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Posts Tagged ‘The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview’

“[The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] captures the syntax and structure of a nightmare with astonishing fidelity. The quality of the images, the texture of the sound, the illogic by which one incident follows another —all confirm to the way we dream. No one’s done that before, at least not in a commercial, mass market movie…What makes Chainsaw interesting is that since we are watching it with our eyes open, it’s a nightmare which we can’t wake up.”
Michael Goodwin/ Village Voice 
Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film by Greg Merritt

Before Nick Kazan became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Reversal of Fortune)—or even a working screenwriter—he was a playwright in Berkeley, California with a fondness for the writings of Harold Pinter—but he also found early inspiration from an unlikely place.

“Eventually I moved to Los Angeles and I was writing movie scripts—some with friends—I wrote a great many of them; 10, 15, 20—I don’t know how many I wrote before I had any success. Then one day I read an article by Michael Goodwin in the Village Voice about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Well, I grew-up in New York City—I went to a high-toned college (Swarthmore College) so I can be a little bit of a snob.  So Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not a film I normally would have gone to see. But I read this article where he talked about how film functions like dream. About how this movie was very scary and very funny the way dreams are, and I had to go out and see the movie. I saw the movie and I came home and I had an idea. And in four or five days I wrote a script which had the same feeling, the same ethos, as Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Well I read it over and thought, ‘This is horrifying,’ and I put it in my drawer. And I went about working on other things, and about a month later I said, ‘You know, maybe I should take a look at that script, maybe it wasn’t quite as terrible as I thought. And it was a script with very little dialogue in it—it was mostly visual. And what dialogue it had was peculiar, Pinter-esque in a kind of way, but also Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque in a way…I sold that script and that’s how I became a screenwriter.”
Screenwriter Nick Kazan (At Close Range)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

That film actually got made but Kazan felt it was so poorly done he had his name taken off the movie. And while a time or two I’ve been accused launching a screenwriting career difficult— consider Kazan’s path:
1) Swarthmore College—4 year degree in today’s dollars $57,000 per year=A $228,000 education
2)
Became a produced playwright
3)
Wrote “10-15- 20” scripts before launching his career

Kazan earned his keep in the same way I’ve pointed out in past posts the paths that John Logan (Hugo) and Michael Ardnt took—which is a lot of writing before they were discovered. And though Kazan downplays it in interviews, it should be mentioned that his father was Elia Kazan—the Oscar-winning director On the Waterfront (of one of my all-time favorite films). And one of the reasons he downplays who his dad was I imagine, is because when he was writing those 10-15-20 scripts without success his dad’s legacy wasn’t helping much.

P.S. Tobe Hopper directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a small cast and crew made up of college teachers and students. He also wrote the script with Kim Henkel.

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Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Bogdanovich
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO? “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”—Mamet
Write 2 or 3 Screenplays this Year (If you can write a screenplay in a few days like Kazan did, this shouldn’t be a problem)

Scott W. Smith

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“I see the movie very clearly when I’m writing. I try to put down what I see and let other people in on the joke, and hope they are seeing the movie that’s in my head. It’s important to do that whether you’re writing so that another director will take it and interpret your work, or whether you’re trying to get financing and get actors attached to it. They need to know what the movie is and so I try to put as much on the page as I know how.

“…If you’re writing visually you’re seeing so much, and there’s a tendency to see every bit of behavior and everything that’s in the room and so forth because it’s vivid to you if you’re seeing the movie in your head. But part of the craft of screenwriting is to write in such a pity way—it’s almost like being  a combination of a poet and a journalist. You’re trying to get the important information out there, but you’re trying to do it with enough concision and accuracy that you’re almost like a poet describing something in as few words as possible, but as vividly as possible. You don’t want there to be a lot of confusion because it is the blueprint of the film.

“Later you will have prop people, working with set dressers, working with art directors, and production designers and they will be looking at that little piece of description and they’ll be saying ‘Is it this or is it that?’ So you do have to help them out a little bit by trying to write precisely… I don’t think there’s any screenwriter working—that’s getting their films produced— that doesn’t try to direct a little bit on the page. Because if you know this is a sad moment at the end of something you’re going to try to write a transition that allows that sadness to sit there for a moment. And you don’t want to just bluntly go to the next scene, you want to describe something—but that’s technically direction.

“If you’re saying what the character looks like or emotion that they’ve making or even if they’re sitting still for a moment, you are providing direction. But if you don’t put that there, the scene isn’t going to land in quite the same way and allow the reader to have that moment to experience it before you move on to the next scene. So slowly you learn to hide this direction so that it’s not intrusive, it doesn’t become the point of the scene, and it allows the director room to interpret and say I know they wrote them sitting still here but instead I’m going to go to leaves outside of a window for instance. As long as they are giving something that allows a resting places it doesn’t matter. You’re just giving one version of it.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

Related posts:

Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Postcard #65 (Tennessee Williams)  “The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks! The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”—T.W.
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (Tip #22) “The future always looks good in the golden land because no one remembers the past.”—Joan Didion
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (Tip #23)
Descriptive Writing—Part 3 (Tip #24)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 4, Action (Tip #25)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 5, Setting (Tip #26)

Scott W. Smith

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