Monday 12 November 2018

Three More Directors on Screenwriting

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.

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.’

Blow Out (Directed by Brian De Palma)

Film director Brian De Palma discusses the screenwriting process.

You’ve made a lot of films during your career, and you’ve also written a lot of your films. Do you prefer to work fast when you write?

The problem with writing a movie is you’ve got to have a great idea. I loved the idea for Femme Fatale and it came very quickly. Dressed to Kill was another great idea, and Blow Out was a very good idea. Those scripts came very quickly. But when you don’t have a good idea, it can take years. These ideas rattle around in my head forever. The idea of somebody fleeing, then they run into their double and take their life, I’ve been thinking about that for ten, fifteen years, and I never found a way to put it into anything. So it’s very much circling in your brain, and then you get to a certain place, you have a certain experience, and it all kind of jells. Then it’s easy to write. You’re in a terrible situation where you have to turn the pages in when you don’t really have a good idea. And of course, I guess 95% of what we see is like that.

When you see a stunning idea like Memento or Boogie Nights, or something by the Coen Brothers, when someone comes up with a tremendously interesting idea, you take your hats off to them, because you know what a difficult process that is. I’ve had a couple of pretty good ones throughout my career, and if you read as much as I do what everyone else is doing and what kind of trouble they’re having, and if you’re a student of the history of cinema, you realize there aren’t that many good ideas out there. That’s why there’s some extraordinary movies, and some that are sort of okay. You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right actors and the right economics. Something like On the Waterfront, Kazan was in the right place at the right time. Orson Welles was in the right place at the right time with the right contract with Citizen Kane. That’s why those movies are so extraordinary.

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