Friday, April 29, 2005

The Art of Screenwriting

A recent seminar in New York, organised by the National Board of Review, brought together six accomplished US screenwriters. The NBR is 95 years-old, has no ties to the industry and celebrates artistic excellence. The seminar took place in a similarly venerable environment, the Harmonie Club, originally a German-Jewish members club, modelled on the British originals at the Strand.

Robert Harling on director Herbert Ross's swift action when the leading actresses in Steel Magnolias threatened to improvise): "Herbert said: 'Ladies, we would treat the text as if it were Chekhov.' When the shoot was finished at four in the morning, I thanked Herbert for his compliment, to which he replied: 'I said to play it as if it were Chekhov, I'm not saying it is.

Richard LaGravenese on [British] reserve: "Editing and writing are very similar processes. There is a scene in Fisher King in which one character really explodes. Director Terry Gilliam was really uncomfortable with the emotions, so he cut half of the scene focusing only on the other character. His English editor also thought the scene was too emotional. Nowadays people are so afraid of emotions. They pull back, thinking everything will be carried by the actors, by looks, but instead it's just empty."

Jay Presson Allen on working with Hitchcock: "He encouraged me to cut whole scenes where people just sit and talk. I learned from him about visual compression. I wrote scene after scene for him, but at some point he would say: 'Why don't we show a fight and then the next shot is a flower with a card that says 'Congratulations'. Learning to go from A to B like that was just bliss."

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