I NTE RV IE W — BILLY W ILD E R: THE A RT OF SC REENW RITING T RI E N N I A L S C RE E N WRI T E RS FE ST IVA L
»In production, they just go wildly ahead. If the star has another picture coming up, and they need to finish the picture by Monday, they’ll just tear out ten pages. «
studio. I looked at the script. On every page, there was at the bottom just one word: improve.
»Who plays the lead?« »Jimmy Cagney.« As it happens, it was his last picture except for that cameo in Ragtime.
Like The New Yorker editor Harold Ross’s imperative »make better.«
She said, »Who?«
That would be one word too many for these producers. Just improve.
»Jimmy Cagney. You know, the little gangster who for years was in all those Warner Brothers...«
What about the »Scheherazades« one hears about?
»Oh! Daddy didn’t allow us to watch Warner Brothers pictures.« She had no idea who he was.
They were the guys who would tell producers stories, or the plots of screenplays and books. There was one guy who never wrote a word but who came up with ideas. One of them was: San Francisco. 1906 earthquake. Nelson Eddy. Jeanette McDonald. »Great! Terrific! Cheers from the producers.« A film came out of that sentence. Do you know how Nelson Eddy ended up with his name? He was Eddie Nelson. He just reversed it. Don’t laugh! Eddie Nelson is nothing. Nelson Eddy was a star.
Back then, each studio had a certain look. You could walk in in the middle of a picture and tell what studio it was. Warner Brothers were mostly gangster movies. For a while Universal did a lot of horror pictures. MGM you knew because everything was white. Mr. Cedric Gibbons, the head of production design, wanted everything white silk no matter where it was set. If MGM had produced Mr. Scorsese’s »Mean Streets«, Cedric Gibbons would have designed all of Little Italy in white.
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Film really is considered a director’s medium. The studio era was of course very different from today. There were many different fiefdoms scattered around town, each producing its own sort of picture. The Paramount people would not converse with the MGM people; wouldn’t even see each other. The MGM people especially would not consort for dinner or even lunch with the people from Fox.One night before I was to begin One, Two, Three I had dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Goetz, who always had wonderful food. I was seated next to Mrs. Edie Goetz, Louis Mayer’s younger daughter, and she asked what sort of picture I was going to make. I told her it was set in Berlin and we’d be shooting in Germany.
Film’s thought of as a director’s medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It’s that stupid amateur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot – the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they’ve had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve. Recently, the Writers’ Guild has negotiated with the studios to move the writer’s credit to a place just before the director’s, a more prominent position,
Published on Mar 15, 2014