The Writer Speaks: Abraham Polonsky, Part 2



tell me about tell them Willie boy is here ma near it has been hired to direct a story based on the book by Harry Lawton which is all about this character Willie boy so Marty wit proposes sister the studio he's working with and they turned him down didn't want to do a story on this goddamn Indian so Marty rich says screw you I'll do it myself what he can't get anyone interested so he comes to me and he says to me if you write the screenplay I maybe I can get someone interested I said are you crazy I can write a screenplay without getting paid what am i a luxury business here so my rinses I don't blame you so he dropped the whole thing whereupon the producer came to me he says I'll give you $1,500 for an outline I said that's a deal he gives me a check I do the outline then the check bounces that's I mean we're friends with this producer because he never had any money his wife had the money so honey I used to like to go to the track he never paid attention this stuff so anyhow so this is submitted to Universal and I could call them so I I say now I'm back because Universal has already accepted me for writing a screenplay so I talked to me the guys in charge of this stuff he said aim if I put it down as a film all kinds of people make judgments how will we cast it how old is it and it all delays it if you say you're just writing an hour television show no I'm gonna I make the decisions are you willing to take a chance I'm not sure so my producer says not me I he says I get paid ten times as much money becoming a producer of a movie as I do but now a television show so I say to him I'll tell you what I'll do with you I'll give you my money and I'm getting paid this is OK and he goes to the track to lose it whatever it is and I write the screenplay and the first thing we do is Jenny's Lange sees it he's the head he says it's good he says he's not gonna turn it into a movie let's get the right actor and we get a list of actors we go through the list they're all the famous actors one of them is Warren Beatty we sent it to Warren Beatty and he calls me on the phone four o'clock in the morning from someplace in Europe someplace and says Jesus a great script he says I'm gonna do it wonderful so in the morning I call up Jenny's lang about ten o'clock when he comes to work and I say Jennings we got one big well I told we didn't want so I said why what the hell is the difference I tell him I don't want him do somebody else I well you need a young guy caves these old western actors he said well we got a young one who was that that's it cuz they got a deal with Rexford to do a picture in England so I said I don't know him so the guy was the producer of the film says well I know she ain't give him the script the record says I'll do it okay but I've always been puzzled why Jenny's turned down why remain oh you never found out wait a minute I find out for we're ready was shooting now thing and I'm directing it and everything it's all going good one day I'm with Jennings I said Jennings why did you turn down baby he said the son of a bitch came to my office and said he loved it but he'd like to get his own director I told me go himself I think go find your own script that's pretty noble the Jennings Lange I was very impressed by that and he was Italian he wasn't going to tell you that though no he was you didn't tell me that he didn't boast about it or anything I thought that was very noble but when I saw Warren Beatty I gave him a piece of my mind I said you creep I called a bunch of names I said I'm trying to get back into the business I've been blackness for years you want to use your own director is he better than me well I'm baby wants to directed himself of course but she later did you mean your director so you know I told him off and one day we I was going to New York but my wife and one plane he was on the plane he came over and say hello I said get the out of here throw yours to play and so I'm sorry that's the way the conversation and the Hollywood there are no elegant conversations just elevate elegant goodbyes where do you get your ideas from other people of course don't think I would bother having new ones not in this business no I'm original that's all do you prefer to adapt work or no I prefer the right originals which I can do and have done but it's very hard to get pictures like this town you went there paying money and I want to make the pitch by writing comprehensible novels so it's okay what series about running for the movie well it'll come back I may quote Marcel Proust to you as Swan toward the end of the novel I think the sixth line you got a hairdresser he's getting his head done he looks in the mirror he says to think it's this one that I spent the best years of my life married to a woman it wasn't my style and I always quote that when they asked me about the movies I said I think I spent the best years my life writing for a profession that isn't my style and it isn't my style although I'm good at I think you made it fit okay I think is it okay in tailoring thank you welcome to other things I can paint I can steal I'm faithful to my wife I have all those bad traits very good characteristics how much when you get an idea and you you start building on it do you do a lot of research or what do you do well for you are there series we did a lot of historical research but of course I'm a scholar naturally so I know a lot of this stuff and I know where to go and I know how to research look it up and stuff like that you couldn't have written for you are there and not be a scholar I mean you would you would be you'd have to have something just the raw material we did not accept the material from the studio because we knew that in history the story of how it actually happened is always good for us the story how they want to tap but it's always bad for us and history is rewritten constantly that way and we were avid searches for what actually happened in history we use original documents a lot of died like that I characters use a dialogue to get out of notebooks they wrote and stuff like that we worked hard the method work is first decide what I have to do and I do that at the typewriter I type all kinds of junk on whatever I'm thinking about fine searching around for it but I'm typing all the wells to things all around I think making millions of mistakes but that's what secretaries are for right and so finally I have a line of what I want to do now I make an outline I break it down to its essential parts and the essential parts are always the same when you tell a story what's it about what's the conflict with the who are the characters and so on but you don't know all that but you know enough to get started for instance I just saw I want to write their a story so I say to you as I rose from a sleepless night the first thing I thought was what's it all about you ready would you like to hear I got a story do you hear dialog in your head well that's a valid question a lot of people want writers want to know that I don't have dial I don't speak dialogue out for things like that I'm sitting quietly at the typewriter typing away and when I have an idea for a character the character appears the way intended to be but when you're writing the dialogue does it does the dialogue just come in your head and you just type it as you hear it I know it I don't type it as I hear it I invented as I typed and usually since I know the character I'm learning the characters I work with it the character finally takes on those characteristic edges that make people identify characters but I write very good dialogue as you know what do you think is the difference between between good dialogue and just plain talking plain talking is good dialogue and people can talk great but they can't write great writing is to get plain talking to them that's perfect that's the secret oh if people are very inventive don't you know that haven't you listened to them absolutely that's what just can't write it down they can't write it down that's another talent like running running a mile well I like the way you parallel an athlete with a writer I mean it's the talent basically now Prince I said to the guy I'm failing all my courses at City College because I'm running five miles a day and I'm on team here and so I go to the coach and I say to him look I'm failing all my courses he says why I said cuz I'm not going to class I'm too tired he said well I said so let me ask you a question is there any possibility I ever become I'll be able to make the Olympic team it's not a chance she said you're not strong enough and you'll never be strong enough you gotta be going you're very good you can beat everybody in this school but not the top guys are gonna be on the team I said so who needs it if I can't be first I don't want to be 14th I never went back but I got kicked out of college for one time for physical of course except English the English I couldn't fail no matter what I tried to do the reason you write stage directions is because the form of a script is not the form that is good for actors that's good for writers good for anybody it's good for the production department they want to know how many days it's gonna take where is it located is this similar to another scene can they shoot the two scenes together and screenplay is on that form I wrote a whole essay which is printed in that book I think on the proper form for screenplays a poem because that makes suggestions and what she'd go on he said in writing Joe appears suddenly how would you do it Joe suddenly said having first appeared ha ha ha got it that's why I'm interviewing you structure is the formal relation between the various aesthetic qualities of a story which brings out the characters and the significance of the story I can read a script to know what's wrong with it which is why I gave up teaching screenwriting I teach a course in philosophy is that what you're teaching at USC now I would have guessed you were teaching screenwriting well I'm good at that but so boring to me I taught advanced screenwriting at UCLA for one term and they wanted me to come and teach there that's boring I am fixing up other people's screenplay that's a waste of time so it's not enough for living I can get a job it's not so much that you don't want to give them the bad news it's not a waste of your it's a waste of my time it's my time I'm worried about not their time unless you're naturally gifted leave it leave it alone everybody can learn to write a good working screenplay I mean everybody has seen enough stories so now what a story is so they can make up some kind of story so see if someone suggests an idea and you can learn to write English if you if you're not backward altogether so there you are but that's different from being what writers have influenced you the most or what are your favorite writers George Eliot I was my father's favorite favorite novelist he loved Julian ah my favorite rise why my class the final exam is based an essay written on one of these three riders Ulysses the Magic Mountain by the first volume of Proust I tell them what they should look for in this and which one they and pick the one that's closer then I have a list of questions have to answer anything and I make those up as I standings they're different all the time since I'm very familiar with these books and the background I know everything if you take it for granted I know everything I can't even fix a car so it runs tell me why tell me one of the most common problems you see you you find in scripts interruption yeah good not interesting the subject matter the way it's written doesn't matter the subject matter doesn't make a thing interesting it's the attitude of the writer involved in the subject matter in terms of the writers philosophy of life that makes it interesting can you look at it at a script and I mean I'm good at that I can look at the script until you change the scene change that saying anything oh you have no talent no you're wasting your time but I find that it that's nothing I like to do I don't like to make people feel bad so I don't teach that stuff I get up about 7:30 go in the kitchen I'll make some tea then I go to my place why type I start to work and I type till new every day including Saturday and Sunday I knew and I quit and I don't work anymore I gotta have lunch with my friends and so on then I correct it you can write that what happens when you get writer's block writer's block is for people without talented nothing people with talent why should we have writer's block it's like saying to her I used to be a mile or at college it's like saying to Marla how do you run the first 400 yards you just only way you come up the next hundred you write every day if you have nothing to write about you write about the fact that you have nothing to write about and it creates them but I'm sitting there working with my kids used to play games my son told me that later life he says we used to play a game we pretended to be you and we go to the typewriter we make like that we make noise and then we yeah the telephone and things like that look that's these all the other kids father's work you just sit there and type but you can't be a typist he says because you're making too much money we know you make and we all go on a private school what does he do so what was your work environment like did you work at home or at home and more noise around abettor didn't matter you can't tell me that you sat and wrote with kids around I mean of course how could you possibly focus I focus inwardly I don't focus outwardly I could write even if there's a meeting going on I could I could take part in a meeting right when I write I write and that's my whole life at that moment so do you not I also write great sentences as you know can you define success for me the absence of failure now success it depends there's two kinds of sir you mean public approbation that's one kind of success private a profession is another kind of success if I think I'm doing what I want to do and I'm doing it right I would love everybody to like it but if I like it it's good enough I do it but I like public approbation also then occasionally you get it I could get ahead I remember when buddy and so we a sneak preview do you know how I'm gonna stick someplace and I was there and when the time came to the end and Charlie went into the ring to fight back do you orys is standing up in his seats like it's a real thing and cheering the guy on and the head of the studio is that turns me he says Abe we have a hit I said how do you know he says well look at the people I said this stupid don't they know I prepared all this there's no mystery yeah they don't understand it's a film so you've written you really your whole life yeah and is there anything in your background do you think that enabled you to become a better writer yes extreme intelligence Wow bothers control over the English language in the sentences a good storytelling ability and I prefer to read a book to watching television or going to the movies all these things added together make you a great writer especially now guilt you

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