What can the wise words of Albert Einstein teach screenwriters about screenwriting?
Screenwriters don’t always have to go to famous and Award-winning screenwriters and filmmakers to learn. Wisdom is everywhere.
Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955) was one of the most brilliant minds that this world has ever seen. The famous theoretical physicist developed the theory of relativity and is considered to be the father of modern physics.
Because of his brilliance, many sought his outlook and perspective on several different topics beyond science. Below we take many of his most famous inspiring quotes and apply them to the art, craft, and business of screenwriting, for wisdom has no bounds.
1. “Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.”
Too many screenwriters make a simple concept, character, or moment more complicated than they need to be within their scripts. They’re all too often advised to make things more complex as if that automatically leads to a better result in the end.
Others over-simplify things and don’t offer the concept, characters, and moments any depth.
The key to a successful screenplay is to know when and where to keep it simple and when and where to inject more into any given scenario.
Look no further than the Star Wars prequels and the fan backlash that followed. Did we need to know so much about these otherwise mythical concepts, characters, and moments? Did we need to understand what makes the Force the Force?
Find the right middle ground and choose your battles wisely as far as when and where you’ll offer less or more.
2. “Try not to become a man (or woman) of success, but rather try to become a man (or woman) of value.”
If fame and fortune are why you want to become a screenwriter or filmmaker, you’ll burn out quickly. A majority of those attempting such a career will never see that. Instead, focus on what value you are going to bring to film or television. What difference can you make? What impact can your writing make? Chasing dollars and headlines will get you nowhere.
3 .“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
We know the general guidelines and expectations of the film and television industry. We know the various directives and hard truths. We write about (ScreenCraft) and read (you) things like, “Don’t say this in meetings,” “Don’t write these types of scripts,” or we see specific genres and trends are killing it at the box office and Award ceremonies and we try to emulate those in our writing and business dealings.
What Albert is saying is that these things that we see and hold so high aren’t always so. You can’t always count on what has been successful — or proven to be true — before. We must play the better odds in life and in a screenwriting career, sure, however, sometimes we have to take those shots in the dark against the wind and see if we can hit that target.
4. “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
The screenwriting context of this isn’t as over-powering as the quote. However, it has a context that fits.
Great screenwriters and filmmakers — storytellers — have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds, often in the guise of producers, development executives, representation, etc. It happens. You’ll receive notes from the powers that be that just don’t make sense. Your script will be rejected by most for questionable reasons.
This has happened to all of the great storytellers of our generation and before (Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Aaron Sorkin, etc.), and it will continue to happen to those that come after them.
Just grind your way through it.
5. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
When you’re struggling with a script, a character, a scene, or whatever it may be, THAT is all too often when the most brilliant answers come to light. Challenges ignite the creative spark in our minds. The brain works in mysterious ways. It often finds the best solution when against the most opposition.
So write and think your way through those problematic rewrites and writer’s block. That’s where the good stuff is born.
6. “A human being is part of a whole called by us the universe.”
You’re not the only one struggling. You’re not the only one telling stories. You’re not the only one the powers that be are considering. You’re not the only one who has won a contest or gotten a meeting. You’re not the only one who writes well or, as of yet, is writing poorly.
So take comfort in that and be humbled by it at the same time.
7. “A man (or woman) should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”
Discover the story, don’t just try to emulate what has come before it. Discover the characters, don’t just try to follow what the pundits and gurus stipulate.
8. “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
The mistakes you make as a screenwriter or filmmaker will make you better. You need to make them to evolve. If you stay in a specific genre or write the same way over and over, you won’t be challenging yourself. If you’re not challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone, you’ll never make those fundamental mistakes. And if you don’t make those necessary mistakes and learn from them, you’ll never be a better storyteller.
9. “Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.”
In Hollywood meetings and communication, if you try to bulls*** your way through the process, the powers that be will quickly pick up on that and won’t trust you with big assignments, etc. Lying about your past “successes” and lying about applying their notes, or any variation of lying or misleading anyone in any context, will get you nowhere.
10. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
Less is more. This can be especially applied to the rewriting process. Cutting scenes down to the core is much more difficult than adding complexity and overwriting them. The best screenwriters can find the core of each scene, character, and moment, and communicate that in the most simple of ways for the reader and eventual audience to embrace. That is what makes an otherwise good screenwriter truly great. Master the concept of less is more, and you’ll be well ahead of the pack.
11. “Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.”
The constant rejection that screenwriters face on a daily basis often causes many to become cynical and overtly angry towards the film and television industry.
Screenwriters need to embrace the rejection. It should make you want it more and work harder to hone your craft, market your scripts smartly, network better, etc.
Anger only leads to the dark side.
12. “Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.”
The gurus out there with books, seminars, and workshops are good food for the brain to consider and apply to your own process and direction when needed, however, their declarations, formulas, and “secrets to success” should never be idolized to the point where a screenwriter tries to emulate them to a tee.
As a screenwriter, you need to find your own way. There’s no one single path to excellent writing and success.
13. “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
All too often, some screenwriters feel that they need to be overly analytic. It even translates to watching movies, where they pick apart various elements of the story, characters, etc.
Cinema is magical. It always will be. Sitting in that theater in wonder and awe is okay. It’s okay to lose yourself in the process of writing a screenplay. It’s okay to have fun doing it and to, more often than not, let the story and characters find you. It’s not just okay to allow those things — it’s necessary.
14. “Information is not knowledge.”
Studying endless film theory doesn’t make you an excellent writer. Nor does knowing various guru formulas/beat sheets, knowing each and every line in Casablanca, or knowing the percentages of successful — or unsuccessful — genres and other analytical information.
You become a great writer by writing. You become a great writer by failing and learning from your mistakes.
15. “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.”
Screenwriters have to commit. They have to write every day, whether it’s physically typing or writing in their head, developing those concepts, stories, characters, and moments.
And writing one script isn’t enough. You have to stack your deck by writing as many as you can. You learn with each script.
Write. Write. Write.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies