Writers talk film at Aspen Summer Words Festival
Film and literary experts turned the spotlight on the silver screen Tuesday during the Aspen Writers’ Foundation Summer Words Festival.”Though there should be a little bit of a ‘popcorn eater’ in all of us,” said John Romano, who is teaching a screenwriting workshop, “I guess our task here for a few days is to help people come down out of that passive, imaginary haze in which the movie is just happening in front of them and figure out how this got planned and made on the page.”Tuesday morning Romano – an Emmy-nominated screenwriter and producer with credits in “American Dreams,” “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” “Third Watch,” Providence” and “Party of Five” – challenged his audience to pull the rug out from under viewers. “You must work and work and work until you reach a moment when the audience says ‘no fair,'” he told the class. Movies are a 20th-century invention and “20th-century form will always leave you unsatisfied,” he said. Romano said films like “The Godfather” and “Casablanca” are successful because though the plot’s loose ends are tied up, the emotional endings are left open so the viewer leaves the theater not necessarily knowing how to feel.The dialogue continued into the afternoon with a panel discussion titled “Don’t Judge a Book by its Movie.”Joining Romano on the panel were Jody Hotchkiss, a literary agent specializing in the sale of books and life rights for film and television; Joyce Maynard, who has worked for The New York Times and NPR and has written five novels including “To Die For,” which was adapted to film; and Colum McCann, whose adaptation of his work of fiction “Everything in this Country Must” was nominated for a 2005 Academy Award and whose most recent work “Dancer” won the Irish Novel of the Year.The panelists shook their sticks at topics ranging from their favorite film adaptations to the surprising phenomenon of the word becoming stronger than ever as a means of communication in the form of e-mail.”The problem with the adaptation is that it puts an eye on our own eyes,” McCann said. “You have to murder a novel then re-create it.” It’s often the “blanker-slate type of book” that makes the most successful adaptation, Maynard said. Such was in the case, she said, in “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman, which was adapted from a relatively unsuccessful novel.The demands of Hollywood can also create problems, Romano said.”There’s tremendous pressure to make a hit, and that’s the worst thing you have to live with,” he said. However, “The actual people who make movies, though they’re prone to glamour and make and spend a lot of money, that’s really not why they’re in it. They want to make something good, which is true. But you can’t point to the results – I can’t send you to three great movies this weekend.”But Romano perhaps leaves his opinion of the television and movie industries emotionally enigmatic.”Even when I’ve met the really kind of shark, Armani-suited, business, greasy agent-types, there’s something about them that made them choose to use those kinds of skills on art, rather than on Wall Street,” he said.And perhaps the definition of screenwriting is open-ended as well. Maynard said that when writing her novels “I describe the movie I already see in my head,” and that her goal is “to give you a movie between the covers.”When it comes down to it, “movies are really their best when they take those rules, know them and then scramble them, and come up with something we haven’t seen or felt before,” Romano said.Catherine Foulkrod’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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