The Art of Screenwriting: Jordan Peele
Screenwriting is a challenging effort for anyone to dive into no matter what their writing expertise is. Thankfully, there are plenty of established screenwriters to look for inspiration and advice. No matter what genre or writing style someone has interest-wise, the internet age has made it possible for anyone to take a deep dive on a specific screenwriter.
Jordan Peele is a fantastic writer and director who made a name for himself on Key and Peele, a show featuring Peele and Keegan-Michael Key in front of a live studio audience bantering about a topic intertwined between filmed shorts and sketches.
Since the success of Key and Peele, Peele has developed into one of the most notable and popular writers and directors today thanks to the success of Get Out (2017) and US (2019). So, what can you learn from Peele as a screenwriter? Let’s take a look and see!
Photo credit: LA Times
Have the Audience Understand the Protagonist’s Perspective
Throughout Peele’s two most notable works, he takes the time to ensure the audience understands the protagonist’s perspective. As a writer, you need to understand that there needs to be a layer of empathy for the audience when analyzing the protagonist.
If the protagonist isn’t worth rotting for or at least understand their perspective, you need to re-adjust your script. For example, in Get Out, the protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a likable character many people can relate to. We see the weirdness associated with his girlfriend’s family, making it an intriguing story to see what’s going on.
Some may argue against this writing technique, but Peele feels otherwise. Peele has a natural knack for making his protagonists intelligent. We see this in Get Out and US with characters who have a hunch something is wrong and aren’t scared to investigate.
Now, you don’t need to force your protagonist to be intelligent, but realize it’s generally a stronger script if the protagonist is the intelligent one and the side characters are the ones with lower intelligence. For example, going back to Get Out, Chris’s friend Rod Williams (Lil Rey Howery) is the comic relief goof that makes the horror story extremely stronger.
Know Your Audience
Peele has gone on record stating the importance of knowing your audience. Even if you’ve never sold a script before, envisioning who your script’s target audience is will help you develop a stronger script. It’ll give you a sense of understanding of what people want from a film and how you can deliver it.
This doesn’t mean you should strictly write a script just so you can pander to an audience. Audiences are a lot more film-savvy than most writers realize, so try to find a nice balance between knowing what they like and how you can get your script to be its own unique creation.
Trust Your Audience
Going back to the notion of knowing your audience, Peele is also a firm believer in trusting your audience. Not everything you write has to be deeply explained, a problem that often plagues novice writers. It’s much more worthwhile to have a solid story where everything isn’t deeply explained.
Take a look at US and the twist having to do with Red (Lupita Nyong'o). Without spoiling the story, it’s not spoon-fed and it causes all audiences to wonder about the story regarding Red and the other doppelgängers. Sometimes ambiguity is the answer to a script than an actual answer.
Tastefully Using Humor
Seeing as Peele comes from a comedic background, both of his films have some humorous parts in them. The films aren’t solely meant to be horror films and that’s largely what sets them apart from so many modern horror films. Basically, take it as a sense that you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself into one genre.
There is a point to make with the food of a film, meaning the mood needs to feel consistent throughout. So, if you choose to add humor to a serious horror film, realize it needs to be tastefully added. Doing it out of nowhere will seem forced and potentially ruin the feel of the story for a lot of people.
The Importance of Pacing
Peele is an enchanting writer when it comes to pacing. Both Get Out and US begin with an enticing intro that leaves audiences wanting to know what’s going on. That question is the reason why audiences stick around for a film or television series and if there isn’t any wonder, that script will lack.
Have Fun While Writing
Although not a point of writing itself, Peele has repeatedly gone on record stating the importance of having fun while writing. As cliche as it sounds, if you’re not enjoying yourself while working on your script, you may want to develop a different story. The writing process should be fun and exciting, not a chore.
● Get Out (2017)
● Us (2019)