This Is What Confuses Screenwriters The Most – Jill Chamberlain

This Is What Confuses Screenwriters The Most – Jill Chamberlain

Film Courage: Jill what are the five biggest
mistakes screenwriters make? Jill Chamberlain, Script Consultant/Author/Writer:
Well I don’t know if I’m going to do five but off the top of my head? But I will say underestimating the importance
of structure. A good structure is like one, two, three and
four, right? It’s going to paint the way. It is the story, structure is story. William Goldman is the one who said that. It is determining character development. So all of those…I really do think one, two,
three and four are the importance of structure. And then if I had to say fifth thing…I want
to say it’s sort of contradictory thing that you need to be both tougher on yourself and
you need to be easier on yourself. That I see writers do things like they’ll
say to a friend (maybe the friend is more accomplished writer than they are) and they
will say “I finished my draft, would you read it? It’s not very good.” Why are you bothering your friend (a more
accomplished writer) to read your draft that is not very good? Right? You need to put a little more effort into
it. You need to be a little harder on yourself. You should think your draft is very good before
you are opening it up for feedback. You are kind of wasting the expertise of those
around you. You’re sharing drafts when you don’t think
they are very good. At the same time you kind of need to be easier
on yourself. So be harder on yourself in the sense that
don’t bug your friend until your script is in good place but also be kind to yourself
that there’s a lot of what makes people successful is luck, is dumb luck you know? There are people who are more talented than
you that are successful and there are people who are less talented than you that are successful. So give yourself a break that no script is
going to be perfect. Even a great writer can…and I’ve seen
writers kind of stress themselves out doing draft after draft after draft. And obsessing and getting contradictory notes
and then they don’t know what they are doing and then they are driving themselves crazy
because they are being a little too hard on themselves. At some point you’ve got to let it be. Once you feel good about it, you’ve gotten
some good drafts on it, you feel good, you’ve gotten some good feedback from your writing
group or people you trust, not everyone is going to like it. You’ve got to put it out in the world and
relax and you’re going to get some notes back that aren’t what you agree with. Don’t obsess about it because you can’t
please everyone. Film Courage: With your book The Nutshell
Technique, which chapter is most debated by people, whether it’s a friendly debate or
whether it’s outright where people have these severe beliefs about writing. Jill: I’ll say the most confusion is the
concept of the want. So the very first thing I talk about is that
in the first scene the character has something that they want that they get in the point
of no return. This is the trickiest piece for some reason
and I have two chapters on it. It’s actually the only element I devote
two chapters to for this reason. I try to and this is just from years of experience
that I’ve learned this, I’ve tried to help people by calling it and explaining and
yet still there is confusion about this. This want that I’m talking about here, I
call it the set-up want. It’s not necessarily the character’s greatest
want. It is not necessarily the character’s biggest
motivation. And yet people still do that. They still think it’s that “Well my character
wants one thing and according to Jill’s Nutshell Technique they have to get it in
the point of no return. But that doesn’t work with my point of no
return. My point that I’ve tried to make clear is
that just because your character has multiple flaws, they have multiple things that they
want. There’s not a one-to-one relationship between
wants and point of no returns. Your character wants multiple things. All I’m saying is there is one want that
they get in the point-of-no-return. It may not be there biggest want, it may not
be their defining one, it may not be the thing that they say that they want, it’s just
something that they want. So sometimes I call it a throwaway want. Sometimes your character just wants a sandwich. All we’re doing is we’re setting up this
little piece “be careful what you wish for” in what happens in the point of no return. Be careful and don’t think that that makes
the movie not apply to The Nutshell Technique because it didn’t seem like the character
got what it wanted. I talk about it in GROUNDHOG DAY because it’s
a great example of this point. His most obvious of what he talks about in
the first scene. He thinks there’s a network that is scouting
him for a big network job. That’s his most obvious want. He wants a big network job. He doesn’t get that want. I’m not saying he doesn’t want it. He says he wants it, I believe him. It’s just not the set-up want. So you need to look at find something else
that the character wants that they get. So I’m not negating the fact that Phil Connors
wants a network job. I’m not negating the fact that Phil Connors
wants women to worship him. There are lots of things he’s not going
to get just like we all want things we don’t get. The thing that he wants that he gets is a
little throwaway line that he says. That he doesn’t want to spend more than
24 hours in Punxsutawney. It’s a little throwaway line. Matter of fact it wasn’t in the three versions
of the screenplay that I looked at researching for this book. It was very late in the process that they
also discovered “We are missing something.” We are missing something that makes Phil (even
Phil, this jerk) isn’t a victim of the Universe suddenly making him stuck on one day. He kind of in the original drafts was kind
of a victim, just this thing happened to him and he’s stuck. The writer is at a very latent process because
it’s not in the three scripts I’ve seen but some place between those three drafts
and the movie was shot, they added a scene where he says to the substitute weatherman
that he wants to spend more time covering for him when he’s in Punxsutawney. Phil says “Please, like I want to spend
an extra second in Punxsutawney?” It’s a throwaway line “I don’t want
to spend more than 24 hours in Punxsutawney.” We are just setting up, be careful of what
you wish for because he got his want. He only has to spend 24 hours in Punxsutawney,
right? Except for there’s a big catch. He’s going to have to spend the same 24
hours over and over again. So the want is a set-up want. I call it the “set-up want” with quotes
around it. It’s not necessarily the characters big
want. Film Courage: Can we use an example from CHINATOWN? Jill: Okay. Film Courage: Jack Nicholson’s character
and the initial want. He meets Faye Dunaway. What the first want that he gets that is not
really his real want? Jill: Well…I’ll tell you what the real
want is. So the set-up want we are going to see literally
in their first scene. So it’s before he meets Faye Dunaway. It would be in that very first scene where’s
he’s got Curly sitting across from him. Curly is the client showing pictures showing
that he’s been cheating on him right? And Curly is sobbing all over the place. So what he wants is what he doesn’t have
here. He wants a classic case. This cheating wives thing is not really classy. So what he wants is a classic case. He wants something classier than what he is
getting. He gets that in the main case that is going
to be Chinatown. The catch is it’s got corruption all over
it. It’s a lot bigger than he thought it was. Film Courage: It’s not even the wife. Jill: Right. Film Courage: Interesting. So that is his initial want. He thinks he gets it and he gets this femme
fatale that comes in and it turns out it’s a whole mess of trouble. Jill: Right. So the want right away is this throwaway thing
that they say. In JUNO it’s got another nice example I
talk about in the book that the want is a…it’s a really clever one actually where she’s
drinking the SunnyD because she’s taking the pregnancy test and she’s trying to pee. She’s drinking the SunnyD and she sees an
old discarded chair that somebody left out on the curb and that reminds her of the flashback
of her being intimate with Pauly (the moment that got her pregnant). The thing that she wants is she’s just looking
at a chair. She wants to save something that is being
discarded (the chair that she pulls out and puts on Pauly’s lawn is sort of this act,
right? And then how does she save something that
is being discarded at the point of no return? What’s the point of no return? Film Courage: …It’s been a few years. Something with her babysitting job? Jill: No. She’s pregnant and she’s planning to terminate
it and she can’t go through with it. So that is something that is about to be discarded,
a fetus. So what we’re doing is you’re getting
your want but you’re getting it with irony, right? In the beginning she just wanted to save a
chair, right? And I call it a throwaway want. It also fits with her character really nicely
as someone who kind of saves discarded things. She has a hamburger phone, you know? And people like Pauly who is sort of discarded,
so it’s very fitting in her character that she wants to save this discarded living room
set. But then she goes to save a fetus that she
thought she could discard and discovers that’s a lot harder than she thought it was going
to be.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Jill Chamberlain is amazingly helpful and yes this installment about the 'set-up' want was deeply helpful! Like receiving a life lesson from a sage.

  2. These points are great; high value answer from Jill. I mean the following query with no disrespect: What’s the reason screenwriting coaches usually tend to have pretty much zero credits? How come they don’t write awesome films that get produced if they are such an expert? I’m genuinely curious and not just being pedantic. By the reviews on Amazon the structure principles she lays out do indeed seem exemplary so I don’t doubt her expertise. It just makes me scratch my head that as well as teaching, she’s (or others like her) aren’t actualising their love and impressive understanding of story into high level scripts that make it to screen?

  3. I am confused about the source material that I am using to write my screenplay, because looks like will stay too long, Im still strugling to fix it

  4. My first or second draft are the best. Any re-writes after that usually mess them up. I write. I finish. I move on.

  5. Story = Irony. The one thing your character wants is not what they need. This throw away desire is what forces your character to see their need for change. Happy ending! ?

  6. I have begun to think to compete in shorts instead of features.
    Submit those ideas, to see first if there is a market? Time management.

  7. I believe she's explaining
    1) the "pre-existing" want. The want the character ALREADY HAD before we meet them— in the beginning of the story. (before fade in)
    (the want that came-to-be, sometime during the background [backstory] part of their lives, we don't normally see … unless for possibly in flashbacks)
    2) the post inciting incident (or big event) "want" (see: story driving goal) that they spend the remainder of the movie — relentlessly and unwaveringly — trying to achieve.

  8. Okay, she's another classic version of 'So-called expert'. Giving advice to screenwriters when she's only has two produced shorts, back in 2001! 3rd credit is an acting one in '93. But, these folks think they can spew these advices to us, it's hard to take them seriously. I value 'Experts' who have worked consistently as a Screenwriter, has been in the trenches, can give valuable insight and advice! Take it with a grain of salt…

  9. Man I just rarely ever agree with this lady. She says, don't show a script for criticism unless you know it's good. What if you never think your work is very good, yet your friend or others tend to think your work is awesome, and that you just need to make a few adjustments? Should you then, never show your work for crit? Clearly it shouldn't matter if you think you're own work is great or not, what matters is that you feel it's good enough for feedback and the person/people who is giving the crit respects that you desire to better yourself and seek their help, especially when people tend to think your work is great anyway. It shows that you're humble and willing to grow.

  10. Her insights are some of the best you've ever had on this channel. The "situation but not a story" interview blew my mind

  11. Why does she have no IMDb writing credits? And she’s holding up blueprints for writing a film. This is exactly what’s wrong with film.

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