7 writing lessons from movie screenplays

Hollywood screenwriters know how to cut the fat, grab an audience, establish character through action, and write copy that reads fast. Learn from them.

Remember the scene in “Amadeus” when Wolfgang Mozart’s wife bares her breasts for Viennese Court Composer Antonio Salieri?

Or in “The King’s Speech” when Prince George, Duke of York, nearly throws a record out his limousine window in front of a rally of British fascists?

No? That’s because the scenes, labored over by the screenwriters, were trimmed from the theater release of the films.

In Hollywood, a lot ends up on the cutting-room floor. Because I’ve been reading screenplays lately, I am considering the lessons they offer for PR, internal communications—and any kind of writing.

Here are my takeaways:

1. Cut until it hurts, then cut some more.

Brilliant as Peter Shaffer’s script is, “Amadeus” is better off without several distractions he wrote, such as the scene I mentioned above. (It did remain in the director’s cut, unfortunately.) That scene, in which Salieri leads Constanze Mozart to believe she must sleep with him to save her husband’s career, compromises her character and simply isn’t necessary.

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