Paul Thomas Anderson on screenwriting. The real deal, folks. Read and be thankful.What’s the most common mistake in written dialogue?
Complete sentences. Bad movie dialogue speaks in complete sentences without any overlapping or interruption, and avoids elliptical speech, which is truer to how people actually talk.Did you consciously train your ear to be sensitive to how people talk?
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.When you’re writing dialogue, does it take on a life of its own and move in directions that surprise you?
Absolutely. I’m showing some of my cards here, but I often write scenes without knowing where they’re gonna go, and as I write I start acting and sort of improvising. It’s great when the scene takes on a life of its own and frustrating when it doesn’t, because the passages you have to labor over are invariably worse than the ones that seem to write themselves. This notion that writing happens in the rewriting is something I’ve never agreed with. I’ve always hated rewriting. Rewriting is for pussies! Send it out, zits and all, is my feeling.What elements must a story have in order to interest you?
I like stories with good old-fashioned roots that obey the rules—you know, “the gun on the wall in the first act goes off in the third,” and so forth. My favorite directors are the ones who know and embrace those rules, then pile something completely punk rock on top of them—François Truffaut, for instance.Do you have any interest in adapting material, or do you intend to be the sole author of all your scripts?
I’m open to adapting material, although the one time I tried it I wasn’t too successful—I adapted the Russell Banks novel Rule of the Bone for Carl Franklin. Having been through an experience with **Hard Eight where I felt my work had been violated, I sort of became this master protector of other peoples’ work, and I couldn’t make myself tread on the bible, which was Banks’s book. I couldn’t get a grip on the fact that I was writing a movie, not a love letter to the book.Do you have structured writing habits?
Absolutely, and they revolve around finding a pattern of behavior I can depend on. Waking up at the same time every day, having certain rituals to go through that free me up so I don’t even have to worry about putting my pants on—it’s all about routine. I write in the morning and can put in three or four focused hours a day. It’s limited to that because I smoke myself to death when I write, and smoking makes me tired. At the same time, there’s almost something superstitious about smoking, as if the cigarettes are a good luck charm. It’s probably very silly. —Paul Thomas Anderson, Creative Screenwriting
You gotta love him for being so open about his creative process.
More important, for an aspiring filmmaker, is reading. Read, read, read, read, read, read, read. If you don’t read, you’ll never make a great film. Not just blogs and Twitter, etc. If you do not read books, you’ll never develop a sense of story, rhythm, characters. Start with poetry like the Georgics of Virgil and go from there, all the way to Joseph Conrad and the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of Kennedy.
The Art of Close-Ups with Edgar Wright (via SlashFilm)
A really cool video essay ranging from action film montage close ups to using CUs to force timing in scenes. For filmmakers and film buffs alike, narrated by someone who is famously and successfully both: Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End).
Imagine we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered: everything in it has taken on another level; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because we have changed… This is the effect I want to get.
A wonderful video essay by the Criterion Collection examining the bleakness and bittersweet melancholy found in so many Christmas movies, focusing on three lesser known films: Mon oncle Antoine, My Night at Maud’s, and A Christmas Tale.
British director Edgar Wright, who brought us The World’s End earlier this year, discusses in a video interview his 10 favourite Movies of 2013 he’s seen as of Nov 26th.
In case you missed it, Quentin Tarantino has also released his own top 10 films of 2013 list as of October 5th: link.
I will shamelessly use this opportunity to present my very own 2013 list: like Mr. Wright I haven’t seen quite a few of more promising films yet, but from what I’ve seen this year, my favourite films of 2013 list (so far) definitely has some overlaps and would look like this:
10. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
9. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
8. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
7 .The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
6. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
5. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen brothers)
4. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
3. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
2. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
1. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
And to give some perspective: I really frickin’ enjoyed Spring Breakers (and I honestly didn’t expect to, even though I usually love Korine, but I didn’t like Trash Humpers—his previous movie).
The World’s End was fantastic, even though the ending was a little bit of a let down. Blue Jasmine is a worthy update on A Streetcar Named Desire, basically, with a phenomenal performance by Cate Blanchett. Inside Llewyn Davis is probably my favourite Coen film since No Country For Old Men (even though it’s very much different, obviously); it’s bitterly humorous in its bleakness, but also touchingly lovely. Frances Ha is the best film I’ve seen to encapsulate this generation (beats Lena Dunham way out of the ballpark, whom I can’t stand anyway); it feels like a Nouvelle-Vague film, and Greta Gerwig in the lead will knock you out. I’ve got nothing to add to what has been said about Before Midnight or Gravity, but I wanted to stress that Upstream Color is a film totally in a league of its own, worthy of comparisons with Kubrick even, and an important film in regard to independent filmmaking (it had quite a buzz when it came out in January, but seems to get forgotten in year-retrospective lists now). I’d really enjoy seeing some lists by my followers!
UPDATE February 2014: Added "Only Lovers Left Alive" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" to the list. Runner ups after my top 10 from 2013: "Only God Forgives" and "The Spectacular Now."
I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically…. I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.