The Oscar-nominated screenwriters from La La Land, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, 20th Century Women, Arrival, Lion and Hell or High Water gathered on Monday night at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood for its 10th Annual Screenwriters Q&A. Earlier that day the writers had gathered for the annual Oscar luncheon.
Jeff Goldsmith of “The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith” moderated the event that was filled with humor and insight and of course inspirational talk.
The 90-minute talk started with the Oscar-nominated writers talking about their lowest points. Schroeder said her lowest point was when she had delivered 44 pitches in a row and her manager couldn’t get her hired.
Chazelle said he had started off as a writer for hire, and he had landed a gig, The Last Exorcist II. The Harvard graduate said one of his lowest moments was reading a review in The LA Times that said mentioned his name in one sentence and added that he was clearly a waste of a Harvard education. Finding the funny side to that slapdown, Chazelle joked that he hadn’t written a horror movie since.
Barry Jenkins recalls one of his lowest writing moments was he had been hired to write and adapt something for “no money.” He returned the script and was told there were a few typos in his work. After not hearing anything else for three months, he chased them down and was told he had been kicked off the project. He then went off to write Moonlight so that’s his happy ending. Tarell Alvin McCraney who co-wrote Moonlight told the young writers in the audience not to read the comments section.
Goldsmith recognized that a few of the films had a common theme where the protagonists are having an identity crisis and are trying to find their way in the world. Manchester by the Sea’s Kenneth Lonergan said, “I don’t see Lee in those terms. He’s just trying to function when he has to take care of his nephew.” He added, “It’s a hard thing to do if you don’t want to get emotionally involved and he gets pulled into the real world of this person.”
Lion’s Luke Davies said chance events that happened to young Saroo set in motion the catastrophe that occurs in his young life. Those events craft out his identity as a young boy and ultimately young adult.
Schroeder talked about the women of Hidden Figures and how their identity didn’t fit with what people expected an engineer or mathematician were expected to be.
Mills said in his story of 20th Century Women it’s the women and not the young boy, Jamie, who are the protagonists, and they are the ones trying to figure out their authentic selves.
As anyone who writes knows, procrastination is quite the distraction, whether it’s scrolling social media feeds, watching YouTube videos or distracting yourself in other ways. Goldsmith asked the panel what their favorite ways to procrastinate were. Mills answered, “I procrastinate by being depressed and going into this depressive state.”
Arrival’s Heisserer said he writes lots of draft and procrastinates by trying to change the character’s perspectives. Hell or High Water’s Taylor Sheridan was in a desperate state financially and wrote two scripts because there was no time to procrastinate. “My wife recognized that desperation breeds achievement.” He said. “One day my wife came home and tossed some car keys and that was my next script.” Schroeder joked that she will write late at night, but then ends up finding herself watching hours of NCIS, telling the audience that she could quote every episode of the show. She wasn’t the only writer distracted by TV, Jenkins said House Hunters International is his distraction and that he had seen hundreds of episodes. Chazelle said he used music as a distraction and he’d create playlists for his writing, setting the mood. He added that the playlists were useless but they were easier to put together than writing a script. McCraney also uses music as a form of procrastinating when he’s writing, but he did mention he had a playlist where he had played a lot of chopped and screwed, which he then used as a technique when composing the score for Moonlight.
Asked about their inspirations, McCraney said he watches dance because that’s what inspires him. Schroeder, Mills and Jenkins said they were all inspired by watching movies. Jenkins admitted he’s a poor sleeper and will wake up as soon as soon as the sun is up, so aside from reading Billy Ray scripts, he watches movies “really early in the morning.” Lonergan said he looks for anything that’s emotionally inspiring whether it’s a “Kubrick film, or classical music.” Chazelle said he likes to read scripts so he can study the format and prose styles.
The LA Film School hosts the Q&A Screenwriters event annually in Hollywood. Below are photos from the event and the podcast link is below.
Listen to Jeff Goldsmith’s Q&A https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-q-a-with-jeff-goldsmith/id426840843