DIFF Filmmaker Yen Tan (PIT STOP) shares his screenwriting tips and influences
Yen Tan is an Austin-based filmmaker whose feature-film writing and directing credits include PIT STOP (2013) and CIAO (2008). PIT STOP won the Texas Competition Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 DIFF and can now be seen on Netflix, iTunes and on demand. His latest film, ALL THAT WE LOVE, has been selected for the Project Forum at Independent Film Week in New York City this September. At Independent Film Week, filmmakers connect with financiers, executives and other industry leaders to help develop their projects. DFS Senior Programmer, Sarah Harris, connected with Tan get his thoughts on screenwriting and the early process of developing a film.
SH: When you have an idea for a film, what is the beginning of your writing process like?
TAN: I’d bounce the idea off some close friends first to see if they respond to it, and then I sit on it for 48 hours to make sure I’m still into it. I have a lot of ideas that seems promising at first but I lose interest in a day or two. Then I begin outlining the entire story. I don’t usually even start writing the first page until my outline is completed.
SH: Are there any recent films or filmmakers that influence your work?
TAN: I look to Lee Chang-Dong, Asghar Farhadi and Hirokazu Koreeda in their meticulous attention to character details. You get the sense that their own views are transformed having explored the world of their films. I’m very inspired by that kind of storytelling. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON is a recent example that comes to mind.
SH: What do you think is the hardest part of screenwriting?
TAN: Getting through the first “vomit” draft because it’s the one version of your film that will suck the most. It’s so important to get that out of your system.
TAN: PIT STOP took almost 10 years. I wrote it on and off in that period of time. There were more than 30 drafts.
SH: Do you often ask for help or notes when you’re writing?
TAN: I swear by it, especially with peers I trust. Usually it’s a draft that I feel the least embarrassed about in showing others. It’s usually the fifth or sixth draft.
SH: Have you ever started writing, to then put the script away for a year or two (or more)? Do you think some stories need a break in development?
TAN: Yes. Distance can be immensely helpful. I’ve figured out so many solutions by taking both long and short breaks.
SH: What is your favorite part of developing a script?
TAN: I love to make myself cry. More than making myself laugh actually. It’s always a nice release when it happens. That’s also when I can tell if something’s working.
SH: What encouragement do you have for filmmakers that may be starting out on a new script, or picking up an old draft?
TAN: Always, always finish the first draft, even if you’re writing terribly. The point is to get to the last page. Only then you should go back and rewrite. Writing first thing in the early morning tends to work very well for me, too. So do taking long walks when I’m just alone with my thoughts.
Thanks for the advice Yen! Check out DallasFilm.org for more tips from DIFF alum in the coming months.
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