Five Tips From Writer and Producer Dana Fox
How to Be Single screenwriter and producer Dana Fox taught herself to write by analyzing episodes of Sex and the City. “I broke down a bunch of episodes and noticed a pattern,” she explained. “You present a theme, each one of the characters lives out a version of that theme, and at the end you realize that friends are the most important thing – I got it!”
Fox always wanted to work in cinema and figured the business path would be the safest route to success, so after graduating from Stanford University, the A-plus student enrolled at USC's Peter Stark Producing Program. An assignment to write a 30-page screenplay revealed Fox's own talent for writing. And with four movies, including The Wedding Date (2005), What Happens in Vegas (2008), Couples Retreat (2009), and How to Be Single (2016), as well as a TV series Ben and Kate, the writer-producer has collected quite a bit of movie industry know-how in the last decade. Here are five important lessons she has learned.
1. Give it a try and don't be afraid to fail. “I think I focused on the business side of things because I was trying to do it in a legitimate way, I didn't want to try to be a writer and fail.” Then, she banged out a Sex and the City spec, and showed it to a friend who worked on the show. “He was like, 'That's actually pretty good. That's a decent first draft of something we would do on the show.' All of a sudden that gave me so much more self confidence, I was like, 'Oh wow, I'm in the ballpark now, I just have to work harder to start hitting doubles and triples and maybe I will actually get a home run at some point!’”
2. Find your voice by shutting up your inner critic. “I think women fall into this trap all the time – it's not good enough, it's not this, it's not that – and men have that too for sure, but you have this inner critic that won't stop telling you your s--- isn't good enough. And you have to figure out how to wake up every morning and say 'shut up! I don't want to hear from you today!' And then sit down at your computer and work hard for hours.”
3. Work harder than everybody else. “Don't necessarily rely just on talent, I think I have some talent but I know I have a lot of very strong work ethic. And when it looks really easy and really natural, a lot of the time so much insane hard work has come before that to make that stuff look easy.”
4. Make yourself indispensable to someone whose work you admire. “Figure out a way to get to somebody doing something cool or exciting. And no matter how qualified you are, be 'Oh my god, I cannot wait to get you that coffee!' It sounds stupid but I went to Stanford, I went to USC film school, I was super overqualified, but I worked as an assistant, I picked up dog s--- and I got coffee for a really long time and I never thought I was too good for it. But I wanted to do it for people doing what I wanted to do so I could watch what they were doing and learn from them. I made myself indispensable to people and I've had people make themselves indispensable to me, and I can tell you that when someone comes along that has a really strong work ethic, I look at it and I'm like, 'That's awesome. I want to help you, I want to make your script get into the hands of the right people.'”
5. Find people to collaborate with. “The best kind of creative work is very collaborative. It's super important to have people whose work really inspires you and jazzes you up. A lot of the people that I know that work together, whether it's screenwriting duos or directors and writers – those people met each other when they were students, when they were making movies together, and that's a bond that nobody will be able to take from you. Also, if you're an aspiring writer you're gonna need somebody to direct your work, you're gonna need somebody to edit your stuff, find those people.”