Filmmaking 101 With Billy Wilder: 10 Rules From The Master That You Cannot Afford To Ignore!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on May 12, 2016

One of the most iconic writer-directors' of Hollywood, Billy Wilder was the man who gave us classics like — Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Witness for the Prosecution, The Apartment, Double Indemnity amongst many others. He had an active writing career spanning nearly 50 years, during which time he wrote or directed more than 50 films, won six Oscars & helped studios make bucket loads of money.

He started out in pre-Nazi Germany as a reporter working for a tabloid & much of what he saw continued to inspire him when he made films later in Hollywood. Double Indemnity is one of the greatest noir films of all time while Sunset Boulevard goes beyond the conventions of the genre, throwing a nostalgic look back at the silent era of Hollywood & the tragedy of lost fame.

But his work wasn't restricted to that genre alone. In fact, most of his films from the 50's onwards, were comedies. He wrote all varieties of comedies, from farces to satires to screwball comedies to romantic dramas & almost all of them worked with the audience.

His repertoire also included gems like Stalag 17, a POW drama & Witness for the Prosecution, a courtroom drama. His ability to make compelling films that continue to engage & thrill audiences has made him & his work, a film school for filmmakers of all stripes. So when Cameron Crowe captured their conversations in a book, he did all of us a great favour. It's a book that all of you out there, must go grab & read now!

It is in this book that Wilder shared these 10 rules of screenwriting, which many writers swear by. Pithy - as the dialogues in his films used to be - and clear, they have the air of wisdom that is hard to capture, but on hindsight, appears obvious.

So go ahead, print these & have it pasted next to your writing desk. You can thank us later. ;-)

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’'e 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.

And here's a short NPR show on the legendary filmmaker, which helped us discover these rules.


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