Everyone’s heard the adage “writing is rewriting.” Screenwriting instructor Quinton Peeples proves just that in his upcoming fall course: Rewrite Toolbox. Recently, the Writers’ Program had a chance to interview Quinton about his philosophies on writing, filmmaking, and living a happy life…
Writers’ Program: Not only have you written for television and feature films, but you’ve also directed your own screenplays. Has your writing influenced your directing and vice versa?
Quinton Peeples: The short answer is “Yes.” Each discipline has influenced the other. I have a greater understanding of “writing in pictures,” as John Sayles would say, after having directed. And I am much less precious about my writing when turning it over to other directors. They have to deal with many issues that are not present until actors, camera, etc. are present. I am much more flexible now than before. I love both jobs, but for different reasons. I always yearn for the peace and quiet of my writing life when I am directing, and I long for the social, group problem-solving dynamic of directing when I’m in my hermetic writing life. Like most malcontents, the grass is always greener.
Wp’: What do you see as the seminal turning point in your career – not necessarily your first professional “job” as a writer, but an event, a person, even a shift in attitude or belief toward yourself that made you go from having the dream, to living the dream?
QP: Working as a writing partner with Billy Crystal. Massive work ethic. Dedication to craft. Nothing to prove. Just works for the love of it. When I was finally able to hold my own with him, I felt like I was finally “there.”
Wp’: And what do you attribute this to (be it years of preparation, hard work, luck, etc.)?
QP: Practice, practice, practice. Your break is going to come, but the question is: will your skills be in order? Your job is to prepare as if the break is coming tomorrow.
Wp’: How important do you think it is nowadays for aspiring writers to wear multiple hats and become not only writers, but directors or producers as well?
QP: I think this is one of the worst ideas of all time. I can barely tie my shoes in the morning. Wearing “multiple hats” or “multitasking” will be the death of us all. Do what you love, do only that and let someone else do the rest. There are very, very few people who can do more than one thing and do them all well.
Wp’: Do you have any words of advice for aspiring writers to help them avoid certain pitfalls you may have experienced early in your career?
QP: Beware of the false belief that agents get you jobs. They don’t. They get you meetings. There’s a difference.
Wp’: Have you ever experienced writer’s block and if so, what did you do to snap yourself out of it?
QP: Yes. Sometimes the ideas don’t come. Sometimes they do and they are terrible. There is only one cure — keep writing. Even if it’s bad — write through the problem. Do not stop.
Wp’: What is it you hope students will take away from your Rewrite Toolbox class this fall?
QP: That there is a straightforward approach to diagnosing what’s wrong with your script and fixing it. Revision is where the movie is made.
Wp’: How does your professional experience tie into your class?
QP: The tools I teach are the ones I use every single day, no matter what format I am working in.
Wp’: How does your life experience tie into your work?
QP: There is no separation. The only valuable artists are the ones who have a life that they bring into their work. I’m living, and reflecting on that in my writing. Duke Ellington said, “Artists don’t take vacations. They don’t need to.” I wholly subscribe to that.
Wp’: What piece of work are you the most proud of so far, and why?
QP: The only thing that has real, lasting value is the creative process. If you enjoy the time you spend on a project and the people you work with, then it’s golden. The product is transitory. Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. Who cares? Time is precious. I’m proud of the friends I’ve made and the legacy I leave will be in the relationships I’ve made along the way.
Quinton is teaching Rewrite Toolbox: Intermediate Workshop this fall, starting September 29. Enroll online or by calling (310) 825-9971.
Jeff Bonnett is the Program Assistant for Screenwriting (Onsite & Online). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 206-1542.