Sunday, 6 November 2011

Adventures in the Screen Trade - Goldman

There are three interesting streams in this book: to plan or not to plan, account planners and screenwriter, and how to behave in an industry that is built on people having opposing interests. It might have made more sense to make three posts out of it, but I like to keep it at one post, one book.

First of all there is a great short story in the book, that stroke a chord or two with me and my job: especially the increasing demand to deliver on time and don’t spend too much hours on a job. I hate and refuse to do so. And it sometimes feels like the people asking you to keep within the schedule hours do so, out of a certain jealousy that you are so passionate about a job (something they, being the timekeepers) might not be privileged to feel.

The short story is about a barber who hires a new barber, who turns out to be an excellent barber – but sooner or later more people want to go to the new barber rather than to the owner of the shop – he gets jealous:
“”What do you mean by that, Morris?” my mother repeated, a trifle mechanically.
“I mean that Mr. Bimbaum takes too goddam long cutting hair, that’s what I mean.”
“Oh, surely that is not so,” my mother said.
“Oh, but it is so,” my father replied. “Just today he took a hundred and three minutes to cut the hair of old Mr. Hathaway, who is practically bald to begin with.”
“well, well,” my mother said. “Just imagine that.”
“A hundred and three minutes!” my father exploded, talking directly to Mr.Bimbaum now. “I timed it myself. Who can make money in a hundred and three minutes, I ask? Answer: not me. I can cut three heads in that time. Maybe four.”
“That’s because you’re a butcher,” Mr. Bimbaum said. “What does a butcher need with time?”” (Goldman, 1984, p.308).

“”Shut up,” he repeated. He took a snip of haur. “The butchers. The butchers are taking over. You mark my words. By the time you grow up, the goddam butchers will own the world. You’ll see.” (Goldman, 1984, p.310).

Second, screenwriters seem like the account-planners of the film industry: heavily involved upfront and then later in the process being seen as standing in the way. So here are just a couple of examples where we can learn from screenwriters:

“If you want to be a screenwriter and you live in Des Moines, that’s a terrible curse to bear. It’s a terrible curse in Los Abgeles, too – but at least you’re not alone.” (Goldman, 1984, p.84).

“If you need the job. If you do, if you actually need it, that fact must go with you to your grave, because they sense things Out There and they will never hire you if you are desparate. Because they then know you don’t care about their project.” (Goldman, 1984, p.94).

“In a sense, a screenplay, whether a romance or a detective story, is a series of surprises. We detonate these as we go along. But for a surprise to be valid, we must first set the ground rules, indicate expectations.” (Goldman, 1984, p.116).

“Once you start writing, go like hell - - but don’t fire till you’re ready.” (Goldman, 1984, p.124).

“There is a wonderful phrase of William Faulkner’s that goes something like this: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”” (Goldman, 1984, p.195).

“As a screenwriter, I test very high on paranoia. I’m always convinced of any number of things: that my work is incompetent, that I’m about to get fired, that I’ve been fired but don’t know yet that half a dozen closet writers are typing away in their offices, that I should be fired because I’ve failed, on and on.” (Goldman, 1984, p.239).

“When I write, I must convince myself that it’s going to e wonderful. (There is a character in a great play by Tennessee Williams, Camino Real. She’s the Gypsy’s daughter and she’s a whore, but in here heart, each moonrise makes her a virgin.) I’m like that – each moonrise makes me a virgin, too – I’m going to write it and this time, this time, it won’t be crap. When I don’t have the confidence, I’m in big trouble.” (Goldman, 1984, p.273).

But in a movie you don’t tell people things, you show people things.” (Goldman, 1984, p.316).

“of course I’m pleased that something exists, and of course I’m frightened that it stinks. But running along with those emotions is the knowledge of my knowledge – I know so much. I’ve made so many decisions about what to save and what to pitch – I could have written a five-hundred-page screenplay if I’d wanted. I am, as I stand there, the movie. And then comes the moment of mourning. Because the relay race must go on and my lap is ending; I must oass the baton to the other technicians. And when you give it away, the loss, of course, is the end of your imagination. The movie in my head is going to leave me. Other people’s fantasies are going to take over.” (Goldman, 1984, p.401).

“Once we pass the baton, we become, and I don’t know why, this weird thing, some vestigial lump, like a baby born with a tail. Get rid of it.” (Goldman, 1984, p.402).

“And in movies, the screenwriter is the odd man out. But there is a trade off. That beginning lap we run, regardless of what happens later – that lap is ours. We have the privilege, if you will, of the initial vision. We’re the ones who first get to make the movie …” (Goldman, 1984, p.403).

Moreover, there is plenty of practical advice in how to act in meeting when multiple parties with different interest are involved (like all meeting in advertising, especially job interviews):

“the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movies industry: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. (…) Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work” (Goldman, 1984, p.39).

“The proper note to strike in the audition meeting is a mixture of shy, self-deprecating intelligence and wild, barely controllable enthusiasm.” (Goldman, 1984, p.93).

“Never speak first.” (Goldman, 1984, p.95). When they have to talk first and you give the impression prepared to write every word they say down: “I was going to take down everything. All his wisdom. Record it then and there. And, like most producers and executives, he had nothing specific to say.” (Goldman, 1984, p.96).

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