“And then I just go ahead and write that dialogue” – John Sayles [Part 3]

[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]

Continued from “Part 2” here.

How do you feel about writing these low-budget films? Do you see advantages in it, or are you hungry for millions of dollars per budget?

If I had millions of dollars I’d probably make millions of small films. Part of it is what I’m good at. I’m not real interested in being a field-marshal. I recently wrote a thing that isn’t going to get made because of budget reasons, that Steven Spielberg was going to produce. And he’s really good at having a huge project and is really a good organizer, and he’d probably be a good administrator—not a great politician but a good administrator of huge programs, because the things get made and things happen. I’m not interested in that or real good at that. The things that I want to do can be done more cheaply, and might as well be done more cheaply. It goes against my grain to see money that should be going on the screen going up in overhead and the cocaine budget.

The phase is that I’ll probably never be able to finance a movie myself again. Last Friday I was audited for 1978 by the IRS and they want the dough; I owe them a lot of dough. I’ll be able to work something out, but they’re gonna watch me from now on and they’re gonna withhold money from me. At the time I was writing at New World, Corman wasn’t withholding anything, and the IRS got to him. He used to send me a big check and say, “You want to report this to the government, go ahead!” And the IRS got ahold of him and said, “These people are employees, they are not independent contractors—you have to withhold this money and send it to us so we can play with it, not give it to them so they can play with it.”

I would like to have that kind of control over a film again. Right now I’m trying to raise a lot of money, $800,000, to make another independent feature. Even though I’m involved with studios, I’d say about 20 percent of the things I write and am interested in doing are things that either the studios are interested in doing with me or I’m interested in doing with the studios. There are subjects that I would not bring to them because I just don’t think that we could come to something that they wanted to do that I wanted to do, too; they’d fuck it up. I’d like to be able to work in the studio system and outside of it. The only reason that I’d care to work in the studio system is that there are some things I want to do that they can help me do. One of them is keep enough of a profile that I can raise money on the outside to make other films. It would be nice if it’s not a phase, but it may well have been a phase, of being able to finance my own movie and have that kind of control over it. After that, it’s just a lot of politics, like I was saying.

The two writing-directing deals that I’m doing now—I had one with the Ladd Company when they hired me right after Secaucus 7 played at Filmex; my name had been in the trade papers three times, so they decided to jump onto the bandwagon. I walked into an office. I told them a concept that I had been shopping around town for about six months and everybody said, “Yeah, sure, oh great, let’s make a movie about it.” I told them about a two-minute concept for a film and they hired me to write and direct it. The deal was structured so that I get to write two drafts and a polish before they can cut me off. Then they said, “OK, we’ve signed a deal, now tell us the story.” When I told the story, they didn’t like it. Since that point, it’s been a thing where I write a draft, they don’t like it—they won’t say they don’t like it, they say that it “lacks focus” or something vague like that; and I’m not so hot to do a studio film that I’m going to write something that I don’t like, just so that I get to direct it. So I hope I’ll come up with something one of these days on one of these drafts that I like and they like. If I don’t, they won’t make the movie, and they’ll just cut bait and say, “Well, we lost some money on that screenplay. Too bad.” And I’ll have lost a lot of time and had to fly out to L.A. and had a lot of meetings.

I don’t know, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve done enough things that I didn’t wanna do, and I’m hoping that I can cash in on whatever success Return of the Secaucus 7 has, and do fewer things and more things that I /want to do. That may or may not happen. But directing a movie, even if you have the kind of help that you get directing a studio movie, where you don’t have to schlep the movie around your own arm and punch all the sprocket holes yourself and all those things, is just so much work that I don’t want to spend a year doing something that I finally won’t want to go see.

Would you talk about how you directed the actors in The Return of the Secaucus 7?

We had one day before we started shooting to read the script over. I gave each of the main characters a one-page description of who their character was. I remember one of them, the guy who played Mike [Bruce MacDonald], I sort of said, “Mike is everybody’s second-best friend,” and the actor came to me with this long face and said, “How did you know I’ve always considered myself everybody’s second-best friend?” I had a couple others like that when people thought that I knew something about their secret life and was writing a character for them. It made me feel good. It made me feel like the screenplay was touching nerves that I had hoped I was touching.

The cast and crew of Secaucus 7
“The Anarchists’ Convention” – the cast and crew of “The Return of the Secaucus 7”

Then, as I said before, it was a matter of getting the actors to act naturally. First thing that I said was: “None of you have ever been in a film before. Here’s the story: you have to trust me—whether you want to or not. I’m gonna edit this thing. One thing I’ll do for you is that, because the most important thing in this film is the people and whether you believe them or not, I’ll always give you another take if you don’t like what you did. We may not have enough extra takes to get technical perfection, but I’ll always allow an extra take if you need it to feel comfortable with what you did. If we can’t agree on exactly how a scene is going to be played, do it my way first and then we’ll do it your way, I’ll give you a couple of takes your way. If Ican’t make up my mind how a scene is going to be played, I’ll have you do it two or three different ways and it’s going to be up to me to choose it.” The other thing I was able to tell them is: “I will always pick the best take for acting”—which often doesn’t happen. I had a couple of shots where, during the longshot, somebody was talking like this [turns head one way], and in the closeup they’re talking like this [turns head opposite way]; I’m willing to have that little jump in your head of “what happened there?” because those were the two best acting takes and I’d made that commitment to always take that.

Given that they were good actors, I didn’t have time to do a whole lot of rehearsals with them. I said, “You know who your characters are. You know what your relationships to the other people are. Talk among yourselves. When you have a scene, rehearse it so you know the lines. I’ll come to you—we’ll be setting up the lights—I’ll say, ‘What have you got? Do it for me.’ If you’re way off base we’ll work on it some more.” Usually they pretty much knew what they were going to do, and then it was just a matter of getting them to come down a little. A lot of them had been on the stage just a couple weeks before and were still projecting. You can’t project in front of a movie camera when it’s right here. A lot of them were putting more drama and more acting into it.

I was helped by the fact that they had never been on camera before: it meant they were looking to me. Some of the people who gave the best performances were the people who took the most takes. I went into the editing room saying God, I hope I can find something in there! But because they would listen to me and try it a number of different ways, say “OK, this feels like absolutely nothing but I’ll do it if you say so,” I was able to get a take that was low-key enough that fit with the other styles of acting.

The hardest thing in directing a film is that you’re working with many different people and they work at different rates, different speeds. Some people, the first two takes, they were fine, then they started to fade; other people won’t get going till about the fourth take. To get those two people in the same scene together, you have to monkey around with how much you rehearse one and what you tell them. Usually I take one into a corner and say, ” Your objective in this scene is to make the other guy look at his fly; make the other guy nervous.” I go to the other guy and say, “Your objective in this scene is to not let this guy shake you, no matter what he does. Just try to give him a steely-eyed stare and be so implacable that he gets nervous.” They don’t know what the other person is doing sometimes. It can be slightly manipulative. I try to be open with the actors, but sometimes I had to take an actor and slow him down so that his first two takes became just rehearsal takes for him, so that his third take is really his first one and he would not be bored by the fifth take, which was about when the other fellow would be getting warmed up. You give them different starting points; it’s like handicapping a race. After the first couple days you know or have to be aware of how people work.

How long did the shooting take?

25 shooting days-and nights. The bar scene, we shot 26 straight hours because that was the only time we had the bar. By the final hour I was— I couldn’t think anymore, and we had to change cameramen because the first cameraman couldn’t handhold any more and was starting to sag. I couldn’t think of ways to block by this point so, a couple of scenes, I said, “Put ’em in that chair in front of the wall, lock the camera off, we do the scene, and I’ll figure out some reason for them to be against that wall.” I just was very punchy and we had to get out of that bar. The guy-who-owned-the-bar’s father was about to get up and we were yelling “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” at seven o’clock in the morning. Any time in that film when people look tired, they really are tired. All the night scenes were shot at two or three in the morning; the red eyes are not makeup.

You live farther away from Hollywood than we do, In Hoboken, New Jersey

Yeah, that’s about as far away as you can get.

—Can you talk a little bit about how someone can manage to do that? Do you get an agent you can rely on? How do you get away with sitting outside Hollywood itself?

I lived in Santa Barbara for two years and used to commute down there, pretty much at the drop of a hat. I had a couple bad experiences where a guy said, “We need ya here tomorrow, you’re gonna start this rewrite”—you’d show up at their office and they’d say, “Now what was this about?” So you’d get burned sometimes when you’re commuting like that. In two years I took a lot of meetings. “Take a meeting”: you go in, you have something you’ve just done, you talk about that; if you don’t have something you’ve just done, it’s basically just to meet somebody. It’s so that your agent can mention your name when a project comes up, and they know you, and they know you’re not a lush or whatever they wanta know.

I’ve never got a job out of taking a meeting. And I’ve taken about 50 of them—usually about six a day, driving all over L.A. But what that meant was, people know who I am now. After two years I had enough credits—I had about seven screen credits—and I had met enough people so that I know somebody at every single major studio and most of the minor studios. I can go away now. The people at those studios who can read, I can mail it to them or my agent can mail it to ’em. The people who can’t read, I’m not gonna get work from anyway, so the hell with ’em.

It’s a risk. I’m basically looking for projects now that, if I can direct them, I can direct on the East Coast. Number one, ’cause I don’t like to be away from home that much, and number two, ’cause the farther you are from the studio, the more control you have, the harder it is for them to fuck you up or interfere or look over your shoulder. Although they’ll always have a person, who make about $60,000, called “the studio nominee.” Now, he’s charged to your overhead, stays in the Holiday Inn, and if you go over budget he comes to you and says, “You guys are over budget, cut that out!” and he calls back to the studio and says, “Those guys are goin’ over budget, I’ll watch ’em,” and he goes back to the Holiday Inn. You see him at the end of the shoot and you shake hands and realize that he just made $60,000–$80,000, and you try to find out whose nephew he is. Other than that, when you’re on location it’s up to you.

I’ve been lucky. I’m doing these two projects and I’m commuting. You have to not mind flying, ’cause they will not talk on the phone with you, they will not read. You have to go in and talk the story to them. My acting has helped a lot there. I can go in and have in my head if I want to pitch a story to them, a five-minute version, a ten-minute version, and a 15-minute version. You walk into an office, you haven’t met the person before, right away by the number of phone calls they take in the first five minutes, by the friendliness of the greeting, by the surroundings, you figure out which version this person wants to hear. If you can tell the story in five minutes—which you should be able to do—and it’s persuasive, you may get hired to write that story. Whereas if you wrote the entire screenplay and put it in front of them, they’d sorta say, “What’s this?” and they’d send it out to the receptionist and say, “Break this down for me”—which means, “Give me a two-page synopsis what it’s about.” Most producers either can’t read or, if they can, don’t have time to read. That’s one of the most discouraging things that you find as a screenwriter, is that most of the people who are in charge of hiring writers don’t read. There are people who make a living ’cause they’re great storytellers—and they can’t write a lick, they can’t write dialogue, but they think up great stories and they tell a great five-minute version. They get hired for the first draft; they write a lousy first draft but there’s a germ of a story there; and then they get written off the picture. And there are people you often see—they make between fifty and a hundred thousand dollars a year—and you see “co-story” credit or “story,” but never a whole “screenplay”; they’re useful to the business because they come up with stories. I’m shitty at stories. I’m pretty good at rewriting, I’m good at character, but I rarely come up with just a plot that I can say in a TV Guide two lines that sets anybody on fire.

Whom do you consider the main characters of Secaucus 7?

I don’t have three or four favorite characters. One of the things I tried to do in this screenplay was to write an ensemble movie—write a movie with eight leads and give them all equal screentime and equal depth. If I’d sent that script to a studio, they’d have said three things: Number one, “This guy who wants to be a country-and-western singer, you’ll have to get a real country-and-western singer—couldn’t we make him a rock star and hire David Bowie?” Number two, “Somebody has to commit suicide, or some other much more dramatic ending to this thing.” Number three, “Why can’t we make the two who are breaking up either get together or make that the foreground of the story and make all this other stuff the background, the milieu in which their story is played.” All three of those things I didn’t wanna do. I wanted to say, This is a movie about a group of people, the way The Big Red One is about a group of people going through the war; this is about a group of people going through this weekend, and their past. When I was writing the script I’d say, Who haven’t we heard from in a while? We sorta lost what’sername—how can we get her back into the action? I didn’t want one character to just serve a function and not have a thematic purpose. I wanted to really say, I’m playing Frances or I’m playing Mike as an actor—do I get cut off at a certain point and not have a full character? I tried to make sure that all those characters’ bases were covered so that they were pretty much a full person. Then I felt like the script was done and all I had to do after that was a little polishing to give the whole thing some thrust.

Now as a director I want to hang on to that control over the casting of the movie. Usually at New World the first four names on the marquee are not the director’s choice. The various people who’ve put money into the film—New World, Orion, the Japanese—part of the reason they put money in was they wanted certain names. The director is handed those four people, handed how much they cost, handed the rest of his acting budget and told, “Get who you can for the other parts—’round up the usual suspects!'” And that’s it. I would like to work in situations where I can really pick the actors.

One of the nice things, one of the reasons you do a movie when you could have written a novel and been an enlightened despot—in a movie you’re sometimes just a lousy public servant—at best—and people don’t do what you tell them to, or can’t; and you sometimes get more than a hundred percent. In writing a book or a story, sometimes you’re really clicking and you get a hundred percent of what you can put into that story. When you’re doing a movie, usually it comes out to be 25 percent because of all the various people fighting in other directions. When you’re doing a movie and you have total control over it, in the creation of the characters the actors can—if they’re good—take what you wrote on paper and just make it so much more alive and bring other things to it and bring out humorous parts that you didn’t see in it, and you can control that through the editing—you can get more than 100 percent.

What is your own acting experience?

Pretty limited. My acting experience on the stage: I was in a couple of plays my senior year in college. I was in a couple of plays at the summer theatre that appears in the movie; I played the Chief in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Lennie in Of Mice and Men—large retarded people. My film acting experience is all in films that I either wrote or directed. Right now I’m about the only person who’ll hire me. I got to play a morgue attendant in The Howling because the director said, “Listen, we can’t afford all these actors—do you want to act for free?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “What part do you want that’s a couple pages or less?” So I picked a part that I knew couldn’t be cut; there’s a lot of important information in that scene!

I didn’t study, really. I took one acting class, and I directed one play; and then I directed a couple plays in summer stock. So I had directed three or four plays before I did this thing. As for writing class, I used to take them because I knew I could get an A in it. The guy used to grade on the basis of weight: if you handed in something over five pages he put it on the scale and you got an A. And I needed A’s just to stay in school, because I was a psych major and I didn’t go to my psych classes, and I needed to keep up a certain average to stay in school and use the pool tables.

What trend in cinema would you like to see?

It would be nice if it was possible for the economics of filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition to change enough so that something like Return of the Secaucus 7—not like it, but similar in that it’s a picture that somebody thinks should be made—without thinking about all these other elements like how much money it’s going to bring back, could get out to all the people who’d like to see it, without costing so much. It should be possible for more people to use the film medium like novel-writing; even though in novel-writing it’s getting harder and harder to get something published, you can still do it fairly cheaply—just write the damn thing. I would like to see that happen. I could give a shit what the films are about: some of them will be good, some will be things I’d want to see, some won’t. But I’d like it to be more accessible than it is. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. But as it stands now, something like Secaucus 7, which is just marginally profitable—if I could get three dollars or three-fifty for every person in the country who would like the film, the film would be profitable; but sometimes getting it to those people is more expensive than the money that’s going to come back. Try to open it in Des Moines, say: it may cost $40,000 to really open it, and there may only be $30,000 worth of people there who want to see it; so it’s not economically feasible for me to get it to those people. I don’t know how to do it; I’m not in distribution or exhibition. But it would be nice if there was a way to get it to those $30,000 worth of people without spending 40,000, so that more films could be made, and more films that take a risk could be made.

You can look at marquees when you’re in Hollywood and just say, “That’s a deal, that’s not a film”—this element, that element, and this other element, and that’s why that picture got made. Not because there was a good story that needed telling. Somebody wanted to make a movie, some director was around and needed a movie or wanted to be doing something, and the best thing they got offered was something that had to have, you know, Michael Douglas, Lino Ventura, and Ed Asner in it, so somebody was given a script to write, and told, “You have these stars. Have it look like a comedy and have a little action in it so we can sell it in .Japan….” A good half or more of the things that we see onscreen are deals, not pictures. And that’s why they’re unsatisfying.

Are deal pictures increasing?

I think they’ll stay about the same. The deals will change but the number of deal pictures, no. It doesn’t matter how many of them come out. Some will make money and some won’t, so the studios will continue to exist. But within the studio system there are crafts, there are good people who are producers and directors and writers, and sometimes they can get something through. But it is a matter of getting it through, making your way through the maze. I talk about independent filmmaking and people say, “What do independent filmmakers need?” and I say, “Money.” I was recently talking to somebody who was excited because Robert Redford is going to start this center where independent filmmakers can get together and talk. I’ve been at these and what they talk about is, “Who gave you your money? Can I have his phone number?” They will talk about other things eventually, but that’s the first question: how to make another movie. It’s a problem. I don’t know, I’m glad I can write novels and that I like to, because if all the politicking and all the work that you— Ten percent of all the work that went into Secaucus 7 was the actual writing, directing, editing of it; the rest of it was a lot of bullshit to be able to do those things. Whereas, writing a book, 99 percent of it goes into the writing of the book and the other one percent is either getting it sold or not getting it sold. I’m glad I have another kind of writing to fall back on if the bullshit gets too thick.

I’d like to hear more about The Howling. Do you have any particular technique for approaching suspense?

The Howling is a novel that Joe Dante, who directed Piranha, was given. There was already one screenplay on it. He said, “I’ll take the job directing it if I can have somebody else write the screenplay.” He wanted me to write the second draft; the executive producer didn’t want me because I was in the Writers Guild and that meant I cost too much to do a rewrite. I talked to Joe. I was about to do it, on the condition that I didn’t have to use anything from the original novel, which sucks; I found it very offensive. He said, “Fine fine fine. Avco won’t make you do that, they don’t understand the novel either. They just want a werewolf picture.” So I gave him one or two ideas about how to open and finish the picture. Then I heard about the executive producer not wanting to hire me. They hired somebody else. Joe used those ideas of mine because those ideas will help the picture a lot. He gave those ideas to the writer, the writer put those ideas in, wrote a bad draft—not a very good draft, it was better than the first one—had those ideas that I gave Joe in it. They didn’t like that draft. Finally the guy said, “OK, we’ll hire Sayles”; so they ended up paying twice as much. They finally got a screenplay by me, and after I finished the screenplay and they finished the movie, it goes into arbitration, which is when the Writers Guild decides who’s gonna get credit for this movie. Sometimes something like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden had 15 writers on it and they had to take every single script, every draft, give it to these three poor suckers from the Writers Guild who had been dumb enough to volunteer to be on the arbitration committee, say “Read these things and tell us who gets screen credit.” You have to say where an idea that ends up in the final screenplay existed first. And since these two ideas that I had given to Joe were in that other writer’s screenplay, he gets co-credit with me. But basically the screenplay is my screenplay. What you see on the screen, I wrote.

But the screenplay is Joe Dante, the director, too. We talked about it. He had ideas that I put in there. When you collaborate with the director and things are going well—and they went very well on this thing— Basically I wrote the screenplay that’s being used on the airplane on the way back from Los Angeles after I got the job, because it was a rewrite and I knew what the story, the plot of it, was, and I had talked to Joe about it. It’s a pretty fuzzy separation: I wrote him director’s-touches, but he also handed me a couple lines and situations that I’ll get credit for. We worked together on the story but basically I wrote it. So that’s it as far as authorship is concerned.

Suspense techniques—I don’t know if I have any suspense techniques. Those are with the director. I’ll sometimes just write a scene and say, “Do something scary here. I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but she’s coming out of the house and she’s going to see something and she’s going to scream, because we need it at this point. Why don’t you have it be T.C. standing in the woods, and he’s just eaten her underclothing or something like that? And he’s growling and he’s scratching the tree. But I’m not going to tell you how to shoot it, I don’t know who you’re going to get to play T.C., so you’re going to have to figure it out yourself.” In that case, because I knew who the director was and I knew what he can do and what he’s good at, I could sometimes just say, “Action sequence. These things have to happen by the end of this action sequence. You shoot it—I’m not gonna go through all that work.” In Piranha when I didn’t know who the director was gonna be, I had a lot of things that said, “Shot 392: woman swimming the Australian crawl—begins to scream.” I should have had a typewriter with a “begins to scream” key on it because I used that a lot; “churning bloody water” was another one.

The main thing I did with The Howling is— The book was about a group of werewolves. A woman who’s bummed out by the city—a gardener raped her or something (really great writing!)—and she moves out to this country town in California where everybody says “Howdy, ma’am”—like they really do in small California towns—and she hears this howling at night. She says to the sheriff and everybody else in town, “Did you hear that howling?” and they say, “No, we didn’t hear it,” so immediately you know that they’re werewolves. You’ve heard it, you know she’s heard it, so if they’re lying about it they must be werewolves. No suspense. Plus this town is out of the Fifties. So what Joe and I decided, we’re going to make a contemporary werewolf picture, we have to bring these, werewolves into the 20th century. Instead of a town, she goes up to an Esalen-type community—it’s called The Colony—where this doctor who’s sort of like Dr. Wayne Dyer has a group of people who are trying to Cope with Life. What she doesn’t realize is that really it’s a place for werewolves trying to cope with the experience of being a werewolf in the 20th century.

You take that premise and it can go very campy, very much like the “Dracula Sucks” picture, what was it, with George Hamilton, Love at First Biteand somebody’s doing a werewolf picture like that. You can also take that premise and just play it totally straight, say OK, what would people do if somebody said they were a werewolf? They’d say, “You’re fuckin’ crazy,” or laugh. And that’s what happens in this picture, is this woman realizes these people are werewolves and nobody will believe her. Same thing as I used in Piranha, but as realistic, within that fantasy world of that picture, as I could. The movie will be a little broader than I wrote ’cause Dante’s style of directing is a little broader than I wrote it. That’s the whole thing of meshing styles. When I came and did my one scene; which lasts about a minute, I hadn’t seen any of the rushes: and did it in the style I’d written in. My performance is probably gonna seem very flat; everybody else is doing a much broader performance. My performance is like doing a detective film, a fairly humorous sort of detective film. The rest of the film is much more like a New World Picture, where’ it’s tongue-in-cheek almost all the way—even though it’s very scary at some points.

Can you talk more about the relation of visuals and dialogue in your writing for the screen?

In Secaucus 7 I wasn’t going to be able to make a visual movie, because of expense, so I said OK, what is going to be said in this, scene, and what can I afford, in money and time, to do visually that will accentuate it or at least make it a little interesting to look at? Whereas with a film like The Howling, the first part of the film, instead of a woman being raped by her gardener, I’ve made it about a woman who is tracking down a Hillside Strangler character. She’s a newswoman. Now, where can I put this woman that, without a whole lot of dialogue, will give you the idea that she’s in danger and from something that sort of makes you sweat and be nervous? So I set her on Western Avenue in Los Angeles, which is sort of a porno district, and she’s looking for this character who keeps calling her up from phones that are marked with one of those smiley stickers. So right away you have a physical thing that the audience is looking for, so that later on in the picture when she walks into a peepshow booth and she just passes one of these smiley stickers on the wall, the audience knows something which she doesn’t, which is that this character has been there.

So I started with this image of this woman who is a city news anchorperson, very pulled-together, not a wrinkle, wired for sound by the police, trying to contact this guy who’s started to call her, and have a meeting. This image of that woman walking through the seediest section of town and sticking out like a sore thumb, and asking the hookers for directions, and them saying “What are you doing here?” and just giving her looks, without any dialogue. What has to be said to explain who she is and why she’s there?

The next scene I wanted was a dream sequence where, after she’s been attacked in this porno booth, she doesn’t remember what started to happen before the cops blew in and shot him. That would be totally visual. The next scene after that is her in a psychiatrist’s office, and this guy who runs this community, who has appeared on her TV show, is telling her to go up to this Colony. Basically what I show there was, What does somebody who’s totally blown away look like in a psychiatrist’s office? So I started with the image of her in this office with a lot of space between them, a clock ticking loudly, with the sounds of the room being her sounds—because I didn’t know who the actress was going to be, whether she was going to be great or mediocre or bad. I wanted there to be something about the scene that would have the audience feeling the way she did, because we follow her, she’s in every scene. The strangeness, the look of the room could do that. Once you have that, you say, What’s missing? And that’s what you use the dialogue for. I’m not from the school that says dialogue is antifilmic. If you have a film that’s about people, dialogue—talking—is how people usually communicate. But that’s only one of the ways that you communicate with the audience. I usually prefer to start with what’s visual about the scene and what’s directly visceral, and then say, What has to be explained if I can’t do it visually? What dialogue is needed? And then I just go ahead and write that dialogue.

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