Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Writers, The Oscars, and “Sickly little mole people”

I laughed at Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. when they faced off while presenting the original screenplay award. Their byplay was light, comic, and had just the right amount of truth about how writers feel about their words.


But the question remains: are we writers “sickly little mole people?”


Perhaps.


I’m debut, so I have a fresh view of this new world that I’m frequenting, and I can tell you that as a group I find writers to be friendly, interesting, curious, intense, and laugh out loud funny. They’re often quite a bit more relaxed than lawyers, (the world I inhabited for most of my career) and definitely less stressed.


There is an aspect to crime, mystery, and thriller writers that goes a step further. They’re excellent observers of people, and are able to inhabit the mind of their antagonists with often haunting reality, and, yes, this tends to lead to some peculiarities among them. There are some who retreat to their condos for days at a time, emerging only to get a restock of the whiskey and some bagels, some who spend their time writing from midnight to five am and then sleep all day, and some who are so impressed with themselves that they forget to be gracious.


I imagine that you can think of a few people in your own profession that act exactly the same way. The deal with writers, though, is that we can do all this to an extreme, because others will shrug, call us “creative,” and give us a pass. If you’re the nurse working the day shift and showing up late for work, you probably won’t get the same consideration.


I couldn’t help but agree with Tina Fey, though, that for all their quirks, writers create the stories that the actors bring to life, and dialogue in the story is often the key to the telling when you're dealing with a screenplay. A writer sweats blood to have a character say just the right line at the perfect time. If the writer does her job, the dialogue should fit the character, advance the story, and seem completely natural. For an actor to improvise and change the line can often defeat the purpose. It’s a little like working with an editor. They give you nudges, debate the merits of a line, paragraph, or word choice, and in the end it becomes a bit of a compromise between you as to how the sentence will finally read.


While I laughed through the interchange between Downey and Fey, I still knew that Fey was on the better side of things. I’ll bet she wrote the “sickly little mole people" line that Downey used as the perfect retort. After all, she’s a writer.




19 comments:

Dana King said...

I didn't see much of the awards show, but I did catch this, and it was great.

I'm a writer, but my background as a musician gives me a slightly different perspective. I think of the screenwriter/actor relationship as similar to composer/performer. What's written is always subject to interpretation. It shouldn't be changed, unless we're talking about jazz or some other specific types of music, but there are also film parallels to that. (The films of John Cassavettes are largely improvised.)

I've never written a screenplay, and have no interest in doing so. if I did, I'd make peace with "actors choices" before I accepted the gig.

(Let's keep this bewteen us sickly mole people. Actor's agos are inflated enough already.)

Jamie Freveletti said...

Yes Dana, I agree that if one is going to write a screenplay one had better be ready for interpretation! (from one sickly mole person to another! :) )

Rex Ray said...

Speaking as a writer who spent a large portion of his younger years acting, the script is important, but sometimes the process of bringing it to life takes it in different directions than the writer could see. Sometimes it needs a little tweak, a little improvisation, within the general spirit of the original intent. Books are books. Theater and film are collaborative projects between multiple artists.

Bryan Gruley said...

Interesting post, Jamie. I know we all hope to have the opportunity to have our words changed--that is, interpreted--by the likes of Robert Downey Jr.

I'm willing to give these non-sickly non-mole people a little room because even as I read words I've already written and rewritten dozens of times, I still see ways I could change them.

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