Christopher McQuarrie Has Some Tough Love for Aspiring Screenwriters

     October 23, 2019

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He’s an Academy Award-winning screenwriter. A celebrated filmmaker of one of the most acclaimed action franchises. If there’s anybody an aspiring screenwriter should be getting advice from, it’s Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual SuspectsMission: Impossible). Are you an aspiring screenwriter? Today’s your lucky day: McQuarrie took to his Twitter account to deliver a passionate thread of advice for screenwriters looking to sell their scripts. There’s just one potential problem with the advice. As McQuarrie puts it, “You won’t like the answer, but here it is: You’re asking the wrong questions.”

As you might guess from this terse introduction, McQuarrie isn’t here to hold writers’ hands. He’s here to give them a steely dose of tough love, to ask them to completely reframe how they look at the business in general. Many writers, McQuarrie asserts, are too focused on the results of being a successful screenwriter: selling a screenplay and getting a film made. Many times in his thread he equates that process to “playing the lottery,” and as anyone who’s gotten scratch-off lotto tickets for a birthday can attest, those odds ain’t exactly great — even for an “objective success” like McQuarrie.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

I spent seven years – AFTER winning an academy award – asking the same questions. My career stalled (and I still have scripts that no one will make despite subsequent commercial successes). In that time, I never stopped to realize that my own career didn’t start by blindly submitting scripts, nor did the careers of any of my writer friends. This is not to say it can’t happen, but the ODDS of just submitting your script and having it made are extremely slim.

Okay, so you don’t make screenwriting a career by just submitting scripts. How do you make a career? McQuarrie puts it bluntly: “After twenty five years in the craft, I’ve learned the secret to making movies is making movies.” How’s that for some circular logic? It might frustrate you at first, but McQuarrie’s philosophy feels somehow zen — all we can control is our actions. If we allow the control of our life to be sacrificed to the whim of others (say, studios deciding your scripts can get made), we’ll know nothing but agony — which is to say, the resting place for many writers.

McQuarrie’s advice is empowering, and recognizes the necessity and power of public failing. Your first few movies made may not be good — but you have to make them anyway. And keep making them, no matter what. Don’t wait for anyone else to make them for you.

Below, some of our favorite tweets of McQuarrie’s thread. Feel free to read the entire thing on McQuarrie’s account here. And check out another topic he delivered a passionate screed about, alongside Tom Cruisemotion smoothing.

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