Discover the 8 Steps Process of Award Winning Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black
In the short video below, American screenwriter and Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black takes us through his very well defined creative process to produce screenplays that last. Despite the many videos and articles shared over two years on mentorless on screenwriters craft, technique and work (see full list at the end), I think Lance Black’s interview is the first that covers a process with such clear and detailed steps.
I broke them down for you below, but make sure to watch the whole video too, it’s under 7 minutes, nicely filmed and quite inspiring. What I found fascinating in Lance Black’s process is how much work he puts before writing his first draft. See for yourself:
Dustin Lance Black 8 Steps Process to Write a Screenplay:
- Step 1: Answer the Why
The first thing Lance Black does is figuring out why he is telling X or Y story. To him it always comes back to a desire to try changing the culture.
- Step 2: Research.
Dustin Lance Blacks confesses he is an avid researcher and often spends a year researching for each project.
- Step 3: Don’t Make it “Relatable”, Make it Specific
Just like Jenji Kohan, Lance Black believes in the importance of being specific to create a character with depth and layers. If you want to create unique characters, you have to be specific. Don’t follow the studio note that tells you to make your characters ‘relatable’, make them real instead.
- Step 4: Extract the Cinematic Moments
Lance Black then takes the material he has gathered and boils it down to the moments he feels are cinematic and necessary for the story. Each moments is then assigned a notecard that will be used from then on to keep building the story. (see top image)
- Step 5: Cut
After weeks of working on a detailed break down Lance Black goes through an editing session even before started writing: “There is no reason to write all that stuff and then have to cut it later. I may as well cut it before I write it.“
- Step 6: Watch Your Film
Once Lance Black has find an order that feels right for all his scenes, he locks himself in his kitchen, reads every card and visualizes each scene as it plays out in his head. That’s what he calls ‘watching his movie’.
- Step 7: Locking the Outline
If he gets bored or finds that something is repetitive while visualizing his film, he stops, fixes the scenes and starts over. Lance Black takes as many days or weeks as needed until he reaches the point where he can watch his film a few times without being bored, and at that point the outline is locked.
- Step 8: Write Your First Draft aka the Vomit Draft.
“I’ve been watching the scenes for so long in my head at that point that it’s almost regurgitation. I write the first ten pages in a way that’s very readable, and that is something I wouldn’t be too ashamed if someone was reading, and then the next 90 to whatever it might be, I just spill it all out. I allow myself to make mistakes.” During that phase, Lance Black also mentions his routine which consists in getting up at 8, starting writing around 8.30/9, taking a break for lunch to go to the gym and then going back to his desk until 1am. He repeats the process 6 to 7 days a week until the draft is done and so on.
What do you think about Lance Black’s process? Do you go into that much details before writing your first draft or do you jump and try to swim faster?
Related Articles on Screenwriters and their process:
- Susannah Grant (Erin Brokovich, The Soloist) Talks About the Art of Writing Screenplays
- Four Highlights From an Interview with Fight Club’s Screenwriter Jim Uhls
- William Nicholson 11 Priceless Advice on Being a Screenwriter
- Back To The Future: Highlights From Screenwriter Bob Gale’s Talk On Writing and Making the Film
- The 3 Elements Screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady, The Hour) Needs to Write a Story
- Award Winning Screenwriter Michael Arndt About His Career and Making It With Nothing But Faith
- Wall-E and Toy Story Screenwriter Andrew Stanton Reveals the Clue to a Great Story
- Screenwriter Damon Lindelof Hour Long Interview With Kevin Pollack