Thinking like a screenwriter

I found the following text in a file on my work computer. I must have written it for a class but I don’t remember.

Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere says, “My job is to help the director figure out why he wanted to make the film.”

In fact, we could say that the preparation of a script – and the making of a film – is a process of finding out what attracted us to the idea in the first place. The theme is revealed (we hope) as the film slowly becomes the best possible version of itself (we hope). This will only happen if we’re curious.

We have to be alert to possibilities. In a good film or story, every element is working very hard. If you have a scene in a pool hall, you have to use the tables, the cues, the balls, the lights, otherwise the setting isn’t working hard for you. You probably have to use ideas of competition, of games, of skill, of cause and effect. These elements are automatically present and cannot be ignored. Some of them are objects but some of them are more abstract and thematic. They are all offering you clues about the ideal form of the scene, and the film.

We have to ask, “Why is this story happening here, and why now?”

We have to ask, “What is the universal significance of this story?”

Nothing is purely about one thing. The pool hall isn’t just a pool hall.

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4 Responses to “Thinking like a screenwriter”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Interesting.

    “Max Mon Amour” was initially conceived for Bunuel. But when the great filmmaker died it was passed onto another great filmmaker — Nagisa Oshima. It’s his one and only work in English

  2. Thanks! There’s always a danger of sounding like Robert McKee when going into generalities…

  3. Max, Mon Amour is the only other film legitimately allowed to be called “Monkey Business”!

    I love the ostrich in The Phantom of Liberty, and particularly that it is given the honour of the final shot of the film, quizzically looking back at the crazily inexplicable human behaviour around it!

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