“Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele reminded several hundred of his fellow scribes of the need to stay away from the misery that’s associated with the process of screenwriting.
“My method was to follow the fun because if you’re not having fun writing, you’re not doing it right,” he asserted at Thursday night’s annual Beyond Words panel, presented by the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild Foundation in partnership with Variety.
The event at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills drew 13 of the nominees for the guild’s screenplay awards — many of whom are also up for Oscars. Peele received three Academy Awards noms for producing, directing, and writing “Get Out.” He said he was initially anxious about mixing comedy and horror amid lingering racism in modern-day America, and used Lil Rel Howery’s Rod Williams character to lighten the mood.
“Putting audiences through 90 minutes of racial awkwardness is a lot to ask so I needed this escape valve,” Peele explained. “I needed something to give back to the audience for their endurance.”
Aaron Sorkin, nominated for “Molly’s Game,” admitted to the agony of the process: “I spend months of what to the untrained eye might look like lying on my couch watching ESPN. Most days I spend not writing, and those days are hard.”
Greta Gerwig, nominated for writing and directing “Lady Bird,” evoked serious laughter by admitting that she uses boredom as a tool for exploring nuance.
“Don’t be afraid to be bored,” she said. “Whenever I felt pressure to entertain, I find it to be stressful. I slow way down and just let what I write be the most boring thing in the world.”
The writers disagreed on the usefulness of an outline. “Mudbound” writer Virgil Williams said his background in TV made outlines essential, while Gerwig said she never outlines, adding, “I write on hunches.”
“The Shape of Water” writer-director Guillermo del Toro advised the audience that the choice on which project to work on should be a simple one. “The movie that you want to make is the one that you can’t stand that you haven’t made,” he asserted.
Kumail Nanjiani told the audience that he often delayed writing about the tougher parts of “The Big Sick,” which is based on his relationship with co-writer and wife Emily V. Gordon.
“What scenes have I not written?,” he asked. “Oh, all the heavy emotional s—.”
For her part, Gordon said it was useful to write down the exact motivation for doing the script, so as to have a reminder when the process becomes difficult. “I keep reminding myself of why I’m doing it — I love f—ed-up family dynamics,” she explained.
Other panelists included Vanessa Taylor for “The Shape of Water,” James Mangold and Michael Green for “Logan,” Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for “The Disaster Artist,” and Steven Rogers for “I, Tonya.”
The panelists were introduced by Variety Co-Editor-in-Chief Claudia Eller. “Imitation Game” writer Graham Moore moderated the panel.