Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup

Cate Blanchett and Billy
Crudup in Charlotte Gray

Listen to your critics

I think a major sin in screenwriting is not listening
to your critics. However dumb they may seem to you, however brutal
their criticism, remember that you are in a room with five people,
and if you don’t get it right there, you’re going to end up out
in the world with thousands of people and it doesn’t get any better.
So listen because they are trying to make it better, however wrong-headed
their decisions may be. I think that young writers find criticism
is hard because it’s very personal, but it’s crucial. It’s called
collaboration; it comes in the form of notes and sometime they’re
hard. Experience teaches you to take it less personally.

Do the research

Do the research and structure your picture so that
you don’t sit down without some idea of what your structure is.
Don’t kid yourself that you’ll be able to write 120 pages without
some idea of what your three, four or five acts are. There’s always
the example-you know, so and so wrote this in five days-but it’s
bullshit. If a screenwriter wants to live this life, then he or
she needs to realize that it’s not a dalliance, that you are grinding
away for a period of time to ‘apparently’ suddenly burst through;
but you secretly know that it took 17 drafts and that you’ve been
doing it for 10 years.

On overcooking descriptions

I have read-and written-scenes where I have literally
had to wade through three paragraphs of the most florid, the most
purple description of a costume, of the sky, of a leaf, until
I finally got to what the camera was going to first hit on. We
all need to be drawn into a moment, but we do not need to know
the color of the wallpaper.

Warm up

Writers sometimes need to learn to accept that sometimes
they are writing themselves into something and that what they’ve
written is not the scene but the way into the scene. It’s okay
to write something that’s a bit off until you reach a point where
you write a good scene. I often find that if you look at a scene
you’ve written between two characters, and you take the first
three speeches and you cut them and read the scene again, often
you’ll find that the scene plays very well without them.

Write visually

You learn to look for the visual equivalent of dialogue
or you look for ways of storytelling that are visual.

On dealing with insecurity

I don’t know if the insecurity ever goes. I suspect
it doesn’t. In fact I’m sure it doesn’t. And I suspect that if
it does, you’re in trouble. I still wake up in the night, worrying
about the strangest things, because I’m just aware that there
are so many choices that you are making every moment and those
choices will have consequences.

Film vs. Television

I came to realize quite quickly that development
in film is a slower process. That was quite hard to get used to
because television has a quicker turnover; it’s either gonna happen
or it’s not, but you know quite fast. Film is much more graduated.