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Hollywood writers spill the ink on their craft
Mon Nov 17, 2008 11:48pm EST
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By Jay A. Fernandez
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Nearly a year after they walked off the job for the Writers Guild of America's 100-day strike, six screenwriters recently met at a Beverly Hills eatery to talk about their work.
In attendance were Dustin Lance Black ("Milk"), Jenny Lumet ("Rachel Getting Married"), Thomas McCarthy ("The Visitor"), John Patrick Shanley ("Doubt"), Andrew Stanton ("WALL-E") and J. Michael Straczynski ("Changeling").
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: HOW ARE YOU GUYS WITH DISCIPLINE?
John Patrick Shanley: When I write the first page, I'm fantasizing about finishing, and that is the propulsion that drags me through a screenplay. It makes me keep up the narrative pacing. I also know that if I think about what I am going to write in advance, and then I write fast, you're going to feel that when you read it. You're going to feel the action of forward propulsion. You can do anything once you have a first draft, but if you don't have a first draft, you're screwed.
Andrew Stanton: So you don't go back?
Shanley: I go back. Sometimes I'll write the first five pages over and over again, which is pleasurable to me, to get a deeper sense of the world. But once I get into the narrative of it, I want to get to the end. To establish style, worldview, sense of place, I might really go over the first few pages a lot.
Stanton: My mantra is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Because I have to have the liberty to know it doesn't have to work so that I'll just keep moving.
Jenny Lumet: The nature of my life: There are screaming children involved. I don't have a choice about when I work, so I have to fail really fast. There are three hours in a day when I can write. Those are the three hours where I have to fail miserably.
Dustin Lance Black: Getting going is tough. I'll stare at blank screens, and I'll check my Web sites and blogs. But once I get going, it's six hours in the morning, then lunch, and then six hours after that, then dinner. I get really obsessive. But I just plow through it. For me, that first 10 pages, I really get detailed, detailed, detailed. And then it's just kind of a disastrous mess.
Stanton: I heard David Sedaris say that he tried to be on a writing schedule once and all he would do is find himself in the mirror looking at his hair, trying to see what it would look like parted in the middle. I thought that encapsulated writing the best way I'd ever heard.
J. Michael Straczynski: I found a long time ago that if you have a compulsion, discipline isn't necessary. I have to be at the keyboard. I'm there 10 hours a day, every day, and if I'm not, I get nervous and twitchy. My wife and I took our first vacation in 20 years and she said, "You're gonna go to London. You're gonna have a good time and not do any writing." Within two days I was vibrating so badly that I got a little notebook in the pharmacist's and was in the bathroom working on my next novel.
THR: JOE AND LANCE WERE WORKING WITH MATERIAL THAT WAS
LITERALLY TRUE. HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR FEALTY TO THE REAL
EVENTS WITH THE NEEDS OF DRAMATIC STORYTELLING?
Black: I did so much research on this (the upcoming Sean Penn biopic "Milk"). It was years of going up there (San Francisco) and trying to find the real-life people who had been involved in that political scene who were still willing to talk about what had happened. There was some real sadness around some of these folks. It was like they had their father stolen away from them, and they had been trying to get this story told for so long and kind of given up. So that was tough. When the dam finally broke, it was a ton of information. Continued...
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