Programs Mon 4.20.2015

Writer’s Salon with Billy Ray On Fighting Writer’s Block And The Greatest Film Line Ever

On April 15, Film Independent hosted its first Writers Salon of 2015. This intimate gathering is designed to allow writers a setting in which to discuss their craft and receive guidance and advice from some of today’s top screenwriters. Screenwriter and WGA Vice President Howard A. Rodman moderated the night, which focused on plot and structure.

One featured panelist was Billy Ray, Oscar nominated screenwriter of Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games, and State of Play, and writer/director of Shattered Glass, Breach, and The Secret in Their Eyes.

We asked Billy Ray to answer a few questions about his process and the screenwriters who inspire him. Here’s what he had to say.

Which screenwriter has most influenced you?
Tie. William Goldman and Alvin Sargent.

What was the hardest scene to crack in Captain Phillips?
No individual scene stands out as having been singularly difficult. The difficulty with that movie was the structure–balancing all the story elements, making those scenes in the lifeboat drive the movie forward.

What’s your cure for writers block?
In big block letters across the top of my computer monitor it says “WHAT IS THE SIMPLE EMOTIONAL JOURNEY?” When I get stuck, that’s what I look at. It forces me to ask myself, “What is the story I’m telling?”

What are the best and worst pieces of screenwriting advice you’ve ever received?
Best, from an interview with Paddy Chayefsky: “Don’t think of it as art. Think of it as work.” Worst- from many producers: “This needs to be more of a four-quadrant movie.”

Best line of dialogue in the history of cinema?
Tie. Michael Corleone (The Godfather): “That’s my family, Kay. That’s not me.” And every line in The Sweet Smell of Success.”

Jade Estrada / Film Independent blogger