Bringing Screenwriters Together: Writers Guild of America West's Annual Beyond Words

Everyone benefits from understanding the writing process of successful screenwriters. The Writers Guild of America's annual Beyond Words brings WGA-nominated writers together for an evening of insights and information.
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Everyone benefits from understanding the writing process of successful screenwriters. The Writers Guild of America's annual Beyond Words brings WGA-nominated writers together for an evening of insights and information.

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 Photo Credit: Armando Koghan

Photo Credit: Armando Koghan

It’s one of the coolest events of the year … well, if you’re a screenwriter, a lover of film, or both.

The Writers Guild of America West’s annual Beyond Words panel of WGA-nominated screenwriters brings together film veterans, newbies, and wannabes for an evening of insights and information, followed by a reception with desserts in the lobby.

The 2019 panel took place at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on Thursday, February 7. Award-winning entertainment journalist Stacey Wilson Hunt (Fortune magazine) moderated the panel of lucky number 13 screenwriters, nominated in original, adaptation, and documentary writing categories.

WGAW President David A. Goodman and Variety Co-Editor-in-Chief Claudia Eller introduced the event in front of a packed theater of 500 audience members.

In his remarks, Goodman said, “Like many of you, I'm here in the hopes of learning what the process is … and maybe learn whatever their secrets are. Having been to a few of these, I usually learn that the secrets are a lot of really hard work. Since there's no trick, it's also a little reassuring because it means it's hard for them as well. Though their work inspires us, they're often just like us, seeking help from the work of the writers who inspire them.”

 Beyond Words 2019 Panel - Photo Credit: Armando Koghan

Beyond Words 2019 Panel - Photo Credit: Armando Koghan

The WGA-nominated screenwriters who took the stage were in the Original Screenplay category were Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade), Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly (Green Book), and Bryan Woods & Scott Beck (A Quiet Place). They were joined by Adapted Screenplay nominees Joe Robert Cole (Black Panther), Eric Roth (A Star is Born), Kevin Willmott (Blackkklansman), and Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), as well as Documentary Screenplay nominees Lauren Greenfield (Generation Wealth), Ozzy Inguanzo and Dava Whisenant (Bathtubs Over Broadway), and Gabe Polsky (In Search of Greatness).

The panel, casual in tone per usual, talked amongst themselves (in front of an audience, of course), shared their stories from how they got involved with their nominated project, and imparted advice for aspiring screenwriters. There were so many snippets of sensible counsel, it would be impossible to name them all. There were, however, some standouts.

INTERVIEW: Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods Discuss 'A Quiet Place', Writing Process and So Much More

For instance, A Quiet Place’s Bryan Woods and Scott Beck talked about how they kept adding layers to their concept (as Hart called “the emotional backbone”) to make it a compelling story, because, as they said, “Horror alone is never enough. You have to have an emotional arc or else it's going to fall on its face.”

When Hart asked the panel, “What is a moment from your nominated project that you are particularly proud of?” Peter Farrelly responded, “The thing I'm proud of in all my movies is you have to love your character, good or bad. If you watch The Sopranos, Tony Soprano is not a good guy, but you were rooting for him. Because they found the humanity in him.”

Perhaps the most fun and logic-based answers came when the panel was asked about writing habits.

Dava Whisenant said she needs a hot beverage to write. Certainly something with which most writers can relate.

“I can't work outside the house,” Brian Currie said. “I am totally in silence. It's weird. I need a wall in front of me, no distractions. Just me and the computer. And a lot of coffee.”

Do-Over: Advice to My 18-Year-Old Self – Oscar-Winning Producer Edward Saxon

In response to the question posed by the audience, “What do you wish you could tell your younger self? - Bo Burnham said, “There is a very specific challenge for young people today I find in every creative field.

“So much pressure is put on kids to learn to self-promote and self-brand, before they learn how to do the thing. I always try to tell kids, the best self-promotion is good work. That will promote itself.”

Good work, good work ethics, perseverance, and lots of coffee. No magic bullet. But certainly a motto to live by.

Beyond Words 2019 was presented by the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild Foundation (WGF) in partnership with Variety and event sponsor Final Draft. All proceeds benefit the WGF, whose mission is to preserve and promote the history and craft of writing for the screen.

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