Woody Allen is an American film director, writer, actor, and comedian whose career spans six decades. His most notable films include Annie HallManhattan, and Midnight in Paris

He is known for his comedy-dramas, which often combine dramatic elements with commentary on contemporary life in major urban centers. His works explore philosophical themes such as identity, mortality, religion, existentialism, and mortality.

Allen has received 23 nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He won four Oscars: three for Best Original Screenplay (Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Midnight in Paris) and one for Best Director (Annie Hall). His films have grossed US$800 million in the United States and over $1 billion worldwide.

Below we’ve listed 25 of our favorite quotes from the director guaranteed to transform your writing skills and help improve your filmmaking.

Woody Allen Quotes

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

[on watching films] I watch them for pleasure. I don’t study them for the lighting or the camera angles or the blocking. I watch them strictly for the story and for pleasure. And they do influence you. You see good movies and you want to make a movie like that sometime, because it was so much fun and you got such a kick out of watching it.

The directors that have personal, emotional feelings for me are Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, and I’m sure there has been some influence but never a direct one. I never set out to try and do anything like them. But, you know, when you listen to a jazz musician like Charlie Parker for years and you love it, then you start to play an instrument, you automatically play like that at first, then you branch off with your own things. The influence is there, it’s in your blood.

There is a great skill in blending together good performances and a good story. Enormous finesse. But there’s no mystery to it from a technical point of view. Millions of people have gone to the movies all their lives could direct circles around me. They get everything going beautifully ; their photography is great and their movies are beautiful. But where they fall short, like many TV commercial directors who make movies, is that they don’t have a dramatic sense or a sense of comedy. That’s why Bunuel’s films can look terrible and still be masterpieces, because overwhelmingly what’s important is content. Every piece of junk that comes out looks good. Because a director can just go out and hire a first-rate cameraman and a first-rate editor, and they all know what to do.

They’ll be many times when I’ll think to myself, why is this actress yelling it so angrily? That’s not what I had in mind when I wrote it. Then I’ll say, “Could you do this slower and a little easier?” And the actress will. And she’ll do it fine. And I’ll say, “Great, thank you.” Then when I’m putting the picture together I see that her way was completely the right way. Yelling it was completely correct for the character and completely in context and I was just married to the feeling that I was writing at home., but her instinct when  she read the script was better than mine. So having lived through that a number of times, I stopped correcting actors when they didn’t read things the way I wanted unless I was 100 percent sure it was a disaster. 

Gordie [cinematographer Gordon Willis] and I used to talk about this all the time. If you have a good script and you shoot it in a stupid way, badly lit and badly shot, you can still have a successful movie. That’s been proven a million times. You see the films that are miserably made, ranging from amateur filmmakers to Bunuel, where the writing is so fine that it works even if things make no sense. Whereas if you have bad material, if the writing is not good, you can the shoot the eyes out of it in every way and most of the time, no mater what style you bring to the film, it doesn’t work. 

Woody Allen on Writing

I’ve always said that if you scratch the surface of a scene that’s not working, 99 percent of the time it’s the writing. Once in a while it’s the acting, once in the while it’s the directing, but almost always it’s the writing. 

I don’t have to write it down after I’ve thought of it. My outline for a movie rarely takes up a single page. Usually I lose interest in the middle of writing the outline. I write, yo know, “Alvy meets Annie. Romantic scene. Flashback to when they met.” I’ll write like eight of those and by the time I get to the eight or ninth, I’ll have lost interest because I know the story so well I don’t really have do be doing this.

I use a lot of misdirection in scripts. Writers do it all the time, and I do it too, to throw the audience. 

Years ago Paddy Chayefsky said to me, “When a movie is failing or a play is failing” – he put it so brilliantly – “cut out the wisdom.” Marshall Brickman said it a different way, “The message of the film can’t be in the dialogue.” And this is the truth that is hard to live by because the temptation is to occasional take a moment and philosophize and put in your wisdom, put in your meaning. The truth is, unless the meaning doesn’t come across in the action, you have nothing going for you. It doesn’t work. 

I’ve found over the years that any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy. So if I’m in this room and then I go into the other room, it helps me. If I go outside to the street, it’s a huge help. So I sometimes take extra showers. I’ll be down here [in the living room] at am impasse and what will help me is to go upstairs and take a shower. It breaks up everything an relaxes me. 

She makes the same mistake that most people make. They think the writing is the writing. As Marshall Brickman pointed out, the thinking is the writing; the writing is the writing down.

Woody Allen Quotes on Post-Production

Years ago, they would turn it over [the film] to an editor. I can’t do that. It would be unthinkable for me not to be in on every inch of the movie – and this is not out of some sort of ego or a sense of having control; I just can’t imagine it any other way. How could I not be in on the editing, on the scoring, because I feel the whole project is one big writing project? You may not be writing with a typewriter once you get past the script phase, but when you’re picking locations and casting on the set, you’re really writing. You’re writing with film, and you’re writing with film you edit together and you put some music in. This is all part of the writing process.

We cut people out of films all the time, almost never having to do with their performance but strictly because of what makes the story work best. Of course, the actor, being by nature insecure, always thinks it’s the performance. But it’s rarely that. It’s overwhelmingly some other reason, usually traceable to me. Either I pick the wrong person at audition or when I see he film and get a little more into it, that the person seems wrong then. Or most of all, I’ve written it badly and don’t realize it until its up on its feet being shot. Over the years I’ve cut many people. I cut Vanessa Redgrave out of Celebrity, and she’s as fine an actress as there is in the world. Obviously it had nothing to do with her acting.

For me, music enhances the film and sometimes is a lifesaver to a scene – without music, the scene doesn’t work; with music, it does. If you have a good picture and you put in good music, it’s like pushing a winning hand at Poker. It’s a good feeling. If you have a mediocre picture or bad picture and you put in good music, you can help yourself a little bit, but you can’t save a bad film just with music.

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Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking, 2007
Woody Allen on Woody Allen, 2005
Woody Allen: Interviews, Revised and Updated, 2016

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