Film & TV

Creativity and the Writing Process

David Lynch

Lesson time 24:27 min

Writing is a way to remember ideas that come to life in your mind. Learn how to approach a blank page and find out why David thinks there is no formula for writing a good script.

David Lynch
Teaches Creativity and Film
David Lynch teaches his unconventional process for translating visionary ideas into film and other art forms.
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Connect with your creativity

An avant-garde figure in filmmaking, David Lynch introduced mainstream audiences to art-house films. Now the Oscar-nominated director of Mulholland Drive teaches his cross-disciplinary creative process. Learn how he catches ideas, translates them into a narrative, and moves beyond formulaic storytelling. Embrace the art life in David’s MasterClass and learn to test the boundaries of your own artistic expression in any medium.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Inspired. Lynch is so much himself it inspires me to find myself and build from there Thats where the power is. Thanks MC and David

David Lynch teaches, inspires. No matter what art form you are working with - this is a must see and hear!

It's great to get inside the thought process of such a creative being. It was very inspirational.

How can you not love this man? He's looking for his truth and seeking the highest truth in his art. That is a most honorable pursuit.


Debby V.

Very interesting lesson. It was interesting to know how they filmed the scene with the good witch and sailor. I always wondered how they got that beautiful flowing light.

Kasia P.

To me this has been the single most useful course on here so far. To really make use of my creativity has always been my problem, well, not when I was a kid because I was just making use of it without thinking. But university trained me to overthink everything, which I always had a tendency to do anyway. I'm now undoing all that damage education has caused me and training myself out of second guessing every fish I catch and the fishing process itself, ending up leaving the shore empty handed yet again. I'm so, so grateful for this course!

James M.

I feel the greatest lesson from this is to understand when you do have the negativity around you. When you release yourself from those negative distractions then you can be more connected to your mind.

Kittie S.

It seems to be the case that many authors begin with a cast of characters that are more or less complete (personality wise) and are then set in motion to resolve some conflict or scenario. I struggle with this since I usually come up with the conflict or scenario prior to the creation of the characters, but when I try to develop each personality, I'm constantly drawing blanks. The characters are lackluster and 2-dimensional and the story dies before it gets off the ground. I understand that practice and real world exposure to people is the only real way to surmount this, but I'm curious if anyone knows a successful author or writer that writes in this "backward" manner. Any tips or advice would be immensely appreciated.

Mia S.

"My friend who really was an inspiration in the early days said, 'An artist needs at least four hours of uninterrupted - guaranteed uninterrupted - time to get one good hour of painting done. This is so true - every interruption just is like a knife stab in the middle of thought and getting into it, and you've got to start again. You start again, it's horrible. These days, there's interruptions around every corner, almost every second. I've said that you have to be somewhat selfish - but selfishness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you're with the right people, it cannot be seen so much as selfishness, it can be seen as, 'That's your work in life, and you need the time and the materials to do it.' But you have to protect that space and that time, or you won't get anything done."

Mia S.

"When you're just starting out, it's very difficult. Unless you're from a wealthy family, it's very difficult to have the time and materials to live the art life. So you have to live the art life around whatever job you have to earn money to eat and have a place to live and work, and it's tough. But all the time that you're working to earn that money, you can be thinking and you can be saving up your money and getting those materials and as much time as you can to dedicate to your work - your work, which is the artwork. When I started out, all I wanted to be was a painter, and you don't need a lot of money to be a painter. I raised money by delivering prescriptions for a place in Virginia, and my father made a deal with me - I wanted to get a studio, he said he'd pay for half if I earned the money and paid for the other half. So I delivered prescriptions at night in a red and white Jeep and made enough money just working a couple nights a week to get a studio, where I'd go after school and work until late at night. So I've had to do things to earn money, but I've got what I call a 'setup.' A setup is a place to work and the tools and materials to do the work; so if you're interested in painting, you need a place to paint and paints, and you need to get all this stuff together in the space, and then you call it a painting studio. Every single thing that we do, we need a place and machines or materials and equipment to make it happen. I had a paper route, I delivered the 'Wall Street Journal' - I picked up my papers at 11:30 and made $200 a month. That was plenty of money to live, and I built a shed onto the side of the bungalow for a little tiny workshop; I built some sheds in the yard and I had the ability to make things - I still didn't have enough money to paint the way I wanted to paint. AFI, at the time I went, was housed in the Greystone Mansion, a 55-room mansion in the best part of Beverly Hills, CA. At night, no one was there, and I got to take over the stables. I had a mini studio for four years. I had all the equipment I could ever dream of, rooms for storage of equipment, place outside to build sets - I had a setup like you cannot believe for four years. I even lived there - I lived in Beverly Hills, CA on about a nickel a week. It was beautiful. And what we called the food room, where we ate, when I finished a pack of matches, I would do drawings on the inside. They're abstract, but these are all Italian Renaissance drawings. These have been found and collected, and now they're all framed, my matchbook drawings from the days of 'Eraserhead.'"

Mia S.

"If it's new to you, it's new. They say there's nothing new under the sun - if it's new to you and you love the world, then you go. When is it OK to borrow? I guess it depends on borrowing or stealing. In 'Wild at Heart,' Sailor and Lula - it just started creeping in that they just love 'The Wizard of Oz,' and would make references to it, because they loved it, like so many other people. But it was kind of strange that Sailor would like it, but it makes sense to me. It was a little bit stealing, I guess, but it made sense to the characters, and in my mind, it honors this great film, which is a film that's caused people to dream now for decades. There's something about 'The Wizard of Oz' that's cosmic, and it talks to human beings in a deep way. ('If you're truly wild at heart, you'll fight for your dreams. Don't turn away from love.' That's Sheryl Lee, who's also Laura Palmer; it's perfect that she floats down. I said, 'Are you afraid of heights?' She said no, because she didn't want to say the truth, she's desperately afraid of heights, we had her strung up really high. Fred Elmes did a great job lighting that - he had this pool of water on plexiglass and was dancing lights, it was really beautiful. Barry Gifford - the book ends not in a happy way, and nobody wanted it to end in an unhappy way. That's when The Good Witch really came in and saved the day. Barry was really really great to work with, because he didn't care - I always say, 'Barry's books, I love,' but they're very minimal - the chapters are short, and it's a certain way he writes. His writing has just got these seeds that sprout and go off in all different directions, and so he said, 'David, you do whatever you want, and there'll be David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" and Barry Gifford's "Wild at Heart".' He was just really generous in that way, but his book, I loved and it inspired what came out."

Mia S.

"Let's say there's a scene in a diner, and the diner has all these windows and it's the daytime and it's got the smell of cooking and coffee going, then sounds of the machines, the refrigerator cooling working, the sounds of the Coke machine going, the cash register, different things. And people going around, talking, knives, forks, plates, Formica, footsteps. Outside, some sounds are coming in, and the light is a certain way - say it's in the Northwest, so it's a kind of Northwest feel - kind of a cooler, bluer light coming in. It could still sometimes be warm and friendly, but depending on what's going on, you might want it to be bluer and colder; then you might have something on the jukebox that fits in with the mood. It comes with the idea - all these different things and the right mixture can get the mood to be true to the idea. A script is organized ideas; so the, say, future director picks up the script, opens the script, and starts reading, and when they're reading the script, they're picturing and hearing things. What you're picturing and hearing, what you're feeling when you read that script, it's just like catching ideas from the ether. And you remember what you saw, what you heard, and the feelings. Those are your ideas now to follow, and everything along the way of making the film, you're trying to remember those feelings that came through from the words, and what you saw and felt, the mood, the way people talked, the way they were, what they were wearing, the things in the room. All these things now are your guide to making the film - and stay true to every part of the thing that came in your mind, because you fell in love with it. That's the thing you want to do. You've got the idea, you're in love with the idea, all your ideas are together, say, in a script. Now you go and you start putting all the elements together to make tht idea a reality in the material world. A film is made up of many many many elements, so you have to be true to every single little tiny element in order to have a chance that the whole will hold together. And even so, if you're really true to every element and not walk away until they feel correct based on the idea, you can get a magical thing, which they say the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A magic thing can happen when these elements swim together, and boom - it's the magic of cinema. Anyone who reads a script, this same thing is happening - but now this is the one who's going to make the film, so this one is picturing this and hearing this and this like this for him or herself; now, the filmmaker's job is to get all the people that are going to help to help get this thing out of the head, onto the screen. And that's going to involve talking to different departments and getting them to get the right clothes, light, the right this, that, so now - this was alive in here, and now it's going to be alive on the screen."

Mia S.

"Character comes from an idea. Something that we see can trigger a character. Something can happen in a daydream, where a character will just walk in. When they do come along, it's as if you always knew them; they appear as if out of nowhere and again, it's like an idea - it is an idea. And you hear them talk, you know them as if you've known them for a long time, you know what they look like, what they're wearing, the way they are, how they speak - fast or slow - the timbre of their voice, the whole thing. You know them, and you write them down, and even the words - they come out, they just come out, in a certain way based on that character you know and who they're interacting with. A character is an idea just like a location is an idea, a mood is an idea, sound, music, the way it needs to be based on the ideas that come. Mystery and detectives and cinema relate 100% to life - most of us, we don't know where we were before we were born, for sure where we're going after, why we're here, we don't know much about anything. We're floating on a ball in something they call a universe, on the edge of a galaxy with about 100 or 200 billion suns, and we are going to football games and watching TV. It's like, pretty crazy. It's the way it is. But we're detectives, everybody - we're looking around, when we have time. Sometimes it's just before we go to sleep, we starting thinking maybe questions like, 'Why am I here? What is going on?' Or we see things in life and we say, 'Whoa,' or we hear things and say, 'Does that make sense? Do you think that's true?' We use our intuition as detectives to see what's true and what's false and try to figure out what's going on. And I think that's one of the great things about detective stories - it relates to what life is telling us. The ideas tell you everything, and if you think it's imagination, really, you say, 'I imagine' - by the time you got the word 'imagine' out, the ideas have already fed it to you. It's not really you imagining it, it's the flow of ideas. And that's where daydreaming comes in."

Mia S.

"If you want to make a feature-length film, all you need to do is get 70 ideas, 70 scenes, and you write these 70 scenes on 3x5 cards, and you put them up, and when you've got 70 of them, you've got a feature film. I never considered myself a writer, and I don't know how to spell, type; to me, writing is like a way just to remember ideas. Schools have developed a formula; this word, formula, in the department of writing, is like death penalty crime. The thing, I think, should sort of come naturally and feel good. That's just all of these ideas talking to you. I think revising the writing is part of the process. You don't want to be worried about how it comes out when it's starting to flow, but then as you go back later, when more and more has come in, you see that, 'Oh, that one is talking too much, and it's getting weak, and let's take those things out and this is much better,' like that. This is the thing about a formula, where they say that - it's a three-act formula or something like that, I don't know what the latest formula is, but - something happens, and then it gets into the nitty-gritty, and then there's a resolution. All stories need a beginning. Where the middle is depends on where the end is, I guess, but in a continuing story, there could be, theoretically, no end. When it comes to writing, I like to write. What I mean is, the last time I was really writing was on 'Twin Peaks,' but at night, we would write over Skype, and we worked during the day. At night, because I smoke cigarettes, my wife would put me outside and I would face east and have yellow pads, a ballpoint pen, black, and red wine, Bordeaux. And I'd sit in this lawn chair and work like that. If you have a yellow pad on your lap and a ballpoint pen, pretty soon that pen will start moving and words will come out, and you get on a thing. I say, even 90% can be worthless, horrible stuff, but maybe as you're writing what you're seeing or thinking, you'll catch a vein of gold and a thing will start pouring out. And that's sort of the way I think it is, you catch a vein. It could be a character, a whole part of a story, it could be a scene - but you've got to be, like in fishing, with patience; and you've got to have a pole and a line and a hook, and you've got to be ready for it to come in."