Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your work is only read by the people who will destroy it.

Walter Hill on developing his screenwriting style:
"Alex Jacob's script of Point Blank (1967) was a revelation. He was a friend (wonderful guy, looked like a pirate, funny and crazy). This revelation came about despite a character flaw of mine. I have always had difficulty being complimentary to people whose work I admire, when face-to-face with them. This is not the norm in Hollywood where effusiveness is generally a given. Anyway, a mutual friend told Alex how much I admired Point Blank and John Boorman. Alex then very graciously gave me a copy of the script. This was about the time he was doing The Seven-Ups (1973).

"Anyway, by now I'd been making a living as a screenwriter for maybe two or three years and had gotten to the point where I was dissatisfied with the standard form scripts were written in -- they just all seemed to be a kind of subliterary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice. Mine were tighter and terser than the average, but I was still working with the industry template and not too happy about it. Alex's script just knocked me out (not easy to do); it was both playable and literary. Written in a whole different way than standard format (laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style), I thought Alex's script was a perfect compliment to the material, hard, tough, and smart -- my absolute ideals then. So much of the writing that was generally praised inside the business seemed to me soft and vastly overrated -- vastly oversentimental. Then and now, I haven't changed my opinions about that. But I have changed them about the presentational style.

"Anyway I resolved to try to go in that direction (that Alex had shown), and I worked out my own approach in the next few years. I tried to write in an extremely spare, almost haiku style, both stage directions and dialogue. Some of it was a bit pretentious -- but at other times I thought it worked pretty well. I now realize a lot of this was being a young guy who wanted to throw rocks at windows.

"Hard Times was the first, and I think maybe the best. Alien (1979) -- the first draft, then when David [Giler] and I rewrote it, we left it in that style.The Driver, which I think was the purest script that I ever wrote, and The Warriors. The clean narrative drive of the material and the splash-panel approach to the characters perfectly fit the design I was trying to make work. Of course all this depend on the nature of the material; I don't think the style would've worked at all had I been writing romantic comedies."

"My scripts have always been a bit terse, both in stage directions and dialogue. I think I've loosened up in the dialogue department, but I still try to keep the descriptions fairly minimal, and in some cases purposefully minimalist. I still punctuate to effect, rather than to the proper rules of grammar. I occasionally use onomatopoeias now, a luxury I would certainly never have allowed myself when I was younger. My favorite description of the dilemma of screenwriting comes from David Giler, "Your work is only read by the people who will destroy it."

I want to read the script for Point Blank now (and it looks like I'm not alone). Read on. Via The Onion A.V. Club's primer on Walter Hill.


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