Posts Tagged ‘Paul Thomas Anderson’

“What does the hero want? What hinders him from getting it? What happens if he does not get it?
David Mamet

The following excerpt is from a Creative Screenwriting interview with six time Oscar-nominated writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia):

Kristina McKenna: Did you consciously train your ear to be sensitive to how people talk?
Paul Thomas Anderson: I probably did when I was eighteen and was just starting as a writer. Actually my mission then was to rip off David Mamet, because I foolishly believed Mamet’s dialogue was how people really talked. It took me a while to realize that Mamet had developed a wonderfully stylized way of highlighting the way humans speak. People immediately think of dialogue when they hear Mamet’s name, but I think the strength of his writing is his storytelling—he uses very solid, old fashioned techniques in setting up his stories. House of Games, for instance, is one of the best scripts ever written, and it’s the story structure that makes it so brilliant.

What does Mamet say about structure? Glad you asked:

“I was a student in the turbulent sixties in Vermont at a countercultural college. In that time and place, there flourished something called a school of Countercultural Architecture. Some people back then thought that the traditional architecture had been too stifling, and so they designed and built a lot of countercultural buildings. These buildings proved unlivable. Their design didn’t begin with the idea of the building’s purpose; it began with the idea of how the architect ‘felt.’

“As those architects looked at their countercultural buildings over the years, they have reflected the there’s a reason for traditional design. There’s a reason that doors are placed in a certain way.

“All these countercultural buildings may have expressed the intension of the architect, but they didn’t serve the purpose of the inhabitants. They all either fell down or are falling down or should be torn down. They’re a blot on the landscape and they don’t age gracefully and every passing year underscores the jejune folly of those counterculture; architects. 

“I live in a house that is two hundred years old. It was built with an axe, by hand, and without nails. Barring some sort of man-man catastrophe, it will be standing in another two hundred years. It was built with an understanding of, and a respect for, wood, weather, and human domestic requirements.”
David Mamet On Directing Film/pages 57-58
Based on a series of lectures given at Columbia University film school

P.S. I think Mamet would say amen to what writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars, Episode VIII) said about structure in yesterday’s post Screenwriting Structure, Snake Oil & Star Wars.

Related posts:
‘What Happens Next?’—Mamet
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet)
Screenwriting Quote #133 (David Mamet)
Filmmaking Quote #16 (David Mamet)
Screenwriting, Mamet & Teachable Moments
‘The Verdict’ Revisited

Scott W. Smith

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“If a film is over two hours it’s an epic. [laughs] If you verge on two and a half, you are certainly an epic.” 
Paul Thomas Anderson

“What was nice about [The Treasure of the Sierra Madre] was that it’s kind of a play wrapped up in the clothes of an adventure film. It’s essentially a dialogue, a dynamic between three guys. [The film’s] traditional straightforward storytelling was what I was influenced by, and it was something that seemed to apply when trying to make a big story on a limited budget. You know, it was kind of like, well, how expensive is it to get your cameras outside? It’s not expensive. And you get a good location, all right, so you’re an epic. [laughs] What’s next are the smaller scenes and taking care of it from the ground up, if you know what I mean. [The Treasure of the Sierra Madre] is really so much about the way those guys beat each other up, and the paranoia and that madness that happens. It so simple and economical.”
Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson
Giant Ambition by James Ponsoldt
Filmmaker magazine
Winter 2008, page 42

P.S. There Will Be Blood earned Anderson two Academy Award nominations, and it was nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards. (It won two: Best Cinematography, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I guess what I like in my movies is where you see a character change by maybe two degrees as opposed to the traditional movie change of ninety degrees. I guess that always feels false to me in movies because that doesn’t truly happen. Around me, at least in the life I live, I guess I don’t see people change ninety or a hundred degrees. I see them change in very small increments. I think it’s just a monitor I might have on myself as a writer to not make any false scenes.”
Oscar-nominated writer/director/producer Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Best of Creative Screenwriting Vol. 1 (1994—2000)
Interviewed by Kristine McKenna & David Konow

Do you have a favorite movie (or scene) where a character changed incrementally (for better or worse)? Or a movie where the character change seemed too grand?

P.S. One thing that I find common with message films is the main character doesn’t just change two degrees, or 90-100 degrees, but 180 degrees. Films in general deal with short time spans and movies that feature characters who change 180 degrees usually comes across as trite.

Scott W. Smith

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