“Write The Movie You’d Pay To Go See”: Taylor Sheridan Shares His Screenwriting Mantras
Art and Experience: Taylor Sheridan may not have started writing screenplays until he was in his 40s, but he’s not wasting a moment. “Sicario” put him on the map, “Hell Or High Water” solidified his talent, and the upcoming “Wind River” — on which he makes his directorial debut — only further establishes Sheridan as a filmmaker with a unique, and compelling voice. As untraditional as his path to becoming an Oscar nominee (he was a longtime actor), Sheridan’s approach to screenwriting is one you won’t find in any textbook.
Speaking with Vulture, Sheridan revealed what he perceived to be the problem with “proper” screenplays, and the wisdom he follows when he sits down to write:
I just realized that nobody knows what they’re doing. Our business says, “Give me the script that checks all the boxes,” but the films that resonate usually don’t do that. Think about GoodFellas: It could be a textbook on how not to write a screenplay. It leans on voice-over at the beginning, then abandons it for a while, then the character just talks right into the camera at the end. That structure is so unusual that you don’t have any sense of what’s going to happen next. And to me, that’s the goal of a screenwriter: to allow audiences into a world where they can’t predict what’s going to happen.
I’ve made up little mantras for myself, catchphrases from a screenwriting book that doesn’t exist. One is “Write the movie you’d pay to go see.” Another is “Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.” Then there’s “You always want the audience wondering what’s going to happen next, never what’s happening.” Maybe if I’d graduated college or read a book on screenwriting, I’d do things differently. But this is how I do ’em.
To be certain, it’s not profound stuff, but it’s the kind of simple, no brainer rules you’d think would be found more often in screenplays — they’re not. It’s a pretty cool insight into Sheridan’s process, and you can see his latest work come to life when “Wind River” opens on August 4th.