What Screenplay Books Aren't Telling You: Adam Simon's Tips for Writing Your Best Work
Okay writers, this one’s for you…
Because you as well as I both know screenwriting ain’t easy. I’ve studied books, I’ve tinkered with software, but when it comes to the actual art of writing a screenplay, it can get pretty intimidating.
If you’re anything like me, I have an undying fear of underdeveloped characters, weak dialogue, and a flimsy story arc that is deemed mediocre and not worth writing. So when friends ask me the dreaded question, “how’s your script coming along?” I tend to inaudibly mumble, glance at the ceiling, and quickly change the subject.
So, if you suffer from the same condition of "I-don't-wanna-write-a-whack-screenplay" syndrome, I have great news for you. There's a cure!
During a Channel RGB Podcast interview with the awesome screenwriter/actor, Adam Simon, I got some solid and inspiring advice that helped me finally get over the hump, and get the ball rolling. Even better news? I’m gonna share it with you. Now, I strongly encourage you to listen to the entire podcast because he drops even more valuable knowledge during the segment but if you’re eager to finally beat the artist block, keep on reading!
Before we dive in, Let me give you a quick backstory about exactly who Adam Simon is, and why I consider him to be a badass artist that you’ll want to take advice from.
Adam’s story is a bit unorthodox, which makes him all the more fascinating to me. He doesn’t exactly come from a background of film school, diligently attending writing workshops, or working his way up the proverbial Hollywood ladder and such-- but one where he discovered his true ability to grind and created incredible work after he hit rock bottom.
During a really dark time in his life (divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment, and ultimately homelessness), Adam had a paradigm shift, and describes his defining moment as, “ Coming to grips with the demons in his life” and deciding that he was going to pursue his artistic endeavors full-time, whole-heartedly— and if he was going to do this, it had to be all or nothing..
“I said this is it. I'm all in. I will pursue these artistic endeavors, and I will do them even to my own detriment, or demise. It didn’t matter. I’m going to write scripts, I’m going to make movies, I’m going to make my own shit, I’ll put on my own plays. I’ll do whatever I can because the need to express myself that way is that important to me."
In short, Adam Simon eats, sleeps, and drinks this life! Currently, he reads and analyzes roughly 3 scripts a week. He has polished scripts for other people, he has written his own work, he collaborates with other writers. And he does it with a passion, that is simply undeniable.
It's also fun to note, that simply put, Adam is a cool ass guy.
Even while recounting some of his darkest times, his tone remains humorous and lighthearted. If I’m being honest, he’s probably one of the most down-to-earth, humble, and approachable people I’ve ever met. He's a super hard worker, yet easy going, and always down to help fellow artists like myself.
Fast forward to today and Adam Simon has got some pretty damn dope accomplishments under his belt. His film Synapse that he wrote and starred in will soon be distributed. His film Man Down (starring Shia LeBeouf, Kate Mara) is now screening internationally. And most recently, he has partnered up with actor and writer Clifton Collins Jr. (Triple 9, Hellbenders) and co-author Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez to create a Film Adaptation of the book Prison Ramen (Cop the book here).
Now, with all that being said! Here’s what Adam had to say about being an authentic screenwriter, and getting your best work out there.
1. Screenwriting Teams: Pick Your Partners Wisely.
For those of you who are looking to write with a partner or two (And you should! Three heads are better than one) Adam emphasizes that you’ll need a solid team to pull off a solid script. And remember, these will be people that you’ll be spending a whole lot of time with. But selecting the right team can make the difference between writing a decent script and writing a brilliant one.
So, what should you look for in a partner? Adam says the key is keeping it about the story. Find partners who are equally as passionate about the story as you are, and be sure it’s meaningful for them too.
He uses his current writing team for the film The Pawn as a prime example with Collins Jr., and Alvarez.
"I think people that are real, and trying to tell their story and tell it truthfully--I think that’s really attractive to me. It’s so great to have that relationship when we’re just collaborating together, and we’re checking each other. There’s no ego. We’re just riffing off of each other, and we’re just doing what’s best to develop strong characters, arcs, and stories and stuff..We’re on the last act right now, and it’s some of the best shit I’ve put down on paper. "
His other golden rule for picking a team is AVOID EGO, or you’ll risk punching your partner in the face. Keep it about the story.
2. Be in the Class of Doing…Learn Through Trial and Error.
Fun-fact. Adam is a self-taught writer. His method for learning how to write a script was studying other great screenwriters. He mentioned that the very first script he ever read was Seven starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. He printed a copy and closely studied the format, and tried to mirror it with his own script. Then, he analyzed it a bit deeper, and studied when writers would reveal things about characters.
In addition to studying scripts, he also read screenplay books that taught the mechanics of screenwriting. He does however caution writers when studying books like, Save the Cat…
"There’s a lot of great things in [Save the Cat] but I don’t subscribe to the philosophy in the book. I understand that some of the things in that book particularly are geared towards selling screenplays. Like, ‘this is what Hollywood is looking for, this is what audiences are looking for, so create this, go get it out to market, and do it.' That’s not the shit I wanna do. If I wanted to make Big Macs, I’d work at McDonalds. I don’t wanna make Big Macs. I wanna make shit that people are gonna remember 40… 50….60…100 years from now."
“Giving people what they want..I never concern myself with that. I want to show them who I am. I want to share my experience. There’s so much of me that went into the story of Man Down…"
Which brings me to the next gem of advice….
3. Write What You Care About, Not What the People Want.
Adam makes an interesting point that today’s film industry is saturated in formulaic, commercial cinema. Oftentimes, audiences will enter the theater to raise the questions, “Okay, who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy, where’s the comic relief?” and ultimately, "when/how does the good guy win this time?"
His argument definitely reminds me of the American Ideology in cinema, and the belief that we as a society are conditioned by principles and values that we believe to be unarguably true, like “hard work will always pay off”, “or light will always defeat the dark”
Oftentimes, Adam’s work portrays an alternative perspective other than black vs. white, or ties into his own experiences, eliciting authenticity, something real, and something human.
Man Down came from—really simply—my frustration at trying to be a dad--My struggle to be the best father that I can be.”
Adam goes on to speak about his his firsthand experience with classicism , and his strong stance against how military personnel are treated when they return, and if you watch his work, somewhere you’ll find traces of these beliefs, experiences, and stances.
So, what grinds your gears? What keeps you going everyday? What makes you laugh uncontrollably? What breaks your heart? Write about it.
"If you care about something—if you’re writing about something that comes from your heart, if you care about it, other people are gonna care about it. And I think I’d rather have writers focus on that than a lot of the mechanics."
and keep writing….
Adam, stresses to just write.
"Keep writing. If you want to write, write! Make notes, write scripts, Just be writing constantly. When I wake up in the morning, I write. I write all damn day."
So, thanks Adam. I’ll do just that...
This post is truly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the insightful info he gives in the podcast. Trust me when I say, there’s even more gems in the interview, check it out below. And definitely share any other tips or advice that you’ve picked up while writing you own screenplays. Can’t wait to hear them! Peace.