Top Screenwriter Scott Frank: “I Hate Writing”

The Queen's Gambit: Scott Frank in

Wikipedia states that A. Scott Frank (born March 10, 1960) is an American screenwriter, film director, and author. Known as “one of the most reliable and highly-paid screenwriters in the business”, Frank received two Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for Out of Sight (1998) and Logan (2017). His film work, credited and uncredited, extends to dozens of films. In recent years he has worked for Netflix on television miniseries, most prominently co-creating The Queen’s Gambit with Allan Scott.

1988Plain ClothesMartha Coolidge
1991Dead AgainKenneth Branagh
Little Man TateJodie Foster
The Walter EgoJohn PutchShort film
1993MaliceHarold Becker
1995Get ShortyBarry Sonnenfeld
1996Heaven’s PrisonersPhil Joanou
1998Out of SightSteven Soderbergh
2002Minority ReportSteven Spielberg
2004Flight of the PhoenixJohn Moore
2005The InterpreterSydney Pollack
2007The LookoutHimselfFeature directorial debut
2008Marley & MeDavid Frankel
2013The WolverineJames Mangold
2014A Walk Among the TombstonesHimself
2017LoganJames Mangold

In the book Plots and Characters: A Screenwriter on Screenwriting , by Millard Kaufman, the author quotes renowned screenwriter Scott Frank as saying that he hates everything he writes. Not that unusual amongst writers. ¿How is that possible?

Let’s hear it from himself.

“I hate everything I write”

“To this day I can’t bring myself to read my own screenplays once I’ve turned them in. In fact, I can’t ever remember sitting around and thumbing through old drafts of my work just for fun. Fun, nothing. It’s torture. If I can’t read them, I certainly can’t bear to watch my films either. Usually, if I have to be there, I just stare at a corner of the screen, waiting for my wife to pat my hand and tell me, “It’s over, honey. You can let go of my arm.” And it’s not because I hate the way my films have been realized. For the most part, they’ve been well made and I’ve been extremely well-treated. It’s simply because: I hate everything I write.”

“I love my ideas”

“I don’t understand this, because I love my ideas. In fact, I am the happiest guy in the world when I come up with an idea. That moment in the shower or in my car or operating heavy equipment when it comes to me. Sometimes it’s just a title: Dead Again. I’ll think about it for months, years, and then, magically, the rest will emerge whole cloth from my subconscious (usually when I’m supposed to be working on something else): Two people fall in love only to find out one of them killed the other one in a past life. And then I do nothing. I just think about it. I have to be passionate about an idea before I write it or I give up. That’s why I have to ruminate for a long time before I can begin working.”

Writing about the script

“It’s a test: If I still like this a few years from now, it must be good. Even then, I don’t simply start writing the script; I start writing about the script. Scenes I know have to be in the movie. Snippets of dialogue. Names of characters (Ray or Rae?). Lines or pieces of descriptions that I’ve stolen from books that I want to find places for. Opening scenes. I spend months on my opening scenes. To me, an opening scene is like the key of a song. Without the right opening, I can’t hum the rest of it. Then I do outlines. Lots of outlines. Dozens of outlines. Occasionally if I’m having trouble finding the right structure, I’ll sketch each major character’s story separately, and then meld those smaller outlines into one larger one.”

I can’t take it anymore

“Then, finally, when I can’t take it anymore, I’ll start to write. At this point, I agonize over everything. Words. Punctuation. Even sentence breaks, how the paragraphs look on the page. Each day I sit down to write, I begin by rewriting the work I did the day before. My thinking is that this will give me a running start into the new material. Instead, I find, more often than not, that I get bogged down in fixing what I did yesterday instead of moving on to what needs to be done today. “

The four P’s

(…) “Back when I was a bartender, still working on my twenty-seventh draft of Little Man Tate, a drunk agent once wrote down on a cocktail napkin what he claimed were the “four P’s to success in Hollywood.” They were: Persistence, Perseverance, Proximity and Perspiration. To that list I’d have to add Perspective. . . . which is always the first thing we lose, especially after we’ve spent a really long time working on something and suddenly we can no longer surprise ourselves with the material. “

Stuff happens

“When I feel this happening to me, I always tell my story to anyone who will listen. For me, there’s something in the telling—like reading dialogue aloud—that, on the one hand, makes it fresh, while on the other brings into relief any problems there are structurally. I can tell when I gloss over something in the telling that I haven’t worked that part out yet. You know . . . And then a bunch of stuff happens that shows they’re in love, but aren’t right for each other. “

Can’t read my own work

“Perhaps that’s why I can’t read my own work: If it’s in print or, worse yet, on-screen, it’s permanent. There’s nothing I can do about it. If I just tell the story, it’s alive, but fluid, I don’t have to commit to any of it. Watching my movies, all I can ever think about are the thousands of ways I could have done it differently had I had the time. And I guess that’s what’s so hard about writing movies: As screenwriters, our work isn’t done when we think it is, it’s done when someone else takes it away from us. To which I say, Thank god. If it were otherwise I’d never finish anything.”

More on screenwriting? Check Subtext: The Magic Dust of Good Screenwriting, Best Screenwriting Books: ESSENTIALS OF SCREENWRITING, Best Screenwriting Books: INTO THE WOODS, Mad as Hell: Discover Paddy Chayefsky and David Mamet’s Master Class Memo to the Writers of THE UNIT, amongst many others!

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