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SCREENWRITER "COFFEE TALK" AT
LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL

By Susan Royal

The Los Angeles Film Festival recently presented a WGAw sponsored "Coffee Talk" for Screenwriters, moderated by Billy Ray, the writer/director of Shattered Glass, and writer of Flightplan and Hart's War. He shared the stage of the Geffen Theater with Callie Khouri (Academy Award-winner for Thelma and Louise and writer/director of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) and Brian Helgeland (writer of Mystic River and L.A. Confidential).

Billy asked the writers to give their best writing advice. Brian had to think about it for awhile, then said some someone told him his writing isn't angry enough. "So now I try to be angry, but I'm really not." He later added that everyone should write pictures that they would want to see up on the screen." He also recommended writing to music and, in fact, specifically suggested the soundtrack from The Thin Red Line.

Callie said it helps her tremendously to know the ending before she begins writing. She said that was about all she had with Thelma and Louise at first but she was able to write toward that. "Directionless writing screws me up more than anything." She also shared her trick of writing each scene first with zero dialogue, showing everything, then going back and adding only the dialogue that's really needed.

Billy liked some advice Paddy Chayefsky used to give: "Don't think of it as art. Think of it as work. Because when you go to fix it, you'll start by saying "What's not working.?"

In fact, Billy's writing schedule reflects this orientation. He writes every day from 9-1 pm takes lunch then goes back and writes until dinner. "Like a real job. I don't know how else to do it. There's such a mountain to climb."

Brian said he writes from about 7 a,m. to noon. "Then I sort of start to lose gas, but I can still sit there for hours in a daze."

Callie said she lacks writing schedule self-discipline. "I'm lazy. I can barely make myself do it."

As to what they liked least about writing? They didn't like rewriting other writers, although they all did it. What they liked best? "Being finished," said Callie, but they all agreed what they liked the best was writing a screenplay when they knew they were going to direct it. They all agreed that directing is the reward for good writing.


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