THE CRAFT OF SCREENWRITING
Burnett: "I never had any idea of turning my novels into movies. Some of them just fell into movies and some of them didn't. I sold 17 to them (to movies). But it was just the reverse for me--I worked in pictures to subsidize novel writing. Novel writing was what I was interested in--not pictures, for chrissakes. What happened to so many good American novelists when they came out here didn't happen to me. They got into the big money and quit writing novels. I published some 35 novels. I was actually subsidizing myself so I could write novels.
"Films I never took seriously as an artistic endeavor, but I always did the best possible work I could do; I never brushed it off or anything. Under the circumstance, which are never any good; the circumstances are mostly poor, because writers have no control whatsoever. Screenwriting consists of rewriting, and I don't rewrite. I don't have to rewrite. I know what I'm \o7 writing\f7 when I \o7 write\f7 ."
Scott: "The reason I stayed in movies was to learn my craft. In the theater in those days (even worse now) you had to wait a year or more to see your work in front of an audience. In pictures, when you wrote three or four scripts a year, you'd see your work--see mostly your mistakes--because in both media, nothing is complete without an audience. The '30s was a great learning period for me, and what was the studio (or Pandro Berman, perhaps) was pleased to call my gift for first-class dialogue got me over the early days."
Krasna: "There are some people who are professional writers because they wear steel-rimmed glasses and look like writers and have a whole list of credits. You can live a whole life as a writer in Hollywood without ever having \o7 written\f7 a movie, and you can still be considered one of the great ones. Such writers will do either an original story or write the screenplay of someone else's story. The story can be so full that fleshing it out is not my idea of sensational; or they write the story, and somebody else can make something absolutely fabulous out of it. I don't consider that you're a real, real, screenwriter unless you sit down and do a movie from beginning to end. Or if the idea is frail enough and the contribution is just marvelous.
"I claim that if you've been in the business 30 or 40 years and you look back, I would think that one of the things that ought to stick out in what pictures you did that reflect what \o7 you\f7 are, \o7 your\f7 experiences. You may only have had a few, two or three or four, but you're a \o7 writer\f7 . You \o7 write\f7 motion pictures. To make a living at adapting is a big trick; but out of 30 or 40 years, didn't you write anything that is \o7 yours\f7 ? I use that word subjectively. I belittle the writers who took a great book and adapted it; that's all?
"I think I wrote what showed me off--romantic comedies. In the end they were never the big, big pictures; but they were mine. At the end of the whole picture, I'm the hero's witness."
Dunne: "I agree with my old friend Jo Swerling, one of the earliest screenwriters, who said screenwriting is not so much an art as like fine cabinetmaking. I think that's right. Nunnally (Johnson) used to use that analogy too. He picked it up from the same source I did, I'm sure. We never claimed to be artists, but we thought we were good craftsmen."
YESTERDAY & TODAY
Krasna: "Here's the big change in storytelling (today); they've given up the theme. Never mind the end! You see the most wonderful pictures today; scenes are just great, great, great. Then, suddenly, the crawl comes. I don't expect the crawl to come for another 10 minutes--they haven't \o7 resolved\f7 anything. But you know, they haven't got any dull periods. They give you these great scenes, you've had a good time for two hours, and you've only had an unsatisfactory 30 seconds. People are accustomed to it. You go out and see this pictures, which doesn't add up and is about nothing, and people say, 'I didn't like the ending, but. . . . '
"Now, movies can be enjoyed by people who haven't got the only time-consuming experience, which is learning. Instruction. I've got thousands of books of dramatic literature. Do you see all the thousands of books I've got here on the shelf? Since Aeschylus. In my generation they gave up plots with character formation. I had to be born now!"
Epstein: "The constant in Hollywood, which is a terrible thing, is pandering to what they think the public wants. Today they pander to the young kids who go see a movie four or five times--I'm not even talking about teen-agers; I'm talking about kids who are 9, 10, 11 or 12 years old. That's always been true of the studios. But not quite. In the days of the contract system, they all fought to get Ernst Lubitsch. His pictures never made it, they were all losers, but the studios all fought to get him. He could go from studio to studio. They wanted a little class in their program.