The Perfect Noir: Double Indemnity screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
The screenplay, fashioned by Wilder and Raymond Chandler was based on the novel by James M. Cain. The film went into production in September of 1943 with a harshly made–up, brassily blonde Stanwyck. The blonde wig was Wilder’s idea, He used it, as he said “to complement her anklet. I wanted to make her look as sleazy as possible”. Cinematographer John Seitz recalled later that when Buddy DeSylva, then production head of Paramount, saw the first shots he remarked, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington”. Wilder said later, “The wig was not much good, I must admit”. I thought it was perfect!
Stanwyck was well aware of the potential in the role of Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Wilder remarked later how Barbara jumped at the chance of playing it. In an interview for Movie Digest in 1972, Barbara, recalled, “when Billy Wilder sent me the script of Double Indemnity, and I read it, I realized that I had never played an out–and–out killer. I had played medium heavies, but never an out–and–out killer. And because it was an unsympathetic character, I was a little frightened of it. I went to his office, and I said to him, I love the script and I love you, but I’m a little afraid, after all these years of playing heroines to play the part of an out–and–out cold– blooded killer… Mr. Wilder looked at me and resolutely declared, “Are you an actress or a mouse?” Well, I hope I’m an actress I lamented. To which he bluntly replied, Then take the part.”, I did, and I have been grateful to him since”.
Billy Wilder has not seen the picture in years. “I never look at my old stuff”, he claims, but regards Double Indemnity as one of his favorites, “because it had the fewest takes, and because it was taut and moved in the staccato manner of Cain’s novel.” When the film was released, the New York Herald Tribune wrote:
Billy Wilder has adapted James Cain’s story with uncompromising artistry. His staging makes the offering one of the most vital and arresting films of the year. With perfectly coordinated acting by Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson and the lesser players, it hits clean and hard right between the eyes. Wilder has made a sensational contribution to filmmaking in Double Indemnity.
The following interview is an excerpt from a book titled Film Noir Reader 3, edited by Robert Porfirio, Alain Silver, and James Ursini (November 2001; Limelight Editions). This interview was conducted in July 1975.
Wilder: But you see, the thing is that you used a key concept there: that is looking for patterns. Now, you must understand that a man who makes movies and certainly somebody like myself that makes all kinds of movies, works in different styles. I don’t make only one kind of movie, like say Hitchcock. Or like Minnelli, doing the great Metro musicals. As a picture-maker, and I think most of us are this way, I am not aware of patterns. We’re not aware that “This picture will be in this genre.” It comes naturally, just the way you do your handwriting. That’s the way I look at it, that’s the way I conceive it. … When you see movies, you decide to put some kind of connective theory to them. You may ask me, “Do you remember that in a picture you wrote in 1935, the motive of the good guy was charity; and then the echo in that sentiment reappears in four more pictures. Or, you put the camera…” I’m totally unaware of it. I never think in those terms: “The big overall theme of my œuvre,” I say that laughingly. You’re trying to make as good and as entertaining a picture as you possibly can. If you have any kind of style, the discerning ones will detect it. I can always tell you a Hitchcock picture. I could tell you a King Vidor picture, a Capra picture. You develop a handwriting, but you don’t do it consciously. —Billy Wilder: About Film Noir
Previously on Cinephilia and Beyond:
- Billy Wilder, two essential documentaries
- Billy Wilder, The Art of Screenwriting
- Playboy Interview: Billy Wilder (June 1963)
- A rare interview with Billy Wilder
- Amazing stories about Billy Wilder
- Billy Wilder’s ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’
- Alfred Hitchcock sent this letter to Billy Wilder, praising him on his film The Apartment
- BBC Archive: Billy Wilder
- What screenwriter wouldn’t want a little advice from him? Well, here are some of Wilder’s screenwriting tips
- A Seminar with Billy Wilder
- Billy Wilder: an Annotated Webliography
”What critics call dirty in (American) movies, they call lusty in foreign films”
”There was an actress named Marilyn Monroe. She was always late. She never remembered her lines. She was a pain in the ass. My Aunt Millie is a nice lady. If she were in pictures she would always be on time. She would know her lines. She would be nice. Why does everyone in Hollywood want to work with Marilyn Monroe and no one wants to work with my Aunt Millie. Because no one will go to the movies to watch my Aunt Millie.”
”Making movies is little like walking into a dark room. Some people stumble across furniture, others break their legs, but some of us see better in the dark than others.”
”A bad play folds and is forgotten, but in pictures we don’t bury our dead. When you think it’s out of your system, your daughter sees it on television and says, ‘My father is an idiot’.”
”A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant and a bastard.”
Because as colorful as the material was, it had inherent problems. It covered a number of years, it moved from continent to continent. Terribly sprawling. Now, if you’re writing an epic, you can sprawl to your heart’s content, but this was no epic; rather, I thought it was a personal story of these two unusual outlaws. Eventually, I’d done all the research could bear, I hoped I had a story that would prove coherent, so I sat down and wrote the First draft in 1966. It took four weeks. When someone asks how long it takes to write a screenplay, I’m never sure what to answer. Because I don’t think four weeks is what it took to do Butch. For me, eight years is closer to the truth. In any case, before you begin, you must have everything clear in your head and you must be comfortable with the story you’re trying to tell. Once you start writing, go like hell — but don’t fire till you’re ready. —William Goldman, an excerpt from Goldman’s book “Adventures in the Screen Trade”
John Cleese interviews William Goldman, screenwriter of The Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, Misery and All The President’s Men. From the BBC Radio show ‘Chain Reaction’, first broadcast on BBC Radio 5 in 1991. “I don’t like my writing,” says legendary writer William Goldman, responsible for a vast body of work encompassing novels, screenplays, short stories, and much else. It is a free-form interview, intimate and engaging, in which Goldman, guided by Cleese, explores various aspects of his large body of work.
William Goldman talks about screenwriting and his own past, another brilliant interview with one of my heroes.
When I first heard of film school, I thought it was the stupidest fuckin idea I’d ever heard. We fell in love with movies by WATCHING them. The line that will be on my tombstone is “Nobody knows anything.” That caught on out there [in Los Angeles]. And it’s true. It’s not just that people don’t know what’s going to work commercially. The fact is, you don’t know what’s going to work in a movie. You don’t know. We don’t know. So we’re sitting here with Hearts of Atlantis and you have no idea what the reaction’s gonna be. You have no idea if people will enjoy it, and you have no idea if people will go to it. And that’s one of the great crapshoots of the movie busines. —William Goldman
Previously on Cinephilia and Beyond:
- William Goldman, Creative Screenwriting, VOLUME 8, #5
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Writer Commentary with William Goldman
A truly magnificent scripts series, please read and study: Hard Eight (also known as Sydney) screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only.) With thanks to buenotrafeilio.
Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of his film Sydney during the 1993 Sundance Institute Directors Lab. Sydney renamed Hard Eight later premiered at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.
The next summer Anderson came back to the Sundance filmmakers’ lab to work on his first feature. Although he was starting to avoid interviews and leave old friends like Stein and Conrad behind — which has left many of them hurt and puzzled — he was a great presence at Sundance, open to everything and friendly to everyone and completely absorbed in the entire history of movies at a level far beyond most other young filmmakers. He liked to tease the box-office lady about all the films he was going to sneak into. He would make people list their favorite directors and then defend their choices, Cooper says, arguing so fiercely they spent days questioning their judgment. There was no question where he was headed. And this is where the story of Paul Thomas Anderson becomes almost mythical, a parable about the necessity of real art. The evidence is in the scenes he shot that summer at Sundance, now available in the supplemental material on the DVD that was eventually released under the title Hard Eight. (But the working title, the title he still prefers, is Sydney, just as he told Carole Stevens back in high school.)Although Anderson would soon become famous for some of the most dizzyingly ambitious sequences in the history of film, the DVD scenes are mostly just Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly sitting in a coffee shop and talking. There are no tracking shots, no fancy cuts. He barely moves the camera at all. Despite his youth and seemingly endless ambition, he already knew that a real story is about people talking around the things inside their hearts — in this case, an older gambler who speaks in an oddly formal diction while becoming a father figure to a lost young man. It seems inevitable that the fools who financed it locked him out of the editing room to cut it faster and more commercially, that Reilly and Hall faked sore throats to avoid dubbing that edit, that Anderson recut his original version from scraps and got it accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, that the resulting acclaim launched his career, that his next film (and first masterpiece) was a three-hour remake of something he shot on videotape when he was seventeen. An artist whose great theme would be the destiny coded in the seemingly random fragments of our lives was already standing in the doorway to his future, pulling together the fragments of his past, furiously fulfilling the person he already was and imagining the person he would become — anything so he wouldn’t have to go back. —The Secret History of Paul Thomas Anderson
Here’s the snippet of Paul Thomas Anderson discussing his horrifying experience on his first directorial feature, SYDNEY (aka HARD EIGHT), and how he survived and overcame (source)
Before you made Hard Eight I presume that this wasn’t the first script you wrote. How come you chose it to be your first one?
Yes I had only written maybe one or two other scripts that I didn’t really like that much and I liked this one and it seemed that I could do it. It seemed that I could make a movie which was small with only four characters in Reno, Nevada and that I could raise money for it. It was really all I had.
You had no choice!
Yeah but I really didn’t need any other choice. It was that movie that I wanted to make. I got very lucky on that movie just to start making it but I got in a lot of trouble when I made the movie. There were some producers that fired me actually after I… It was my movie. I mean I wrote it and directed it and then I found these guys to finance it and they were real criminals.
I put the movie together. And they had all these ideas for cuts that I wouldn’t make. Some of them were actually good ideas but I was too arrogant to like see that they were good ideas and they were kind of dicks too. But they ended up taking the movie away from me. It was like this amazing lesson very early on where I was hit fucking repeatedly over and over again and I fought and I desperately tried to get the movie back and it was just a long, long battle. And eventually I got the movie back but there was a period where I did get beat up enough and where I was swimming in the darkest depression and I thought my career is over and I will never get another chance. But I pulled my self out of it somehow and the only way that I could get things going again is if I go to work again. So I went and got Boogie Nights made and the amazing thing in doing that was I went to get Boogie Nights made and that became kind of easy, getting money for it and at the same time I reinvestigated the fight to get my first movie back. And I got that movie back so I was in pre-production on Boogie Night while I was re-cutting and finishing off my first movie. And it was kind of a this great lesson that I learned just having gone in this really deep and dark depression where I couldn’t get out of my fucking bed and the only thing that I could do is just get up and attack, attack and attack. And I am happy that that happened. So it was kind of a great first lesson on my first movie. And I was able to learn right then and there all kinds of mistakes that I have made. All that arrogance where I wasn’t seeing anything and where they were right and I was just too blind to notice it. But I also learned that I was right on a lot of stuff and I should have fought for what I believed. So it’s just kind of a great lesson on my first movie.
This is a second great tip of the season. Beat depression by breaking it!
Previously on Cinephilia and Beyond:
John Boorman on the Deliverance location.
After directing three huge stars in your previous three films, what were the challenges you faced working with the four leads in Deliverance? Two stars and two first-timers…
Warners had no faith in the project, they said there had never been a film without women in it that had been a hit. They agreed to do the picture if I could find two stars, so I got Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando to agree, before they finally became too expensive. Then they said I would have to make it with unknowns, so I went all over America looking for unknown actors. Eventually I found Ned Beatty, who’d never been in a film or on television, but I still struggled to find the two lead roles, until I managed to persuade Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight. Jon had just made a film called All American Boy, which was a complete disaster so it was never released. He was ready to give up acting altogether and was in an incredibly depressed state, so it took a lot of work to get him to do it. He’s always said since that John saved my life and then spent eight weeks trying to kill me.
That must have been a pretty tough first gig for Ned Beatty.
He was incredible, he just knew that role. I had to help him technically but he never put a foot wrong. I almost never had to correct him in terms of the acting.
Didn’t Kubrick want to use Bill McKinney [who plays the rapist] for a film at one point, but was too afraid to meet him?
Stanley called me to ask what he was like. I told him he was a marvellous guy, a tree surgeon when he’s not acting and a wonderful man, really into his meditation. Kubrick said it was the most terrifying scene ever put on film, and that surely he’s got to have that part in him somewhere to be able to play that character. I said of course not, he’s just a marvellous actor. So Stanley cast him in Full Metal Jacket. When Bill was at Los Angeles airport he was called over the tannoy. Kubrick didn’t want him to come, he’d recast the part because he couldn’t face him.
Were you and Kubrick close?
Yeah, we spoke on the phone for years. We were both working at Warners. His method of communication was flat-out interrogation, he would just ask a series of questions, constantly on the look-out for information. He never wanted to go anywhere. I remember coming back from doing The Heretic and we went out for dinner. I’d told him that I’d meet him at the restaurant so asked him where he wanted to go. “I’ll let you know” he said, “I’ll pick you up”. He was worried I might tell someone else which restaurant we were going to. It was all pretty paranoid. So he picks me up in his new Mercedes but before we go anywhere he says, “Watch this,” and he activates the central locking. It was something every car had fitted as standard by that point but he was very impressed with it. For someone who gathers all this information, there’d be little things like that of which he had no idea. He didn’t know about ordinary life really. He was so cut off. —John Boorman: Kubrick, Connery And The Lost Lord Of The Rings Script
Deliverance screenplay by James Dickey and John Boorman [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Four Men. Forty Years. An interview with Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox about Deliverance, on the film’s 40th anniversary. Additional interviews and articles: Collider; THR; Bonus Ronny Cox interview; 20 Facts About Deliverance That’ll Make You… Well, You Know. What fascinating insight into such a famous (infamous?) scene: The Rape Scene in Deliverance; “I Didn’t Read That Much Sex Into It.”
Please describe the exact moment when the idea to make Spring Breakers came to you.
I was watching a porno. I had a dream of girls in bikinis and ski masks robbing fat tourists. It seemed like it should happen during spring break. —A NSFW Memo From Harmony Korine
Spring Breakers Production Notes: Interview with director Harmony Korine.
A night in Nashville with the city’s most iconoclastic native son Harmony Korine and the French filmmaker Gaspar Noé. Directed by Bruce LaBruce.
If Harmony Korine’s screenplay for 1995’s Kids announced the arrival of a shockingly precocious observer of teenage wasteland, his first film as a director not only confirms his precocity but establishes him as both auteur and unrepentant nihilist. The nonnarrative, super-squalid Gummo — cryptically named for the absent member of Korine’s beloved Marx Brothers — is a biliously Burroughsian snapshot of post-twister 1974 Xenia, Ohio, depicted as the kind of hellhole that makes the Manhattan of Kids seem like Disneyland. Actually filmed in and around Korine’s hometown of Nashville, Tenn., this fiercely anti-Hollywood “genre fuck,” as Korine calls it, offers a scornful parade of surrealist images that posit the gifted tyro as a brave new Godardian, though one who has something to learn about telling (or not telling) a story. Korine numbers among his influences the obsessive German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who interviewed him in front of an audience at the recent Telluride Film Festival. The following was adapted from their conversation.
by Werner Herzog
Interview / November 1999
First and still best known for his contribution to the screenplay to Larry Clark’s 1995 movie Kids [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). After scripting Larry Clarke’s notorious Kids, the Midwestern wunderkind Harmony Korine has made his first feature, Gummo. Like tuning into an all-night, underground cable TV show called Meet the Neighbours, Gummo is a film of grotesquerie and tenderness. Chris Darke talked to him at Rotterdam Film Festival.
More about Directing: BAFTA Guru
For writer/director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges began to take shape in Bruges during a weekend in the city. Located in Belgium, about an hour from Brussels, Bruges was an trading city in the Middle Ages, after which it became wealthy. Its fortunes waned, but its historic architecture, art, and canals remained, and at the end of the 19th century, it became a popular tourist center. McDonagh remembers, “While I was first there, about 4 years ago, I had diverging feelings about the place. I started thinking of two characters who might respond to Bruges in distinct ways, and I started writing about them, with specific parts of Bruges for them to interact in and around.” Producer Graham Broadbent thought the script was “an amazing piece of writing—dazzling dialogue with a compelling story and wonderful roles.” On visiting Bruges itself, you could see that it would be an additional character in the story; the city has such heightened atmosphere and its so picturesque, whichever way you pointed a camera, it was going to look extraordinary. —Emanuel Levy, In Bruges: Making of Movie in the Famous Belgian City
Watch how it all began…
Directed by Martin McDonagh
A black and bloody Irish comedy about a sad train journey where an older man, whose wife has died that morning, encounters a strange and possibly psychotic young oddball…
2006 Academy Awards (Oscar) — Best Short Film, Live Action — Winner
2005 BAFTA Awards — Best Short Film — Nominee
A truly magnificent scripts series, please read and study: Taxi Driver original screenplay by Paul Schrader [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Originally recorded for the Criterion Collection LaserDisc release of Taxi Driver, this track features director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader. Scorsese discusses his filmmaking style, shooting in New York, set design, casting, and plenty of other insightful tidbits. Meanwhile, Schrader discusses the rapidity with which he wrote the script, the themes of the story, the genesis of metaphor through theme, refinements to the script along the way, and plenty more. The commentators were recorded separately and later edited together. A moderator of sorts identifies the speakers and provides various background tidbits of her own.
Paul Schrader clarified the screenwriting development process in an interview with Richard Thompson from 1976 when Taxi Driver had just opened, Film Comment magazine, March-April 1976. [PDF]
Paul Schrader was 26 and destitute when he wrote Taxi Driver. In an interview published in ‘Martin Scorsese — A Journey’ he reflects on the origins of the script, its transition to the screen and subsequent reaction to the film.
In 1973, I had been through a particularly rough time. My marriage broke up and I had to quit the American Film Institute. I was out of work; I was out of the AFI; I was in debt. I fell into a period of real isolation, living more or less in my car. One day, I went to the emergency room in serious pain, and it turned out I had an ulcer. While I was in the hospital talking to the nurse, I realised I hadn’t spoken to anyone in two or three weeks. It really hit me, an image that I was like a taxi driver, floating around in this metal coffin in the city, seemingly in the middle of people but absolutely, totally alone. At the time I wrote it, I was very enamoured of guns, I was very suicidal, I was drinking heavily, I was obsessed with pornography in the way a lonely person is, and all those elements are up front in the script… Right after writing it, I left town for about six months. I came back to LA when I was feeling a little stronger emotionally and decided to go at it again.
Taxi Driver was as much a product of luck and timing as everything else – three sensibilities together at the right time, doing the right thing. It was still a low-budget, long-shot movie, but that’s how it got made. At one point we could have got the film financed with Jeff Bridges in the lead, but we elected to hold out and wait until we could finance it with De Niro. Bob was so determined to get the character of Travis down, he drove a cab for a couple of weeks. He got a licence, had his fingerprints taken by the police and hit the streets. The dialogue in Taxi Driver is somewhat improvised. The most memorable piece of dialogue in the film is an improvisation: the “Are you talking to me?” part. In the script it just says Travis speaks to himself in the mirror. Bobby asked me what he would say, and I said, “Well, he’s a little kid playing with guns and acting tough.” So De Niro used this rap that an underground New York comedian had been using at the same time as the basis for his lines.
I remember the night before Taxi Driver opened, we all got together and had dinner and said, “No matter what happens tomorrow we have made a terrific movie and we’re damn proud of it even if it goes down the toilet.” The next day, I went over to the cinema for the noon show. There was a long line that went all the way around the block. And then I realised, this line was for the two o’clock show, not the noon show! I ran in and watched the film and everyone was standing at the back and there was a sense of exhilaration about what we had done. Jean-Luc Godard once said that all the great movies are successful for the wrong reasons. There were a lot of wrong reasons why Taxi Driver was successful. The sheer violence of it brought out the Times Square crowd. I’m not opposed to censorship in principle but I think that if you censor a film like Taxi Driver all you do is censor a film, not confront a problem. These characters are running around and can be triggered off by anything.
When I talk to younger filmmakers they tell me that it was really the film that informed them, that it was their seminal film, and listening to them talk, I really can see it as a kind of social watermark. But it was meant as a personal film, not a political commentary. —Paul Schrader in ‘Martin Scorsese — A Journey’
Investigation treatment by Paul Schrader [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
“INVESTIGATION” screenplay by Paul Schrader, 1987 draft. UNPRODUCED.
Investigation, written by Paul Taxi Driver Schrader was going to be one of Cannon’s more prestigious pictures – like Barfly. Yoram and Menahem had Al Pacino, who was bursting at the seams to make a comeback, signed up to star and the producing duo also managed to get Andrei Konchalovsky on board as director. This was before Andrei threw his directing career in the toilet with Tango and Cash. This film COULD have been one of their best pictures. —Kent Church
Downloadable collection of film articles & plays written by Paul Schrader:
- ‘The Film Canon’ by Paul Schrader, Film Comment – Sept/ Oct. 2006
- Sam Peckinpah going to Mexico – Cinema Magazine – Vol. 5 No. 3
- Easy Rider - Los Angeles Free Press – July 25-August 1, 1969
- An Interview with Henri-Georges Clouzot – Cinema Magazine – Vol. 5 No. 4
- The Film Noir – Filmex - 1971
- Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer - Program Notes – Book Released 1972
- John Milius: Master of Flash – The Weekly News Los Angeles – August 17-24, 1973
- Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer – Film Comment – January/February 1974
- Screenwriter: Taxi Driver’s Paul Schrader – Film Comment – March/April 1976
- Robert Bresson, Possibly – Film Comment – September/October 1997
- Don’t Cry for Me When I’m Gone: Motion Pictures in the 1990s - DGA News - Feb/March 1993
- A Man of Excess: Paul Schrader on Jean Renoir – Sight and Sound – January 1995
- Aleksandr Sokurov Interview – Film Comment – November/December 1997
- Lost and Found – Film Comment – September/October 2000
- A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: Forward by Paul Schrader – Copyright 2001
- Pauline Kael 1919 – 2001: My Family Drama – Film Comment – November/December 2001
Close Encounters of the Third Kind screenplay by Steven Spielberg [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The screenplay, which was finished by Spielberg from an original script by Paul Schrader was based upon the book, The UFO Experience by Dr. J. Allen Hynek. Hynek also served as the film’s technical advisor.
Spielberg brought Paul Schrader to write the script in December 1973 with principal photography to begin in late-1974. However, Spielberg started work on Jaws in 1974, pushing Watch the Skies back. With the financial and critical success of Jaws, Spielberg earned a vast amount of creative control from Columbia, including the right to make the film any way he wanted. Schrader turned in his script, which Spielberg called, “one of the most embarrassing screenplays ever professionally turned in to a major film studio or director. It was a terribly guilt-ridden story not about UFOs at all.” Titled Kingdom Come, the script’s protagonist was a 45-year-old Air Force Officer named Paul Van Owen who worked with Project Blue Book. “[His] job for the government is to ridicule and debunk flying saucers.” Schrader continued. “One day he has an encounter. He goes to the government, threatening to blow the lid off to the public. Instead, he and the government spend 15 years trying to make contact.” Spielberg and Schrader experienced creative differences, hiring John Hill to rewrite. At one point the main character was a police officer. Spielberg [found] it hard to identify with men in uniform. “I wanted to have Mr. Everyday Regular Fella.” Spielberg rejected the Schrader/Hill script during post-production on Jaws. He reflected, “they wanted to make it like a James Bond adventure.”
David Giler performed a rewrite; Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, friends of Spielberg, suggested the plot device of a kidnapped child. Spielberg then began to write the script. The song “When You Wish upon a Star” from Pinocchio influenced Spielberg’s writing style. “I hung my story on the mood the song created, the way it affected me personally.” Jerry Belson and Spielberg wrote the shooting script together. In the end, Spielberg was given solo writing credit. During pre-production, the title was changed from Kingdom Come to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. J. Allen Hynek, who worked with the United States Air Force on Project Blue Book, was hired as a scientific consultant. Hynek felt “even though the film is fiction, it’s based for the most part on the known facts of the UFO mystery, and it certainly catches the flavor of the phenomenon. Spielberg was under enormous pressure to make another blockbuster after Jaws, but he decided to make a UFO movie. He put his career on the line. USAF and NASA declined to cooperate on the film. [source]
Steven Spielberg on location in India with François Truffaut.
A truly magnificent script, please read and study: Children of Men screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón and Timothy J. Sexton [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Alfonso Cuarón: Well, that’s because these other writers, they did not exist in this movie. It was me, and Tim Sexton, and Clive Owen. That’s all. And by the same token, I’m willing to give credit to whoever really deserves credit for the film. And except for Tim Sexton and myself, for me, all these other writers, it’s just studio development work that I’m not even interested in discussing, because I don’t know what they did, and I couldn’t care less.
It was recently revealed that Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming film, “Gravity”, will not only have a 17+ minute opening long take, but also an ASL (average shot length) of 45 seconds. Having been a fan of his previous films, I revisited my favorite one to see just what that type of shot looked and felt like. I had seen the film a few times before, and couldn’t recall more than handful of shots that I thought would work. I was shocked to find there were 16 of them — heck, there are 6 longer than 90 seconds! They are used in a variety of situations, and to great effect. It was easy to see how I could forget there were so many, as each one simply pulled you further into the story. It made me so excited for ‘Gravity’ that I felt I just had to share with anyone else who would be interested.
Some other stats:
62 shots > 22 seconds (“half of 45”, my original criteria)
39 shots > 30 seconds
24 shots > 40 seconds
16 shots > 45 seconds
6 shots > 90 seconds
Obviously, you should see the film if you haven’t already. My point in doing this is to demonstrate the effect of a long take in a variety of narrative uses, and to give an idea of what a 45+ second shot looks and feels like when directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
Any script that’s written changes at least thirty percent from the time you begin preproduction: ten percent while you fit your script to what you discover about your locations, ten percent while your ideas are growing as you rehearse your actors who must grow into their parts because the words mean nothing alone, and ten percent while the film is finally being edited. It may change more than this but rarely less. —Sam Peckinpah
The Wild Bunch original screenplay by Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
In-Depth Script Analysis by Paul Seydor:
Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (Cambridge Film Handbooks) available from Amazon.
Sam Peckinpah talks about his career. 1st December 1976.
‘I only have questions,’ Sam Peckinpah tells Barry Norman in this seldom seen interview from December 1976.
‘As a film maker I must look at both sides of the coin, and do my best as a story-teller. I have no absolutes. I have no value judgments,’ Peckinpah goes on to say, before asking, ‘Why does violence have such a point of intoxication with people? Why do people structure their day on killing?’
This is an incredibly honest and brilliant interview with Peckinpah, who doesn’t flinch form any of Norman’s questions - discussing his ignorance, his mistakes - explaining why he was wrong in thinking it could work as catharsis in The Wild Bunch, and why he was ‘a good whore.’ —Paul Gallagher
Fargo original screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for your reading pleasure [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
In the interview which follows, initially published in 1996, Joel and Ethan Coen discuss the writing and filming of Fargo, its precise characterizations, acting performances and the visual style that emphasizes the spiritual landscape of the bleak Midwestern setting.
“I auditioned for a smaller role and they said, ‘That’s really good. You want to read Jerry?’ And I said, ‘Yes, and so I went out of the room, spent 20 minutes, came back in, read Jerry.’ And they said, ‘That’s real good. You want to work on it and come tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Yes.” … I was up all night. I memorized the whole script. I wanted this role, so I went back in. They said, ‘That’s real good, that’s real good. We’ll be in touch.’ And then I heard through my agent that they were in New York auditioning, so I – jolly, jolly — got my ass on an airplane and crashed the audition. And I was making a joke — and luckily it landed — but I said, … ‘I’m afraid you’re going to screw up your movie and cast someone else in this role,’ and they went, ‘Hahaha,’ and I said, ‘No, seriously, I’ll shoot your dog if you don’t give me this role.’ And I think Ethan (Coen) had just gotten a dog.”
Q How did you come up with the idea for “Groundhog Day?”
A There’s so many parts to answering that question. I think the big idea, if there is a - the big think or the accidental happenstance was when I was trying to solve a story problem. If a person could live forever, if a person was immortal, how would they change over time? I was curious about whether one lifetime was enough for somebody. There are some people, those arrested development type men who can’t really outlive their - out grow their adolescence and I thought, well, maybe one lifetime isn’t enough. Maybe you need more.
So, I was just thinking through if a person could live long enough, how would they change and that seemed like a cumbersome experiment because of having to deal with changing history. So, I was trying to solve the problem how you can have a person be immortal without having history change from underneath him so that the movie would not - the story of the movie would not have to deal with the French Revolution and with the future and things like that.
And then, to solve that, I remembered an idea I had had about a year or two before that about a guy repeating the same day and I realized that having a person repeat the same day turns an eternity into a circle and that’s when all the dramatic possibilities came and the comedic possibilities and all the resonances with repetition. So, that was the idea like that.
I was actually getting ready to read one of Anne Rice’s novels about vampires and I was sort of thinking about why I thought that was interesting and the most interesting thing to me was that it was a different class of people. They were just like people except some of the rules were different and the most interesting one being that they were immoral and that’s what got me thinking about immortality. There, that’s all of it.
(Jan. 28, 2012) Screenwriter Danny Rubin, also a professor of screenwriting at Harvard, graciously agreed to come to Red River Theatres for Q & A following a screening of his beloved comedy/romance GROUNDHOG DAY. Coincidentally, Rubin’s Kindle Edition e-book on the screenplay HOW TO WRITE GROUNDHOG DAY by Danny Rubin was released by Amazon.com the day before this appearance.