AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RON SUPPA
AUTHOR, SCREENWRITER AND TEACHER
Ron Suppa is a producer and a screenwriter. He also teaches screenwriting at UCLA and is the author of one of my favorite books:
Real Screenwriting: Strategies and Stories from the Trenches.
Click here to read my full review.
What I loved about the book was that it went far beyond writing a screenplay. It’s about the life a screenwriter leads and features tons of insight and personal stories from someone experienced with a lot of great advice to share. With Real Screenwriting you get countless lessons from someone who has taught thousands of writers around the world as a teacher and author. It’s a fantastic read.
“My classes strive to master the “rules” only so that we may creatively break them.”
I recently had the opportunity to interview the author about screenwriting, his experience writing the book and how he began teaching aspiring writers. Here is a look behind the scenes of what inspired Real Screenwriting, what inspires him as well as some helpful advice for those looking to live the screenwriters life themselves. (Myself included)
When did you first become interested in screenwriting and film?
As a young entertainment lawyer for a large law firm the drafting of writer’s contracts was my first introduction to screenwriters and the film business. After I made the career move to the other side of the desk as an independent film producer, reading countless scripts in search of the few pearls that I could carry to financiers and talent became the most critical and enjoyable part of my job. Somewhere deep inside I knew that I always wanted to be a writer, and I had published short stories and poetry since college, but screenwriting never really entered my mind until a studio development executive waived a paycheck in front of me. I believe he thought hiring me for a project that he was committed to develop but which I’m fairly certain he had some deep reservations about was the cheapest way to go. I embraced the opportunity, learned that I really could do it, and saw my first draft screenplay go into production three years later.
What inspired you to begin teaching aspiring screenwriters?
I was having a lunch meeting with a director at a local deli and we were talking about a particular screenplay and how I hoped to develop it as a producer and the woman across the aisle from us happened to work at UCLA Extension and she leaned over and suggested that her screenwriting students could learn a lot eavesdropping on our conversation. She wanted to know if I would be interested, as a way of giving back to the industry, in developing a course on writing for independent production. I was flattered and also excited about the possibility of working with new writers, fresh ideas and new voices, so I wrote a lesson plan, submitted it, and was in the classroom teaching it, and loving the teaching of it, within a few months.
What led to the creation of Real Screenwriting? What challenges did you encounter when writing the book?
I had found in teaching screenwriting that there wasn’t enough time in the course to satisfactorily explore both the writing and the marketing of scripts, which I regarded as equally important. So I wrote a book on This Business of Screenwriting to cover what to do after the screenplay was written and had it published. Later another publisher approached me to expand the book into the full screenwriting course. Of course this meant that all my best material could no longer be used in class since it was now in a book, but that only helped me bring new films and new writing and selling techniques to my courses at UCLA and other venues where I was fortunate enough to teach.
I loved the ‘stories from the trenches’. Was it always the plan to include them? How did that idea come about?
I had written a regular column on screenwriting for Creative Screenwriting magazine since its inception. It was a very personal column from my unedited point of view and that sort of forced me to mine all my experiences as a writer, producer and director and even as an entertainment lawyer, in order to come up with material for nearly 15 years of columns. I had maintained the copyright on all my work and so I was able to transfer and expand upon a lot of those experiences, wherever relevant, to Real Screenwriting.
Did you feel any pressure when writing something meant to instruct and inspire writers around the world?
In any creative endeavor there is always the responsibility to try and get it right, in this case to convey both the process and the experience of writing for film and television. To do that, I met with other writers and producers, read the other books existent on the subject and then basically tossed it all out in order to write something from my perspective that was fresh, credible and useable by writers both new and advanced.
Was there a defining moment when you realized how much your book has helped writers? A moment that inspired you?
There is no greater reward for a writer than to be read. When someone tells you, in person or in an email or a note that your work has somehow enriched their life, that’s the icing on the cake. That’s also why I teach. My students’ progress mirrors my own and the satisfaction I receive from seeing that progress and seeing the joy and fulfillment that writing and the creative world can bring to someone’s life is priceless.
In your experience, what is the single greatest challenge a new screenwriter must face?
The blank page.
What is the most common mistake new screenwriter’s make?
Not granting themselves the freedom to fail. There are too many half-baked, half-finished scripts lying in desk drawers all over town because the writers hit a wall and couldn’t get over it. True writers don’t quit.
If you could give ONLY one piece of advice to an aspiring screenwriter what would it be and why?
“If the desire to write is not followed by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.” That’s quoting myself from my book. Writers write. Stop the excuses; write every day for the rest of your life. Or don’t. The world needs more readers than it does writers anyway.
Are there any new books on the way? Screenplays? What’s next for you?
I’m actually writing novels and short stories as a way of re-energizing and reinventing myself for this new Hollywood tent-pole, pre-sold, pre-marketed environment we now face as screenwriters. But there’s always a spec screenplay in some stage of development sitting in that far corner by the window, seeking the light.
Special thanks to Mr. Suppa for the interview.