Our Favorite Screenwriters: Taylor Sheridan (SICARIO, HELL OR HIGH WATER)
Taylor Sheridan has rapidly become a top-notch screenwriter and now director as well. His films include SICARIO, SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, HELL OR HIGH WATER, and WIND RIVER. He now also does a TV series, YELLOWSTONE. How did he get there?
To start with, Sheridan would likely disagree with the use of the word “rapidly.” Born in 1970 (Taylor is 49) Sheridan began his career as an actor. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sheridan reflected on how his experience as an actor has informed his writing. He specifically avoids exposition because he had to say so much of it as a supporting actor, and he focuses on simple plots so he can dig deep on character.
Sheridan also intentionally has chosen to break structural rules. In an interview with Fast Company, Sheridan notes, “SICARIO is written on a five-act structure and a five-act structure within that. I leave the protagonist for 20 minutes at the climax of the movie in SICARIO to follow the villain. In HELL OR HIGH WATER, they don’t tell you why they are doing what they’re doing or even what they’re doing until two-thirds of the way through the movie. And I love playing with that. Audiences are so smart, they have seen so much. Whether they’re aware of it or not they’ve almost got PhDs in film criticism and earned it. You can trick ’em a couple ways and one is visually and one is through story. I don’t write big blockbusters so I don’t know how to do that, so I do it through story and I think it makes an audience feel like they don’t know what’s going to happen next and that makes for a really exciting ride. I look at each movie as, ‘How am I breaking the rules this time?’”
In addition to Sheridan’s structural trickery, he also has shown a tendency to write full-meal roles for big actors. In his interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sheridan admits he thought of Benicio del Toro when he was writing SICARIO… and he got him. Jeff Bridges has one of his most memorable late-career turns in HELL OR HIGH WATER.
After many Marvel films, Jeremy Renner gets an opportunity to go back to his roots as a purely dramatic actor in WIND RIVER. In true Sheridan fashion, the sequel to SICARIO, subtitled DAY OF THE SOLDADO, does away completely with Emily Blunt’s character, the protagonist and audience surrogate from the original film, to focus on the morally ambiguous characters played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro.
The first scene of YELLOWSTONE has Kevin Costner sadly putting a horse down. Who other than Kevin Costner would mean as much to that show, playing the patriarch of a family that owns the largest ranch in America? It feels logical to assume Costner was the first choice for the role, and again, Sheridan got him.
What life experiences do you bring to bear that can inform your writing? How do you challenge traditional approaches to story? What are you putting on the page to attract huge movie stars to play your characters?