If you want to study screenwriting, study with someone who knows. And if anybody knows, it’s Robbie Fox. Not only is he funny and well-connected, but his resume speaks for itself. He’s sold over 60 pitches and scripts to the major studios and has written over 12 produced films with credits such as So I Married An Axe-Murderer, In The Army Now, and the recent worldwide release Playing For Keeps starring Gerard Butler
and Jessica Biel. Robbie also has done uncredited rewrites on My Girl, Little Giants, Revenge of the Bridesmaids, and the Disney animated Mickey Mouse short Runaway Brain.
Constantly reinventing himself, he wrote (and is directing) the upcoming Lost In Coachella for MPCA and Still Life, to be directed by Bruce Beresford. In hopes of gleaning the method behind his brilliance and staying power, I recently caught up with Robbie for some tricks of the trade.
Easy to read. You know, fun, entertaining, not a homework assignment. Something original with a unique voice that doesn’t look like a money grab. Something that makes the reader say, “This person knows and cares what they’re writing about” – then they will care. A page turner would be great, and the shorter the better. People hate to read in Hollywood, worse than they did in high school because they don’t read for fun, they read to buy, and more often, they really just read to cover themselves, so if it sells elsewhere they can say they were on it.
I read Moby Dick a few years ago. It took forever, so I carried it with me for whenever I had some time to kill. Every time someone from the business saw my copy they would undoubtedly ask, “Are you doing an adaptation of that, or––?” Reading for fun would be otherwise inconceivable.
So I Married an Axe-‐Murderer in my head was always “Annie Hall, but what if Annie just might be a murderer”. Before I went off to write it (I sold it on a pitch), the studio executive at Columbia Rob Fried told me to write for Woody Allen, not that we would ever get him, but at the time, all the actor we envisioned for this movie were playing some form of that. (Billy Crystal, Garry Shandling, John Candy, Danny DeVito, and Chevy Chase were all interested at one point.)
Then out of the blue, Woody Allen’s manager called and said Woody wanted to do it – no kidding. I was so excited, I had our first lunch together 16 times in my head, “No, please you’re embarrassing me, Wood-man, you really liked it?” Of course, that lunch never came to be. As it was told to me, he asked for 7 million dollars, Columbia offered him 5. They had a Mexican standoff for about 2 weeks. Then he did Scenes from a Mall instead. (For 5, apparently.)
Writer’s block can be career-crippling. Tell us how you’ve been able to break out of a rut.
Like anyone else, I have trouble concentrating sometimes. But I can’t afford writer’s block. Mastercard and your children’s private school will not buy the “writer’s block” excuse. My suggestion is: accept bad dialogue and bad ideas as part of the process. You’re not having writer’s block, you’re just sifting through all the ideas on your way to the right ideas. Some writers sit around and wait for inspiration and then write, but the pros that I know go to their computer – just like a plumber goes to the sink – and begin working.
Set specific hours. And don’t take phone calls and don’t look up old girlfriends on Facebook and don’t check sports scores. Imagine if you were a lawyer on trial. Would you start looking up adult sites during the duller witnesses? It’s a real profession. Treat and respect it as such.
But sometimes you do need to take a break, to let the well fill up. True story: The summer I was turning 30 I had gone in and out of a bunch of relationships and I was feeling very unsettled. I decided the answer was in Aix En Provence. I don’t know why – I liked the name and that book “A Year in Provence” had just come out. I didn’t read it, but it just sounded right.
I checked into this awesome hotel that no one knew about yet and I stayed there for 6 weeks. While I was there, I wrote in my journal every day. I was bored at one point and I sent a fax to a friend of mine who was the president of Disney at the time. He returned my pre-Internet fax with a fax of his own saying, “Hey I’m coming to France, I’ll visit you.”
Me and the studio president drove for a week around Europe and thenwhen we got to Germany, he said he was meeting friends in Greece, would I please join. I said, “Dude, I’d love to, but I’m over budget on my trip by at least triple and I have to get the hell out of here.” He really didn’t want to journey all the way to Greece alone, so much so that he said, “If you come with me, I’ll guarantee you the Pauly Shore Army movie we’re going to film in February.” So then I had this dumb awkward moment where I’m thinking “Pauly Shore? Mikanos? The Parthenon? Army movies?”
Anyway, I told him I couldn’t and headed back to Los Angeles that night. But when I got home, there was a script sitting at my door saying, “This is the first draft of the Army movie, it needs a rewrite, if you want it its yours.”
The lesson is: It’s a relationship business, treasure and protect your relationships. And, even if you’re in France, take the time to drop your pal a note.
That’s a great lesson! Any more where that came from?
You’ll hear a lot more in my class, but here’s one to tide you over. I had a meeting a few months ago at a production/management company. This was one of the manager’s offices –
If this pile tips over, you could be the first person ever to be killed by 3,000 unsold scripts. I guess one of the most important lessons you can teach anyone is to show them this picture and tell them, “Once you’re in this pile, it’s time to make more copies.” That’s the whole goal, create relationships, so that you can make your script sound interesting enough – and then write your script so that it actually delivers on that – all with the intention of keeping it out of this pile.
Writing Pad is pleased to host two classes with Robbie Fox, Business Time: A Screenwriter’s Survival Skills Workshop
on February 5th and the multi-week Dream It, Write It, Pitch It: Screenwriting Bootcamp
starting on February 11th where an A-list producer and former studio president will assist in the choosing of your idea, and in return be the first person to read your script once it’s finished with an eye towards producing it. The Bootcamp also includes the option of having Robbie read your entire script and meet with you to give you feedback on it once the class is over. Click the links above to sign up before they are full!