From The Vaults: Brian Herskowitz: A Unified Theory of Screenwriting


On this day in 2015, we published a two-part series on tying your screenwriting to a finished product. Although screenwriters should focus on their screenplay, they should consider production factors too.

Creative Screenwriting readers may be familiar with Brian Herskowitz, whose lecture Crafting the Outline for Your Feature Film is available to purchase on our website, and who has recently released one of the most pragmatic books on the craft of screenwriting: Process to Product.

Besides writing, producing and directing dozens of projects, from low-budget horror films to network sitcoms, Brian is the leading faculty member for the prestigious Boston University in Los Angeles Writer in Hollywood Program. And in case that wasn’t enough, he’s a national judo champion.

In this, the second of a two-part interview, Brian discusses his latest book Process to Product and screenwriting guides

What makes Process to Product a must-buy book?

From Process to Product, by Brian Herskowitz

From Process to Product, by Brian Herskowitz

As somebody who has studied screenwriting from both the academic and the practical side for a long time, there were two things that I wanted the book to accomplish.

I wanted to write something that, firstly, was clear and specific about the process of writing a screenplay. But that, secondly, left the reader with enough freedom to still have imagination, have inspiration. So that they could both go off the path, and know that there was always a safety net to bring them back to the story if they needed it. That was kind of my goal.

There are a lot of books that are excellent at the technical side, with regard to the structure, and format. And then there are other books that are extremely good with regard to the overall nature of screenwriting. In fact there’s some really wonderful material out there. But there wasn’t, that I could see, a unified theory of screenwriting.

Do you feel that Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat is held up on a pedestal?

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder

You know, things go in kind of waves. When I first started writing, it was all Syd Field. He would walk into a meeting and people would say, “what’s your three act story? “Well, at page 30 this happens. Page 90 this happens. Then immediately after Star Wars, it was all Joseph Campbell. The hero’s journey, and who’s your Obi-Wan Kenobi, or who’s your wise old man who brings you guidance? All of that stuff became the norm. And now Save the Cat is the new trend, because Blake Snyder had some great ideas and set out a clear path.

The problem I had with Save the Cat, however, was it micromanaged the writer, whilst this idea of it has to be ‘similar to but different from’ is problematic to me.

Please believe me, I don’t want to trash Blake Snyder because he’s done a lot of awesome, amazing and positive things, and in fact I borrowed from his book on screenwriting and utilized much of what he said. But when you start talking about having to do something: “you have to do this on this page and you have to do that on that page,” everything becomes the same.

In my book, Process to Product, I wanted the reader to be free to concentrate on the question: “What will that character do at this point?”

I allow the writer to make the best script they could possibly make, without making them feel like they’re a part of a machine or a factory process.  Because you have to allow for genius. You have to allow for inspiration. You have to allow for the possibility and ability to be able to come up with something that is entirely different.

Of course there is a basic universal structure of story, and generally, the further away from that structure that you go, the smaller your audience. But if that’s OK with you, if that’s what you want, go for it. When we last talked, we discussed the ladder of success. And one of the rungs of the ladder might be making the movie you want to make.

Have you received many scripts?

We have, though we’re not soliciting scripts at the moment, so I’m not sure how people found out! But people have found us and we’ve probably received 150 scripts since last November.

Star Leaf

Star Leaf

How did your film Star Leaf come about?

When Star Leaf came to us it was a different story, they had a distributor first. That’s what’s kind of interesting about this story. As distributors are hearing about our model and what we’re doing, instead of us going to them with projects and saying “Hey, would you take a look at this and see if it interests you?” they’re coming to us and saying “We have a script we’re interested in, would you take a look at it and see if you can help fund it?” Star Leaf was a project that came to us through a distributor who wanted us to get involved, so we did.

The marketing for Star Leaf was really extraordinary. The film is about a mythical, magical marijuana leaf called Star Leaf. So the filmmakers approached a legal medicinal marijuana distributor, who agreed to make a hybrid leaf named after the film. There’s actually a Star Leaf that will be marketed and will be in marijuana stores!

That’s probably the most California thing I’ve ever heard in my life

Isn’t it, though? And here’s the thing: there are 8,000 medical marijuana facilities or pot shops around the country. And each one of these becomes a point of sale, just like what they do at Starbucks with music now.

And if you have not yet read the first part of this interview, check it out here: A Black Belt in The Film Industry.



Jason is a writer living in Chicago focusing on martial arts and videogames. You've seen his writing on SI's Fansided, Bloody-Disgusting and Creative Screenwriting. He wants to talk gaming and comedy with you @JasonNawara.

Improve Your Craft