Billy Wilder's 10 tips for screenwriting

Originally published at:


An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation. — Billy Wilder


Don’t pad. A short movie is better than a boring one.


There is another version:
Thou shalt not bore! I have ten commandments.
The first nine are: Thou shalt not bore!
The tenth is: Thou shall have the right to do the final edit!

In 1988, Volker Schlöndorff did a couple of interviews with Billy Wilder about his life and work.


Preston Sturges had his own list for comedies:

  1. A pretty girl works better than an ugly girl.
  2. A leg works better than an arm.
  3. A bedroom works better than a living room.
  4. An arrival works better than a departure.
  5. A birth works better than a death.
  6. A chase works better than a chat.
  7. A dog works better than a scenery.
  8. A kitten works better than a dog.
  9. A baby works better than the dog.
  10. A kiss works better than a baby.
  11. Someone doing a pratfall works best.

Perhaps I’m biased, but I’m always a little annoyed when the Apartment is left off the list of his great works. It’s not the best film, but I’m fairly certain I could watch it once a week without growing bored.

  1. Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end.

  2. So does a shit.


Or Witness for the Prosecution (the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock didn’t make), or Lost Weekend, or Five Graves to Cairo, or The Seventh Year Itch, or …
This guy was good.


“I know a lot of people that have already Xeroxed that list and put it by their typewriter,”

Really? Crowe said this in 1999? Xerox machines and typewriters in 1999? That’s some grade-A pretension.


I don’t understand most of the things on this list. No sarcasm. I’m otherwise really smart. Can somebody breaks down for me?

It’s discussed in detail in the interviews linked above.

Most of it boils down to: take your audience seriously. Don’t treat them as if they are stupid, but keep them focused. However ridiculous the premise of the movie is, everything that follows must have an inner logic and consistency, a rhythm if you will. Pace the movie accordingly.


Can’t have been any of the screenwriters that worked on the Hollywood movies I have seen in the last ten years or so. No one seems to give a fuck anymore, or maybe all the good writers do TV series now.

Billy Wilder was a writer to his core and beyond. Exhibit A is his gravestone

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.