100 Quotes on Craft


Order '. . . writing is sometimes like going around poking at lifeless things to see if they move. At least for me. Other times, it's like digging to China, while simultaneously trying to reduce in oneself the sense of any enormous undertaking or burdensome obligation of really having to get there.'

-- Carole Eastman

Playwrights Quoted in The Archive

Mostly playwrights & screenwriters
With a few ringers

  1. 'I am a feminist, both by temperament and intellect, and my films are shaped by my outlook on life. However, I don't put political or moral lessons in my films. . . . The women in ANTONIA'S LINE are thoroughly themselves and not defined through their roles as wife, mother or daughter. Of course, the film is also a fairy tale.'
    -- Marleen Gorris

  2. 'I had a very linear story line for this particular play, and I wanted to open the piece up a bit, so I started doing that with my writing. I would describe fragments of scenes on index cards, then move the card around to see how it changed the piece.'
    -- Philip Kan Gotanda

  3. 'Theatre, film and television are all modes of storytelling, and many of us are fortunate enough to move freely among them without feeling that we've 'left' or need to 'go back' to one or the other. In fact, if the theatre is to avoid a brain drain, this kind of fluidity is increasingly necessary.'
    -- Theresa Rebeck

  4. 'Today, [theatre's] more likely to be consciously not aimed at the public, but at a more sophisticated or educated public. . . . The result is that some of the sheer humanity has leaked out of the enterprise.'
    -- Arthur Miller [And the full interview from Starwave]

  5. 'The nice thing about a play is that you can luxuriate in dialogue, in a way you can't in movies. My concern in movies is to keep it moving.'
    -- Andrew Bergman

  6. 'I gave [film] audiences what they wanted -- a chance to dream, to live vicariously, to see beautiful women, jewels, gorgeous clothes, melodrama.'
    -- Ross Hunter

  7. 'In general, the surface of TV is too flat, and there's no time for subtext.'
    -- Richard Vetere

  8. 'Now, creatively, what is the result of adapting my own plays for the screen? . . . I have been able to create the characters and write the scenes taking place in locations I only referred to on stage. What have I lost? Some favorite dialogue and the length of some scenes.'
    -- Richard Vetere

  9. 'The historical figures I've chosen to write about are extreme individuals -- Marcel Duchamp and the Marquis de Sade -- and to serve them in a way that felt honest and true to the spirit of their own lives, I had to write plays that were as extravagant in style as their own work was in its time. . . . Research is crucial, but indulging in it to excess can be dangerous. It quickly becomes a terrific excuse not to write.'
    -- Doug Wright

  10. '. . . above all, a work for young people must not talk down to its audience, because they can always tell. Kids are tougher than any theatre critic. They will easily expose a playwright who doesn't deliver a story that is tight as a trap but also lyrical, focused while being fast-moving, believable but still fantastic, while it challenges them and makes them question . . ..'
    -- Frumi Cohen

  11. 'The question is, what are appropriate words and inappropriate words for network television, and what's the context? Was this appropriate in this context? Or are you creatively trying to find a way to use that word on the air?'
    -- Don Ohlmeyer

  12. 'Marriage is trivial compared to finding a good director.'
    -- Erika Ritter

  13. '. . . what happened, of course, was that I was writing a play set in the 1940's that was supposed to be somehow representative of black American life, and I didn't have any women in there. And I knew that wasn't going to work.'
    -- August Wilson

  14. 'There's a big difference for the [theatre] audience in an evening that runs 3 hours and 25 minutes and one that's 3 hours and 5 minutes.'
    -- Gordon Davidson

  15. 'So somehow, things that seem extraneous to the play in reality are not. The scene lasts 37 minutes, and you only need 12 minutes of that for the plot. But if you pull the rest of it out, it's not my play.'
    -- August Wilson

  16. 'We have a desperate need for producers in the [commercial Broadway] theatre, and it is very hard for them to get money and find investors for new plays.'
    -- Arthur Laurents

  17. 'But there's another dynamic. It has to do with selling the screenplay. The people who are reading it have even less ability to visualize it than you do, and if you underwrite it, they won't get it at all. You have to learn how to write to be read.'
    -- Danny Rubin

  18. 'Do not think your story [for a one-person show] is unique. . . . your story is the same as millions of others. But that's o.k. -- you just need to find the one or two things that makes your story interesting enough to justify someone leaving their apartment and exchanging currency.'
    -- Julie Halston

  19. 'The issue in the entertainment field is profit, not race. For the powers-that-be in movies, television, and sports, the only criterion I have ever encountered in observing the decision-making process is money: what will bring the audience in and put people in the seats.'
    -- Wallace Collins

  20. 'Scriptwriting [for film] is the toughest part of the whole racket . . . the least understood and the least noticed.'
    -- Frank Capra

  21. '. . . you [film critics] always overstress the value of images. You judge films in the first place by their visual impact instead of looking for content. This is a great disservice to the cinema. It is like judging a novel only by the quality of its prose. I was guilty of the same sin when I first started writing for the cinema. . . . Now I feel that only the literary mind can help the movies out of that cul de sac into which they have been driven by mere technicians and artificers.'
    -- Orson Welles

  22. 'You know absolutely everything about what you're creating, better than anyone else can ever know. . . . It's that thing, too real to be crammed into [a screenplay]. And yet, the only tools you have to relate it are sound and images. How those tools are used is what should be critiqued, but never the idea; that's when criticism becomes personal. . . . It is no longer a critique but an opinion.'
    -- Darnell Martin

  23. 'I've quit writing screenplay [adaptations]. It's too much work. I don't look at writing a novel as work, because I only have to please myself. I have a good time sitting here by myself, thinking up situations and characters, getting them to talk -- it's so satisfying. But screenwriting's different. You might think you're writing for yourself, but there are too many other people to please.'
    -- Elmore Leonard

  24. '. . . I felt that making her one-dimensional would be an insult to the audience, and also not as interesting. All destructive people have an inner side to them, and the more three-dimentional your characters are on screen the more compassion you can open up in an audience . . .. To me, that involves the audience more, it stimulates them and asks more of them.'
    -- Richard LaGravense

  25. 'I start on page one. I don't know where it's going to go, except in the most general sense. I didn't know how GEORGIA was going to end. I knew certain of the characters were going to be there . . ..'
    -- Barbara Turner

  26. 'I usually write very few stage directions. I think a lot of that is a waste of time. The art of screenwriting is in its terseness, saying a lot with a little. I have no patience when I read a script where the writer describes this guy and what he's wearing and his glasses and his hair.'
    -- Scott Frank

  27. 'Character arcs always seem to be a big issue with [film] studio executives . . . so the inevitable questions were posed: What was her emotional journey? How does she change? Is she a rich little snob who learns to embrace the less fortunate when she becomes penniless or is she a racist who becomes more liberal when she . . . yawn yawn yawn.'
    -- Elizabeth Chandler

  28. 'People say there are no new plays for Broadway. I think that's ridiculous. There are many extremely good plays being written and produced in America, primarily in nonprofit theatre. The question is: Can those plays and artists be supported in a sustained manner?'
    -- Benjamin Mordecai

  29. 'The commercial theatre may still be considered one of New York's primary tourist attractions, but . . . there is no longer an audience for serious Broadway plays. . . . Perhaps we should acknowledge that, having lost its traditional audience, Broadway can never again be a home for new plays.'
    -- Robert Brustein

  30. 'I'm interested in the way that the language of labor has been suppressed in our culture, the way it has disappeared from our vocabulary and is never heard on stage. . . . I'm better at writing than I am at organizing [political action]. SLAUGHTER CITY is my small contribution. If it gives people a voice it is worth something. So often we forget what we are no longer hearing.'
    -- Naomi Wallace

  31. '. . . strange and fantastic things really happen. During a rainstorm in Australia, fish fall from the sky; several Southern states consider legislation that would make the licking of toads illegal; Lisa Presley marries Michael Jackson. You read these things and you think to yourself that realism may not be the best medium through which to express the real world.'
    -- Karen Joy Fowler

  32. 'I definitely write from a need to try, in my own two hours, to right a wrong. My little play is inconsequential in terms of whether or not we have health care, but it may affect the way people who see the play think about the issue.'
    -- Lisa Loomer

  33. 'The nervous system of any age or nation is its creative workers, its artists. And if that nervous system is profoundly disturbed by its environment, the work it produces will inescapably reflect the disturbances, sometimes obliquely and sometimes with violent directness.'
    -- Tennessee Williams

  34. 'The first time I went over to [my director's] house, he said to me, This is a very strange play. I was pleased that he reminded me of that. [He] understands the play [VENUS] intellectually and emotionally and the humor, the funny bone.'
    -- Suzan-Lori Parks

  35. 'The health of a nation, a society, can be determined by the art it demands. We have insisted of television and our movies that they not have anything to do with anything, that they be our never-never land; and if we demand this same function of our live theatre, what will be left of the visual-auditory arts -- save the dance (in which nobody talks) and music (to which nobody listens)?'
    -- Edward Albee

  36. '. . . I don't really think of myself as a director. I started directing plays because nobody would direct my plays.'
    -- Richard Forman

  37. 'Be honest and accept the consequences; be creative and accept the consequences . . .. And above all, if you choose the path of the artist, understand that life is a risk.'
    -- Jesús Urzagasti

  38. '. . . I felt I was finally in a position to affect not only the artistic content of the American theatre, but also its institutional structures. This has been an important goal of mine, as there have always been a variety of issues -- artistic freedom, author's rights, access by minority groups -- which have concerned me and even influenced my decision to become a playwright in the first place.'
    -- David Henry Hwang

  39. 'Belonging to the Dramatists Guild Council where, with my fellow dramatists, I can directly affect (and protect) the professional lives of all American Playwrights has always made me feel that I am returning as much to the theatre as I withdraw. Because only playwrights can ensure the well-being of playwrights. No one else will do it for us.'
    -- Peter Stone

  40. 'In some plays, there's a buildup, growing and growing, and you really don't want to break it. In that case, eliminating the intermission is advantageous. It's about wanting to engage people, not letting them go.'
    -- Richard Nelson

  41. 'Very few people who met my adoptive mother in the last 20 years of her life could abide her, while many people who have seen my play find her fascinating. Heavens, what have I done?!'
    -- Edward Albee

  42. 'I don't consciously start writing a play that involves issues. After it's done, I sit back like everyone else and think about what it means.'
    -- Suzan-Lori Parks

  43. 'My style as a human being is to indulge people who need to escape, yet I insist on confronting them as a playwright. It's quite embarrassing, it's quite unpleasant, it's quite awkward.'
    -- Wallace Shawn

  44. 'How you get work done is by exploiting yourself and your feelings, and sometimes people get in the way.'
    -- Carrie Mae Weems

  45. 'I know lovely people, but I see their faults. I see their mistakes. If I would write a story about them, I would show it all. I would not censor myself in order to make a group happy. . . . Writing about people implies faults as well as admirable qualities. The exclusion of one from the other for the sake of satisfying desperate people is preposterous, or worse.'
    -- Silvia Gonzalez S.

  46. 'We live in an age where quantity is seen as preferable to quality, and many people tend to work in a horizontal line: next, next, next. But if you do that, you never investigate the vertical line -- the depth of the piece.'
    -- Simon McBurney

  47. 'In all, I've had 18 plays produced, but I'm still considered an emerging playwright. I haven't been served by the mainstream theatre at all. . . . I do theatre because I'm passionate. Believe me, I've wanted to quit as many times as you have, but I haven't given up. And I'm not going to.'
    -- Robert Alexander

  48. 'There's nothing personal in it [THE SKRIKER]. I'm not ever inclined with any of the plays to say, This is about that, because plays are about the whole event that they are. . . . I was certainly wanting to write a play about damage -- damage to nature and damage to people, both of which there's plenty of about. To that extent, I was writing a play about England now.'
    -- Caryl Churchill

  49. 'I haven't had a single moment of terror since they told me [I was dying]. My only regret is to die four pages too soon. If I can finish, then I'm quite happy to go.'
    -- Dennis Potter

  50. 'In writing HOMER G., I let myself go. The play is an archeological dig. It's also a personal journey, and a personal yearning I've had about the sensitivity of severance. . . . I wanted to do a piece that begins a reweaving, that looks into our most ancient past to the Homeric story of Troy -- and to do it in a hip-hop way.'
    -- Ifa Bayeza

  51. 'For me, writing plays is far more an act of the mind than of the emotions. It's a very different kind of impulse than fiction writing.'
    -- Jim Grimsley

  52. 'This was a very mean play when I wrote it. It's still mean, but what I learned along the way, mainly from my wife, was that the other side of the coin had to be expressed. So the character of the Rabbi, who represents moral objection to violence, legitimizes that position and gives the issue balance.'
    -- Ernest Joselevitz

  53. '. . . the highest meaning in life for me is to do the kind of theatre that touches people, that raises people's consciousness, that inspires. But I work in an industry in which you don't always get that kind of opportunity. So, in terms of working in Hollywood and elsewhere, I see myself doing mercenary work. I suit up wherever they need me, I go around and make the money -- then I come back hopefully to try to realize the dreams that I have about touching people's lives with true art theatre.'
    -- Shabaka

  54. 'I see something, find it marvelous, want to try and do it. Whether it fails or whether it comes off in the end becomes secondary. . . . So long as I've learned something about why.'
    -- Alberto Giacometti

  55. 'In many of my plays, there was a kind of autobiographical character in the form of a son or young man. The purpose of it, of course, was to write about myself. That character was always the least fully realized. Eighteen years later, you realize, That's what he was about.'
    -- Sam Shepard

  56. 'What is absolutely true is that any good [Television] series has a specific voice. And I think that voice is almost exclusively the domain of the executive producer. . . . As a staff writer you're not being called upon to be the great creative person. You're sort of called upon to understand the characters and their voices and put them through certain paces.'
    -- Howard Gordon

  57. '[Rewriting is] a whole other art form; it's about craftsmanship.'
    -- Sam Shepard

  58. 'If you're a writer on a [film] set and make a suggestion, it's treated as if the caterer had made a suggestion. But if you're the director . . . then that's it. Actually I didn't like that so much. I wanted to pull opinions out of everybody.'
    -- Doug McGrath

  59. 'No comedy, no matter how many jokes you put in, will work if it doesn't have a story. . . . Make it real, then make it funny.'
    -- John Markus

  60. 'I have a little problem when [television] shows are about nothing. After a while, minutiae can be stretched only so far.'
    -- Matt Williams

  61. '[The producer] said, I want you to write a [tv] family show with kids and animals. I thought, Oh, great. The two things they always warn you about.'
    -- Pam Long

  62. 'Every film I have made has corresponded to a very special moment of my life. I like to think that if someone wanted to reconstruct the story of my life, they can just see my movies and know what I have been through.'
    -- Bernardo Bertolucci

  63. '[The director's idea for the film was:] A young American or English girl goes to Tuscany to visit English expatriates. She is on a mission to lose her virginity. That's a mission easily accomplished, if that's the only mission. The story had to be more complicated than that. Because there is so little happening dramatically, there had to be something to keep you curious.'
    -- Susan Minot

  64. 'I had no agenda in writing this play except expressing myself. . . . It later occurred to me that I was not only announcing things to my family; I was announcing it to the world. Of course, if the play had been a flop, only my family would have known.'
    -- Mart Crowley

  65. 'Cinema is a literature of images. Theatre is a literature of ideas. . . . If you go 20 seconds without dialogue on the stage, you've had it.'
    -- Peter Glenville

  66. 'I wrote to write, out of my guts and my heart. I wanted to cause some kind of wonder in the minds of people. I don't rant or rave about the terror of our racist society. It is never directly stated, it is just there.'
    -- Lonne Elder

  67. 'I was so mad at my agent. I had polished and polished and polished [the play], and he referred to it as a draft. I wrote him a bitter letter: How can you call this a draft? I don't do drafts! By now I've done 18, and its turning, in the rehearsal room, into a 19th.'
    -- Cynthia Ozick

  68. 'I was talking to one of the writers about our target audience, and he was insulted that I used that term. But if you're given $60 million to make a film, you'd better know who your target audience is. That's who's going to pay back the bills you run up.'
    -- Michael Bay

  69. 'Writing dialogue, playing with words on a page, has almost the tactile pleasure of molding clay. It's not the concrete word per se that has meaning for me but its infinite possibilities, like building blocks in the hands of children. With words I can create metaphor which is my way of shouting to the world.'
    -- Rachel Feldbin Urist

  70. 'I just sit down and write, and I don't think. And the characters just do it. Sometimes they won't, and that's a bad day. . . . I assume if I keep myself open and don't take myself too seriously, they'll keep talking. I live for those unexpected moments. I don't really know when they will come out -- I just know what I want to say. . . . Control so you can lose control -- that's what writing is. Disciplined control. If you can sustain that for ten pages, you're lucky.'
    -- Eduardo Machado

  71. 'Independent films will probably kill themselves off by virtue of their own success. With a crossover hit like PULP FICTION, the criteria by which art-house movies are produced and marketed and exploited have changed. With studio money and overheads and budgets and deal-making machinery, a certain kind of narrative structure and popcorn-type payoff start infusing themselves.'
    -- James Schamus

  72. 'I want to say something about people, not necessarily about male-female relationships -- although that's where people often show themselves most clearly. Between the lines, I want to say something general.'
    -- Sönke Wortmann

  73. 'Heroes? Don't believe in them.'
    -- Sam Fuller

  74. 'What is a screenplay? 120 pages of begging for money and attention.'
    -- James Schamus

  75. 'It's hard to give a dramatic shape to even the most dramatic life. . . . you are forced not just into selectivity, but into alteration, distortion and outright lying about what did and didn't happen.'
    -- James Toback

  76. 'I don't write [screenplay character] biographies beforehand. I usually go in knowing some sequences: this is where I want to start, this is where I want to end.'
    -- John Sayles

  77. 'I've always been drawn to writing historical characters. The best stories are the ones you find in history.'
    -- Tony Kushner

  78. 'Most people spend their lives trying to avoid criticism, but criticism is part of the game. The only way to avoid it is to stick your play in a drawer and not show it to anybody.'
    -- Marta Praeger

  79. 'Most television shows are not written; they're rewritten, by a crew of 12 different writers.'
    -- Sam Henry Kass

  80. 'I was taught to lie at a young age. . . . I think that [A PARK IN OUR HOUSE] describes what people make out of their reality in a totalitarian system like Castro's. They take flight and move into the imagination in order to transcend their immediate reality. I had to write this play. It helped me understand my own loss of innocence.'
    -- Nilo Cruz

  81. 'When I got to the end of this play, I realized I was trying to make Angel do something that had not been justified by the characters and by their story . . .. I kept trying to force it, but that doesn't work. So I had to come to terms with what it meant for me to create a character who doesn't triumph.'
    -- Pearl Cleage

  82. 'I think in this country we're committed to developing plays, and many plays I've seen have been rewritten too much. The scenes are tight, the play ends at the right time, you know exactly what the scene is about, but it seems flat; you can almost see that too many hands have been on the play. The individual voice is gone.'
    -- A.R. Gurney

  83. '. . . don't rewrite unless you know what you're trying to do.'
    -- Craig Lucas

  84. 'The play is really a kind of nightmare. It ought to flow rapidly and effortlessly from one moment to another. In London, we had difficulty with the set, which required too much effort to move around. Having gotten the benefit of seeing it done once, I wanted to work on the script, to make it sharper and more pointed.'
    -- Arthur Miller

  85. 'However much I may like to talk about or be interested in a more philosophical or moral agenda, [film] is, ultimately, about narrative. And it's about telling stories that are engaging and dramatic.'
    -- Ed Zwick

  86. '. . . I wrote a letter to Thomas Pynchon asking, Can I have your permission to try to make an [adaptation] of your book? And I had no idea that he would answer me, because he's pretty elusive. But he did send a letter back that said, Yes, you can do that -- as long as the only instrument in the opera is a banjo. I thought, That's an interesting way of saying No.'
    -- Laurie Anderson

  87. 'I think the play succeeded, but I'm not through with it yet. When you see it up there [in a staged reading], you get these other visions of the play you can't get sitting in your room.'
    -- Will Dunne [email]

  88. '. . . the whole idea of WHAT HAPPENED WAS.... is not about dating. It is more about people who are not committed to who they are or are indifferent about their life in general, which is how I felt about myself when I wrote it. I had turned 40 and I was unhappy and I wanted to write about that. Dating just became the framework. . . . I like all those fringy, weird, nonverbal, quiet, tiny little things, those powerful interchanges between people, things that go unsaid, that people know are happening all the time but nobody wants to talk about. That's what I want to make movies about.'
    -- Tom Noonan [And his Web site]

  89. 'I'm not interested in [producing] formula films. . . . The great problem of the job is that you say no to 98 percent of the stuff. We have to spend 60 percent of our time on stuff we're planning to make, and 40 percent on rejecting the rest.'
    -- David Aukin

  90. 'TRUST took as its starting point the question, What would happen if a movie took the character of a teen-age girl seriously?.'
    -- Hal Hartley

  91. 'This is a craft where the only pure version of the movie is the one that exists in your mind when you write your first draft. For that golden time, it's yours, and you see this movie that no one has seen and nobody knows about. Unfortunately, that is not the draft that is going to be filmed.'
    -- David Newman

  92. 'The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them. It seems to me it's something that theatre can do, but it's rare; it's very rare.'
    -- John Berger

  93. 'To many Congressmen and Senators right now, there's a ceaseless antagonism toward Hollywood because politically, it is high-reward and low-risk. So when you can't do anything about poverty or the budget deficit, and you can't deal with Bosnia or the possibility of nuclear explosions in Russia, what do you do? You bash Hollywood and get on the front pages.'
    -- Jack Valenti

  94. 'I thought Jane Austin would be a good collaborator because she writes, you know, superb dialogue, she creates memorable characters, she has an extremely clever skill for plotting -- and she's dead, which means, you know, there's none of that tiresome arguing over who gets the bigger bun at coffee time.'
    -- Douglas McGrath

  95. 'The avant garde is somebody rediscovering the classics.'
    -- Robert Wilson

  96. 'For the collection, I am like a painter or a writer. I may or may not be a character in my own story.'
    -- Sonia Rykiel

  97. '[Hollywood] studios are handing out money to make independent films now, but they all want the same thing. They want the style and the deadpan delivery of RESERVOIR DOGS or FARGO and so they imitate those movies. They want PULP FICTION, but they get it all wrong! They get the detachment, but that's it. And then it's all about style, and in the end what do you learn about the characters? Nothing. You learn you wasted two hours.'
    -- Stanley Tucci

  98. 'I firmly believe in and support everyone's right to freedom of artistic expression. STEEL MAGNOLIAS is my artistic expression, and it is my right to say that its female characters be portrayed by women. The concept of a play set in a beauty parlor where men portray women is a terrific idea. If that is someone's artistic expression, I encourage them to write their own play as soon as possible.'
    -- Robert Harling

  99. 'I do not make films which are prescriptive, and I do not make films that are conclusive. You do not walk out of my films with a clear feeling about what is right and wrong. They're ambivalent. You walk away with work to do. My films are a sort of investigation. They ask questions . . .. Sometimes I hear that some [Hollywood] studio is interested in me. Then they discover that this is the guy who works with no script, that there is no casting discussion, no interference, that I have the final cut, and that does it.'
    -- Mike Leigh

And the Quotes on Craft list continues growing in . . .

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