Highlights from "The Return of the Screenwriters" Panel, Part 1
by Anthony Kaufman
The Avignon/New York film festival continues in its third year to boast
an impressive list of speakers and seminars for the wayward independent
filmmaker seeking guidance and a job. I recently attended the "The
Return of the Screenwriters," the festival's annual nod to the art and
commerce of the movie writer where Todd Lippy, editor in chief of
SCENARIO magazine, moderated the panel including Tom DiCillo ("Living In Oblivion,"
upcoming "Box Of Moonlight") standing in for indie maven John Sayles who could not
be present due to unknown factors, Lisa Krueger ("Manny & Lo"),
Nelson George ("Scrictly Business," "CB4") and Seth Zvi Rosenfeld ("A Brother's Kiss,"
to be released this Friday). Minus the microphone and video problems,
here are highlights of the discussion:
Lippy: Tom has said, "Going to NYU was the most destructive experience of my life."
Lippy: I thought I would start with you, Tom. Give us some idea of what you think a necessary training
for a screenwriter is these days.
DiCillo: I would say a passion, really, that's it. If you have a
passion, that's all you need. I think screenwriting combines every
single art form that there is. A screenwriter would be at a loss if he
did not read all kinds of plays, all kinds of novels, poetry, whatever.
That's definitely really, really serious training. After all, we are
dealing with words. I think a mastery of how to use words is a critical, critical element of how to
get information, get emotion, get drama off
of the screen... I will say this, that I do think a screenwriter does
need to know the basic elements of how to make a film, especially if you want to direct the film yourself.
I do think that it's critical. The instant you begin to be on a set directing a film, it will forever
change how you write a screenplay.
Krueger: Absolutely, that's very true. The best training I had was being on a set and seeing
how a script gets translated to the film.
George: Yeah, I mean, I'd written screenplays before and actually
directed. It was definitely a hindrance. In retrospect, I wish I had had
more experience directing before I'd written. In a strange way, I see
myself a part of an older tradition. I used to be a journalist. That was
my call in all my 20's... And I think the advantage it gave me, one of
things we talk about going to film school, sometimes you see a lot of
films today that seem to be about other movies.
And guys like Ben Hecht, from the old days, those kind of writers, they
actually had a life. They came to bring to the writing. A guy like Nick
Pileggi, who writes all the gangster movies for Scorsese, is a guy who
was a crime reporter and literally brings that kind of vibrancy. And I
that it's important for us, as writers, to remember you can look at
other movies and read other plays, but the life itself you have is
really the juice of the story. I also think people should live awhile
before they write anything. Not just screenplays, novels or whatever,
it's the idea of being engaged in life and that's the stuff you bring to
the table which makes the story vibrant.
Rosenfeld: I totally agree with Nelson about having to live a life. I
also came to filmmaking through screenwriting, so I think there are
things a screenwriter can bring that are things that nobody else will
think of. I think it's important for people who want to be screenwriters to learn the form. Because movies, someone has said, have a form that's
a lot like a sonnet. It's not so much about writing a good scene as much
about writing a good sequence which leads to writing a good act which
leads to the direction that your film is going. And there are details
that writers pick up that are different than other people who are
working on a movie and those details make things very specific and
remind you of people in your life, you know, the articles of clothing a
character would wear, the exact things, the exact behavior of a character are all the things a screenwriter invents, and then the actor adds to them and the director makes them all a part of this wonderful thing called a movie. And so, that's my peace.
The conclusion to this article can be found here.