Richard Walter is a distinguished storytelling teacher, film industry expert, and former co-chair of UCLA’s renowned TFT Graduate Program in Screenwriting. A screenwriter and published novelist himself, his most recent publication is Essentials of Screenwriting (St Martin Press 2010). I plan to add Richard’s book as the next entry in The Toolbox (totellastory.net/the-toolbox)
Walter has written for the big studios and all the big networks, plus numerous educational and industrial films. He teaches screenwriting in the US and around the world, held seminars in London, Paris, Jerusalem, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Beijing, Sydney and Hong Kong.
Students in his UCLA screenwriting major have written more than ten projects for Steven Spielberg alone, as well as dozens of Hollywood blockbusters and critically acclaimed independent productions, including three Oscar® winners for Best Screenplay, “The Descendants,” “Milk” and “Sideways.”
I had the honor of meeting him a few years ago and I asked him what he thought was important for screenwriters to learn. For Richard, the Workshop 434 was so successful because it is an (almost) eye-to-eye discussion between authors, which is most fruitful when the comments of the colleagues are practical and specific, which is the most difficult part. As an intellectual, he says, one is always tempted to discuss the ‘superstructure’, i.e. the ‘message’ or the effect on ‘the viewer’. The workshop will be most effective though when the participants describe the effect on themselves as concretely and clearly as possible.
This is excellent advice if you plan to or have already a group of writers who meet on a regular basis. Try to ask your fellow writers to tell you what they felt and what their gut reaction was when they read or listened to your material. ask them to avoid discussing what your material ‘means’ or what they think you try to say. That discussion will come soon enough and should best be left to to professional critics.
I recently came across Richard’s excellent podcast “Get Reel with Richard Walter” and have been listening to every episode. A few weeks ago I left a question in the comments, asking if he could talk about screenwriting books: which worked for him, which didn’t. In his last episode he was kind enough to answer the question. You can listen to the episode here:
He says two things that I think every writer can take as good advice:
1. Richard emphasizes what an important book Aristotle’s Poetics s. he says that it should be used as a manual “Just as one would use a manual to clean the carburetor of one’s Honda Civic.” Many writers think of the Poetics (check the gist of it out here” totellastory.net/the-toolbox) as a foundational text which is to be treated with the utmost respect. It certainly is that, but what it is first and foremost and what the book wants to be in my eyes is just that: a manual.
2. He says also that writers should “deal with problems as they arise.” What he means is to not believe that there is a theory of writing that first needs to be understood and only then can one start writing. No! Start writing now! and when you run into problems look for advice. Be sure that there is plenty of it around and that you will find a solution too your problem.