Monday, March 15, 2010

People Will Talk II – Barry Levinson and His Muse

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


In Levinson on Levinson, Edited by David Thompson, Faber and Faber, 1992, p. 42, writer-director Barry Levinson said: 
I don’t know how to write with an outline structure. I have to work from the characters, not a structure into which I then try and put the characters. I get the ideas in my head, and then at a certain point I begin and just go until I get to the end... I’ll play music constantly... trying to go as fast as possible, because all these voices are talking and these events happening and I’m just trying to keep up with it. In a sense I’m just taking dictation, but I have to race through because one scene starts suggesting other scenes. Sometimes I’ve had an idea, but I don’t necessarily know how to put it in, and then all of a sudden I go, wow, that will tie right into this, and this feeds into that. That’s the way I work. If I had to write an outline, then I would still be writing the outline for Diner!
Other than the music (and Diner), this is something I could’ve said with only one word changed, especially the part about just going through to the end. 

For me, the story must be approached first from premise into which I then find and place characters. I find that if I have a fleshed-out character in my head first, the premise adapts to it, and I prefer to put the worst-prepared people into their most difficult situations, rather than people who might be sub-consciously modified by me while fitting them to some idea after the fact.

But if there’s one thing new writers should heed here, it’s this: finish the draft before fixing the draft. First, because only with a completed whole will you know what fixes will be needed, or not needed because of being covered elsewhere. And second, because stopping a draft mid-way is the surest way to lose your momentum and never, ever, finish the thing. 
Imagine God when he was creating Man: if he’d stopped to say, “No, wait, four fingers not five, it’s a round number,” we wouldn’t have gotten opposable thumbs! But he went with his first draft long enough to know that five was better. Then he created the second draft, and perfected it with women. At least that’s what my wife tells me. #
Lee A. Matthias
Quote of the Post:
For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
---Aristotle (384 BC to 322 BC), Nichomachean Ethics

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