I recently had the opportunity to interview award-winning screenwriter and instructor Weiko Lin about his excellent book, Crazy Screenwriting Secrets: How to Capture a Global Audience.
Professor Lin has been a writer, director, producer, and is currently a tenured associate professor of screenwriting at Emerson College in Boston.
He has also been a Fulbright Senior Specialist, received a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award, and placed in the finals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship contest.
For people who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell everyone how you got started in screenwriting and what inspired you to write the book?
I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to LA when I was 8.
I graduated with a degree in English Creative Writing from UCLA. I continued at my alma mater in the MFA screenwriting program. I also received a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award and was a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship. That's how I got the managers I still work with today.
Shortly after, I sold my first feature pitch and wrote projects for companies including the digital studios of Turner, Disney, Ivanhoe Pictures/SK Global (producer of "Crazy Rich Asians"), Don Mischer Productions, Wanda, and many more.
I wrote the original story for and produced a Chinese language romance film titled "100 DAYS", which is now available on Amazon Prime. That film premiered at the Hawai'i International Film Festival and was released theatrically in Taiwan.
The seed for this book came out of the accessibility of diverse content and our hunger to connect to stories that reflect the world we live in today. I hope this book can inspire more global and diverse creators.
In the book, you compare the process of screenwriting to that of cooking. You compare a story outline to a recipe, the characters to ingredients, and the act structure to each course of a gourmet meal.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers on how to apply this approach when they write their scripts?
It's just another approach of beginning, middle, and end. I believe we consume stories like how we consume food. The key is narrative construction in movies should feel organic, not chaotic or random.
Most fine dining restaurants have a specific way in which they present their food: appetizers, sides, drinks, and so on. Each one is designed to support the one main course. The desserts are often sweet and satisfying. Even the alcohol you pair with it would be a port.
The movie experience should be just as satisfying to the audience as a fine meal is to the diner.
Speaking of approaches, another part of the book talks about the relationships between writers and agents, managers, and attorneys. One of the biggest questions that rookie writers ask is, “How do I get an agent or manager?”
For writers who don't live in LA or NY, what advice would you give these writers on how to approach getting representation?
Most importantly, make sure you have solid material ready to show: one strong feature sample and one strong TV sample that are similar in tone. You should also have one very personal sample that may not easily get made, but one in which the story comes from the most authentic, personal depth and perspective that only you can express.
Competitions are a good way in – but you should be selective about which ones you spend your money and time on. These contests should be reputable and prominent competitions with past winners achieving results in attaining legitimate representation.
Queries can be overwhelming, especially since managers and agents get a ton of them via emails. You should do some investigating and find assistants or newly promoted agents/managers with whom you might share a connection, such as going to the same university or coming from the same town. This common bond should ensure that the blind queries aren't so out of nowhere.
Speaking of representation, you also mention how scripts that deal with different types of audiences have found success. You mention Brokeback Mountain, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Slumdog Millionaire, Moonlight, and a host of others.
How has the success of these films changed the opportunities available to aspiring writers from under-represented groups?
With streaming platforms and big box office success of typically underrepresented narratives and characters, there are more avenues to make movies with hyper-specific points of view. In these cases, a typical, expensive theatrical release might otherwise not be an option. These films used universal emotions to connect beyond a specific audience – they moved a mass audience.
Since the latest edition of your book came out in 2019, a few things have changed since then. In your book, you mentioned Netflix and other streaming services.
How do you think the growth of streaming services has changed the game for aspiring screenwriters?
Streaming services have certainly opened more opportunities to create content. There are more avenues for specific stories to be told that might have been challenging before with limited platforms.
Even more so, if aspiring screenwriters know or are familiar with another language and culture, that might even create more mediums where your stories can live.
Of course, one of the reasons that the streamers have found a bigger audience has been COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns.
How do you think the COVID pandemic and the subsequent waves of openings and lockdowns have changed the market for new screenwriters?
I'm no expert on this, but audiences will always crave the theater-going experience. I know I do. But perhaps during this time where we had to consume content on streamers, the streamers have amassed a more accurate sense of what the audiences are watching.
For screenwriters who are looking for coaches or consultants, what advice would you give them on what to look for in a coach?
The key is having the same taste. That goes a long way because then both of you are invested in bringing this story to life that you both hope to see.