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On Story—Screenwriters and Their Craft

On Story—Screenwriters and Their Craft
Edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez

Renowned, award-winning screenwriters, including John Lee Hancock, Peter Hedges, Lawrence Kasdan, Whit Stillman, Robin Swicord, and Randall Wallace, discuss their craft from concept to completion in these lively conversations transcribed from the acclaimed PBS series On Story.

October 2013
196 pages | 6 x 9 | 7 figures made up of 12 script pages |

Austin Film Festival (AFF) is the first organization of its kind to focus on the writer’s creative contribution to film. Its annual Film Festival and Conference offers screenings, panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions that help new writers and filmmakers connect with mentors and gain advice and insight from masters, as well as refreshing veterans with new ideas. To extend the Festival’s reach, AFF produces On Story, a television series currently airing on PBS-affiliated stations and streaming online that presents footage of high-caliber artists talking candidly and provocatively about the art and craft of screenwriting and filmmaking, often using examples from their own films.

This book distills the advice of renowned, award-winning screenwriters who have appeared on On Story, including John Lee Hancock, Peter Hedges, Lawrence Kasdan, Whit Stillman, Robin Swicord, and Randall Wallace. In their own lively words and stories transcribed from interviews and panel discussions, they cover the entire development of a screenplay, from inspiration, story, process, structure, characters, and dialogue to rewriting and collaboration. Their advice is fresh, practical, and proven—these writers know how to tell a story on screen. Enjoy this collection of ideas and use it to jumpstart your own screenwriting career.


Foreword by Brian Helgeland
Screenwriter Biographies
Introduction by Barbara Morgan

I. Inspiration

A Conversation with Randall Wallace

II. Story

What Makes a Great Story: A Conversation with Bill Wittliff

Steven Zaillian on Where the Story Originates

Peter Hedges on Crafting Story

Lawrence Kasdan on Story and Theme

III. Process

A Conversation with John Lee Hancock

Sacha Gervasi on Getting Started

The Basics with Nicholas Kazan

Advice from Bill Wittliff

Anne Rapp's Writing Routine

Caroline Thompson’s Writing Process

Lawrence Kasdan on the Challenges of Writing

IV. Structure

Structure and Format: A Conversation with Frank Pierson, Whit Stillman, Robin Swicord, and Nicholas Kazan

Caroline Thompson on Structure

Lawrence Kasdan on the Rules of Script Formatting

Visual Storytelling: A Conversation with John August, John Lee Hancock, and Randall Wallace

V. Character and Dialogue

Building Characters and Mapping

Their Journeys: A Conversation with Lawrence Kasdan and Anne Rapp

Nicholas Kazan on Writing Characters

Crafting Characters: A Conversation with Lawrence Kasdan

Dialogue and Finding the Voice: A Conversation with John August and John Lee Hancock

VI. Rewriting

Writer's Block: A Conversation with Bud Shrake and Bill Wittliff

Bill Wittliff on When to Let Something Go

Steven Zaillian on Defining Scenes: What to Keep In, What to Leave Out

Anne Rapp on Keeping the Writing Fresh

Nicholas Kazan’s Rewriting Process

On Rewriting: A Conversation with Daniel Petrie, Jr., Peter Hedges, and Sacha Gervasi

Lawrence Kasdan on How You Know When You’re Done

VII. Collaboration

A Conversation with Steven Zaillian

Peter Hedges on Collaborating

Lawrence Kasdan on Writing with a Partner

Randall Wallace on Working with Other Writers

VIII. Go Forth


Barbara Morgan cofounded Austin Film Festival in 1993 and has served as Executive Director since its inception. A feature filmmaker and producer, she also developed and produces the TV series On Story: Presented by Austin Film Festival.


Maya Perez is a producer/consultant for On Story: Presented by Austin Film Festival and a board member of the Austin Film Festival, for which she has also served as Conference Director. She is a Michener Fellow in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin until 2015.



“On Story is film school in a box, a lifetime’s worth of filmmaking knowledge squeezed into half-hour packages.”
Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times