Q: What’s the first step you recommend to a new screenwriter?
M.H.: People always say to me, “How do I become a writer?,” and I always tell them, “Honestly, if there’s anything else you’d be happy doing, do it. Because writing is the hardest thing there is. If you really want to write, however, the first step is to put down your story on paper in some form. Don’t worry about screenplay format. You just have to write out the story. On my Web site, I offer a free article on how to write a treatment, which is sort of like the short-story version of a movie. A treatment is usually about six paragraphs and is a way of seeing if your story has enough length and body to sustain a whole movie. Once you’ve done that, show it to a couple of people you trust—probably not a significant other unless you really have a death wish. Instead try a colleague or a friend or someone you know who likes movies and ask them for a little feedback. Then, mull over the comments and, if you still like and believe in the story, get on the Internet and start reading about how other people write screenplays. I am partial to my method, of course, and truth be told, people are constantly showing up to my classes and saying, “Ugh, I wish I’d started with you!” I feel this is because too much emphasis is put on screenplay structure and not enough on the part that emphasizes your main character’s emotional journey. In any case, try to find a program or technique that works for you. Then test out your treatment, make the proper revisions, and then, because screenwriting is such a difficult, arduous process, understand that you will have to commit to the idea for the long haul.