The Art of Screenwriting: Eric Roth
Writing a script is one of the biggest challenges a writer can pursue, primarily because of the daunting task of creating a genuinely original and stimulating story. Thankfully, writing a script can significantly benefit from the influences around us, specifically the notable figures in the writing world.
With this in mind, Eric Roth is one of the most prominent figures in the screenwriting world novice screenwriters can learn from. Spanning a career of over 50 years, Roth is known for Forrest Gump (1994), The Insider (1999), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and countless other films. So, what can we learn from Roth? Let’s take a look and see.
Photo credit: Screen Daily
Making the Unbelievable Believable
With stories like Forrest Gump (1994), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and now Dune (2021), Roth can make the unbelievable believable. Take the story of Forrest Gump. Rather than rely on the gimmick of Forrest’s accomplishment, it’s a story with deep characterization and relatable characters.
We feel the pain Forrest, Jenny, and Lieutenant Dan go through. The same can be said with the Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Dune, both of which aren’t realistic stories yet still feel believable. Roth has a way of showcasing a story that’s more than just a bunch of characters in a setting.
The Need For Discipline
Since he first got involved in the writing world, Roth has been highly vocal about the need for discipline as a writer. There is no single answer with regards to your discipline. Everybody has a particular daily schedule. In any case, you should be sure that you get into your everyday practice and stick with it.
Old habits die quickly, so if you create beneficial writing habits, your psyche, soul, and body will become receptive to them. Discipline is one of the initial steps that you want to dominate as a writer. While that appears scary to most, Roth is a perfect example of how hard work pays off.
Work is Important, Not the Software
Notable writers and writing workshops have a heavy focus on the software for creating their scripts. As beneficial as software is nowadays, none of it matters if the story and script aren’t great. To this day, Roth writes on the 1980s DOS program Movie Master. If it’s not broken, why fix it?
The modern era has caused many writers to focus on the tools they use for writing rather than the writing itself. Roth is outspoken about the importance of work and not the software. If the story and script are great enough, practically any agent, manager, or production company will work with you.
Focusing On The Theme
Roth writes with a central theme in mind for each of his scripts. Roth chooses what to write about with the theme always in mind, highlighting what will resonate and last. It's simple to create a basic story and append a few characters and successions to it.
In any case, that is not great screenwriting. Great screenplays investigate topics that will resound with the audience. A theme is what catches the thought of the audience, and it's what the crowd will take with them when they leave the theater.
Knowing How to Adapt a Story
Many of Eric Roth’s scripts are adaptations such as Forrest Gump, The Insider, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and A Star Is Born. Roth knows how to adapt a story, utilizing the information to influence it rather than solely relying on it. The scripts aren’t complete adaptations from the stories but instead use the information as a central piece of the story.
Simple Descriptions With Larger Stories
Whenever someone classifies themselves as a writer, they have a habit of overwriting to impress whoever reads their writing. As great as it is to have an extensive vocabulary, simplicity is better at conveying a message. Examine any of Roth’s scripts, and you’ll see he doesn’t over-describe or try to sound too wordy.
Notable Eric Roth Scripts
Forrest Gump (1994) - The presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and other historical events unfold from the perspective of an Alabama man with an IQ of 75, whose only desire is to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart.
The Insider (1999) - A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a 60 Minutes exposé on Big Tobacco.
Munich (2005) - Five men were chosen to eliminate the people responsible for that fateful day after the Black September capture and massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.
A Star Is Born (2018) - A musician helps a young singer find fame as age and alcoholism send his career into a downward spiral.
Dune (2021) - Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with protecting the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.