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3 take-aways from last night's oscars

Updated: May 16, 2018


Good show last night! Shout-outs to my friend Jon Macks for writing it, and to Adam Deldeo, one of the first producers to ever hire me, for executive producing Icarus, the Documentary Feature winner.


As we sat on our sofa, sipping lattes and scoring our mock ballots (I eked out a victory), several thoughts occurred to me that, as a screenwriting teacher, I feel compelled to share:


1) As Aristotle observed in his Poetics, the most successful stories are the ones that provide the two essential elements of MIMESIS and CATHARSIS (imitation and emotional release). For him, the best stories were the ones that show the audience something universal of themselves and their world reflected back to them, while at the same time, through that identification, giving them an emotional experience.


And that observation is just as true today as it was 2500 years ago. For nowhere was that duality more evident than in Jordan Peele’s screenplay for “Get Out.” As a moviegoer, I saw my current world reflected back to me through brilliantly incisive social commentary. And all the while, I laughed and gasped and screamed.


Aristotle observed that human beings have been blessed with a joy in learning, and that we best learn through imitation. But the truth is, we don’t really go to the movies to learn something, we go to FEEL something. So that then is the vital function of great movies, to provide that joy in learning through the experience of feeling.


And I was heartened to see that the majority of Oscar voters agreed with me that Mr. Peele had accomplished that superbly.


2) I’m sure every screenwriter watching last night had a moment of recognition when Jordan Peele, upon accepting his award, said, “I stopped writing this movie 20 times because I thought it was impossible.”


Anyone who has ever written a screenplay knows how daunting it can feel. There are so many good reasons to throw in the towel. But only one good reason not to.

Because you CAN’T.


I tell my students that they probably won’t succeed if they are in it for fame or fortune. There are far easier ways to achieve both. No, the secret of getting to the end of any script, without giving up, is that you have something you need to say, something that matters deeply to you. Then it won’t be impossible to finish, it will be impossible not to.


3) And finally, I may have learned the greatest screenwriting lesson of all as I watched the amazing James Ivory accept his first Academy Award for Screenwriting for “Just Call Me By Your Name.” You are never too old to win a writing Oscar.


So I still have 40 more years to get mine.


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