Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Some Advice from a Great

A few weeks ago, a few of the Leaguers and I had the great fortune to see a screening of "Feast of Love" directed by Robert Benton. I should say this now: the previous sentence is not praise for the movie! None of us enjoyed the film from a writing point of view. There were some poor choices, some inaccuracies, and some all-out glaring improbabilities. However, we did get to listen to Robert Benton --who has written such films as "Bonnie and Clyde" (his first, actually), "Kramer vs. Kramer," and "Superman" to name but a few-- speak.

Naturally, we asked him questions. Here is just a bit of what he told us. (So as to not be his biographer, I will mostly focus on advice he gave us.)

He's dyslexic. As a child, he couldn't really even read. But he drew. And he listened to stories. And he watched movies. He studied structure from what he saw in theaters, and when he got old enough, he solicited the help of a friend in writing a movie about a famous American gangster couple. That script turned out to be the much acclaimed "Bonnie and Clyde." Moral is: don't give up. According to him, "Your worst enemy is your own despair." If you give into the notion that you will never make it, you probably won't.

One of the things he told us was that he typically does 40 to 50 drafts of a screenplay. 40 to 50! Now, I know that's not the way a lot of us do things. We normally aim for the sky on round one, but know that the key is just to get the words on the page, have a better sense of what we're trying to accomplish on round two (which usually looks completely different from round one), and then might incorporate some of round one back into a healthy mix of round two for round three. From there, it's polishing. But, it's important to keep in mind what Benton said, which was a quote from someone who escapes me at the moment, "It doesn't matter how many times you do it, as long as you do it right."

Lastly, he said what I found to be the most interesting bit. Essentially, he warned against going out and making the same kind of movies that everyone else is making, the kind that most professionals are probably telling you to make. Why? Because there are a million other people doing just that. There's no room for anyone else to do it. Sure, you might make a blockbuster. People might know your name. But only until the exact same movie with a different cast and setting opens the next week. Then, you're forgotten. Granted, many writers have amazing careers because they actively write for the masses, but most of their names are unfamiliar. If you want to truly impact the motion picture industry, do it on your terms. Not someone else's.