I went to a SARTEC panel on screenwriting
and heard my friends Ken Scott and Joanne Arseneau, among other top Quebecois screenwriters, talk at some length about their process. A few highlights...
Before Ken writes anything else, he writes a single sentence that sums up the movie and contains all its important elements. Something like what I call a hook, but more whatever is, for him, the movie. For LA GRANDE SEDUCTION, for example: "A village that used to make its living fishing must seduce a doctor into staying in order to survive." Interestingly, he said that for MAURICE RICHARD he didn't have a sentence when he wrote it, but he'd gone to the Montreal Forum for the last game ever played there. (It's now a movie theater.) All the captains of the Montreal Canadiens skated out, including Richard. Richard got a fifteen minute standing ovation. (Or as it's called in French, "un standing ovation.") For Ken, the driving question was: how did a guy who could barely talk become such a spokesman for his people that he got a standing ovation fifty years after he stopped playing hockey?
There was some mild producer bashing. (Q. Why don't producers take the Métro? A. Because you have to pay cash.) And a few warnings about making sure you have a good -- and clear -- relationship with your director. ("The moment a director sits down next to a screenwriter, he thinks he's screenwriting.")
They discussed research. Most of the panelists do lots of research. But Joanne admitted that doing too much can be a trap; and Pierre Szalowski said he only does research when he needs to know something specific; otherwise the research can take over the story. In Ken's case writing MAURICE RICHARD, there was a press conference announcing he was starting the project, so when he went to cafes to write on his laptop, he'd often get some friendly advice from random strangers about what historical event he definitely had to include in the script.
(Boy, a press conference announcing that a screenwriter has been hired to write a biopic. Imaginez-vous ça, vous autres canadiens!)
Joanne mentioned that she deals with notes by imagining the audience. If she's getting notes that don't sound right, she tries to figure out what her imaginary audience would think of the movie if she took the note. If the imaginary audience doesn't like the revised movie, she doesn't take the note.
Thanks for the neat seminar, SARTEC!