I recently did a quick interview with screenwriter and screenwriting educator, Richard Walter. Walter has taught screenwriting for almost 40 years, and serves as Chairman of UCLA’s screenwriting graduate program. Not to mention, he’s a celebrated author and sought-after studio scribe in his own right, as well as a renowned media and culture critic and pundit. He also teaches screenwriting privately, via his online workshop. Details and a video about Walter’s program are at the bottom of this interview.
Q: Mr. Walter, how much, if any, has critical feedback (e.g. script notes, script coverage, writers groups, other writers) on your own personal work as a screenwriter helped you become a better educator of screenwriting?
Walter: Plenty! I have my own kitchen cabinet of writer pals who from time to time share each other’s work seeking commentary and support in the revising process.
Q: Some aspiring screenwriters may not be aware of the fact that you offer a private course, for non-UCLA students, and still more may not even be aware of your exemplary bona fides in both the film industry and higher education—bona fides which put you in an vastly different class than the nearly all of the other private educators in this sphere. What’s your best advice to aspiring screenwriters who may not be attending a university or film school, but who are definitely in the market find that master tradesman and artist to learn from?
W: Write, write, write. In your region, or via the web, it is possible to track down writers groups where for no fee writers offer each other the sort of support discussed above.
Q: In a 2015 article written for the WGA‘s magazine, Written By, you lay out a very powerful argument against those that say that film schools are “waste of time,” or that colleges that teach film courses have been somehow “co-opted” by commercial forces. A key point of that argument was that legitimate film schools, and specifically screenwriting instructors at those film schools, provide what you call “an intellectual and analytical vantage,” to those who insist that the only way to become a screenwriter is to “roll up one’s sleeves and write.”
W: I’d say all of the above. These are not mutually exclusive enterprises. At UCLA our program is definitely roll-your-sleeves-up but we’re able to provide the intellectual, analytical perspective, too.
Q: Over your 40 years of teaching screenwriting, is there one particular aspect of the screenwriting craft, or one bit of wisdom, or one aspect of a skill, that you repeatedly find yourself racing against the curriculum to include, or wish you had more time to dive into more deeply with your students?
W: The biggest mistake writers make is: we write too much. The scripts are too long, contain too much description and dialogue. The second most common mistake writers make is to show their scripts to potential representatives and purchasers before they’re really ready.
Q: Your 6-week course features a deep dive on a major tenet or mechanic of screenwriting each week. e.g. Class 1 seems to be about making it personal and delivering the story. Class 2 looks like it’s all about structure and what you call “the biology of narrative.” I found Class 5 to be the most eye-catching for me, as the owner of a script reading business. For Class 5, it looks like the topic is something you call “The reader’s back flip.” Can you give our readers a sneak peek at what “the reader’s back flip” topic is all about?
W: Let me say first that in addition to all the things you describe in the question above, in each of the six sessions we look at participating writers’ scripts in a hands-on way, and from there extrapolating various principles. They’re appropriate, of course, to the particular writer whose pages we’re analyzing, but also to everyone else, as the issues that arise in one writer’s script inevitably arise in all writers’ scripts.
Watch this video to learn Richard Walter’s perspective on why less is more in screenwriting.