Two more books in the FilmCraft series have crossed my desk: in depth explorations of screenwriting and directing. (Here is the review of previous FilmCraft books on Cinematography and Editing.) Let’s take a look inside…
by Tim Grierson
Like the other books in the FilmCraft series, Screenwriting consists of interviews with working artists — screenwriters in this case — and “Legacy” profiles of artists who are no longer around to be interviewed (or, in the case of Woody Allen, I presume, declined). The selection of screenwriters is admirably heavy on international and indie names, including Guillermo Ariaga, Lee Chang-dong, Stephen Gaghan, David Hare and Whit Stillman, among others.
The layouts are beautiful, featuring stills from the films in question and facsimiles of the writer’s actual script pages, large enough to read the print. Interviews focus on both the writers’ careers (Caroline Thompson explaining her “breakup” with Tim Burton is crushing) and working methods (John August explains how he writes and re-writes using a series of hand-written drafts).
While it would be difficult to pick a favorite, I recommend poking into the interview with Jean-Claude Carrière, a name I didn’t recognize, but whose wide variety of films over a long career is an awesome achievement. He has great stories about collaborating with directors — from Luis Buñuel to Jonathan Glazer to Michael Haneke — and the differences between adapting a play or a novel versus inventing a screen story from scratch.
My biggest complaint with the book is that I wish it was much, much longer. Some marquee names you might expect — off the top of my head: Nora Ephron, Ron Bass, Shane Black, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Bolt — are not included. The Legacy sections, especially in the case of Billy Wilder, who left reams of interviews, could stand to be beefed up to the same depth as the participating writers.
But with as much work has been put in by Tim Grierson and the editors and designers, I understand that a limit must be enforced. Here’s hoping for a sequel!
by Mike Goodridge
Perhaps it is easiest just to list the names of the interview subjects in this book: Pedro Almodóvar, Olivier Assayas, Susanne Bier, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Dardenne brothers, Guillermo del Toro, Clint Eastwood, Stephen Frears, Terry Gilliam, Amos Gitai, Paul Greengrass, Michael Haneke, Park Chan-wook, István Szabó, Peter Weir, Zhang Yimou. Is it worth reading a book of these people talking about the craft of directing?
Hell yes. You will find within Almodóvar’s advice to young filmmakers:
Don’t have any preconceived ideas about what you’re doing. Don’t try to be old or modern. Just be true to yourself when you are making your films.
You will find Guillermo del Toro on modeling the violence in Pan’s Labyrinth on the Joe Pesci character in Goodfellas. You can hear Stephen Frears expound on how “an audience thinks faster than an individual”. Terry Gilliam decries producers and calls Hollywood “a small provincial village with a vast bureaucratic system.” Michael Haneke talks about getting farmers from Romania for The White Ribbon for authentic “weather-beaten faces.” Director Zhang Yimou (Hero) talks about his use of color.
Beyond that, we have the Legacy profiles of Ingmar Bergman (who was also profiled in FilmCraft: Screenwriting), John Ford, Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa. (No Fellini *frowny face*.) Again, it is nice to acknowledge these greats, but I wish the included profiles were at least as long as the profiles of the living directors.
I heartily recommend the FilmCraft series to any filmmakers, aspiring or experienced. While most craft books come from the perspective of a ‘deconstructing’ professor, this series comes directly from the mouths of the people who actually construct films. There are many ways to make a film, and these books are a treasure of practical, inspiring wisdom that helps get the job done.