Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Writing with Buñuel

The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (Directed by Luis Buñuel)

Jean-Claude Carriere collaborated with Luis Bunuel on six film classics including The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie and Belle Du Jour. Here he describes their unique way of working:

Buñuel had a type of surreal, I would say, tendency, or inclination and I did as well. We were never rational. When he made An Andalusian Dog, his first film with Salvador Dali they had one rule. The rule was that when one of them proposed an idea the other had three seconds, no more, to say yes or no. They didn't want the brain to intervene. They wanted an instinctive reaction coming, hopefully, from their subconscious.

We used this process often although it was not easy. When you propose something you always want to explain your reasons for why you proposed this or that. And that must be - you know - put aside. It is a very difficult way of working. It requires a very alert mind to constantly be creative and invent and find new things to propose - all without becoming exhausted. Gradually, step by step you discover, and I'm quoting Buñuel here, that the human imagination is a muscle that can be trained and developed like memory. It is one of the faculties of the brain that knows no limits. If I learned one thing from Buñuel, that would be it.

- Jean-Claude Carrière 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Francis Coppola: The Screenwriter's Challenge

The Godfather II (Directed by Francis Ford Coppola)

Francis Ford Coppola on the screenplay as haiku:

Interviewer: What’s the greatest challenge of a screenwriter?

Francis Ford Coppola: A screenplay has to be like a haiku. It has to be very concise and very clear, minimal. When you go to make it as a film, you have the suggestions of the actors, which are going to be available to you, right? You’re going to listen to the actors because they have great ideas. You’re going to listen to the photographer because he will have a great idea.

You must never be the kind of director, I think maybe I was when I was 18, “No, no, no, I know best.” That’s not good. You can make the decision that you feel is best, but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration. I always like to say that collaboration is the sex of art because you take from everyone you’re working with.

Interviewer: What is the one thing to keep in mind when making a film?

Francis Ford Coppola: When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In The Godfather  it was succession. In The Conversation it was privacy. In Apocalypse Now it was morality.

The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.

I remember in The Conversation, they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.

- Francis Ford Coppola interviewed by Ariston Anderson

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Melville’s Tragic Heroes

Le Samourai (Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville)
The great Jean-Pierre Melville, director of Le Samourai and Le Deuxième Souffle, on the thriller as modern tragedy:

I think the police thriller is the only modern form of tragedy possible. A protagonist doles out a sudden death or is himself killed. There’s no doubt that the police thriller is a very practical vehicle for the adventure film in France.

Classical cinema, basically, had to do with heroes, so-called modern cinema is to do with grubs. I have always refused to go along with this regression ... I always arrange my characters – my ‘heroes’ – to conduct themselves within their environment, whatever it might be, the way I would conduct myself. To be frank, I’m only able to become interested in characters who reflect some aspect of myself.

- Jean-Pierre Melville

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Kubrick, Light and Darkness

2001: A Space Odyssey (Directed by Stanley Kubrick)

Stanley Kubrick on the meaning of life from an interview with Playboy magazine in 1968:

Interviewer: If life is so purposeless, do you feel that it’s worth living? 

Stanley Kubrick: Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality.

As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan. 

Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining.

The most terrifying fact of the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment.

However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Elia Kazan on Dramatic Unity

On The Waterfront (Directed by Elia Kazan)
Elia Kazan, director of classics such ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘On the Waterfront’, on the importance of dramatic unity:

The subject of writing for the theater or screen defies easily formulated rules. The best rule of screen and play writing was given to me by John Howard Lawson, a one-time friend. It’s simple unity from climax. Everything should build to the climax. But all I know about script preparation urges me to make no rules, although there are some hints, tools of the trade, that have been useful for me.

One of these is ‘Have your central character in every scene.’ This is a way of ensuring unity to the work and keeping the focus sharp. Another is; ‘Look for the contradictions in every character, especially in your heroes and villains. No one should be what they first seem to be. Surprise the audience.’

- Elia Kazan, Kazan on Directing.