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01/28/2016 04:04 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

'Bridge of Spies' Screenwriter Matt Charman Reveals the First Rule of Screenwriting

These questions originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answers by Matt Charman, Screenwriter, Bridge of Spies (Academy Award nominee, Best Original Screenplay), on Quora.

Q: How did you teach yourself screenwriting?

A: I used to sneak into the second acts of West End plays while I was at university in London. I couldn't afford to buy tickets so after the interval, I would slip in behind people who had been outside having a cigarette, wait for the lights to go down and find an empty seat. That's really bad of me (and I should probably advise you not to do it!) but it was an amazing education because only seeing the second acts made me spend the whole night making up what the first act might have been in my head, before I was able to check in the University library the next day. I didn't know it at the time but I was learning the art of structuring stories and what you do and don't need to know. It was a great grounding for me.
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Q: What are your best pieces of advice for aspiring screenwriters?

A: If you hear a good line of dialogue on the bus or tube, write it down. If you have a good character name in your head, write it down. A good opening image? Write it down. Most writers are like hoarders who find little pieces of 'treasure' and hide them away in a safe place to use later. You never know when you might need something so if it's good, write it down.

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Q: What is the first rule of screenwriting?

A: Be where the hottest point of the drama is and make sure the scene you're writing is where the audience wants to be. Don't be in the room next to the action, but with the action itself. That doesn't mean the most dramatic place isn't quiet and still, it just means what we're hearing and seeing is the most thrilling part of the story at that exact moment.

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Q: Who are the screenwriters who inspired you and your writing in the past and who are the ones who inspire you now?

A: It's hard for this not to turn into a list but I love Paddy Chayefsky in a completely different way to how I love the remarkable Melissa Matheson. The films NETWORK and E.T. show the complete range of what cinema can be. I would love to write a movie that stood the test of time like those two screenplays have and surely always will. The screen writers who inspire me now? The Coen's, working with them was a dream come true. Aaron Sorkin, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, damn you see...? It's become a list!

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