Take a Lesson in Screenwriting From Billy Wilder

“I don’t know. I just get them. Some of them on the toilet, I’m afraid,” said Billy Wilder in an interview with The Paris Review when asked about how he gets his ideas. “I have a black book here with all sorts of entries. A little bit of dialogue I’ve overheard. An idea for a character. A bit of background. Some boy-meets-girl scenarios.” And as one of cinema’s most brilliant and iconic screenwriters and directors, Wilder gave us some of the most beloved films ever—from Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot to The Apartment and Double Indemnity.

After first working a reporter, drama critic, and as part of the German film industry, Wilder then moved onto Hollywood where he went on to make films that danced between all worlds of cinema, from the most memorable noir dramas to enchanting comedies—”all his films, nonetheless are marked by a singular vision—elegant dramatization of character through action, distinctive dialogue, and a sour/sweet, or even misanthropic, view of humanity—qualities that stem, for the most part, from the writing.”

So who better to take a screenwriting lesson from than the man himself? In filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s 1999 book, Conversations With Wilder, there’s a section which features ten rules for writing from Wilder and of course, they’re as concisely insightful and necessary as they are enjoyable to bury into your brain. Take a look below.


1. The audience is fickle.
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4. Know where you’re going.
5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.

See Tom Cruise’s Script Suggestions & Read Cameron Crowe’s ‘The Jerry Maguire Journals’

Last week, we reported that Rachel McAdams would be joining the cast of Cameron Crowe’s next untitled film—which is said to be a in the heartfelt vein of Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire. The news was a welcome relief after the disappointment of his last few films, features I found terribly unsubstantial, leaving my love for the wonderful writer and director waining. Having grown up on Crowe’s early and middle films, they taught me something profoundly important about creating a narrative that’s both cinematic and deeply emotional—but always honest and unmerciful. And the other day, Cinephilia and Beyond posted the most delightful gem—a photo from the original script for Jerry Maguire, marked up with notes from Tom Cruise himself, advising Crowe as to liken to his own ridiculous suggestions. 

You can see the script page HERE but while you’re into it, you should also read this fantastic article documentating the making of the film written by Crowe for Rolling Stone‘s 1996 December Issue—The Jerry Maguire Journals. See the article in its entirety HERE but tak a look at some what he had to say about working with Cruise:

… He carried the script in a black notebook with multicolored page markers for easy access. Layer by layer, Cruise began to strip down to the part that many had told me he would never play – a loveable, lost loser on the rebound. As he mentioned to me one day, “I have a piece of paper near the mirror, and I see it every day. It says, ‘Relax.’ If I’m loose, I can go places I’ve never been before as an actor. Any time you want, just tell me to relax. It’ll help.” I would have to tell him to relax only a couple of times. Each time he tried something wild and loony. Those takes are not in the movie, but the next ones are.

…Cruise’s process of deconstructing was entertaining to watch. If the scene required him to be out of breath, he would jump rope furiously just before a take and then quickly say, “Let’s go.” If the take required him to cry, he would take as long as necessary, sitting alone, sometimes listening to music on a Walkman, reaching into places that clearly wrenched him to visit. The level of his commitment to the part was constantly surprising to me as a director. As a writer, I was often floored.

“Your words, man,” he said, “You spent three and a half years on this script.”

…Every picture of me directing Jerry Maguire looks pretty much the same: I am holding pages from the script in hand, and the pages are mostly filled with scribbled notes about how each line could be played. My intense devotion to the script was matched, sometimes outdistanced, by Cruise’s. The mirror in his hair and makeup trailer was plastered with photos from each of his previous movies. The idea was to look different, to be different, in Jerry Maguire. A real turning point came early, while we were filming the scene where Jerry has been fired and he rushes back to the office to make phone calls, attempting to win back his clients.


Rachel McAdams Joins the Cast of Cameron Crowe’s Untitled Project

Growing up, Cameron Crowe’s middle films were some of the first movies I remember falling in love with. Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire, and even Vanilla Sky have always held a remarkably fond place in my heart as wonderfully told narratives that showed me how cinema could really reach down deep and make me feel. But in recent years, I’ve found myself less than thrilled with his work—Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo begging the question: has this director whom I once adored so much lost the magic that fueled him from the start? But no, I’m hopeful.

And now, Deadline reports that the untitled project he is currently prepping with Sony Pictutes—slated to star Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone—has now attached Rachel McAdams to the leading cast. It’s a timely announcement as Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder twirls its way into theatres tomorrow, with McAdams in a brief but memorable role alongside Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko. Personally, the scenes with her character in Malick’s meditation on divine love and foregiveness, were my favorite, holding the most wright of any of the moments shared between characters. 

But anyhow, in Crowe’s upcoming film, McAdams looks to play a former love of Cooper’s character and although plot details have yet to be revealed, Deadline goes on to report that the film is "funny and romantic, with a tone similar to past Crowe films Jerry McGuire and Almost Famous." Well good, that’s all I can hope for and will certainly be keeping a close eye on this one. 

In the meantime, let’s just read Roger Ebert’s review of Almost Famous, which begins with the wonderful line: Oh, what a lovely film. I was almost hugging myself while I watched it. 

Grunge Comes Back With a Vengeance

It was 1992 when Kurt Cobain posed with infant daughter Frances Bean wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with three words: grunge is dead. Of course it was a goof; at the time, the major labels were in full thrall with grunge, lustily courting greasy-haired Seattleites.

Years later, after Cobain took his own life, the phrase became an accepted truth. Labels started dropping grunge acts en masse. Bands imploded or slid into irrelevancy—few survived the decade.

Cut to 2012. Grunge’s influence has peppered popular culture for years, but the comeback began in earnest last fall with the hoopla surrounding the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s game-changer Nevermind and Pearl Jam, who celebrated two decades of Ten with a Cameron Crowe documentary, a best-selling retrospective book, and a festival in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.

Of the Big Four grunge bands, three are active concerns working on new albums: Pearl Jam never went away; Soundgarden reunited in 2010 after a 13-year break; Alice in Chains have fully integrated singer William DuVall, who replaced the late Layne Staley. A Nirvana reunion is out of the question—replacing Cobain would be a crime against music—but Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and producer Butch Vig collaborated on the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Life last year.

In April, Vig tweeted that he’d spent the day recording with Grohl, Novoselic, and an unnamed “special guest” (the session was likely to do with Grohl’s forthcoming documentary on Sound City, the studio where Nevermind was recorded). After a surprise reunion at the Williamsburg after-party for the grunge-era rock documentary Hit So Hard, which chronicles the travails of Hole drummer Patty Schemel, the band’s guitarist, Eric Erlandson, hinted at the possibility of a “White Album” featuring unreleased Cobain solo material he hopes will someday see the light of day.

But it’s not all ’90s nostalgia. GrungeReport.net estimates 40 percent of readers are under 20, some of whom weren’t even born when Kurt Cobain killed himself. Patty Schemel, for one, witnessed the younger generation’s grunge love firsthand as she traveled the country promoting Hit So Hard. “Maybe it’s a backlash to what’s going on with pop music today—everything is so packaged and slick. Something dirty needs to show up,” Schemel says. “It’s weird seeing a Nirvana T-shirt in H&M. For kids, Nirvana are what Jimi Hendrix was to me. Grunge has become classic rock.”

PETA Targets Matt Damon Flick

No mater what you think of PETA, there is one thing to be said of them: they never miss out on an opportunity for publicity. With rampant headlines of the Ohio farmer who shot himself after letting loose a bunch of exotic animals including a herpes monkey (who by the way, now has an inevitable but still hilarious Twitter account), they’re speaking out against people owning wild animals by targeting Cameron Crowe’s upcoming Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson flick We Bought a Zoo.

The film centers on a single dad who purchases a house out in the country as a way to get his family back together, but doesn’t realize there is a zoo on the property. It’s loosely based on the true story of a man with the most shady real estate agent ever, and in the end, helps bring the family closer together in what we can only expected to be a snuggly warm moment of an animal doing something awwwe-worthy.

PETA’s Vice President said in a statement:

We Bought A Zoo conveys the misleading and downright dangerous message that no special knowledge — just a lot of heart — is needed to run a zoo. As the tragedy in Ohio gruesomely illustrates, wild animals aren’t Disney characters. They have very special needs that all too often aren’t met by people who buy them on a whim because they think it would be ‘cool’ to own a tiger.”

Hmmm…clearly true, but c’mon, it would be pretty cool to own a tiger. Ask Mike Tyson.