John Waters’ Golden Rules of Filmmaking

Writing the Script

  1. No comedy should be longer than 90 minutes. There’s no such
    thing as a good long joke.
  2. Thinking up characters is easy; the narrative (what makes a
    hit) is always the hard part.
  3. Never make a film about your grandmother unless she’s a serial
  4. The first draft of your script should never be read by anybody.
    What you call your ‘first draft’ should be your third, fourth, or
    even tenth pass.
  5. If you can get an NC-17 rating without using any sex or
    violence, you’ll be called a genius.

Raising the Budget

  1. Never hate the rich. Poor people are not known to invest in
  2. Pot dealers are usually movie buffs and make for good silent
  3. Never ask a friend or family member for money for your film if
    you don’t think they have a chance to make it back.
  4. When you try to sell your film with a treatment, always include
    a mock-up of an ad campaign so you look like you’re thinking like a
    money person.
  5. Pay for the music you use in your sound track now. It costs a
    lot more later if you don’t.


  1. No matter what you’ve heard, contention on the set does not
    lead to creativity.
  2. Go to a lot of trouble to make friends with the neighbors
    before you shoot on location. Throw them a party. Let them think
    they’ll be discovered.
  3. Having sex with any member of your cast is a bad idea — crew
    is better.
  4. Teamsters will beat up people off the set if you ask them
    quietly and politely.
  5. When you’re directing a big star, never show fear. They want
    you to tell them what to do.

Promoting the Film

  1. Who cares which photographer shoots you for each magazine? It’s
    the retouch budget that counts.
  2. If you are a bald director, make sure you have a baseball cap
    handy to wear on set because electronic press kit crews will always
    want to film you from behind to ‘see what the director sees.’
  3. On international press tours, never tell customs inspectors
    you’re in their country for ‘business’ — the red tape hell will
    smother you like an avalanche.
  4. You can’t be friends with film critics, no matter how much they
    like your first movie.
  5. Movies people like at film festivals are not always the ones
    they like in real life.

Indie auteur John Waters is the acclaimed filmmaker behind
several offbeat movies, including
Hairspray, Pecker, Cecil B.
Demented, and the recently released A Dirty Shame.
Reprinted from MovieMaker (Summer 2004).
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