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Writers Roundtable

In the midst of the unending WGA strike, The Hollywood Reporter pulled a few top writers off the picket lines and sat them down for a roundtable discussion. Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting), Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Love in the Time of Cholera), Diablo Cody (Juno), Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah), and David Benioff (The Kite Runner, Troy) talk about the strike, their careers, and the differences between writing a screenplay versus a novel or play.


Here are some highlights from their discussion.

On keeping busy during the strike:

David Benioff: I have a novel coming out in May that I am in the middle of editing.
Ron Harwood: It's fun, that, isn't it? After the pressures of screenplays?
Benioff: Well, it's fun, but it was excruciating the first two months of writing because I got so used to writing "Int. Restaurant" (in screenplays). (Laughter)
Harwood: "There were tables around the wall."
Benioff: Exactly. I got so lazy about writing description -- and writing a novel again for the first time in seven years, I hadn't exercised those muscles. But then, once I got into it, it was like when your mom would say "Take a bath" when you were a kid and you don't want to, and she finally throws you in and you then love it. It's nice not having studio notes for a change.

On writing believable dialogue:

Diablo Cody: That's the problem. I envy actors because I cannot deliver a line convincingly to save my ass! My husband and I would read the dialogue together and it sounded like a fourth grade production of "The Three Little Pigs." It was the worst thing ever.
Ben Affleck: It's so weird, because your movie is so readable and actor-oriented. Were there scenes that you constructed around smart interchanges?
Cody: No, actually. Honestly, I am very self-conscious about that now. "Juno" was my first screenplay. I wrote the script a couple of years ago, and I feel I might have dialed things down a little bit, stylistically. I know people love that about the movie and are responding to it. But sometimes it seems kind of masturbatory to me. I thought I needed to fill the page as much as I possibly could.
Harwood: As a form, it's disgusting. I mean, David, you've just done your novel, which is a beautiful thing. But a screenplay is a technical document. It's vulgar. It's awful.

On being a writer and director:

THR: Has the experience of directing changed your approach to writing?
Paul Haggis: Yes. You trust the actors more, and you try to explain a lot less.
Affleck: The lesson it taught me was, it made me want to write less. The actors do so much of it, you don't need to do all that writing.

Read the full roundtable interview here.

-- Daniel Lehman

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