Highlights from "The Return of the Screenwriters" Panel
Continued from Part 1
Lippy: You were talking about structure. And how important structure is. Do you feel you need to conform to any particular kind of three act, Syd
Field-ish, structure or do you completely ignore that, is it something
you’ve read and forgot about, but you needed to have read it at some
point to get a sense of how standard films are made?
DiCillo: I’ll answer that first. My first screenplay, “Johnny Suade“, was
invited to the Sundance Screenwriter’s lab. There were professionals
there from the industry and all this stuff and it was exciting to hear
their comments on my screenplay. I remember my first comment came from one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood at the time and he
sat me down and said, “Tom, we have a big problem here. There is no plot
Dicillo: I said, “Excuse me. What the fuck is a plot point?” It depends
on what kind of movie you’re talking about. If we’re strictly talking
about a kind of Hollywood narrative then that means there is a certain
A-B-C that is going to happen. But if you’re basically working with
something unique and truthful to you, I happen to feel a screenplay is
what comes out, I really believe that. There are certain things you can
apply that you can apply to any art form, a certain pace, a certain
structure, a certain arc, but there are other screenwriters who would
tell you that those kinds of things don’t interest them at all. I happen
to feel that whatever the thing is, is moving you, put it down on paper.
That’s the way I write.
Lippy: Seth, you’ve written both for yourself and for Hollywood. “Sunset Park“, for instance. Do you find yourself writing differently, writing
Rosenfeld: Well, when you’re writing for Hollywood, you’re being paid to do a job. You can’t help but invest yourself in it. Anything you’re
writing, because it eventually comes, that’s the only way I can write,
but you know in the back of your mind that this is that kind of movie
that they’re paying you to write. When you’re writing for yourself, it’s
more like Tom says, its coming from another place. But I would also say with what Tom said, if you watch his movies, they’re very well put
together, they’re not arbitrary, they move in a certain way, so they’re
really well structured whether he knows it or not.
DiCillo: I would say there is a difference between structure and a
Rosenfeld: Gotcha. I agree. I gotcha.
George: I’ve had those meetings in LA where they get into page count.
Between page 35 and 40, this must happen. That’s ridiculous stuff. But
that is what you’re going to deal with because all those people you’re
going to meet with in LA have read Syd Field. And what’s the guy who
does the weekend…?
DiCillo: Robert McKee.
George: They’ve all gone to Robert McKee. And they all brag about having just gone. You know you’re in trouble. It’s like one of these things
when you’re confronted with that, even if you don’t want to deal with
it, you’re going to have to confront that psychology, if you will. It’s
just one of those walls. But there is something about 3’s that’s
DiCillo: I agree.
Krueger: I agree.
George: Your film has it, the three act thing is there.
DiCillo: That was an accident.
Krueger: I think “Stranger Than Paradise” is one of the most classically structured films I’d ever seen. In terms of three Acts, first Act is in
New York, 2nd Act they’re in Cleveland, 3rd Act, they’re in Florida. And
“Down by Law“, to a certain extent, is the same thing. New Orleans, 2nd
Act, they’re in Prison, 3rd Act, they’re running through the woods. So
what I think is interesting about those films, like “Living in Oblivion“,
is that the tension between the really classical structure and the
strange goings on woven through that. And without thinking about it,
when I started writing without any intention, it became immediately
clear that I was writing this very classical 3 Act way.
Audience Question: What is the power of the screenwriter?
George: There’s not a lot of power. It’s all relative to your
relationship with the production entity, and the director and everybody else. On a For Hire job, if they like you and you get along with them,
they won’t mind you around. They might ask your opinion on stuff. At the same time, vice versa, it can go the other way completely where they can
hate your guts, the director doesn’t like you, the producer doesn’t want
to protect you and you’re not involved. And it’s all the chemistry of
the dynamic of the people working on that project, from the studio to
the producer to the director. It’s no one way. It can happen many different ways.
Rosenfeld: I will illustrate to you two experiences. One, I wrote a play called “Servy-N-Bernice 4ever” which was bought by Columbia Pictures for
me to write. It was a very personal play. So I wrote two drafts of it
and the producers loved it and the studio loved it. They said they
wanted to make it. And then the Heidi Fleiss scandal broke out and the
executive in charge of my movie was dismissed.
[The audience laughs.]
This is a true story. They brought in another woman who said it was too dark and fired me the first day I got back in New York. Another example
was I was brought in from Jersey Films to rewrite a story called “Sunset Park“. I turned the job down three times because I didn’t want to do it
and then finally, they flew me out there and they made me an offer I
couldn’t refuse. And I did the job and they wanted me around all the
time. They wanted me around for production, every actor wanted to talk to me, the director, so that just illustrates Nelson’s point.
DiCillo: I’m going to ask you the question — What kind of movie do you
want to make?
Audience: That’s the problem, do you believe the lines have blurred
between Independent and Hollywood.
DiCillo: Absolutely. Okay. The only way you’re going to maintain
absolute control over your screenplay is to do it yourself. The only
way. I don’t care if someone is going to give you $300,000, they’re
going to want that money back. I don’t care what anyone tells you, don’t ever be surprised by anything that Hollywood does. Don’t ever be. I
mean, this is a horrible story. (Gestures to Rosenfeld) Am I surprised?
No. I’m not. It doesn’t end there. The independent business is exactly
the same. Okay. The only way, I say it again, for you to have complete
control over your film is to make it yourself. Okay. Now, if you know
that, right, and you’re going to write a script and you’re going to have
a really beautiful scene and you love that scene. Rest assured, that is
the scene they’re going to tell you to cut. Okay. It doesn’t end there,
it doesn’t end there. Even after you’ve directed your screenplay the way you want to do it and maybe you’ve been amazingly lucky and I’m telling
you, it’s luck, and you’re film gets a distributor. Right? That
distributor is going to start talking to you like a script editor also,
at this point. The journey from when you put that first word down on
paper to the film on a screen, is not a pretty journey.
[The audience laughs.]
DiCillo: It’s not. The best advice I can give to any of you, if you know
this now, you’re better off…