One of the happiest moments of my life…
Has to do with Flannery O’Connor.
For Screenwriting 1 with Prof. Joe McBride, we spent all semester adapting a short story from either Ernest Hemingway or Flannery O’Connor. I chose the latter of course and adapted “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”.
McBride specified that it was okay to change settings or time periods and add minor characters, just as long as we kept to the story. I stayed true to O’Connor’s vision while adding more dark elements and situations, almost making myself believe that I would give the script to the lady herself for approval. I wanted to convince her that we were on the same wavelength, that we found the same things funny and absurd, heart-wrenching and enlightening.
At the end of the semester, McBride gave me an A on my screenplay. I want to believe that O’Connor would have loved it too. I don’t think I’ll ever write as good a screenplay as I did back then. In fact, I’d rather write a really really GREAT adaptation than write an okay original film, but that’s just me.
I don’t like giving advice when it’s really not my place (I don’t want to call myself a filmmaker or writer—I haven’t written or made as many films as other people my age), so let’s just say that this is a suggestion, something I have gleaned from this experience: If you’re ever in a writer’s block, try adapting your favorite short story. How would you like it to play on film? It’s not time wasted; it’s practice. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s fun and you get really into it that you’re fingers are flying over the keyboard or your pen can’t keep up with your thoughts. And in the end it’s a nice feeling that you did this thing, that you re-imagined characters and stories you’ve always loved, and you made it your own.
And someday, when someone wants to see examples of your work, you can pull out this adaptation that you did and loved and put your heart into. Maybe you weren’t looking to have it filmed, but you just wrote it because you had it in you (you’ve always had it in you), and it just might be the next step to something greater.
Roald Dahl (and Hemingway) on writing
[Though this advice is aimed at writing a book, I found it translates well to writing for film. Besides, not many people know that Dahl was a screenwriter as well with writing credits on You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.]
“One of the vital things for a writer who’s writing a book, which is a lengthy project and is going to take about a year, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages. But when you are writing for a year, you go away and have to come back. I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice.
“But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, “When you are going good, stop writing.” And that means that if everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter’s going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go.
“But if you stop when you’re going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!”
James L. Brooks on the Artist’s Voice
“The possession of a real voice is always a marvel, an almost religious thing. When you have one, it not only means you see things from a slightly different perspective than the billions of other ants on the hill, but that you also necessarily possess such equally rare qualities as integrity and humility. It’s part of the package of being a real voice, ‘cause when your voice is real, you can’t screw around. The voice must be served; all other exit doors marked ‘expediency’ or ‘solid career move’ are sealed over and the only way out of your inner torment is genuine self-expression.”
From Brooks’s foreward in the published script of Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson’s Rushmore (1998)
Wes Anderson on Writing
“I use little notebooks. I write out everything longhand first, then I type it into the computer. Back when Owen and I were working together, he would write in longhand also. Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic are all in small notebooks like this…[Anderson presents a pocket-sized notebook, and flips through the pages showing carefully sketched portrait drawings very similar to the chapter headings featured in The Royal Tenenbaums] I create seven of these for each film for some reason.
There seems to be a pattern emerging since Tarantino professed his love for longhand at the FAQ for Inglourious Basterds. Anyone know other writers/directors who prefer writing longhand?