The Dialogue Series - Complications Ensue
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Sunday, June 08, 2008

THE DIALOGUE SERIES is a DVD series of 70-90 minute discussions in which more than two dozen top screenwriters share their work habits, methods and inspirations, secrets of the trade, business advice, and eye-opening stories from life in the trenches of the film industry. Each writer discusses his or her filmography in great detail and breaks down the mechanics of one favorite scene from their produced work.

Interview subjects include OscarĀ® winners and industry veterans like Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco), Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Peter & Bobby Farrelly (There's Something About Mary, Stuck on You) and David S. Goyer (Dark City, Blade, Batman Begins). The series is hosted by Michael De Luca, film fanatic and former President of Production at New Line Cinema. In a climate where "industry" talk shows are mostly fluff pieces, Mike De Luca's probing and savvy style elevates this series to a true exploration of the craft and its masters.
The people behind this series were kind enough to send me the David Goyer interview.

Now, I'm not the best person for this sort of disk. Most of what David Goyer has to say in this disk isn't news to me. It may be interesting for you, though.

What I want in a writer interview is for someone to ask the questions I'd ask the writer if I were taking him out for Irish whiskey at the Paddock, or fine tequila at Reposado. Questions about writing craft. Questions about how the business works at a high level.

Granted, most writer gossip is too specific to publish. How is it working with [name of executive]? What is up with him? How fast do you think [name of writer] is gonna get a show on [network] now that he's dating [name of executive]? Did she jump or was she pushed?

Or, Hey, I hear you're working with [supposedly respectable producer who owes me $33,000]. Watch out!

But smart writers always have arcane questions for each other. And perhaps if the interviewer had been another writer, instead of the former President of Production at New Line (i.e. a suit), the questions might have been more probing and useful.

For example, De Luca asks Goyer about his monicker "The Prince of Darkness," and Goyer talks about how he got that nickname in high school, and then goes on to talk about his tattoos. I would have asked: do you promote that name as part of your brand as a writer? Do you find it helps you get jobs like the movies you've been writing -- DARK CITY, BATMAN BEGINS -- because people say, "Hey, let's get that Prince of Darkness guy!"? Do you find you're losing out on period dramas and rom coms because you're that Prince of Darkness guy?

Or, Goyer mentions that on the first BLADE he was a writer, on a second a writer-producer, and on the third, a director. Both Goyer and De Luca are very interested in Goyer's experience as a director, because directors are important people in Hollywood. But I would have been interested in knowing what it means to be a writer-producer. Was that just a courtesy title? How much authority came with it? And authority over whom? Did the director listen to you any more?

It's hard coming up with good interview questions. It is perhaps the hardest part of doing an interview. You have to really know your subject and figure out what to ask him that he hasn't been asked before. The rest is typing.

This is a DVD, and that ought to have a higher signal to noise ratio than a radio interview, say. Because you're paying for it, and you're supposed to actually look at it, not just listen while you sit on the 101. (The Dialogue Series does leverage the screen a bit, by explaining who people are talking about when they name drop.) I want someone to take a three hour conversation and squeeze it down to the juiciest one hour. I want ideas going by at high speed so I want to stop the disk and run that by me again. I did not feel these discs met that standard.

But then, a DVD like this is not for me, and you may not have a lot of writer friends to quiz over Red Breast. If you're still getting a sense of the biz, and wonder what really, really successful writers are like in person, you may find these disks useful.

UPDATE: I ran this by a smart emerging writer, who wrote:
There's lots of interesting information about Batman, Blade, The Flash, and other superhero movies. De Luca asks him questions that are related to screenwriters in terms of working and surviving the industry -- how to deal with notes, problem actors and directors, being rewritten, rewriting others, studio politics, cycles of movies, how genre movies can be taken seriously... things that are all useful.

But there is nothing on craft.

The closest they get to it is when David Goyer talks about finding a theme to focus on -- Batman is really about fear and parent issues, The Flash is about speed as a vice, something you get addicted to. But that's maybe a minute or two out of a 79 minute running time.

One thing that was kind of interesting was a writing exercise called "the object". De Luca presents a random object (in this case, a toy clown on a scooter), and Goyer has to mine from it a story or idea (something about a cop searching for a supernatural killer, and "the souls of 40 murdered children"). Hearing him explain how he got that from the object, and in turn, how he gets inspiration and ideas from other things, was insightful.

The questions De Luca asks that are actually related to screenwriting are along the lines of "did you go to film school, how did you break in, what kind of stuff do you have in your office, do you outline, how many hours a day do you work...". Things that are somewhat interesting, but not that helpful. ... It is cool to find out these sort of things. But there needs to be more than just that.

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2 Comments:

Toy Clown -- Umm... Look at David Goyer's filmography.

He has no less than 3 movies involving killer toys. That's either a freebie, or the interviewer didn't do his homework.

Just as a note, apparently, David Goyer wanted to do the comic book thing when he started writing. Focused on that, and eventually got his career where he wanted it to be -- So in answer to Alex's query --

I don't think David Goyer is regretting missing out on those period dramas or rom coms he's not getting. But it would be nice to hear that in an in-depth interview.

The one thing I got out of that interview --

The Flash.

I've always thought the Flash was a very problematic character. He lives in a world with Superman -- and is questionably faster than the Man of Steel. But can't fly, or see through anything, or have super strength.

For me, personally, I have a hard time seeing any real meaty substance to write about in the character, simply because he is marginalized by the Man of Steel.

It was VERY fascinating to hear Goyer's take on the character.

Kind of a "stop and smell the roses" pitch.

I immediately understood what he was going for. I still think The Flash is problematic, and if given the choice, I'd choose a different character from the DC universe than him. However, it was nice to see that someone had unlocked a puzzle, in a manner that makes me actually want to see what he comes up with.

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