Exclusive Interview conducted by Jody Michelle Solis
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What is your best advice for screenwriters trying to break into the industry?
Martie Cook: Solid, well-constructed scripts are your calling card. So, write your brains out every day. And don’t be derivative. In this Age of Content, there are countless opportunities for new writers. To truly take advantage of them, you must write scripts that are fresh and original. Write in a voice that pops.. a voice that is uniquely you. When you finally have that polished script, reach out to everyone you know who might be able to help get your script read by someone in a position to hire you. And when you meet with producers or executives, don’t be shy. This is the time to unleash your passion. Look them confidently in the eye and let them know what makes your story different, why your story must be told right now, and why you are the only person on the planet who can tell it. They will love this!
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What was one of the most important things you learned working on episodic television series?
Martie Cook: I learned that television writing is extremely collaborative and that 6 or 8 creative brains are better than 1. When you turn in a script, no matter how brilliant you think it might be, the writing staff is going to make changes…sometimes lots of changes. For new writers, this can be a bit shocking, perhaps even painful. But, you have to go with the flow and trust the process. When a team of talented and experienced writers get together and work their magic, 99.99% of the time the script will be taken to the next level. And the good news is, it will still have your name on it.
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What was the most challenging problem solved on set?
Martie Cook: For writers, one of the most challenging problems is when you are shooting, and you realize that something — perhaps a chunk of dialogue or even one joke — isn’t working as you envisioned. This means that you have to fix the writing on the spot, while the actors and the crew wait. This can be nerve-wracking, especially if it’s a comedy, shooting in front of a live audience. Then, you have to go into the writers’ huddle and come up with a really funny joke pronto. Yikes!
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: If you could share your Top 3 Tips for aspiring screenwriters, what would they be?
(#1) Always outline your script before you start to write. Think of it this way: would you rather buy a house from a builder who built from a detailed set of plans or a builder who just winged it? Like the builder who wings it, the writer who doesn’t outline more often than not ends with a big mess. A detailed outline may not be fun to write, but it will save you time, trouble, and heartache.
(#2) Complex character relationships are the primary reason producers and audiences will invest in a script. So, when creating characters, don’t just make a list of quirky characters. Connect the dots. Ask yourself, what are the character relationships? What are their backstories? What significant events happened to these characters individually and collectively that make their relationships what they are today?
(#3) If possible, get a job in the industry, hopefully one where you get to be around writers. Do that job with extreme enthusiasm like no one has ever done it before. This is the fastest way to learn about writing and the business of writing. It is also the fastest way to establish personal relationships with people who can mentor you. And stay out of office politics. Production is extremely stressful. No one has time for drama. So, don’t get dragged into other people’s stuff and don’t drag people into your stuff.