London Screenwriters' Festival

London Screenwriters’ Festival ‘Beyond the Bio’: Jurgen Wolff

Posted on: August 6th, 2010 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

Jurgen Wolff is a successful screenwriter, author and script doctor with credits including ‘Relic Hunter’ and ‘Family Ties’.  He has written or co-written four books on various aspects of screenwriting and is the founder and webmaster of ScreenWritingSuccess.com.

You can find out more about Jurgen on his bio page.  Here’s what he had to say when we threw our Q&A at him:

Q: What was your favourite film as a kid?

A: I saw ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ when I was about 12 and was totally entranced by it. It’s still my favourite film.

Q: Who inspired you when you were starting out?

A: When I got to Hollywood I started a newsletter that gave me the “in” to talk to writers like Larry Gelbart, Alvin Sargent and Stephen Cannell. Their generosity with their knowledge and time also inspired me to share what I’ve learned, through my books and workshops.

Q: What was your big break?

A: My first writing assignment, on a sitcom called ‘Too Close for Comfort’. To get that I had to show them four spec scripts as well as pitch story ideas.

Q: What was the best day in your career?

A: The day I acted in a scene with Kelsey Grammer in a film I’d written, ‘The Real Howard Spitz’. For some strange reason it hasn’t led to an acting career but it was great. I was also a big fan of Walter Matthau, so meeting him when I was rewriting a film in which he co-starred was fun.

Q: What has been your most important lesson?

A: That you have to resist the Hollywood notion that you’re only as good as your last success. Your career will have ups and downs – you can’t let them define you or take over your emotional life.

Q: If a niece or nephew wanted to be in the business, what would you advise them?

A: I’d suggest they write a low-budget feature and team up with a talented director and producer to make the film and distribute it on the internet. They wouldn’t get rich in money, but they’d get rich in valuable experience.

Q: What is the hardest part of your job and how do you overcome it?

A: Watching something you’ve written and are proud of turned into something you take your name off. Sometimes you’re lucky and have talented collaborators who make your script better; other times you deal with people who make changes just to show they can. You have to be totally emotionally involved with your script while writing it but able to step back once you hand it over.

Q: What do you feel is a writer’s or filmmaker’s key responsibility?

A: To tell honest stories. Each story has its own integrity and I think we have to respect that rather than go for an easy laugh or easy scare or surprising plot point.

Q: What mistakes do you see emerging writers or film makers making over and over?

A: I’d say there are three:

1. Letting templates and formulas be their starting point instead of letting the story lead. Structure should serve your story, not dictate it.

2. Trying to write something they think will be popular instead of something they truly care about.

3. Not trusting their intuition and their subconscious minds enough – that’s the focus of the “right-brain” writing methods I use and teach.

Q: What advice would you offer an emerging writer or film maker?

A: First, don’t do any of the three above.

Second, get involved in the independent, digital film-making community. Only a handful of people will sell a screenplay to Hollywood, but there’s a great opportunity in the making right now in quality films made for outlets like HBO, Showtime, Starz and others, and even more in writing original films that will be distributed via the internet. That revolution is only a couple of years away, this is a great time to learn how to write screenplays and be ready.

NEXT TIME ON ‘BEYOND THE BIO’: British-based Hollywood screenwriter and writer/director of ‘Exam’, Stuart Hazeldine.

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