Casper flyttade till New York 1993 för att studera skådespeleri och regi på Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. Han är en erfaren skådespelare, manusförfattare, filmregissör och producent som har regisserat åtta prisbelönta långfilmer i New York och Los Angeles. Tre efter eget manus (i ett fall en adaption från en roman), och två har han skrivit tillsammans med andra manusförfattare— allt från romantisk komedi och dramakomedi till relationsdrama. Länkar till hans filmer finns här.
Casper har producerat sina amerikanska filmer inom det egna bolaget Embrem Entertainment. Hans nionde långfilm som producent— Wild Nights with Emily, i regi av Madeleine Olnek (och med Molly Shannon i huvudrollen som Emily Dickinson), hade sin världspremiär 2018 på South By SouthWest. Våren 2019 gick filmen upp på bio i USA och har visasts på över 200 biografer. Wild Nights with Emily fick lysande recensioner och är på Rotten Tomatoes topplista över 2019s bästa komedier. Filmen har nominerats for the John Cassavetes Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards 2020.
I Sverige har Casper skrivit och regisserat kortfilmen Ett Sista Farväl, ett drama med Tomas von Brömssen, Iwar Wiklander och Liv Mjönes. Filmen har vunnit ett tjugotal priser och visats på 130 filmfestivaler runt om i världen. Sedan flytten tillbaka till Stockholm i slutet av 2017 har Casper producerat David Färdmars första långfilm Are We Lost Forever med premiär 2020.
Under sina studier på Alma Manusutbildning har Casper skrivit ett kortfilmsdrama, en dramaserie för TV samt en romantisk komedi som han hoppas ska bli hans svenska långfilmsdebut. Casper har ett flertal idéer för TV-serier som han gärna skulle vilja utveckla — allt från historiskt drama till komediserie i kort episod-format. Han är också mycket intresserad av adaption och att arbeta som avsnittsförfattare.
Casper har blivit utsett till en av de 100 mest inflytelserika och nyhetsvärda HBTQ personerna av den amerikanska tidskriften OUT Magazine.
Varför vill man skriva manus? Har man något att förmedla? Eller varifrån kommer behovet att berätta?
Svaren på de frågorna kommer jag inte att försöka besvara här. Utan detta är frågor som varje författare själv måste hitta svaren på. Det kan ofta gå många år från att man har en idé till en film eller TV-serie, till att den faktiskt spelas in. Om den nu spelas in. De flesta idéer och manus överlever inte vägen dit. För att orka driva ett projekt framåt trots alla de motgångar som man förmodligen kommer att stöta på, så tror jag att det oerhört viktigt att som manusförfattare hålla fast vid varför man vill berätta just den här historien. Att veta varför gör det mycket lättare att kämpa vidare.
Under utvecklingens gång kommer man också stöta på diverse producenter, konsulenter och representanter för kanaler som vill göra vissa ändringar. Som kanske vill ändra på… typ.. allt. Har man då inte formulerat för sig själv vad det är man vill med det man skriver så händer det lätt att fokusen blir något helt annat.
Tidigare i år praktiserade jag i utvecklingsavdelningen på ett större produktionsbolag i Stockholm som del av min utbildning på Alma Manusutbildning. Många gånger blev jag oerhört förvånad över hur ofta författare som kom och presenterade sina - ibland långt utvecklade - projekt var villiga att gå med på ändringar. Många var öppna för att ändra i stort sett vad som helst i enlighet med producenternas feedback i utbyte för lite utvecklingspengar. Självklart måste man kunna kompromissa. Kanske i den här branschen mer än i någon annan. Jag menar dock att man också måste stå upp för och kämpa för sin vision. I slutändan måste man vara villig att säga nej tack om man inte längre tillåts göra sitt projekt på ett meningsfullt sätt - även om det betyder att man måste hitta nya samarbetspartners.
För ett antal år sedan när jag var i Sverige på besök pratade jag med en manusförfattare/regissör som under två års tid arbetat på att utveckla sin andra långfilm. Under den perioden hade han tilldelats utvecklingspengar från bland annat Svenska Filminstitutet, men i slutändan fick projektet nej till produktionsstöd från SFI. ”Men vad tråkigt”, sade jag. ”Hur ska du nu gå vidare med det?” ”Nej men nu är det ju dött”, fick jag till svar. ”Utan SFI går det inte att fortsätta så jag har börjat utveckla ett nytt projekt.” Efter två års utveckling. Så gav han bara upp. För att SFI sa nej. Jag var chockad av hans attityd. Självklart måste det väl finnas en väg vidare? Inte kan man låta sig stoppas av att en eller två personer i maktposition inte tycker att ens projekt är värt detta? Efter att ha bott i Sverige nu ett par år så har jag lärt mig att det är så här de flesta inom den svenska filmbranschen resonerar. Man är helt beroende av pengar från SFI för att kunna göra sin film. Hur hållen man fast vid sin vision då? När man är så fullkomligt beroende av ett par enskilda personers tyckande?
I cirka femton år har jag jobbat som en independent filmskapare i New York och LA. Där har jag producerat nio långfilmer och där finns det inga filminstitut att ta ställning till. Det finns inga stödpengar att söka och inga filmkonsulenter som man måste få på sin sida. Istället är det marknaden som driver och man måste som filmskapare övertyga privata finansiärer om ens projekts meriter. En minst lika otrevlig situation kan man tycka. Men också en situation som gör att man har fler och andra möjligheter.
För många år sedan då jag skulle göra min andra långfilm i New York lärde jag mig en viktig läxa. Det var första gången som jag sökte utomstående finansiärer till en films budget (min första långfilm hade jag finansierat själv tillsammans med en god vän). Jag pratade nu med en villig investerare som trodde på min nya film och skrev ut en check på en femtondel av filmens budget. Finansiären lovade att försöka hjälpa mig skaffa fler finansiärer i utbyte mot en Exekutiv Producent titel. Jag kände mig frustrerad över hur svårt det var att hitta alla dessa investerare och önskade högt att någon bara skulle komma in och ge mig hela budgeten till filmen. ”Nej”, sade då den här mannen. ”Det är inte vad du vill”. ”Jo”, protesterade jag. Helt övertygad om att det var exakt det jag ville.
Finansiären förklarade då att vad jag ville var att bygga upp en pool av investerare; många personer som var och en gav mig en mindre del av budgeten. På det viset kunde jag själv behålla full kreativ kontroll (Om någon kommer in med alla pengarna så kommer de också vilja ha inflytande). Och när jag är redo att göra min nästa film, fortsatte finansiären. Vad gör jag då om min enda investerare avböjer att återkomma? Har jag istället en pool av investerare som var och en ger mig en del av budgeten så kan jag nästa gång gå tillbaka till dem alla. Även om ett antal då avböjer så kommer säkert många också att säga ja. Jag kompletterar då dessa med några nya investerare och för min nästkommande film efter det har jag en ännu större pool av potentiella investerare att gå till. Min nyfunne vän hade fullständigt rätt. Jag lyckades bygga upp en investerarpool. Tack vare det så fick jag möjlighet att göra en film om året under ett flertal år. Med full kreativ kontroll.
Jag tror att det måste finnas sätt att även i Sverige inte göra sig helt beroende av SFI. Brinner man för sitt projekt så får man hitta andra vägar att få det gjort även om man får ett nej eller två. Kanske man kan göra om det till en serie och sälja till TV? Kanske det går att göra en lågbudget version av filmen? Kanske det går att få ihop budgeten i ett annat land och spela in filmen där? Kanske kan man hitta privata investerare? Eller sponsorer?
Filmskaparen och rollsättaren David Färdmar spelade nyligen in sin första långfilm utan stöd från SFI. Mycket tack vare goda relationer till skådespelare och filmarbetare lyckades han få klart filmen genom att filma några dagar i taget i över ett års tid. Jag kom in som producent och hjälpte till att hitta ett par personer i USA som investerade privata medel i projektet. Det var mycket tack vare Davids passion för filmen och vad han ville förmedla med den som gjorde att dessa individer valde att investera. Men, som ordet investerare förmedlar, så tror de också på filmen som en investering som kommer att ge utdelning. De tror att vi kommer att lyckas hitta distribution och kunna sälja filmen till en publik. Det återstår att se om vi lyckas.
Jag skulle alltså vilja påstå att måste tänka på sin film som en produkt som det faktiskt går att sälja. Lyckas man hitta en publik som är villiga att betala något för att ta del av det som man har skapat så är det fullt möjligt att dra in en del pengar. Inkomster som sedan kan betalas tillbaka finansiärerna så att de sedan förhoppningsvis återkommer med nya investeringar inför nästa projekt. Man måste alltså nå ut med sin film till en publik. Och visst är det målet med filmen? För vem bryr sig om att du gjort en film, om ingen bryr sig?
Förra året ledde jag ett seminarium i Stockholm om hur man producerar där jag pratade om allt detta. Mot slutet av dagen räckte en kvinnlig filmskapare upp handen och uttryckte frustration över allt detta prat om finansiering, om att hitta sin publik, om distribution, om pengar, pengar, pengar. ”Jag vill ju bara göra min film!” Ja men gör det då! Men om du bara vill göra din film för din egen skull, om du inte bryr dig om ifall någon faktiskt tar del av det du vill säga med den, hur kan du då förvänta dig att någon ska ge dig pengar att göra den? Det går göra. Men kanske du får göra den utan en riktig budget, spela in den på din mobiltelefon och klippa den på din dator. Alls inte en omöjlighet numera. Bara du vet vad du vill berätta.
Jag upplever att bidragssystemet för film i Sverige gör att många kreatörer har en mentalitet av att de förtjänar att få dessa gratispengar för att förverkliga sin vision. Men också att de står handfallna om så inte sker. Självklart är det fantastiskt att denna möjlighet finns. Jag skulle bara vilja uppmana alla som har något att berätta, alla som har något de brinner för, att inte låta sig stoppas av någon handläggare som beslutar att du och ditt projekt saknar värde. Och inte heller stoppas av att någon producent eller ett visst produktionsbolag säger nej. Har du något som måste skrivas, någon som du bara måste förmedla - gör då allt du kan för att få det gjort. Även om så bara för din egen skull.
Som om TV-makare är jag mest stolt över Pluras Kök (originalformat, producent, regi), Lyckliga Gatan (utveckling, producent, regi), Så Mycket Bättre (regi) och Klass 9A (regi). De utmärkelser jag skattar högst är RIA-galans stora producentpris som jag vann 2015 med Lyckliga gatan och TV-Kristallen som jag fick 2011 för Pluras kök.
Casper Andreas interviews script consultant and author Linda Seger.
It says on IMDb and on your website that you were the original script consultant and that you invented the business.
So I’m wondering how did that came about? What was your background that led to you consulting on script?
I got a master in theatre and I taught and directed plays. I worked mostly on the academic side and a little bit on the professional side. Then I did a dissertation about what makes a script work. I wanted to analyze what are the elements that you see in a great script, and what are the elements that are not there when you see a script that does not work. I created a sort of a graphic analysis that was a way of breaking down all the elements of a script.
I was near Los Angeles so when my job ended at the University I thought maybe I would just go to the film industry – I mean, that’s drama! Well it was very difficult to get any kind of a job. One of the things I discovered was that Hollywood is kind of anti-education and I had at that time two master degrees and a doctorate and there was no way I would get any job in that business with that education. So, I took all of my degrees, except my BA in English, off my resume and I tried to think – what did I do that they might be interested in?
So I started being a script reader – that’s when you read and synopsize and maybe do a paragraph about the script – and I would see all of these scripts that might have worked. We had to turn them down because they did not work, but I would look at them and I thought if they only did this, this and this then I actually think this would be a good script.
I was working at Norman Lear’s company as an assistant to an assistant. One of the people who had submitted a script to my boss told me that he just didn’t know what to do. ‘There is obviously something wrong and I don’t know what it is. I have worked on this for five years and I don’t know what the problem is.’ I said, what if I apply this dissertation method to your script and see if I can identify what is the problem? So we got together and I figured it out and he said ‘I have worked for five years on this and now after one hour I know what to do.’
Then I did a couple of free scripts for producers that were well known and I asked what should I charge and could you give me an endorsement? So they helped me figure that out and I started putting very small classified ads in the Hollywood Reporter. I think there was a thought in my head that if I did this job the production companies would come after me to ask me to be an executive. But when I started doing this I realized that I’m really an entrepreneur type and not a corporate type. So then I thought how do I make this a fulltime job? So I went to a career consultant and we spent about five months having meetings and using all these different techniques and we made it work. It still took about a year or two after that for me to make a living of it.
And now you have consulted on thousands of scripts?
I mean it’s not like I have exactly counted but when I sort of have gone back I’m sure it is at least 2500 projects over a long period of time.
Both scripts for movies and TV shows?
I have done screenplays, television, short films, plays for theatre – so things that have to do with drama. I think I have consulted on four documentaries but mainly fiction. It does not matter if it’s a movie or TV episodes. I consulted on The Bridge...
Yes, I saw that! How did that come about?
One of the companies, I don’t know if it was the Danish or the Swedish, I think it was the Swedes, but I might be wrong, they hired me. They had, I think, one episode as a script and the rest as treatments.
Yes, that’s how they usually do it here.
I do know in the draft that I saw the female was not as strong as the male. And I could see that this is an amazing character, this female, and I know that one of my notes was making her stronger, and making her equal. And I know another note was that there were in some places clues that were not adding up. You know one clue would lead to the next, and so I know I did a lot of thinking about that. Once I give my notes, especially when I work with producers, I don’t necessarily know what happens to them. Some producers will show my notes to the writer and others keep me secret and just tell the writer certain things.
As if they came up with it?
Yeah. I mean they can do it however they want.
So people send you scripts then from all over the world. I assume one has to write in English?
Sometimes they translate it for me. I read the script and then they translate it back. I have had scripts from all six continents. Not Antarctica yet. I’m waiting for my first script from Antarctica. They tend to be feature films but not all. What I find so interesting is that the style and the kind of stories are so different in different kind of cultures and I really try to preserve that. So I’m not turning something into a Hollywood film. I’m really saying given your audience, given your culture, given your storyline, I want to stay right in tune but define how you can strengthen it, clarify, tighten, make more of something, build, and develop. We want to get more out of this than what you are getting out of it right now.
Do you find that writers from different parts of the world are struggling with different things? Can you see patterns in Scandinavians for example – that something is not working so well in scripts from here?
Europeans tend to be more philosophical and thematic, and are often more character-driven. Same with Australians. And sometimes the stories suffer and are not clear and focused or shaped. Americans care so much about story that they sometimes forget about character.
With European or Australian scripts, if the project is more character driven than story driven, you still have to shape it. Sometimes it means that you have to shape it more because you don’t have the story to help you. And so a lot of times I do a lot of different techniques to give that movement to a script that wants to slow down or be too static. So I sometimes cluster the turning points, or the plots, or the subplots. And I say that even though they are all kind of all weak, when you put them together, cluster them within the same five minutes, they actually will push the story to the next act. Even if they don’t have that power that an American want. That way I can preserve their particular more leisurely way of storytelling while still shaping it.
I find that a lot of writers and filmmakers in Sweden say that they don’t want to follow a formula. They don’t want to do a traditional Hollywood story but want theirs to be inventive and original. How do you feel when people express that? Is there a formula to writing a script?
There is not a formula. There is a concept. And people get confused thinking that knowing your craft gets in your way of your art. I say you need them both. It’s like a pianist who doesn’t do their scales. It’s like an artist who doesn’t know that if you mix blue and yellow you are going to get green. It is like a ballerina who says I don’t need to practice, I don’t need to know what my grand adage is, or what a pirouette is, or what my fifth position in ballet is -- and ballet is all build on that. The twelve-tone scale in music was done because somebody knew what the regular scale was and they understood major and minor.
There is nothing wrong with knowing what you are doing. There is a saying, ‘if you don’t know it you can’t use it.’ And I also say that ‘you can do anything you want if you can do it.’ So when you get innovative, you get innovative off of the basics. You can be innovative and go in another direction – and you want to do that – but the great movies doing that, are not done by the first time writers. I think Crash is a great movie juggling like fourteen different plotlines. It won an Academy Award. This guy knows what he is doing! That was not his first script. He could do that because he had done other kind of scripts.
It is like you have a tool chest and then you decide what tools to use. When you get stuck, you know where to turn. I have tools in my tool chest that I maybe have used four or five times in my entire career. If I can’t solve a problem with all the tools that I have used in the last five years, but I know in my tool chest is this little tool, that I rarely used, that is going to help me figure out what can be done to help solve this problem.
So the formula you worked out with your dissertation that you applied when you first started analyzing script, is it something that you still use?
Well its not a formula –
It's a concept!
Right. It’s a concept. So when you see a great script what do you see? You see a solid structure that supports the story. You see movement forward, the story doesn’t just sit there, but it keeps having momentum. You see conflict. You see these turns that I then defined as turning points. Then you look at character detail and sometimes the back story. And over the years I kept adding other elements. But it was the question – what is here that I see consistently in great scripts? You are going to see conflict, and character arches, and a lot of transformations. Over the years I gathered a lot more information, but because I had studied drama for some years I asked; what do I know about drama? What do I know about those elements? So that’s kind of the basics.
I imagine there are sometimes new films coming out that get a lot of acclaim for reinventing certain things. Things that we haven’t really seen before.
Crash was something that I though oh I really like this, because I haven’t seen that before. A lot of times I form new theories based on movies that I just think are terrific.
Do you enjoy going to the movies or is it all work?
I love it!
Can you watch a movie without analyzing it or is that part of the fun?
I don’t analyze a movie the first time I see it. I just enjoy it. I sit back and probably watch it just like any other moviegoer. And then if I think that there is something in that movie like, you know there is a new concept, or I want to use that movie as an example in my class or something, then I’ll go back and watch it more with the idea, what are they doing that makes this movie so terrific. And a good movie, and a good scene, a good character, you can watch that over and over hundreds of times. Some of the film clips in my class, I know that I have seen them a hundred or two hundred times, they remain extraordinary.
Can you give an example?
Well, I sometimes use this scene from Witness, the murder scene. It is a perfectly structured scene done by writers who really know what they are doing. They had been in television for years before they wrote Witness. It doesn’t matter how many times I see the scene, the skill of the writers, the director, the editors, the actors, the detailing of the scene…
Sometimes when people analyze the films I have made they claim that I did certain things that I didn’t even realize myself that I was doing. So I’m thinking, yeah maybe I did, but it was kind of unconsciously done. So I’m wondering do you think great writers are always conscious of what they are doing?
I think in good writing like in anything, you digest it. It goes into your unconscious and then sometimes it flow out in you and you don’t know what you are doing. But the more you understand what you are doing the more you can do it more. And also when you run into problems you have something you can go back to. With Crash, I learned so much just studying that, and I actually did a book called And the Best Screenplay goes to where I analyze Sideways, Crash and Shakespeare in Love.
So when did you decide to write your first book on screenwriting?
It was when I started doing seminars. When I started the consulting, I deliberately waited to do seminars. Because I wanted to be a script consultant who did seminars and not a seminar leader who occasionally did consulting. So I waited two or three years until my business was really going and then I started doing seminars because people asked me to do them. And then when I was doing seminars, people said when are you going to write a book about this? So the first book came out in November 1987.
And that was Making a Good Script Great?
Yes and then my agent said what is your next book? And I said oh, am I supposed to write another book? I loved writing my first book so I was like OK. So my second book was on character and so I kept finding that there were issues and subject matters that I really felt should be explored, and I really liked writing books. I had a number of colleagues who said they hated writing these books and that they just wrote them fast and I said that was not my experience. It was a really great experience writing. So I just kept doing them and my tenth screenwriting book will be out next year, which is on writing great dialogue. And then I’ve done new editions on several of my books as well, and I started doing some spiritual books because my background was in theology and I had this strange combination.
So nine books and a tenth on the way about screenwriting. So you feel that there are always more things to explore?
And one should read all of your books?
So if one can only read one of them. Which one should one start with?
Well if you can only read one, Making a Good Script Great. But they build on each other.
But that one is the basic one?
Yes. I try to not repeat. Several books for example will talk about character but I try to go at it slightly differently. So even if one say well these are similar ideas, they are said differently in the fifth book versus the second book for instance, or there is a different twist to them.
So in 1987, I’m sure there were other screenwriting books already, but not that many. Now there are hundreds…
There were Syd Field’s from 1978. Then Syd had done his second one. There were maybe five others that were not successful. They tended to be very academic, very dense, and I said why did Syd’s book do so well and why did they others not do so well –
You analyzed his book?
Yeah. And part of it was that his was very accessible. Short sentences. It was very clear. So I actually used Syd’s book as a model. I had formed my own theories before I even knew about Syd, but I did like his idea about midpoint and that was a new idea for me. I use it slightly differently from what he does but I got that from Syd. But what I really got from Syd was that the idea of being accessible, and being very careful of being bogged down, or being dense, or stopping the reader in some way. You want the book to flow. So I do a lot of reading of my books out loud.
So when I wrote my first screenplay many years ago I had all these ideas for what I wanted it to say and I knew that I shouldn’t put it in voiceover so I made the characters say everything out loud. So there was a lot of dialogue, expressing my thoughts. And I was so proud of it that I sent it off to a friend who was an assistant at a big agency in LA and he promised to read it and I never heard from him again. So I came to the conclusion it needed some rewrites and I picked up your book. I have the second edition of How to Make a Good Script Great –
Oh good. The third editing has some really good extra chapters. So you should pick that one up.
OK. Yes I should find that one. But I remember your book helped me tremendously. I was following it like a blueprint. It was very helpful.
People have won Academy Awards reading that book. Alvin Sargent, who had a long career with Ordinary People, Julia, Spiderman 2, said he really admired that book. The guy who wrote Saving Private Ryan, when I met him he said ‘how do you feel seeing your work up on the screen?’ He knew who I was so I thought; oh you must have read the book! But I was so floored I couldn't utter a word.
Do you read all the other books that come out? Anything you would recommend of other writer’s books? Anything you would say to stay away from?
No. But I really look for who is adding something to the conversation. Some books are repeating what is already out there and there is no reason for them. I was asked to endorse a book and I read it and I just said there is nothing new in this book, so I declined.
But I tell you some of the people I think have written really important screenwriting books. One is a woman in Australia, Linda Aaronson. Linda is developing a lot of discussions on alternative structures. And I think I have endorsed two of her books. And I think what she is doing is really important and I applaud her. She does do seminars around the world. I have never met her but we have been in email contact and I have recommended her for things. I actually recommended her for a job teaching in France. I just think she is very important.
And then Pamela Jaye Smith who does mythology in film, and she has I think five books. One is The Power of the Dark Side , and she has one on inner character. She is really important because she is expanding this whole idea into mythology. Christopher Vogler did it with The Writer’s Journey based on Joseph Campbell. I do think Chris’ book is really important. In fact I told him to write that book. I literary told him if you don’t write this book within two years, I’m going to write a book on mythology because this has to be written. And he said ‘I rose to the challenge and I have done really well because of you.’ Chris is great. But Pamela goes further with it. She is so knowledgeable about mythology and so she deals with other kind of myths, how they relate to film, and lots of other specifics. So I tend to go to people who are really important in terms of pushing things forward. Sometimes people talk to me about wanting to write a book on screenwriting and I’m like find a niche. Do some seminars for it. Establish yourself for whatever that niche is. And then write about it.
At the Alma scriptwriting program we have a long list of scriptwriting books to read. It is interesting because when I first started to write I just jumped into it and then I really made my scripts happen in the rewriting process. But now with all these things I have learned that I ought to have worked out before I start to write the actual script, it almost makes it… it adds a lot of pressure. You feel you need to do so much before you actually start to write that sometimes –
Sometimes there is a feeling with some people that writing as an art form is different than every other art form on Earth. Nobody questions that in order to become a ballerina you are going to practice and learn some very specific things. You are going to practice your basics and then you are going to find your voice. You want to be a painter? Then why wouldn’t you do some art classes to understand the different things a brush can do, the combination of colors, and how colors work against each other? And photography, or every other artwork, of course you are going to prepare.
Maybe not acting.
Yes even acting.
Well you know how some actors say ‘oh I don’t want to ruin my natural ability by taking classes’.
Then you say; well there is a reason why Meryl Streep, and Tommy Lee Jones, and Anthony Hopkins and some of these people are great actors. They have technique. They don’t only have their ability – their talent – they have technique. They know their craft as well as their art. It’s an attitude of I don’t want to know anything. And it is very limiting to think that anything you learn about your art form is a bad thing. How can it be bad to study Schindler’s List? How can it be bad to learn something about how to build a character arch? So when you feel you want a character arch and you don’t know what to do with that you are reinventing the wheel instead of learning the technique and being able to say ‘I think I know how to do this.’ And there are so many great techniques. Like I love the rule of threes. I say the only rule I follow is the rule of threes. Do you realize how helpful that little idea is to create a script that really is cohesive and hangs together? And it is a technique that when you apply it it’s like wow! That wasn’t so hard. Because I know the rule of threes.
With all these books on screenwriting out there now, do you feel that the scripts you read have become better than say 20-30 years ago? First time writers today, are they better because they have access to so much more information?
Usually I do think they are better. Sometimes I send one of my clients back to a book. And sometimes I get amazed how they absorb the ideas. They are like ‘I get it. I get how I can improve this script.’ And then there are the people who don’t want to learn how they can make their scripts better.
I imagine the people hiring you do want to learn.
Well not always. Some people hire me and they think I’m going to say ‘your script is great. Don’t change a thing.’
Oh, that’s what they want to hear?
And I say, why would you hire me to tell you that? Your aunt Mary could tell you that. You don’t need me to tell you that. You hope that they are open because if not there is no point in hiring me. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that even the best script that come to me, I would get another 2-5 % out of it. I will find something that absolutely improves it that they have not thought of no matter how experienced they are. And if the scripts are great, I have to do more detailed work, because I have to think; OK – Is there any way that we can get more out of it? One time I had a client, maybe two years ago, she had written a play. And it was very flat. You know plays are so dependent on subtext, and character, and she wasn’t very knowledgeable about playwriting. And I looked at it and I said if you don’t want to learn more about character and subtext, this is the time to stop. And you need to decide because it’s going to be a lot to learn to make this play a good play. But if you do want to learn here is the path.
Did she want to learn?
Well, I said you should read my book Writing Subtext. And I told her ways to work with it. Then I gave her a list of maybe three movies and two plays, and I said really study these and here is what I want you to notice. And I gave her lots of ideas on how to use subtext and how to tighten the whole play. And I thought I would not be surprised if she just stops. I pretty much presumed she would give up. But she worked on that and she did everything that I suggested. Studied those plays, the movies, she read the books, she read my book, she underlined, and she came back with really a play that just floored me. I would never have thought she could have done this. What she did was that she took everything seriously that I suggested. She said ‘it was a challenge for me to think I’m going to do this. I’m going to show Linda!’ There is actually now somebody considering it for production based on that rewrite.
I have a saying, never underestimate what a writer can do with guidance. There are a lot of writers who say ‘Ah I get it. Now I know what to do!’ And they take that very seriously. And on the other hand, never overestimate how writers with no talent can sabotage themselves. So you see both. An Academy Award winning writer wrote one of the worst scripts I have worked on. He was very egocentric, and said ‘I don’t want to do any rewriting.’ And I said ‘Look your script won’t work without rewriting.’ But there was so much ego. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, everything you do have to be done with integrity and with everything you can do to make it your best. I may have worked on twenty five hundred manuscripts, and yet the next script I get – I need to take it as seriously as at the beginning of my career and put everything I have into it. Certainly things are easier because I’m faster at spotting the problems, but you never rest on your laurels. You never say oh this is so easy.
One of the things that people ask me is what is the difference between an amateur and a professional. And I say the professional works harder. They pay more attention to details. They have done more work on the craft. They have thought more about their art. They are willing to break the rules, but they know what they are doing when they break them. I love writing incomplete sentences in my books. But I know exactly what I’m doing. I know this will not be mistaken for a mistake. I want to stop the reader in an unusual place. Over the years, cause I’ve written a lot of books, I’ve learned a lot more about words, I have learned a lot more about rhythm. I thought a lot more about accessibility in writing. Humor. When does the humor work and when does it not work? When have I gone too far? I do personal stories now and I can over do it. So I really look at that and I have readers who give me feedback. And I ask did I go to far with that? And they say no it’s hilarious, and other times they say I don’t think you need four paragraphs on that. But I like the idea. It’s getting the balance right.
Is writing fiction something you have done yourself or perhaps are thinking that you will do one day? Or is it something that you don’t have time for or are not interested in?
I don’t have any interest in writing screenplays. And I think that is good. I think its keeping the sense of that I’m here to help other people, and I’m not competing with them, I’m not going to write something and have someone else’s script seep into something I written. I’m not interested in writing a novel, but I have been doing some short story writing.
I wanted to end by asking you for the one advice you would give to aspiring writers, but from what we spoke about I would think your answer is to study and to learn the craft.
And to write! You know writers write. And you are always balancing having a creative process with knowledge. Sometimes you say ‘I’m not going to read a book right now, I’m not going to class, and I’m not watching movies. I want to get it out there, and then I will go learn some more, and then I’m not going to do any of that but I’m going to let it flow.’ So that you are always balancing the art of the craft with the creativity.
For more information about Linda Seger visit her website www.lindaseger.com
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.