Billy Wilder is regarded as one of Hollywood’s most brilliant filmmakers known for showcasing memorable dialogues and tight plots that are consistent throughout his films. He is widely considered by many as the greatest screenwriter of all time.

Wilder received 21 nominations at the Academy Awards, winning six. In total, he received 13 nominations for his screenwriting, and 8 for his film direction. He is one of five people to have won as a producer, director and screenwriter for the same film, The Apartment in 1960.

In his 52 years as a filmmaker, Wilder directed a 27 films including Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sabrina (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960).

Below we’ve put together our favorite Billy Wilder quotes covering everything from screenwriting to film direction and Hollywood and more.


Billy Wilder Filmmaking Quotes

You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.

Some pictures play wonderfully to a room of eight people. I don’t go for that. I go for the masses. I go for the end effect.

A bad play folds and is forgotten, but in pictures we don’t bury our dead. When you think it’s out of your system, your daughter sees it on television and says, “My father is an idiot.”

Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.

I don’t do cinema. I make movies.

I just made pictures I would’ve liked to see.

Wilder Screenwriting Tips

[Writing] is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me. It is a drag. It is hard work. And it is not one of those kinds of things like people imagine where the muses come and they kiss your brow and there you are kind of the poet in the clouds.

Don’t be too clever for an audience. Make it obvious. Make the subtleties obvious also.

If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.

Don’t confuse dialogue speed with pacing.

Writing is a mixture of architecture and poetry.

A great way of developing characters is to elaborate and exaggerate those that impact the world around us.

Wilder’s 10 Tips from Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then – that’s it. Don’t hang around.

The Writer Speaks: Billy Wilder

In this hour interview, Wilder discusses his work, screenplay structure and his writing process.

Wider Quotes on Directing the Movie

The best director is the one you don’t see.

Shooting on location and on set have their advantages and disadvantages.

A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant and a bastard.

[asked if it was important for a director to know how to write] No, but it helps if he knows how to read.

[after directing Marilyn Monroe for the second time in Some Like It Hot (1959)] I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and they tell me I’m too old and too rich to go through this again.

[to a cameraman on one of his pictures] Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.

Complex stories should be filmed and presented in a simple way.

The close-up is such a valuable thing – – like a trump at bridge.

Think about your approach and make it original.

I have ten commandments. The first nine are, thou shalt not bore. The tenth is, thou shalt have right of final cut.

Now, what is it which makes a scene interesting? If you see a man coming through a doorway, it means nothing. If you see him coming through a window – that is at once interesting.

Wilder on Hollywood and the Film Business

Making movies is little like walking into a dark room. Some people stumble across furniture, others break their legs but some of us see better in the dark than others. The ultimate trick is to convince, persuade.

There was an actress named Marilyn Monroe. She was always late. She never remembered her lines. She was a pain in the ass. My Aunt Millie is a nice lady. If she were in pictures she would always be on time. She would know her lines. She would be nice. Why does everyone in Hollywood want to work with Marilyn Monroe and no one wants to work with my Aunt Millie? Because no one will go to the movies to watch my Aunt Millie.

billy wilder some like it hot
Billy Wilder directing Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon on Some Like It Hot (1959)

People copy, people steal. Most of the pictures they make nowadays are loaded down with special effects. I couldn’t do that. I quit smoking because I couldn’t reload my Zippo.

An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but 1000 imbeciles together in the dark–that is critical genius.

In certain pictures I do hope they will leave the cinema a little enriched, but I don’t make them pay a buck and a half and then ram a lecture down their throats.

You watch, the new wave will discover the slow dissolve in ten years or so.

Today we spend 80% of the time making deals and 20% making pictures.


Billy Wilder Quotes Final Words

Looking for more filmmaking quotes from the masters of cinema then check out our profile article section of the website for quotes from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and more.

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