Screenwriting Master Classes: Top Ten List
What you are about to listen to is probably the equivalent of taking at least five years of screenwriting courses or classes at a top tier film school.
BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts) has an amazing collection of FREE screenwriting lectures from some of the biggest and most successful screenwriters in the world.
There’s easily between 15-20 hours of remarkable content here. Take a listen and get ready to take notes from these masters of the craft of screenwriting and storytelling.
Also, keep a look out for the bonus content at the end of the post!
Take a Listen to the #1 Screenwriting Podcast on iTunes! Guests include Jim Uhls (Fight Club), Doug Richardson (Bad Boys), Michael Hauge, Chris Vogler & much more.
Joss Whedon – Screenwriting Master Class
Joss Whedon’s work ranges across both film and television was strongly conveyed as he discussed the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Toy Story (1995) through to his recent cinematic interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing (2012).
Having debated the thematic elements of Buffy and Angel (1999-2004), the interview moved towards The Cabin in the Woods (2011) and The Avengers (2012). Whedon’s emotive intentions in his writing remains steadfast, advocating how “the end game is getting people to feel, and if you can get them to think? Bonus”.
It was clear how much his “absurd love of story-telling” motivates him. Whether writing for the big or small screen, Whedon’s passion for “build[ing] narrative structures” and always working to give his audience something unexpected permeated the interview and has warranted high expectations for his projects, including The Avengers 2 (2015).
With an array of unforgettable characters, emotionally heartfelt and witty scripts, and more end-of-the-world apocalypses than you can shake a vampire stake at, writer and director Joss Whedon has established himself as one of the most original voices working in the film and television industries over the past 20 years.
Charlie Kaufman – Screenwriting Master Class
Kaufman – one of the few contemporary screenwriters whose name commands top-billing status alongside his films’ directors – has quickly established himself as an uncompromisingly original and imaginative talent.
1999’s Being John Malkovich, in which the eponymous actor plays a fictional version of himself, earned Kaufman a BAFTA Film Award for Best Screenplay – an award he picked up again for Adaptation (2002) and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004).
Failure is a badge of honour. It means you risked failure.
Nancy Meyers – Screenwriting Master Class
Screenwriter and director Nancy Meyers is an Academy Award nominee for her script Private Benjamin (1980) and Golden Globe nominated for her screenplay It’s Complicated (2009).
Across a career spanning 35 years her credits include Father of The Bride (1991), The Parent Trap (1998), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Holiday (2006) and The Intern (2015), starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway.
In an inspiring lecture laden with advice for up-and-coming writers, Nancy Meyers discussed creating characters, producing and directing her own work and her concerns for the film landscape in Hollywood.
Brian Helgeland – Screenwriting Master Class
Brian Helgeland stands out as one of Hollywood’s master screenwriters of intelligent crime film.
After cutting his teeth in horror (Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was an early credit), he quickly jumped to A-list status with an Oscar® win for the pitch perfect noir thriller LA Confidential and Oscar® and BAFTA nominations for Mystic River.
As a writer, Helgeland is highly prized for smart, muscular thrillers like Green Zone directed by Paul Greengrass, and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Man on Fire, both directed by the late Tony Scott, as well as Payback which he wrote and directed himself.
On writing crime film, he says:
“It strips people down to their basic elements. It gets to the hunting-gathering heart of the matter. I don’t want to write about the ennui rich people feel. I could care less. I want to write about what’s in people’s heads, hearts and between their legs when they either are in prison, might go to prison, have a gun in their face or are pointing one”.
In this lecture, Helgeland urged screenwriters to ‘fight’ to assert themselves in front of studio executives, argued that films should be ‘commercial’ (that is, profitable on some level) and paid tribute to Cool Hand Luke screenwriter Frank Pierson.
Scott Frank – Screenwriting Master Class
Scott Frank, a remarkably diverse writer whose films have grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. During writing the screenplay for Kenneth Branagh’s 1991 thriller Dead Again that he says he really learned his craft.
Frank cemented his growing reputation with a brace of Elmore Leonard adaptations – Get Shorty and Out of Sight – and has since gone on to pen films as diverse as Minority Report, The Lookout (which Frank also directed) and Marley & Me.
Frank began his candid, funny and informative lecture by explaining that when writing he finds it useful to follow a set of rules that he has laid out for himself.
He confessed that they are a set of rules that may only work for him, whilst also noting that
“rules are something to cling to when ideas fail.”
His first and possibly most important rule was
“why you decide to write something doesn’t matter, but how you do it is important.”
Frank revealed that he was initially motivated to write Out of Sight because he wanted a bigger house but that it ultimately turned out to be
“the single most enjoyable job of my career, and is perhaps the work that I’m the most proud of.”
“It’s okay to write something just for the money, and it’s also okay to write something just because you want to.”
John Logan – Screenwriting Master Class
The man behind Russell Crowe’s brilliant line “At my signal, unleash hell” in Oscar® Winning film Gladiator, John Logan is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most prolific writers.
John Logan has collaborated with some of the most visionary directors of our time: Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg.
He is notable for the diversity of his projects: in 2011 alone his writing is at the heart of the Academy Award® Winning animated comedy Rango, Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut Coriolanus, James Bond’s Skyfall directed by Sam Mendes, and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and Hugo.
What I say to to young writers is: read your Shakespeare. Read your Shelley. Read your Keats. Read your Byron. Love language.
He discusses the techniques of writing for the big screen.
Guillermo Arriaga – Screenwriting Master Class
Arriaga came to screenwriting relatively late in life, having been a university teacher and novelist before meeting his collaborator Academy Award® Winning Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, with whom he made some of his better-known films – Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. His work is famous for utilizing a fragmentary, non-linear approach to plot, which contributed to Amores Perros’ winning countless awards.
The first rule of screenwriting, or any art, is having no rules.
Emma Thompson – Screenwriting Master Class
The writer and actor’s feature screenwriting debut Sense and Sensibility (1995) remains one of the definitive Jane Austen screen adaptations.
In 2001 she wrote the Golden Globe-nominated Wit for director Mike Nicholls, and in 2005 penned the family hit Nanny McPhee. She returned in 2010 with the sequel Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang.
Emma Thompson described how her writing routine involves yoga and Hoovering, reflected upon her early acting experiences at Cambridge Footlights, and explained why ‘if you can’t fail, you can’t do this job’.
Aline Brosh McKenna – Screenwriting Master Class
Relatively new to the industry but with a string of commercial successes to her name already, Aline Brosh McKenna is one of Hollywood’s current ‘It’ writers, with a particular finesse for romantic comedy.
A first feature credit on Three To Tango (1999) led to Laws Of Attraction (2004). McKenna’s feature script for box-office hit The Devil Wears Prada (2006) was adapted from Lauren Weisberger’s novel.
McKenna’s sharp and sassy screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada was nominated for a BAFTA and a Writers Guild of America Award.
Nick Hornby – Screenwriting Master Class
Nick Hornby is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and award-winning author. His most recent screenplay is an upcoming adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s acclaimed novel Brooklyn (2015), directed by John Crowley, many consider a front runner for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars®.
Prior to that, he adapted Cheryl Strayed’s NY Times bestselling memoir into the film Wild (2014) which was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, and starred Reese Witherspoon.
Nick was Oscar® and BAFTA-nominated for his screenplay adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education (2009) directed by Lone Scherfig and he adapted his own memoir for the screenplay of Fever Pitch (1997) starring Colin Firth.
Linda Seger is a legend when it comes to screenwriting coaching and script consultant. She’s been coaching for over 30 years and pretty much invented the job title. After reading her best-selling book, “Making A Good Script Great” I had to have her on the show.
She’s best known for her method of analyzing movie scripts, which she originally developed as her graduate school dissertation on “What Makes a Great Script.” She founded the script consulting industry, becoming the first entrepreneur who saw script consulting as a business, rather than an offshoot of seminars or books.
I discovered Karl Iglesias’ work reading Writing for Emotional Impact. It really transformed the way I wrote screenplays and created a bunch of new habits that I still use today.