An Interview with Max Adams
Screenwriter of EXCESS BAGGAGE
by Christopher Wehner
In 1994 Max Adams won the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Award for her script EXCESS BAGGAGE and that same year received a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting for her script MY BACK YARD. Since then she has worked with Columbia Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Tri-Star Pictures. She has mentored and taught writers for years at such institutions as the University of Southern California, Austin Film Festival, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Film Arts Foundation, New York Film Academy and the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. Max is a former Writers Guild of America (West) online mentor, and has founded two international online screenwriting workshops. She is also the author of “The Screenwriter’s Survival Guide: Or, Guerrilla Meeting Tactics and Other Acts of War.” Her produced films include EXCESS BAGGAGE [credited], THE LADY KILLERS [uncredited], and ONE FOR THE MONEY [uncredited]
CW: What are you doing now teaching wise? Are you teaching in Austin? Max: I’m located in Austin now, I live here, the workshops and classes are online. I occasionally do workshops in person.
Why did you leave Los Angeles? I was really tired of Los Angeles and I am not doing a lot of studio stuff right now. When I have to I can fly in. I like Austin it has a small but growing and interesting film community. It’s also a nice city, but not as sprawling as Los Angeles.
How is the new edition of the “Screenwriter’s Survival Guide” doing? It’s doing really well. It’s in some of the more prestigious independent stores like Samuel French and Book People and it’s selling online on Amazon.
Why did you decide to write the first edition, what motivated you? People told me I was already writing a book. I shared lots of advice with writers and was an active member on Internet groups. The book’s content was about six years in the trenches talking to fellow writers online about what worked and what didn’t. There’s a lot of information that is circulating on the Internet that is incorrect. So I thought it was important to have something out there that tells writers this is what works, how it works, and this is what doesn’t. And hopefully that’s what the book does.
What is one thing writers need to do before writing their first screenplay? Read a lot of screenplays. People grow up reading a lot of books, but most people don’t grow up reading lots of screenplays. A lot of writers starting out don’t have a real feel for how film scripts work. To write a script, you have to understand how a screenplay works dramatically and on screen when it translates from the page to the screen. And just watching films won’t teach you that. There’s this great quote floating around and I don’t remember who said it, but it is, “Thinking you can write a movie just because you watch movies is like thinking you can build a house just because you live in a house.” There’s a bit more to it.
Then start writing and make your story is as cinematic as possible. Look for things that will play on screen, you want stories that involve action, motion, visuals, characters in motion and not just sitting around being a bunch of talking heads. You have to be thinking about how your story will play visually on screen. Is your idea cinematic? That is something writers don’t always think about when they’re considering stories for film.
What should writers be looking for when reading screenplays? When you’re reading a screenplay you’re looking at structure, dialogue, characterization, visuals, and how everything plays together. Also how scenes play together in a continuous way that moves the story. I think one of the hardest things newer writers face is how to construct the story so each scene makes sense logically, that there are reasons for why scenes follow each other in an escalating story sequence. There’s a great clip online everyone should check out of the SOUTH PARK writers (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) where they talk about —-
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