for you to watch.

On Story, a new series presented by Austin Film Festival, highlights the creative process of film making by featuring interviews with leading screenwriters, directors, and producers.  Each episode also showcases a short film by one of Austin’s up and coming film makers.

Some of the interviewees included are Randall Wallace, Lawrence Kasdan, Shane Black, David Hayter, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof, Robert Rodriguez, and more.

Sorry, media no longer linked.

Interview with Screenwriter Derek Haas

Derek Haas

Derek Haas is an author and screenwriter whose work includes the bestselling novel The Silver Bear and the screenplays 3:10 to Yuma and Wanted.  He is also the editor of, where he publishes new short fiction.  You can learn more about him on his website at

I was fortunate enough to score a short interview with him briefly in 2010.  Here is some advice he had to offer for an aspiring screenwriter.


How did you get into screenwriting?  When was your “lucky break”?

I always wanted to be a writer… in sixth grade, I asked my parents for a typewriter for Christmas.  I wrote stories all through junior high and high school, mostly to amuse myself.  My parents also purchased a Betamax video camera and my buddies and I made movies just about every day in the lovely suburbs of Richardson, Texas, just outside of Dallas.

I went to Baylor University and graduated with a BA in English in ’91 and then an MA in English Lit in ’95.  After school, I worked in advertising for a while. I wasn’t on the copywriting side… I was an account manager.  I kept writing at night, first on a novel (which wasn’t very good but taught me a lot about writing) and then on an idea for a screenplay.

In 1998, I partnered with Michael Brandt, a friend of mine from college, and we wrote a script together.  We had written a couple of terrible scripts in a screenwriting class at Baylor, but decided we’d try again. We passed the script back and forth via email, never seeing each other while we wrote it.  He got it into the hands of some woman who worked on the production side of the business, she got it into the hands of an assistant to a producer, she gave it to the producer, the producer gave it to Brad Pitt’s manager, and the manager gave it to Brad Pitt.  He said he wanted to do it and in March of 1999, we sold our first script.  It didn’t get made, but it got us represented and made a name for us in Hollywood.

Then we worked a while learning the ropes, doing rewrites and polishes, and finally we were offered the sequel to the Fast and the Furious in 2001. We said “no.”  Our agents said “yes.”  They realized we needed to have a produced movie under our belts. It worked out quite well for us… we hit it off with the director, John Singleton, and spent most of the movie on the set in Miami, watching a $90M production get made. It came out and was successful, and we proved we could deliver a script through production. From there, we’ve been fortunate to work with some great directors, actors, producers and crew.

How long does it usually take you to write? What is your process?

I’d recommend writing a first draft in about 8-10 weeks and then spend a month rewriting it before you let someone else read it. Don’t sweat outlines and rules and treatments and character sketches and all the things that keep you from actually writing. Write as much as you can, every day, creatively. Like anything you practice, you’ll get better and better the more you do it. And instead of seeing movies and saying, “I can do better than that,” read screenplays in the genre you wish to write and measure your own writing against those.

So you don’t outline at all?

We outline our screenplays because we have to for the studios who hire us. They want to see what they’re going to get before we write. I don’t outline my novels.

What screenwriting books would you recommend reading?

I really have never read any and am not sure which ones to recommend. Some friends have told me SAVE THE CAT is good, but I don’t know the book and so can’t speak on it.   I’d recommend enrolling in a screenwriting class and learning the form… then reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on.

What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter moving to L.A. for the first time?

Try to find a job, any job, working in film or TV… you’ll learn so much about the process.

When exactly do you think finding representation is essential? After someone is interested?

When you have written something truly great… something so novel and fantastic it will blow people’s minds… then go after representation. If you have someone interested, all the better.

With all the adaptations made today, is spec writing still the way to “break-in” and get noticed?


In your DDP interview, you said, “most new writers think “I’m making art, and everyone should worship me.” Do you think a new writer trying to get their “break” should write something commercial and marketable? Or should they take a chance on something dark and unique just to get noticed?

Commercial and marketable is the best way to get noticed. As funny as it sounds, dark and unique are what most film students do.

You’re ready to shop your screenplay around. How does that process go?

You query representatives. You try to make contacts with people in the film industry and ask them to read your script.   You get it into as many hands as possible and if it’s great, someone who can help you, will.

You can find a more in-depth interview with Derek Haas and his writing partner Michael Brandt over at Done Deal Pro.

Interview with Screenwriter Josh Dobkin

In January of 2009, Josh Dobkin and his writing partner Sean Wathen sold their spec script The Field to Stone Village Pictures.  I interviewed him briefly in 2010.  Here is some of his advice for an aspiring screenwriter.

What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter that’s looking to get a job in the industry?

If you want to be next to writers, you need to be close to producers.  And that means either being a PA on a production, or finding work at a production company… which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! You want to be close to the gate keepers, because as a writer, that is KEY!  Being where scripts are granted life, or executed to a slow miserable death, is where you want to be.

So, my first word of advice would be: go get a job or internship, at either a production company or management company… agency maybe, but unless you want to be a suit, pass on getting abused by the future “Ari Golds” of America.

And that of course, means moving to LA.  So that is actually my first word of advice. But do it with a game plan. Save up some cash, visit, network online, all that jazz… and thennnnnn… make the move out here.

It will be several months before you land a paying gig in the industry, and this place is expensive to live.  So come out strapped with a couple thousand in the bankroll, and hit this town like a freaking maniac!

It will be hard, and will test your will to continue a path in the entertainment industry. If you can keep chugging ahead without having your hopes and dreams crushed, you’ll land a paying gig.

What is your writing process like?  Do you outline?

My writing parter and I outline a pretty detailed path before we start on the script. Some people do 60-90 page treatment… fuck that.  Just write a script if you’re that thought out already.  Put your beats down, what needs to happen, and who it needs to happen to, and go from there.

If you’re too detailed going in, I think the words seem stale. Probably because the writer has been writing the same shit in outline form, for 6 months.  It feels good to feel the flow and unpredictable nature of a writer’s voice.

So I’ve written my spec. Now what?

I wish I had a magic answer to selling a script, but I sure as shit don’t. And no one does. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a fucking liar, or a thief, because more than likely, it’s one of those jerk-offs teaching a seminar for $200 that hasn’t sold shit!

WRITE YOUR ASS OFF! Thats the key to selling a script. You might hit a home run on your first bat… unlikely, but it happens. When you finally close the page on a script that you 100% think is rockstar solid, set it aside for at least 6 months, and write something else.  And while your waiting for 6 months, start reading scripts of sold material…

NOW, come back to that script 6 months later, and tell me how good it is. If its still a rockstar, go solicit a manager/agent, and sell that fucker – ’cause you got a gem!

What is the most common mistake you see aspiring screenwriters make?

The most common mistake writers make is they don’t write, and when they do, it’s shit… and they think its GREAT.  I’ll even admit to that fault.  I just went back and read my first draft of The Field… and it BLOWS!

Any last advice?

It’s outlast and outshine out here.  If you really want it bad enough, put the time in and don’t cave under the harsh environment like everyone else, you’ll rise above the muck.  If you’re writing is solid enough, you’ll succeed.

So there you have it! Advice from a selling screenwriter. Take it to heart, and keep writing! You can find a more in-depth interview with Josh over at Done Deal Pro.