I have to admit, I felt a bit like a fish out of water in a
convention of screenwriters, where Bill seemed completely at home, swimming in
the school of fish. That’s because Bill is a writer and I’m a director. It’s
not like we don’t all talk about movies, but writers operate on a different
wavelength from me – they’re more clever and intellectual to my tendency toward
emotional intuition. At dinner, I couldn’t help but notice that I had less to
say than a typical meeting (where I’m blapping through mouthfuls in my
God-given role as the center of attention). I was jetlagged so this worked for
me, and Bill was really the headliner and I was the special guest and
I hit it off with a number of people at the dinner, more in
talking about life than film. I
totally related to writers’ struggles, compromises, successes and
When we got to the Friday night presentation, I took my seat
in the audience, along with Bill’s wife, Robbye. The main event of the night
was Bill being interviewed by Aadip Desai. It was a remarkable interview right
from the start. Aadip is a great interviewer, because he’s kind of presence
which all at once removes the formality, the pretence, the “performance” of
being on stage, and gets you into yourself. In a few moments, I’d seen an “on
stage Bill True” I hadn’t seen before. He would swear, get grumpy, get
hilarious and share experiences.
You see, we’re professional speakers and we’re very good at
that job. “It’s showtime, folks!” is what we say every day. In fact, when we’re
checking our luggage and pulling out our passports, we’re not saying, “Hey, did
you remember your speech.” We’re saying, “Hey, did you remember your ‘showtime’!”
I’m used to seeing Bill in his “showtime” presence, which
has authenticity and polish, but I was seeing someone sort of turned in on
himself. It was the right place to be in an interview but I knew it threw
Bill a little bit at first because he wasn’t in “control” the way he normally would be.
People loved it. It was a powerful hour and a half of Bill sharing his
successes and insecurities, with a story of every step.
Bill is one of the very few writers that got to survive and
thrive in the situation of co-producing his own movie and staying on his own
set as the writer. “It was not my movie anymore,” I heard Bill say, “because I
sold it, and was lucky to stay on as part of the process.” That is a rare
position for a writer to say and really
mean it, and it’s a sign of the qualities that keeps me, a director, out in
the world presenting and collaborating on projects with this writer.
Then I started to notice my watch. The plan was to start at
8:00 and I was to come up the second half of the event and help field Q/A about
writing from the writer/director combined vantage. But it’s already 9:15 and
the break wasn’t happening, so I sent Robbye up to get Bill’s attention (and
when Bill’s talking about himself it’s going to take a little female magnetism
to draw his attention) and when he saw her tap her watch, they finally called
break, and Aadip announced “Fifteen minutes!”
FIFTEEN MINUTES! I knew what that meant. It meant that
everyone will LEAVE! After all, it’s 9:15 pm on a Friday. Then I’ll come up for
my moment of glory in an inspirational scene like the one in the beginning of Little Miss Sunshine when Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) delivers the life-changing
performance to an audience of three, only one of whom speaks English.
That’s when I discovered the nature of the people we were
speaking to in Seattle.
It’s now 9:35 on Friday night, and when two people sat down, my expectations
were met. With the third and forth, they were exceeded. By the time we
restarted the Q&A, I couldn’t believe it. The entire crowd returned. If we
lost one or two people, I would be surprised. This isn’t how it goes normally.
These writers were special people – hungry, respectful, and committed to
learning and growing.
Our tag-team Q/A went really well because we could speak
from two very different vantages on the same subject. Bill got at the heart of
what these people were going through, what they knew and didn’t. I could speak
from the director’s chair, which can be their best friend or their worst enemy.
A lot of times, directors can’t stand having “the writer” around. But the
potential for collaboration is so much more powerful if you can recognize that
making films isn’t a solo art form. If your ego needs to do it all yourself,
well go be a painter.
As we talked, some important things came out. If film were a
sport, it would be a relay race. We each get our chance to hold the baton and
run like mad. But then we have to hand it off and realize it’s not our race to
run anymore. If film were animal, it’d be a flock of geese. We take turns
pulling the lead at different times, but the whole group has to go wherever the
leader is going… together!
This was the hope that rose out of this night – that
perhaps there’s a way to embrace the relay race and pass the baton, but work
together better than is typically achieved – to share the collaboration with
the whole group and fly there together.
When I arrived, I felt like a fish out of water amongst
these people. But now I was flying like the geese. At nearly 10:30 on a Friday
the entire group was still here asking questions and hearing out our answers.
These Seattle screenwriters suddenly felt like a
family – my new family of screenwriters, in Seattle. I felt great because after all it
was Q&A, so all they had to do to end the event was not have any more
questions. So it must not have been boring. The event ended when the lights
flashed to signal the Clear Channel Communication Building was closing down
for the night and the rest of the questions would just have to wait.
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