BEYOND WORDS 2018 – Insights From Writers Guild Award-Nominated Writers

Photo by Michael Jones

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild Foundation, The Writers Guild of America, West and Variety brought together several of this year’s Writers Guild Award-nominated writers for a panel discussion to reflect and share insights about creating their films.

Moderator Graham Moore (THE IMITATION GAME) led writers Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (THE SHAPE OF WATER), Greta Gerwig (LADY BIRD), Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK), James Mangold and Michael Green (LOGAN), Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (THE DISASTER ARTIST), Jordan Peele (GET OUT), Steven Rogers (I, TONYA), Aaron Sorkin (MOLLY’S GAME) and Virgil Williams (MUDBOUND) as they talked about how they decide what story to tell, the relationship between the words on the page and what’s seen on the screen, the craft of writing from treatments to inspiration and dealing with notes.


Virgil Williams – The best advice I ever got while I was starting out was to write. Honest to God, someone sat me down and I went, “What am I gonna do? What do I gotta do? Tell me what I gotta do.” She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You want to be a writer? Write.”

Michael H. Weber – This will be so simple as to seem stupid, but write every day. Write especially when you’re not in the mood or when you don’t have any good ideas or when you have other things to do. Treat it like a job before it becomes a job.


Guillermo del Toro – As far as ideas, it’s the one that you feel that you’re choking to do. Like literally the one that you can’t stand that it hasn’t been made.

James Mangold – For me, it’s looking for something that you haven’t done. It’s kind of scaring yourself. Finding a set of challenges that don’t seem familiar.

Vanessa Taylor – Sometimes it’s just a what if that seems so full of possibility that I want to imagine where it goes. I’m always looking for that place where I might have the opportunity to be carried away.


Jordan Peele – I spend the vast majority of the time on treatments and outlines and studying. I didn’t know that this would end up in a movie. I thought this was gonna be a project for me and for fun. Part of the project was the impossible task, how do you make a horror movie about race that works. That was this thing that engaged me for about five years. I had the whole outline. I had every element of every scene sort of laid out and then when I sat down and wrote it, it took about two months.

Michael H. Weber – We don’t write a word until we feel pretty good about the outline. For practical reasons, just that it’s easier to diagnose problems. You can never diagnose all of them, but you can solve quite a few of them when you’re looking at a five or six page outline than when you’re on page fifty and go, oh wait a second.

James Mangold – We try, but I look at an outline and I’m nauseated. Me and my partners will all dive in and try to execute a few pages of something and go, what does it feel like? How does this scene surprise us in some way? It’s not like I hate outlines for anyone to do them, but I do feel that any process religiously followed, starts to affect the way we make movies. I do think the bumper car way of writing may be inefficient, but some of the inefficiency can be beautiful. You can end up writing something that never would have seemed at home in the through line of a document that’s two pages long.

Greta Gerwig – I don’t outline. I think whenever I outline or do treatments, it’s like I’m pretending to write a movie that I have no idea how to write. It feels fraudulent to me. I have to write into a hunch and write into something I don’t totally understand. Because if I could understand the whole of it, before I started writing, I wouldn’t be able to get to the end.


Jordan Peele – I developed this mantra when I was writing, designed to break me out of writer’s block. It was, follow the fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right. There was a point in the process where I got to something that was very vulnerable and the fun evolved into tears. The thing that stops so much of my art if I let it, is when I lose track of why I want to tell this story.

Emily V. Gordon – When I’m starting a project, I’ll write down this is the reason I want to do this project. When I get so angry or bored, I go back and look at why I wanted to do this. I keep reminding myself this was the headline of why I wanted to do this and at one point in my life I wanted to do this.


Kumail Nanjiani – Taking pressure off having it be good the first time really freed me up to just write. A lot of stuff I wrote that I thought would be terrible was actually stuff that was good.

Aaron Sorkin – It’s a very good idea to get to the end of the screenplay. Don’t keep going back to the beginning. Get to fade out. That’s really important. By the time you’ve gotten there, you’ll have learned a lot about what you’re writing.


Aaron Sorkin – Trying to figure out what people want and trying to give it to them is a bad recipe for storytelling. When I write, I try to write what I like, what I think my friends would like, what I think my father would like and then I keep my fingers crossed that enough other people will like that I get to keep doing it.

Guillermo del Toro – The entire choices you get as a storyteller is to appease or awake an audience. Is this going to be a lullaby for the way it is or am I going to slap you in some way and make you react differently? The temptation always is the lullaby, the appease, and the one you need to seek is the awake.

Virgil Williams – What I was trying to do with MUDBOUND is make you look at yourself in the mirror naked, because MUDBOUND is America and everybody can connect to one or two people in that story. What I wanted to do is grab you by the face and make you look.

The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to

Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

LB: Alas, Poor Aaron…

by Larry Brody

…Sorkin, that is. Looks like everyone’s after him these days, and not in a good way.

And a short while ago he was such a golden boy. Screenwriting Oscar winner! Beloved creator of THE WEST WING! Toast of what we used to call “the Intelligensia” with his cult fave SPORTS NIGHT.

Now, though, he’s getting creamed in the press/on the web by critics and viewers alike. It isn’t just a case of, “Oh, dood, we’re so disappointed. THE NEWSROOM has really let us down,” but of, “Jesus, Sorkin, you phony, arrogant sonuvabitch, you lied to us, man!”

On the surface, the problem is Sorkin’s appearance at the TV Critics Association press tour, during which he unequivocally denied that he’d fired most of the writing staff of THE NEWSROOM, and then proceeded to equivocate about it. Even formerly vocal fans have been jumping all over him on this one, as though delighting in having caught the emperor without his clothes on.

And, I think, that’s what it’s all about. We love to catch people out, to expose the mighty, even those we’ve made so mighty with our approval/praise. By “we” I mean all humans. I’ve seen it so many times that the syndrome seems hard-wired.

Remember how much everyone loved Stallone back in the ROCKY days? Until he accepted his Oscar, thanked all “you little Rockies out there” and immediately distanced himself from his fans. Told us that he saw himself as special. As elevated. All it took was one word: “You.”

Sorkin’s sin is similar. By running a series in which its characters are constantly making moral and ethical judgments that by both implication and overt statement set them up above everyone in not only their TV universe but the viewers’ universe as well, he has for all practical purposes installed himself as the Godlike Arbiter of All Things Just and Good and True.

I’m not saying he did that deliberately, but that’s the result of all his deliberate decisions about the show. That’s the effect on everyone who watches it. We all get the same message: “Aaron Sorkin has set up certain standards of human wonderfulness and is holding each and every one of us up to them.”

And the immediate human reaction to such a message is: “Asshole.”

By making himself a god, Sorkin automatically creates a new set of standards to be used by us judging him. He wants us to be so much better than we are? Fine. As long as he seems better than the average bear too.Much better.

And, of course, he doesn’t. Because he isn’t. No one is. We’re all just people, trying to do our best. All of us fail, a hundred times a day, every day. And, at this point in his career, Aaron Sorkin’s professional/personal failures simply cannot be tolerated, even by those who once adored him.

Sorry, Aaron, but you don’t have a prayer of surviving this. No one in your position does. Because the truth is that the real, hidden, all-too-true-and-human reason we build pedestals and then place people upon them is so we can pull our idols down later and Hulk-smash ’em.

(In case you wondered why the Hulk is so popular. Hmm, gonna be hard to pull him down, isn’t it? But that’ll just make it so much more fun.)

Check out ‘Moses and the Golden Calf’ and other fine work by ~garadrobe


Sorkin to Newsroom Staff: “Buh-bye, Baby”

Deer in the headlights! Whoa!

Sorkin Cleaning the “Newsroom”
by Soo Youn

Aaron Sorkin has been doing press all week defending his critically-panned HBO show, “The Newsroom,” but behind the scenes he’s cleaning house.

Most of the writers on the cable drama about a Keith Olbermann-type television news demagogue have been fired, sources with knowledge of the show told The Daily. “They’re not coming back, except for Sorkin’s ex-girlfriend [Corinne Kinsbury],” one source said.

The show was renewed early for a second season and it’s unclear how many writers will replace the departing staff.

In the mostly collaborative world of TV, Sorkin is famously known for penning most [of] the scripts himself, and “The Newsroom” had a smaller writers’ room than most TV shows with less than 10 credited writers. It’s not uncommon on other TV series run by powerful showrunners to turn over staff…

“I create these shows so that I can write them,” Sorkin told Vanity Fair in the May issue. “I’m not an empire builder. I’m not interested in just producing. All I want to do is write. I came up as a playwright — writing is something you do by yourself in a room.”

“That said, I couldn’t possibly write the show without that room full of people. I go in there, and we kick around ideas. I’m writing about all kinds of things I don’t know anything about. So they do research for me,” the Oscar-winner added.

Read it all

Let’s see if we get this correctly. The show’s having trouble with the writing, so the dood who writes all the episodes fires all the writers who don’t do any real, you know, writing. Sure. Uh-huh.

It’s good to be king.


7 Subjects We’re Not Going to Post About Today

‘Cuz you’ll be able to get this info on 12,476 other sites. So, in no particular order:

  1. 2012 Emmy Nomination Analyses
    Like, you know, this:
    New shows join Emmy favorites among nominees
  2. Or this:
    Emmy Nominations 2012: My Snappy Judgments
  3. Stories Embarrassing Beloved Stars
    Except maybe this:
    Fred Willard Arrested for Lewd Conduct
  4. Stories About How Much Those Damn Actors/Actresses Make
    Like this:
    Forbes List: 2012 Highest Paid TV Actresses
    (because who cares that Sofia Vergara makes $19 mil/year?)
  5. Puff Pieces Disguised as Human Interest Stories
    Like this:
    Balls of Steel: Screenwriter Losing Vision But Kickstarting Dreams
  6. Anything About THE NEWSROOM and Aaron What-Was-His-Name Again?
    For example:
    Aaron Sorkin On ‘The Newsroom’: NPR
  7. Articles About Directors
    Why promote our natural enemies:
    The Traditionalist