When one thinks of the movie business, it’s all glitz and glamour: a successful screenwriter driving a shiny convertible down the wide roads of Sunset Boulevard with a supermodel in the passenger seat. But there’s a big difference between fantasy and real life, and when it comes to screenwriting chops nobody knows more than Jacob Krueger, a warm, unassuming curly-haired Williamsburg-based screenwriting superstar who is using his signature teaching approach to change the way both professional and aspiring writers think about the craft.
Jacob Krueger is the creator and proprietor of Jacob Krueger Studios, a laboratory for screenwriters old and new that promotes and employs an organic approach to the writing process.
“My process turns it all inside-out,” Krueger said. “It starts with something real: what moves me?”
Krueger is a classically-trained screen and stage writer who studied the craft in college before landing an internship at a major film studio in Los Angeles. During his internship, Krueger wrote a treatment for a film that was sold and later produced, impressing his colleagues and co-workers so much that after graduation, he was offered a job created specially for him.
“I was hired as an in-house movie writer. Those jobs haven’t really existed since the 30s,” Krueger said. “My boss would knock on my door and say, ‘I want you to write a movie about blank,’ and I would write the story. My job was to show people that these stories would make extraordinary movies.”
During his tenure living and working in the movie biz in Los Angeles, Krueger worked on dozens of films and programs, and won critical acclaim for the Matthew Shepard Story. But, after a time, the screenwriting business started taking a toll on Krueger, who was horrified to realize that he, in the midst of writing for a living—and for the sake of selling movies to production studios—had begun to forget why he fell in love with writing in the first place. So, he picked up and moved to New York City, to pursue another passion: the theatre. He began writing and producing stage productions all over Manhattan, before he discovered his calling: education.
While working at the film studio, Krueger’s role was not only that of a movie writer, but also an advisor.
“At the studio, I became the go-to guy when a movie writer needed help,” he said. “I kept getting calls. I was both a writer and a teacher. I got to work with other extraordinary writers when I was just a kid. I learned quickly that my job was all about trying to figure out what they want to accomplish and help them accomplish it. That’s how I learned to teach.”
After moving to New York, Kreuger decided to teach on the side, to supplement his income while f ocusing on his own projects and the rest is history.
“It was surprising that I hadn’t figured it out before. Teaching, I felt like I was finally playing for the right team, giving people an opportunity to express themselves and become the people they want to be.”
And Krueger’s approach is anything but by the books. In fact, he has taken the traditional structure of screenwriting and film criticism and inverted it. While screenwriting classes typically start with a final product—a script for a famous feature film, perhaps—and move backwards, with an emphasis on how to pitch and sell the film, Krueger emphasizes character development, emotion and soul.
“It’s hard to find good screenwriting teacher because screenwriters make a lot of money and don’t have to teach,” Krueger said. “They like to start with a script—a work of art. They have the students identify the elements and why it works. Their thoughts are going to be: first, the screenplay is brilliant. Then, the professor is brilliant. Then, I’m not good enough. It’s paint-by-numbers approach. They engage their editing brains and stop writing from their souls.”
Krueger, on the other hand, has created a workshop environment that fosters creative energy, independent and original thinking, and stresses character development over structure.
“My school is run in the spirit of great actor’s studios. They have a strong take and create a studio around it,” Krueger said.
Krueger teaches five different classes, two for writers of all levels and three specialized, year-long invitation-only master classes designed for students who dream of becoming professional screenwriters. One of Krueger’s favorite aspects of teaching is watching beginners and more advanced students interact and learn from one another.
“It’s amazing to watch a film school graduate learn from someone who has never written before, and vice versa.”
On Saturday, January 29th and Sunday, January 30th at the Brooklyn Winery on N. 8th Street, Krueger’s master class students will be showcasing their screenplays, which will be read and performed by a company of professional actors—a rare opportunity.
“Writers spend so much time alone,” Krueger said. “We’re trying to build something together.”