TALKING TO WRITERS
Part two of my interview with "Lars and the Real Girl" screenwriter Nancy Oliver.
And a special "hola" to all of the wonderful visitors who have stopped by from Elsita's blog. Thanks for all of your comments and support.
5. What was the genesis of "Lars"? How did you have the original
idea, and what came next? Did you know where the story was going
when you started writing it? Did the story all come at once, or
did you go through false steps or many revisions to get it all in
place? What changed, if anything?
it's taken me till now to face the genesis of "Lars." i've told
various stories at various times, but they're partly lies. to be
honest, it's too private to share. only a couple of people know the
truth and i didn't tell them either, they guessed. and it doesn't
have anything to do with a sex doll.
no long narrative piece comes all at once for me. it's not a linear
process. there's a long gestation period, usually years, five for
Lars, before i start to type. it's not like i'm thinking about it all
the time -- but it's always present and developing in my subconscious
and rises to the surface of my mind from time to time, more and more, till the pressure to write is inescapable. i have to get it out of
myself and onto the page in order to move on with life.
i didn't really know where the story would end when i started it. i
knew that it would be about resurrection, so a death and rebirth was
involved, but i didn't know what form that would take. i constantly
revise. if the movie hadn't been made i'd still be rewriting. unless
i'm forced to by contract, i don't do complete drafts. generally by
the time i show anybody anything, the script has been through 100,000 rewrites and revisions. the shooting draft for Lars was essentially the draft i first showed my agents. there was one big structural rebuild early on -- the doctor was originally two characters, but i couldn't get the story to go forward until i made the fix and Dagmar emerged.
6. Was there anything that influenced you, an author, a film, a
photograph or song, when it came to finding the appropriate tone
no. the tone was born of the story and the way i look at the world.
7. How would you compare the film you made in your own imagination when you were writing to what ended up on the screen?
they're quite different. there was a different look for the film in
my head, and the town was bigger and Lars's neighborhood set-up was different and i could do a big long list, but that's always the way
it is. and it's part of the fun and torture of production, watching
the changes take place. it's not a question of right or wrong,
making a movie or play is about collaboration and interpretation and
compromise. i think the film succeeds in so many ways thanks to so
many people -- the casting is beautiful, everyone held the tone,
often what was shot was much better than what was in my head. i'm so grateful for the respect with which the script was treated. it almost never happens that way. i don't know how i got so lucky.
8. Are you equally comfortable writing for film or television? Do
you approach either medium differently?
" comfortable" is not a word i associate with writing, which kind of
hurts. in a good way. sort of. each form has its challenges -- a
screenplay takes a long time and it's a lonely experience and tests
your determination and endurance and patience. i don't like to work
with an outline, it feels too confining, so there's a lot of trial
and error and groping around and experimenting. it cannot be rushed. television is about writing by committee. you have to play nicely with others and you work from a group-generated, very specific outline according to a very specific schedule and budget and
locations. and there's an immediate gratification factor, because
usually your episode will go right into production. it's fun to do
both -- they feed different creative cravings and i like the variety.
9. How do you follow an act like being nominated for an Oscar for
your first produced screenplay, and winning the Humanitas Award? Do you feel the pressure of expectations, from others or yourself?
you know, the awards thing was a crazy, interesting trip, but if it
weren't for all those black dresses in my closet, i would think it
was all a dream. "Lars" wasn't just my first produced screenplay, it
was the first real screenplay i ever wrote, so it was always like i
was living somebody else's karma. i do feel the pressure of
expectations from others, but i try not to let that enter the mental/
emotional space where i work. my own expectations are so high that
i'm never satisfied with anything, that's enough pressure.
what's next is three projects: True Blood, Alan Ball's southern
vampire series, a screenplay for Warner Brothers called "handyman,"
and a pilot for HBO called "Bad Girls," adapted from the long-
running British series about women in prison.
and a vacation. definitely a vacation.
AMEN to that, Nancy. Thanks so much for sharing your time and insights and experience.
TOMORROW: Travel back in time with me to another country: Cuba!!!