When I was at university many moons ago, I studied structuralist film theory with Colin MacCabe and Stephen Heath, watched obscure foreign language films and vaguely knew a few people who wanted to make films (and now do, very successfully). It seemed to me that, if I wanted to be involved in film-making as a writer, then I had to have profound things to say about lenses and camera angles and/or ‘Last Year in Marienbad’ – way too geeky for me (plus it was a bit of a boys’ club, to be honest), so I went off to be a journalist instead.
Now, watching Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E) give this TED talk where he describes watching ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ seven times in one month before he finally understood what the theme of the movie is, I realise that I AM a geek, but just not in the way I expected.
To write a screenplay, I have to understand why and how and when film works best. I have to think like a precision engineer – I really do want to watch the same film seven times so I can take it to bits to find out how it works – and then try to use those technical skills to create characters people will care about and a story that evokes wonder.
Easy to say, but how to do it?
Andrew Stanton shows us right here: the moment when the camera lingers on Peter O’Toole’s face as the motorcycle rider calls out across the Suez Canal ‘Who are you?’ delivers everything a screenplay should be about. Brilliant.