Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Plot and character development, part of 2011 SBIFF Writers' Panel: It Starts with the Script.
Anne Thompson: Charlie, you were basically making up the real story behind that myth, your version of what really happened there, his motivations for throwing that party. Charlie Mitchell: Well, it's sort of the basic writer's tenant, right? You're coming from mystery, complete mystery in this case of what actually happened. But something happened. Something made this man of promise, everybody said that he was very bright, had a brilliant future ahead of him, and he withdrew completely from the world.
And of course, the stories grew around him of why and how and "who is he really," after a while. Nobody--the connections with people who knew him as a young man started to go away. Everybody moved off, or they died, and pretty soon there was very few people around who remembered what he was. And so, the whole idea was that we're going to start with this mystery and where are we going to go? What would make this happen? And that's sort of where we began the whole journey.
Then when I was talking about being on Bobby's back porch in Virginia, that's where we started, and that's where the conversation started, and that's where we journeyed into. Anne: So your star was very integral in the actual writing of the screenplay? Charlie: Bobby is--and I call him Bobby by the way, because he told me to. Mr. Duval tells you to call him Bobby, you call him Bobby. But if--Bobby was really concerned about, how do we get inside this person, because that's where he is going to come from.
I am sure you've watched his career over the years. He is amazing at that. He goes deep. He starts, let's clear everything away, and let's start here. And so he took me to that place. That was basically what he was telling me on the porch was, look, we have to get down to who this guy really is, because that's the only way I can do this. I feel like there is something here.
That's why I was there, because I felt all my senses were telling me, there is something here. This mystery is something you need to go into, and he felt the same thing, the director felt the same thing, and we all went into it together, and what you see on screen is what we found there. Anne: Excellent! Lisa, Annette Bening last night at her tribute said something very interesting about the difference between words and visual, that screenwriting is one thing, dense dialog is one thing, but then as an actor, a lot of the time you want silence.
And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that process in The Kids Are All Right, of simplifying and making it work? Lisa: Yeah, it's an interesting process. I think I am the only person on this Anne: Who is a director, in this case. Lisa: panel--well, who directed what they wrote. Lisa: So it's interesting to write for yourself and think one step ahead to that, and then get into as well, with an actor and go through yet another phase of looking at the screenplay. Annette Bening was an extraordinary person to work with because she really loves the text.
She really loves to get in there and talk about what's going on and how to modify maybe the script before we get in and shoot. So there was stuff that we've looked at, that we, as she spoke about last night, kept paring back at dialogue and text to really get to the essence of what was happening in the moments in the scenes. But again, back to the original question, one of the great things about spending so much time and letting all this material marinate and really asking hard questions of it over the years was that we could distill it down to what the essence of it was. And while I knew that we had to be concerned with plot, and how do we make five main characters have quick but complete arcs and intersect in a way that isn't episodic but is integrated into one complete whole, and then in that way become a bigger idea than itself, than the constituent parts, and have a theme and whatnot, I mean these things become like kind of bad math problems.
They are very difficult, and so at a certain point you hope that you kind of crack that to transcend that and get to something that's richer, that is thematic and transcendent, and I'm sure that's what we all kind of like are just praying for it at out altars of whatever we do. So that was the process, and then finally you're digging deeper and you're pushing away all the stuff that's superfluous and not necessary, and you're kind of cracking each the character and the arc and how it intersects and the causality of each person's issue and dilemma and plot and whatnot.
Then you get into that stuff, and all of a sudden you are kind of liberated, because you realize, I don't need to say this. The story is saying it already, and indeed less is more, and the audience is going to get it, and they're going to really appreciate not being told it, but being shown it through the actor, and in that way, I think, have a more visceral and identified experience of it. So for me as a writer-director that's like the real joy of working a script to that core and then handing it over to these consummate actors and letting them transform it to this higher level.
It's hard *&@#$ work, but once you get there and the pleasures are few and far between, but the pleasures are big, and I guess we're all kind of addicted to those pleasures. Because when they come, they are transcendent. They are beautiful moments. Anne: Well, Tarantino talks about the whole process of making a movie, that the editing is part of the writing as well. And you showed the movie at Sundance, and I enjoyed it and got a big kick out of it. And then I saw it again at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and it was funnier. What did you do? Lisa: Yeah, that was a big misery. Without going into the back story of how this film actually got made, I was given a "You are now a serf.
You have no voice. Get this thing to Sundance. This is where we have to sell it." by a person who is not even in this country. So I spent the holidays of that year cutting away, and I said, "I am not going to be able to finish it, but I will get it into shape that you can show it and buyer beware, and I'll do my best." We had a temp score and we just cut to-- the last minute when I had to send it off and get it digitally reproduced to show it. And it was mortifying for me, because of course you want to put a big fat disclaimer on your movie and say, "This is not finished! Don't hold me accountable!" And as anybody knows, and writers know from drafts and working closely with directors and being involved, I am sure everybody here was really intimate with the whole project till the end, in the cutting room every little beat and every little rhythm and everything that you know, whether it's--they talk about, "Oh, you need to lose two minutes." Two minutes could be huge.
It can make you dig the film or feel like what, something was weird with that film. I mean it's a very odd thing. And so, I felt like we didn't do our last pass. We did not finish the final part of this film where that rhythm is dead on and everything is working right. Anne: The good news is that you did sell it, and you were able to take the time to finesse it, and it seems to have been a happy ending. Lisa: It was a happy ending, and that night was a happy ending, but I have to say it was surreal. I had one of those Annette Bening experiences where everything sort of stopped and I am watching this movie with a Sundance crowd for the first time and everything is riding on this "sale," or if the film is working, and people are laughing, and I had this horrified feeling like that the joke was on me somehow and...weird.
Anne: David, you apparently you showed The King's Speech at Toronto in one of those huge halls, and there was an extraordinary reaction. What was that like for you? David Arndt: Yeah, that was--well, I disgraced myself. What had happened was we had shown it at Telluride, and it had been an extraordinary reaction, but these are very small venues. So yeah, it was great. Certainly immediately got a sense that we had the wind to our back.
But in Toronto for the first time, this huge auditorium, 2,000 seats, I was up in the first row of the balcony with Tom Hooper and Colin and Jeffrey and Helena and everyone. It's great, but it's in the dark, you see. And at the end, I realized something extraordinary is happening. First of all, before the end of the movie, at the end of the King's speech, the audience started applauding, and that was quite amazing. And then film ended, and 2,000 people just stood up, and I was quite overwhelmed, because--I'll probably disgrace myself again just remembering it.
I was so overwhelmed with the fact that I realized for the first time in my life as a stutterer, my voice had truly been heard, and it was a great emotional experience. So there I am blubbering with a lot of mucus and tears coming down, and they show the spotlights on us. (laughter) Anne: They knew what they were doing. (applause) All right, from the sublime to the ridiculous, Michael, how did you come up with Spanish Buzz? Michael: Spanish Buzz was, it's a great example of why I just feel like the collaborative processes at Pixar are so great and so wonderful.
I'll just--I am going to try and make it a short answer, but I think I wrote the first draft of Toy Story 3 and then wrote maybe a second draft, and then it was decided that all the people who had worked on the other Toy Story films, we are going to take another two-day retreat, and everybody was going to go for two days. And this is me as a writer. I have 20-25 other people sitting around in an inn in Napa Valley for two days helping me make my script better, which is unbelievable. I don't think. It's like nirvana.
It's really like writer-nirvana. Anne: Not fair. Lisa: That's not fair. Damn! Michael: Well, and the amazing thing is that these are--they are not studio executives or development executives; these are other writer and directors. These are Brad Bird, it's Andrew Stanton, it's John Lasseter, it's Pete Doctor, and they are all sitting around, because they all worked on the--with the exception of Brad--worked on the initial Toy Story films. So they are trying to make it great. And it's just, until you get up to Pixar and see and how labor- intensive it is and how many people contribute, it's hard to even grasp. But to answer your question, I remember Andrew had written the--Andrew Stanton had written the treatment, and it was that Lotso switched Buzz into Delusional mode, and Buzz became a prison guard. And that was a good sort of obstacle, because you want your closest ally, or your most capable person, to suddenly become an antagonist, or to become an obstacle. But we're sitting there in the middle of like the second day, and I remember John Lasseter saying, you know, we've already seen Deluded Buzz.
We've already seen him switch back to Deluded mode. I just wished there was something else. And that's like the smartest, I mean that's the most important part of solving a problem, is just identifying it, and saying, "We've done this before. There needs to something else." So then everyone around the room--again, it's like 25 people--start throwing out suggestions: a fast-motion Buzz, a slow-motion Buzz, a vibrating Buzz, or whatever, and I remember I was sitting--Andrew was right next to me, and I said, "Spanish Buzz," to him. I just sort of whispered it to him and Andrew went, "Spanish Buzz!" And the whole room just erupted, and everyone started like--ideas and jokes were like flying around the room, and you just knew at that moment that that was going to go into the movie. And what's interesting though, is that it takes three people to come up with the idea.
It takes John to say that there's something missing here that we need to fill in. It's me like having an idea which is sort of the least important part of the whole process and then somebody else saying, out of a hundred ideas, that's the idea that we're going to do. So that was how Spanish Buzz came about. (applause)
Moderated by Anne Thompson from indieWIRE, the It Starts with the Script panelists talk about the development of their films, their research before sitting down at the keyboard, the evolution of the script, and finally, getting it to the screen. What's clear is that there's no formula, no easy path, and no shortcuts. The writers candidly reveal the obstacles each overcame on the way to seeing their vision realized. The anecdotes range from stories of triumph over adversity to remarkable collaborative efforts to just plain luck. Panelists are Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Scott Silver (The Fighter), David Seidler (The King's Speech), Charlie Mitchell (Get Low), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3).