Billy Wilder Screenwriting Tips

Have you seen Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, or Some Like It Hot lately? Well, they still hold up. Given that all of them are over half-a-century old, that’s saying something. With a career that lasted over 50 feature films, giving us some of the most memorable movies of all time, future screenwriters will be studying Billy Wilder’s films for a long time.

The list below was sourced from an excellent read, Cameron Crowe’s Conversations with Wilder.

Billy Wilder Screenwriting Tips

10 Screenwriting Tips from Billy Wilder

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.
William Robert Rich
William Robert Rich

William Robert Rich is a story analyst, screenwriter, and co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan. He's currently based in Austin, Texas.

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