It was Orson Welles who said, “A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.” I recently learned that a screenwriter – or this one, at least – needs one of these:
When I started out, I heard that screenwriting depends on structure more than any other art form. It was something I denied for a long time, at least in my own practices. Others may painstakingly plot out their whole stories using index cards beforehand, but not me. I had this romantic idea of being a writer who could pound out a script from the gut and then make some minor amendments later.
But experience is a great teacher, and I eventually became schooled on the level of my own bullshit.
Long story short, there are only so many false starts and directionless ventures one can encounter before humility must take hold. Dramatic writing is a serious business. If there is a key to mastering the craft, it is not secretive or ethereal. One has to appreciate the complexities of the craft; in order to do so, one must become consciously acquainted with them.
For some inane reason, I used to consider a structured approach inferior. It seemed anathema to real creative flair. Now I realise how naive I was.
The end should always justify the means, so if you can write Fargo without plotting out on index cards then have at it. Good for you. But that approach is not superior or inferior to using a notice board. The writers of Breaking Bad use them, as do many world-class screenwriters, and it does them no harm.
What is inferior, however, is stubbornness. Rigidity. Not learning what works best for you. Sticking by old practices because that’s how you do things, regardless of the failures and frustrations they cause.
I stepped out of my comfort zone, bought a big notice board, and within days I saw the difference. Creatively, it was the best thing I ever did.