Today we give you a glimpse into the creative mind of screenwriter Brian Watanabe, another instructor in our Elements of Film and Video Production workshop series. Brian is the screenwriter of The Rogues Gallery, which went on to become the cult film Operation: Endgame starring Rob Corddry, Maggie Q, and Zack Galifianakis. He’s developed scripts for production companies at Fox and Sony and is an award-winning advertising copywriter living in Hawaii.
What inspires you to write?
Finishing. That’s what inspires most writers. What inspires me to start writing? Pretty much everything. A passport stamp. An overheard conversation. A great film. A bad 80’s sci-fi show. Families that shop at Walmart at 10 pm. My first script was inspired by the day I was downsized from my advertising job. My last script was inspired by the uncertainty of changing careers. My baby daughter inspired my current script. Inspiration is everywhere. You can’t escape it. The Internet is an evil black hole of inspiration. Sometimes you have to stop with all that inspiration and just start writing.
What’s your favorite movie and why?
That’s an impossible question to answer. That’s like asking, “What’s your favorite cut of bacon?” I grew up in the 80’s so I was brainwashed into being a film fan by Spielberg, Lucas and John Hughes. I’m also a fan of genre so I love everything from Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and Wilder to Tarantino, Scorsese and the Coen Brothers. From SABRINA to SE7EN. THE GRADUATE to THE GOONIES. I just love film. And bacon.
Do you see any trends in the types of scripts Hollywood is currently optioning?
A unique voice and a fresh, high concept that will attract stars will always get read in Hollywood. That said, with the decline of theatrical and DVD there’s less development money on the studio level. They want to lower risk with “sure things” like big-budget tent poles based on proven properties: books, comic books, TV shows and an occasional theme park ride or board game. They want scripts that will translate internationally, so that means a lot of big action and genre flicks. Many screenwriters are moving to television where writers, not directors, are king and where cable TV is experiencing a golden age of creative storytelling. On the brighter side, the wild west of new media may provide opportunities for talented writers beyond the traditional studio model.
What’s the biggest challenge of being a screenwriter in Hawaii?
The biggest challenge of being a screenwriter in Hawaii is that you’re not being a screenwriter in Los Angeles. Technically, if your writing’s good enough, you can work from anywhere. But if you want to grow a career (especially in television writing) you need to do some time in LA. Meeting, working with, and making a good impression with like-minded writers, producers and development execs will only increase your chances of getting hired for jobs. If you’re not in LA you’re out of sight and out of mind – at least until you write that next brilliant script. That said, there’s an active film community in Hawaii and plenty of opportunities to produce great local work.
What’s the secret to screenwriting?
Ask me that in a week and I’ll have a different answer, but right now I’d say MOMENTUM. Once you overcome the Sisyphean obstacle of starting, you need to find a way to grind away until you’ve finally typed THE END. Don’t stop. Get that terrible first draft done. Join a screenwriting group, shoot for a contest deadline or have your significant other withhold favors from you if you don’t make your page goals. Keep that momentum going. Everything else in your life is so much easier than writing, so don’t give yourself a choice: make writing a routine and a priority. Then comes the other secret to screenwriting: rewriting. And then the other: lots and lots of coffee. And let’s be honest, a little alcohol probably won’t hurt.