How did you become a writer?
I came to California for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, tops. That was forty-five years ago. I fell into film school at USC where my classmates were George Lucas, John Milius, Walter Murch, Randal Kleiser, Bob Zemeckis, Caleb Deschanel, and a host of other phenomenal, youthful talents. I enrolled in the legendary Irwin R. Blacker’s screenwriting course, wrote a feature length script. Never sold it, but it served as a worthy showcase, winning me representation at what is now ICM and a job as a staff writer at Universal. Never looked back!
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)
The aforementioned Irwin R. Blacker, first of all. Billy Wilder. Preston Sturges. Charlie Chaplin. Orson Welles. Charlie Dennis, my swim coach at Harpur College, who taught me not to fade in the stretch. Yetta Rosenblum, photographer and photography teacher, who taught me to look at the frame and that “photography” means “writing with light.”
When and where do you write?
Whenever I can (pretty much every day) at my aerie—a wonderful studio with preposterously beautiful, distracting views-- high atop my house in the Silver Lake Section of Los Angeles.
What are you working on now?
The working title is Richie’s Greatest Hits. It’s a memoir-ish collection of charming, sweetly frustrating lessons I’ve learned from forty years writing in Hollywood.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Only every minute of every day. Actually, I preach that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Writer’s block is the natural state of the art and the craft of creating narratives. Thanks to my position at UCLA there are few people who know as many writers as I do, and I’ve never known even merely one who flew eagerly to the word processor early in the morning, peppy and perky and ready to write.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Remember that every single successful writer, without exception, was once brand new and totally inexperienced and unknown. Contrary to one among the many myths about Hollywood, as I profess in my most recent book, Essentials of Screenwriting, it’s not connections, it’s not who you know but how well you write that drives success in screenwriting. The two biggest mistakes writers make is 1) we write too much – descriptions of action and lines of dialogue must clearly and constantly advance the story in a palpable, identifiable, measurable way and 2) we show our scripts too soon, before they’re truly ready. It’s wise, before exposing a new script to the industry, to engage the services of a worthy consultant who can provide notes, who can help you get rid of what you need to get rid of.
Richard Walter is a celebrated storytelling guru, movie industry expert, and longtime chairman of UCLA’s legendary graduate program in screenwriting. A screenwriter and published novelist, his latest book, Essentials of Screenwriting, is available in stores now. Professor Walter lectures throughout North America and the world and serves as a court authorized expert in intellectual property litigation. For more information and to order the new Essentials of Screenwriting, visit www.richardwalter.com. Contact Professor Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to subscribe to his monthly screenwriting tips newsletter.