Interesting visit, interesting difference in the degree of reverence accorded to this guest vs. other guests – but yes, we wanted to make him comfortable speaking to a crowd of us considering he does not like public speaking in front of groups of strangers. Can’t say I blame him.
Some things I thought about while he was speaking:
First of all, he made some comments when speaking to us that if we were thinking of becoming screen writers, there were things we needed to understand. It is possible that some among us will somehow write a film of our own, but the majority were teachers.
Goldman’s main themes were to tell us:
No one knows why a picture succeeds or does not, it’s basically a crap shoot. The screenwriter doesn’t know, the studio head doesn’t know, the director doesn’t know, and the actors don’t know. That is illustrated by the fact that many studio heads have turned down scripts that turned out to be huge moneymakers, as did actors who turned down the opportunity to play a part in those films.
Because of this, studio heads, who know that it is only a matter of time before they are let go from their position at the top of the heap, err on the side of caution and opt to do sequels with the same stars rather than find a new script or use an unknown in a major role. The tried and true formulas that bring in the bucks are their preference because they want to keep their jobs as long as they can.
Actors are basically insecure and they also know that it is more likely they will fade from the spotlight than become an evergreen star. For that reason, they want the roles that they play to make them appear as invincible, superior or special, and not weak or boring, or vulnerable.
The success of a movie can turn an unknown actor/actress into a star by virtue of his or her supporting role in the film, and subsequently turn them from a hard-working, willing participant in the process to an insecure, insensitive, difficult personality – like Al Pacino who, while filming, left an entire crew standing outside in below freezing temperatures for an hour while he delayed things, and then decided he was not happy with the light. They do that because they can, as long as they are the geese that lay the golden eggs.
A hot script does not have to take long to write – Goldman talked about at least a couple of scripts that took him mere days to write and they became hits. However, even with his popularity and expertise as a scriptwriter, actors, directors, producers all ask for “safe” changes that will make them happy – like not having Butch and Sundance run away, even though the key to the story was that they had. (A new film that is out now … is about an unknown screenwriter who sells his script to a studio and is so excited about the changes it has brought to his life – specifically hot cars and hot women – that no matter how unreasonable the change they want to make to his script, he agrees).
What I wonder about Goldman’s presentation is what the teachers present there will be able to take away from that discussion as part of the lessons to their students. Rather than insights into the media process, I found it more insight into life in general—that no one knows what will work; that you never can be sure you will or won’t succeed (when he said he received all kinds of rejections for his writing, but published a novel, and then by chance was asked to doctor a screenplay—it was totally unexpected. He was the accidental screenwriter extraordinaire).
And the insecurities of actors and movie studio heads is an insight into personalities and the idea that the bigger they come, the harder they fall. It makes them seem human—and they are. But once they are in a hit film, all that goes out the window as far as the public is concerned. They are commodities that are the thing to consume…until the next irresistible commodity comes along. And then these stars will have to return to the world of the humans – and it is even harder to be human once you’ve been out of this world as we know it.
Oh, and on a different note, I will be posting to the wiki some web sites that I think will fill in a missing genre. I will add a blog post that directs y'all there, and explains a bit about the thinking behind them.