What can quotes from Ron Howard — director of such iconic films as Splash, Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Apollo 13, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind, and Solo: A Star Wars Story — teach you about the art, craft, and business of screenwriting?
Ron Howard is a unique success story within the realms of Hollywood. He attained national recognition as an actor for two iconic television shows during two different periods of his life.
He was just a small boy when he played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.
And was a teenager when he defied the odds and made the successful transition from child actor to teen actor in Happy Days after a starring role in George Lucas’s classic American Graffiti.
Howard later agreed to star in the Roger Corman film East My Dust, which led to an agreement that would allow Howard to study under Corman. The collaboration led to Howard’s feature film directing debut, Grand Theft Auto.
A few years after, he signed a deal with NBC which led to several projects that he produced and directed for the network.
In 1981, Howard met producer Brian Grazer, who would go on to work with Howard throughout a majority of his career. They first partnered on the feature film Night Shift in 1982, and then two years later for Splash. The latter was a huge box office hit, which led Howard to helm another instant classic, Cocoon.
In 1986, Howard and Grazer co-founded Imagine Films Entertainment, which quickly became a Hollywood powerhouse thanks to Howard-directed films like Willow (1988), Parenthood (1989), Backdraft (1991), Apollo 13 (1995) and Ransom (1996).
Imagine delved into television with great success as well by developing and producing shows like Felicity and the hit high concept series 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland.
But it was Howard’s A Beautiful Mind that finally catapulted him into Academy lore with two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.
The hit series Arrested Development, an Oscar nomination for Best Director in 2008 for Frost/Nixon, a film franchise based off of The Da Vinci Code novels, and several other great films followed — all of which have led him to traveling to a galaxy far, far away after taking over the reins of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
He is known as one of the most cinematic and visionary directors, often compared to the likes of Steven Spielberg himself — a close friend and collaborator.
Here we take some of Ron Howard’s most inspirational quotes and elaborate on his words as we apply them to the art, craft, and business of screenwriting.
“Every story is its own kind of expedition, with its own set of challenges.”
Each screenplay that you undertake as a screenwriter is a journey. You need to treat it as such. You need to map out your course while leaving room for further exploration. And during such an expedition, you will surely uncover many different kinds of challenges with each and every script that you take on.
Screenwriting can never be mastered because every script challenges you in different ways.
“I’ve just looked for ideas and great characters that I relate to and that I think I can offer something to the audience, and I no longer look at them as experiments or genre exercises at all.”
Chasing trends has always been a path that leads to nowhere. When you’re looking for future projects, pay less attention to the hot genre trends and more attention to what ideas and types of characters relate to you, whether it’s because you have some type of connection to them or because they pique your interest and intrigue.
And then when you feel compelled to tackle such a concept, you need to ask yourself what you can bring to the table. What can you offer the audience over any other writer?
“You’re always a little surprised when something really takes off.”
The scripts that hit are usually the ones that you’d never thought would make it and the ones that fall flat are often the ones your analytical mind told you would succeed.
“You can’t expect perfection. It is important to sort of acknowledge some of our imperfections. I write them down. There’s something about acknowledging mistakes and being able to put them down on paper; they become facts of your life that you must live with. And then, hopefully, you can navigate the road a little bit better.”
As a screenwriter, you will fail more than you ever succeed. But that failure is what makes those successes possible because you learn from them. Failures and imperfections are a part of you that you can evolve and shape into where and what you are destined to be as a screenwriter.
“If you’re not out there taking some risks, if you’re just coasting along with your wins, then you’re not really trying.”
Common practice for screenwriters that have won contests or gotten some meetings with a particular script is to coast on that success, expecting the stars to align with that one single project.
You always have to push yourself. You have to get out of that comfort zone and challenge yourself. When you DO decide to write that next script, don’t be afraid to take on the script that scares you the most for whatever reason.
“I’ve worked with Bette Davis, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda. Here’s the thing they all have in common — they all, even in their 70s, worked a little harder than everyone else.”
There are tens of thousands of screenwriters trying to do what you’re trying to do. Those that truly break through aren’t succeeding merely because of dumb luck or nepotism. They are often succeeding because they’re trying a little harder.
They’re writing more scripts and learning from the mistakes they’ve made.
They’re trying harder to network and make those necessary relationships within the industry.
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They’re being harder on themselves and their work. That’s what it takes.
“Everything’s always about page-turning, right? What’s next? So, if you create questions for audiences, then they’ll want to know the answer. Or they begin to formulate possible outcomes. That’s the game we play when we’re hearing a story unfold. That’s part of what sucks us into a movie.”
Perhaps some of the best screenwriting advice you can read. The whole focus of a screenwriter should be the pursuit to write a true page-turner that compels the reader to stay invested and engaged to the point where they don’t just want to turn to the next page — they need to.
Read ScreenCraft’s 4 Keys to Help Screenwriters Write Page-Turners!
“Television, particularly as it becomes more and more serialized, comedies no longer have to tie the stories up neatly within 20-plus minutes. Arrested Development had evolving storylines, as did both versions of The Office. We’re seeing that more and more. That allows it to be really, whatever the tone, almost literary.”
When you’re developing those pilots and conceptualizing that series, remember that great single episodes aren’t enough. The stories and characters have to live on throughout the whole series with multiple episodes and multiple seasons. If you don’t have those story and character arcs developed before you begin to shop the pilot episode, you’re not keeping up with the times — and everyone else that’s trying to do what you’re doing.
“There are all these great TV series — you can watch all these hours and hours of shows and ideas, but there’s still something great about a movie that unfolds in a couple of hours, and you have the complete experience.”
While television is all the rage, don’t think that features are dead. Television and film are two different mediums and audiences are drawn to them for different reasons. While television offers the chance for the audience to experience more story and more characters, features offer them a complete experience within a fraction of the time it takes to experience a whole series from beginning to end. Keep writing original features — especially in a time where Hollywood is beginning to seek out more originals after the resounding success of A Quiet Place.
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“I really feel like you shouldn’t make a movie as a kind of exercise. You have to be all the way in.”
Without the passion, there is no great script.
“We’re all constantly keeping score. You can’t help it. But trying to pit ourselves against other people in some measurable way is largely a waste of time.”
When you watch the success of other screenwriters and try to either compare yourself to them or emulate them, it’s a waste of time. No one screenwriting success story is the same. You have your own journey, your own path, your own strengths, and your own weaknesses. Don’t chase after somebody else’s success, make your own.
“My obligation is to the movie audience.”
Screenplays are visual blueprints for movies. Movies are consumed by audiences. If you’re not writing for them — whether it’s to entertain them or to make them laugh, cry, cheer, or look inward — you’re missing the whole point of what it is to be a screenwriter. You write for the screen. And the screen is meant to be watched by the masses, not just you. So go out and write amazing scripts that capture our attention and keep that attention from fade in to fade out.
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