The Writer Speaks: Alvin Sargent

no one in my family was in the arts my father sold hay feed grain in Philadelphia and he was a poker player and my mother was a poker player and we lived a very simple kind of Depression life life in the depression although I had a father who was depressed and committed suicide when he was 43 so that's the beginning of my story why I'm a writer you know I never it never occurred to me to be a screenwriter or any kind of a writer or anything actually I never had a plan I never really had a dream and things just sort of came to me but I've done a lot of other kinds of work being a waiter and trying to be an actor unsuccessfully I left Philadelphia I left high school I quit high school and went into the Navy just towards the end of the war I quit high school because if you join this service in nineteen doing the war and your grades were not very good and you're not going to even graduate they'll graduate you if you join the service so it wasn't about heroism it was really about getting out of school with a diploma which is what exactly what I did so I was in the Navy for a few years and I learned to take Morse code so I learned to type I learned to type really well that was my one skill in life after I got out I think I just took jobs to earn a living but my one passion was typing not writing and I used to practice typing and I started writing dialogue writing people talking to each other that's what I called it people talking to each other and that led me somewhere after a long time that was when I was 20 in my 20s during the war my mother had moved from Philadelphia to California to be with her sister and so I figured when you're in the Navy and you're ready to be discharged they say you can go any place you want to go so I picked California and I came out here and did with a 19 20 year old kid although just I had learned to drive in high school so I came out here and got a job as a with a clothing company delivering their suits to people like Cecily DeMille and Melvin Melvin Douglas and so you know I was like wow Here I am driving the car that they gave me to deliver all this stuff out in Hollywood and Brentwood and somebody lived on one of the holiness you know the Halina drives I thought wow imagine living on one of the Hellena drives you know and well 30 40 years later I don't know Cameron but I lived on one of the Halina drives so anything can happen in your life well I worked for NBC I worked on one of their trucks and moving props from maybe it was CBS moving props from place to another in a truck uh-huh what else did I do I was a waiter I went to UCLA I got into UCLA with the I couldn't get into SC because I'm not a very hot well-educated person I went into SC and took some kind of test in the middle of the test I went to the bathroom and never came back so I hopped over to Westwood and to UCLA and easily was accepted there just about everybody who came out of the service was accepted there my big brother herb who was always the number one person in my life in terms of who I respected and honored more than anyone and you know I still Herbert died a few years ago and I still when I buy a shirt is it would hurt buy this shirt that still is true you know herb came here after he was at herb was in the neck in the army for about four years he was in the South Pacific he didn't exactly fight but he was over there in the Air Transport Command and he was one of the first soldiers who went into Japan at the end of the war and he never talks about he never talked about it most army veterans do not talk about their service in the war if I had been you know I went into the Navy and learned how to type and he came out here and married his first wife and divorced his first wife shortly after at five four or five I wanted to be an actor so there was an organization and here called a circle theater circle players down there in Hollywood off of Gower Street you know and someone who was there saw me do some play and asked me if I'd like to be in a play down there so I became a member of circle theater this is 1947 or I don't know what it was and herb used to come and I was a plate a soldier you know and somebody called 'rain Sadie Thompson with june-june havoc and there's rain that has to come down inside the outside the place where there where the story takes place and herb used to run the rain machine he followed me down there you know he said maybe I could you didn't want to be an actor no because he never spoke right and he became ette and I was used to be I was I was a when I was an actor I was I was in three plays down there that were directed by Charlie Chaplin because Charlie's son Sidney was one of the owners of the of the theatre he fellow named Jerry Epstein did you find that extraordinary at the time only looking back on it oh yeah yeah I didn't do anything about it I just was in the plays which was my nature was just to let things happen and see where they take you and that was fun you know and then herb met Charlie Chaplin jr. and a woman named patchy England I don't know if you remember her mother was England England she was an actress and they all the three of them this girl and Charlie Chaplin got in a car and went to New York and I was left back there trying to be an actor and her went on to New York and got jobs suddenly was writing for Earl Wilson yeah he was working for him and then he was writing for Sherman Billingsley who had the nightclub and they used to have a TV show and he was doing that and then before you know it he was I don't know how all this happened to him because you know it was pretty quiet but he had a strong Authority in him but people paid attention to he'd get a table like that if I walked in they'd say what I was working for a very short time and when I was an actor of course you have eight-by-ten glossies that you send around well I was only an actor for 20 minutes you know but two years after I had an agent there's some Walter Walter Kohner he was the younger brother of the coners a lovely lovely man but so many wonderful people in this business it's just worth everything he had taken this picture to Columbia Pictures and one afternoon I was washing my car at my girlfriend's house who I was finally married and I got a phone call at her house how anybody could find me at that house but it Max or know who was the testing director at Columbia and he said I've got a job for you sergeant I said what he said I got a part in a movie I need you to go to Hawaii tomorrow and I said I'm not an actor anymore he said well I have your picture here and um and buddy Adler who was running the whole scene he wants you there tomorrow to be in this movie called From Here to Eternity I said well I'm not I'm not an actor I don't I don't do that anymore I now have a job at variety I'm selling advertising you know I'm 25 years old now John around and and he said well I'm sorry but you have to you have to come we need you he expressly asked for you anyway so I worked it all out with my boss and it was really hard to get free because the Mother's Day issue was coming up right I was selling advertising for that and anyway he gave me four days off and I went to Hawaii but I was there for two weeks and the director of the movie was Fred cinnamon and I have a scene two scenes in the movie which are very important scenes because they progress the story they each progress the story and this is the coincidence Fred cinnamon I'm an actor who really wants to get back to his variety ads for the Mother's Day issue and isn't thinking about being a writer but 25 years later I wrote Julia for for it cinnamon so if anybody had said a kid just wait things will happen I remain nine more years of variety till I was 35 years old and then I had written little scenes or something which showed to a friend of mine who showed them to my aid to an agent friend of hers who was an agent who really is totally successful for moving a career along the ideal kind of agent to have who really saw some really stuff and so I quit variety because he got me a job as a story editor on a TV show called bus stop which I never met the producer he just got me this job as a story editor and I knew nothing about being a story editor I didn't know I just dies with two men and talk to me about stories I'd say that's great you know anyway I lasted eight weeks they fired me after that cuz I didn't know what I was doing to this day I would not be a very good story editor so I quit that I was out of the job I now had two children babies in the new house that we've gotten for 30,000 bucks and for three months I was just sitting around taking care of my children and I got a phone call on New Year's Eve one Year's Eve from my agent he said I got you a job rewriting because the writer is off on vacation and they need a rewrite on a on this show called Ben Casey well Ben Casey was like Eugene O'Neill and I hadn't written so they sent me this script asked me to do some revisions on it and giving me $1,500 and I did that and then I got another job and the agent got me another job and then I worked a lot on route 66 in naked cities with those people who were really great who really showed me how to try again you know they didn't just throw you out and get another writer that's the difference between now and Leo Davis who worked for who who produced Naked City um Bert Leonard yeah it was just great these guys were fantastic and they worked with you and you really learned how to put stuff together and I wrote a lot of those and I wrote something called the nurses back in New York City for her brought Caen I did about six of those and I did about 40 hour TV shows and then I had a friend who I had met at the circle players he had come from Yale and he was now out here wanting to be a director he became a producer and then a director and if that was Alan Pakula and we became good friends and I knew him for 50 years until he was insanely killed on the highway and he asked me he had bought a book called the sterile cuckoo and he needed a screenplay on it and I didn't have any money like $30,000 or something so I worked on that and that became my first screenplay credit which was fun so Alan Pakula in a sense took a chance yeah wasn't a big chance you just you know and and we work together and Alan and I were we had good times together and I wrote it at the time I wrote another I think we had dinner without Liza Minnelli who was like the perfect person to write for on that weird kind of girl that was in the movie she was she was perfect perfect Pookie Adams and then I did another movie for him with Bob Mulligan Oh Western which I knew nothing about westerns but I loved him as kid because I went to the movies again all the time as a child you know I mean I was at the movies always and that's where I was safe in the dark anyway I did a movie called the stalking moon which was not a very successful national theaters was their first movie they had Bob Mulligan and they had Gregory Peck and I had even Maurice st. and they had Alan Pakula and this Sheila meal Sargent who didn't know much about work but I always going to write it actually what's-his-name had written a draft which was not wasn't right for what they won and that was um oh you know who writes plays New York he's been around forever and he's really he wrote to kill a mockingbird this is small world just thinking of to kill a mockingbird that little girls who was in it her brother what's her name her brother directed my first TV two-hour movie John Badham John Badham right and he directed this movie with Kerry Snodgrass who had met Alan Pakula in Chicago when Alan was looking to see who would play Pookie Adams when they weren't certain about Liza and he had told her he had met her at the Goodman Theatre I think and told her that he was so interested in her as an actress anyway then he didn't hear from her for a long time until one day she just knocked on his door at his office and came in and we were sitting there casting and she said I have to have that part and bah bah bah and he said well he didn't give her the part but he did she did stay out here and became of an interesting actor and had a tough time and grew up a lot and then passed away I mean a few years ago Patty Duke had also tried out for that right now I'm writing a lot for myself was I'm retired I guess oh so now I'm free I was talking to Paul Attanasio the other day who's since the strike he he started writing just for him he said in the difference is so great you know when you're not writing knowing that somebody is going to not somebody but a roomful of eleven people are going to sit there and talk about your work with their ideas every one of their ideas could be just wonderful but still you're just submerged in in this traffic which is very disturbing and you even wonder who's going to rewrite this then I saw a budget a budget paper the about a month or so ago on a movie and then had what the producer gets the director get what's the writer gets what the rewriter will get that's on the budget sheet while the movie is just being developed it's a little frightening percentage of people that come out of film school to write or direct or act or produce is just amazing you think of them all over the country and what percentage of those people are going to end up really with their dreams coming true in in the movie business whether it's in New York or California it's different because as the committees have really made it difficult and the need for them to make so much money it's become you know at least but see I've always written for other people I've always adapted movies people after Bakula and then then I wrote something for Frankenheimer and I wrote something before but they were all adaptations mostly except one which I liked very much which is called love and pain and the whole damn thing that all came out of my trip to Honolulu when I was when I was making From Here to Eternity and I saw a woman through a glass window at a shopping center I was on one corner and she was at around the other corner and she was this tall sort of awkward girl woman and and I was just fascinated with her and she happened to be staying at this same little hotel where they have put these featured players maybe I wrote a little dialogue go up in my room or something and I imagined meeting her and then I imagined marrying her it's all quickly you know there's the whole thought came in about five minutes and then I imagined that I now went back to to Kansas or some Middle American state and um and was now known as the widower because she died my wife died very quickly or was ii was gonna die but she married this kid i don't know why that's another movie um and then I met Alan Pakula or been with Alan later on after we had made a couple of movies I brought this story idea up and we sort of developed it into what it what it turned into about a boy you know an asthmatic boy a Pulitzer Prize winning father and a very successful sister and all he did was eat mounds bars masturbate and sweat it that's all he did he was now 19 years old and didn't know how you know his father was really disappointed and he sends him on a trip to Spain the bicycle tour of Spain with which he agrees to go on but it's a hot summer and he can't quite make it and he leaves the bicycle group behind with the leader of them left us back here with your bike and he's now on a bus on a tour bus that had an extra seat and he is trying to catch his breath and keep his mound bars from melting and he sits next to Maggie Smith who is a rather proper by the way the young the I found out on some website about love and pain because they were going to do it again somebody wanted to remake it was a an email or something on a blog or I don't know what you call it and about the guy who played Carl the the leader you know young boy young man who what had been in the in the Army or had been in the Air Corps perhaps somewhere nearby and that had put an ad in the paper looking casting that part when they were gonna be in Mexico and the only way he answered and got the job this young kid anyway now there's a request by now a grown a man who is now probably 60 or 70 who played that part as trying to get a copy of the movie to show his kids and he really was good and he had a nice little moment or two to show his kids so I can't find it there's one copy that I got to see which had to be sent back to somebody in Kansas City as a copy that is C you know Ashley watchable of love and pain and the whole to him thing I there's no other no place I don't know where it is anyway I wrote him he's now a professor at Arizona State so that's how our life sold move along I need a sort of a general foggy idea about something I can't even define but then there's I try to find one I try to find a scene with the characters that I just write even if I'm adapting something I try to write something original in the between the characters in ordinary people as an example I wrote I mean it's a book I wrote a scene in the garage where he returns from having seen the psychiatrist and says that you know I went weak and she comes out and says are you all right and she and he says my eye when we got when buck died and we went to the funeral I had put on a different sock and you were very concerned about it and anyway he talks about how she was more concerned about how he looked and he is trying to tell her that I don't understand that and our boy died and you're worried about how I looked and it was just a general idea about that relationship and who she is and it became so it's in the movie and it's it became so honest what I like to start with is a soap as a pile of this this is all written before computers or when I you know I always whatever I would start with I'd go out and buy a few reams of three-hole punch papers and just to pile them on my desk felt so good then I take maybe ten pieces of paper and then I write numbers along the side one two about up to three hundred and with some good space between each number and then I imagine let's say that scene I figure that's going to be number 194 so I put that down under 194 it doesn't necessarily have to ended up there okay now I begin my outline thinking about other scenes that might be in the movie and maybe I find an opening right try that I put that's number one I like to have an ending if I can I had a few for that and I put an ending and then I find something that I can attach to any honest moment I can attach anything else to it they become like the Sun you know they become the truth and so you have to match it with a truth that sticks to it and you start creating kind of a system of some beams of all these satellites the things that so you get some age before you know it on you know number forty-seven has a major kind of a moment that you figure is gonna happen there when we learn this it's maybe learning it what what I like to do is is find situations that don't necessarily have anything to do with the scene that you might be writing for instance if I'm in trouble and I can't and I've lost some sort of sense of a character and his behavior I have it I have a phone call and it's usually a mother or a brother if it's a brother or a sister if it's especially a sister because I don't have a sister and I'd love that with sister and the sister the end of the phone call that I hear is I understand now there has nothing to do with what's been going on in this situation where we just left and we find that he says well well will will I've called that company and they're going to fix it and you don't have to worry you don't have to go there well I know but you're always going there well don't give it to me I can't help she's in Detroit and I'm in Arizona now come on you know we said okay listen I can't talk now I'm coming immediately now what has happened is character give a brother there's anybody you somebody has three brothers you automatically become richer and more interesting you have a sister or brother or did you know you're an only child so an only child becomes in itself itself has been grown up as it is but when you give people a relative that isn't connected with what you're doing but you really are connected to them and yet you're not going to see that you're you might have some kind of behavior that affects that phone call or is being affected by that phone call so that's what I like to do I like to have other people outside of the of the story ABS you know move in and effect what we're doing so often when we are going along in our day and everything's fine and suddenly we we're having a really feeling funny and feeling bad and some people get a real panic at that you know and you can't trace it and you have to sort of spot where that all happened and it might be because a neighbor came in and and and looked at you or something in your house in such a way that really disturbed you mom but it really has stuck in your head I'd like to do that that's just a playful thing to do that allows me to consciously or maybe not consciously know that there's there's more than just this flat even dramatic and wonderful story that might be going on there's even more that's just and sometimes those phone calls might turn into something like in you know in love and pain what is it love and pain doesn't he go into a he goes into a oh no there's another movie I've written which I'm real can't sell it's called madly in love it's about a it's about a phobic gentleman me who has trouble leaving his house and he's robbed as I was robbed I was robbed in the middle of the night once living alone in Brentwood in some house I bought after I was divorced and on a little house and I Robert aiming in the middle of the night and tied me up and told me you better not make any noise I'll blow your brains out and it's very tired might pull the cords out of my telephone and tied my feet and I was alone in the house and he tied my pants and he tied my hands to my feet so I'm sitting in the bed sort of like rocking you know like something in the top of your car and there by your windshield and he went through the house and looked for you he says if he wanted I want do you have any whiskey I said well I don't have any was just moved in you know a lot of boxes around whiskey no it was you have any suede I said no I know I don't wear suede you don't know suede you got any dope you got any money I said no I don't I don't I don't have any dope they won't find it don't you don't have enough sway got no dope you got no whiskey what am I doing here I got better in my own house I don't have to come here and then he said you have any money and I said well there's some in my pants over there maybe so he emptied my pants and found three dollars and 20 cents and then he looked all through all my clothes and then he went downstairs I was in this little loft upstairs and he came back up and he was wearing a raincoat that I had it's kind of a neat little raincoat I liked it anywhere but he had on a summer hat sneak Sun hat that I had there for my daughter if she were to come over when I woke up you know before all this I woke up and I thought why is my daughter standing in the doorway with a glass of water but it wasn't it was a little man who black man who that old matter to the story I'm about to tell who had a gun pointed at me anyway he went downstairs and came back up with this this hot and this raincoat and he started moving around you know dancing a little bit he said it has that I said well and a little voice said don't don't talk to him don't say anything but I said if you tip the Hat just a little forward it'll really make you better look better so he did and he looked in the mirror and he said okay baby oh baby that's swell so he danced for a little while and he was there for about 45 minutes talking to me about what do you do what's your work I said I'm a writer a writer what are you write I said I write movie what movies you write and I made up some names of things you know I never saw that movie you got the money you must have millions of dollars I said no I really I really don't the movies you know every Meredith he said well who wrote jaws and I said well I don't know he's in New York Oh New York anyway this went on and on and on and finally he set it up he said what's your name what's your name writer and I said now I don't like my name no boy likes my name I said Elvin is it healthy healthy you gay I said no cuz I just think what would James Bond do that's what went through my head look with James Bondy Alvin you could have fooled me Alvin anyway then he went back downstairs and he took a chair a small chair like what you're sitting on and he took my raincoat and he took the Hat and he went I every time he went down I think you're okay I'm gonna live every time he came up I thought and I totally accepted that I was going to die I was going to be shot which was okay I couldn't do anything about it I just bought it you no um later on the next day I've broke down like manager sat by myself somewhere and I'm just tears started coming out of my butt you just hold everything back um anyway he went downstairs and he said okay writer now don't you don't you move for five minutes or I'll come back and shoot your brains out I said or I won't he said I hope you get it together writer and I said I hope you get it together and he said don't worry about me Melvin I got it all together so I wrote that movie called madly in love which is really really good script I think and I think it made about a guy who now is phobic and has a girlfriend who's going to play a violin or Ted in for Apple Valley or whatever you know and she invites him to come to it but he can't really leave but he finally he's so humiliated he works it out it takes so long to get on the freeway and then get back home and go a little further on the fruit he now has another car because in my movie my guys stole his car and he drives out towards that place and he's in the desert and he's worried about clothes you know even getting as far as oh you know that it's down out there in the desert he stops in at uh or I stopped in at a bar and to get a drink and mmm there is my robber at the end of the bar and he's talking on and just having a good time talking just telling everything just saying so much about himself you know and he leaves and he comes up just behind just kept me puts his hands on my shoulders and talked to the bartender and he leaves and I my character now who still scared goes out and season leaving and season getting in my car and so I get in my little car my new car which I have stopped the gas station after gas station to make sure the water pump was working and to buy new peanuts for protein and I'd start chasing him I know anyway this story goes on and on and on which I could tell you but I don't think you want to hear writers out there who are going to be looking at this interview will be fascinated that you've written a script that you can't sell that the writer who has written all the movies that you've written in famous movies well winning movies well I think it's better than most of those movies it's really good I mean I really like it it has an ending and you know you go into the he follows this guy finally and against his will and he has his fingers talked to him all the time when he's typing they want a piano they don't want to type you know and he talks to them in he talks to the food in his blue he's kind of a loner but he just have this girlfriend it was kind of mad at him because whenever he asks her out he only asks her out on the night that he wants to ask her out she says you can't do that anymore you got to give me a week or two you can't call when you're ready you know you gotta say you're ready and you'll be ready in a week anyway so this is what goes on between him and his girlfriend who's now going out to play with her quartet and he go he has missed her thing and he's now chasing this guy across the desert on the i-40 and his car breaks down and everything he's ever feared and all the little organizations he's gone to where you talk about this kind of thing has happened and there he is in the desert alone its middle nights coming and he goes into sees his house way out in the desert and well stops the Basques um when dogs come out and attack him and he runs from them and he runs into the middle of the desert and he takes off his shirt and he lights it hoping maybe somebody will see is the light and there's coyotes and snakes and he goes through the whole night you know he survives it in the morning and he finds himself right near the highway and he sees his big light coming towards him and it's a big Peterbilt truck and it stops just in time before it runs over and then he gets in the back this guy picks him up and and here's his whole story and he said him and he always also learned from the conversation that he heard the the robber talked about in the bar he knows where he lives he lives in Amarillo Texas and he knows the street he knows it all he just figured it all out and he know and he decides now oh now he's in the truck and that he wants to go back home but the truck driver says you can't go by you got to go get your coat you got to go get your car you got to go get your son you know and we hear the whole this relationship between him and his driver who has a heart attack in the middle of all this and dies and now he's left alone again and there's a serial killer out there too and anyway he finally works his way after a lot of other things happened into Amarillo Texas and he's changed he's been in a fight in a bar he's lost his front tooth he's now wearing a cowboy hat he's he's another person and then he gets the Amarillo and he finds the house and looks inside he sees his car in the driveway and sees his he sees a Warren it was the robber sitting in his house right jumping over half whatever he's doing drinking eating watching TV and he comes in my guy comes in to the house and has bought a toy gun in a little store and some other clothes and anyway he go Rob's him he says it because I know you he says yeah you know me I'll blow your brains out if you don't give me back to the audience's what you've come a long way brighter you know so we have that end of this relationship and and he our guy jumps in his own car and leaves and goes after this woman his girlfriend who's now there the tour has taken them to New Mexico and he finds them and she sees him out the window driving this car and she said that guy looks familiar and it's it's our guy Roger and Roger and he gets in the bus with her and they know that's a nice fun story it's what cannot sell that in 20 years been around for a long time no but I was with Thor named Sam Adams who was my agent you know Sam is your agent well he was amazing and he took me on and this is what I think one of these questions in this is how do you find an agent who will really pay attention to you that's hard to do but to find even producers in mostly in television companies and early directors like Pakula and stuff when I was all so he they really they really find that thing in you they believed in and even though it's not there yet they will help you build to it rather than abandon you and let you go off to oblivion and for a long time everything was sold I mean the I made it it was like a joke you know and the stuff isn't necessarily all it wasn't that good but he got it somewhere everything seemed to work work out pretty well the one thing we couldn't sell was something to the humanity humanities group you know your father when father yeah when he was around we try to you you give you know you give them something for their show and then they pay you and then they want the money back right away you know which is fine so you're giving it to them free like couldn't sell that I had some stories which they wouldn't buy I said Sam you can't even give this one away anyway Sam finally left and now lives and he's married has a he's married a few times he used to go out after after Ruth died and I used to go out with nuns he had some nuns who were his girlfriends and he married a pianist and they live in Santa Fe and he wears a like a pigtail and I think he's got things in his ears I mean he's really he's the happiest man in the world he said last time I wrote to him he left the agency and he left me with Lee Rosenberg who became my agent was a whole nother cup of tea um who worked hard but always let you know he was quote breaking his ass for you why are you breaking your ass from us why complain about breaking your ass me that's what we're all doing well breaking our ass trying to do the things we're supposed to be doing anyway he went over to William Morris and I went over to William Morris that's where I am hanging around but I you know sort of quit after seven years of spider-man well I worked with redford on ordinary people and worked with Redford on the way we were did some rewriting on the way we were without was Sydney who was apparently not going to live much longer now he's really got cancer Sydney Pollack yeah he's very very sick and I worked on the electric horseman just rewriting just coming in you know playing around and I worked one with Alan called me and I did some work on all the President's Men is it different working with it after in that situation somebody who's only directing and isn't an actor we read for Jimmy he was very much the same Oh as a director and as an actor then he was a wonderful director and he really knew what he wanted on that movie I also worked on straight time which was originally you know be so fierce what's a book that the gross part directed but at some point in it what's what's the other factor the great actor Dustin Hoffman he tried to direct it and that didn't work out too well as a director he wasn't successful my working day the actual work starts late in the day the first hours of the day are just this playing with the idea feeling very guilty not working and getting ready in by the time four o'clock comes around you really you better get to it and then I would like to work into the evening and that's the way I originally spent all years working and then I worked into the night late morning work if you really did good work day before or you really went to bed with your characters and you try to remember what I figure what are they doing now I mean Paper Moon I always used to wonder where are those where are they now and who's with who and what are they talking about and then I go to sleep and wake up and try to put them somewhere having breakfast and blah blah blah but the real real heavy work always came seemed when I really applied myself it would come at the end of the day and you worked hard and then you I always had a drink when it was over never during and any kind of feelings of fear or a sense of disappointment in myself or anger or you know I try to put that creative I'd let my characters have that when you have a problem somebody said it and I think it's maybe somebody SC or somebody told me one so I think if you have a problem with a character or they're having a problem give the problem to the character because it's not my problem it's truly their carrot their problem and you have to watch and wait and see what they do that makes some kind of sense and sooner or later if they are really people they will do something or someone will come someone else will come and help them but I have nothing to do with it if you have a problem give it to the character they usually go to the library a lot and work in the library and just go through the stacks and pick up any book open any page and see if there's anything that interested me and take that energy and put it to work dictionaries are really great you go through a dictionary and you just find a word but turns you want I mean just a word you know and I try to use it I give it to the character see if it it that that that kind of thing you know um a lot of play a lot of free association a lot of that a lot of turning out the lights closing your eyes and just typing and seeing what happens and you write a lot of gobbledygook but somewhere in there you've written some thought some wine some piece you turn on the lights and you read it you've done it maybe a page or two of just solid solid writing and you find like it's like sifting for gold you know and you find little little nuggets sometimes popped out that's how I describe it and I think it's a good thing to do is just let yourself go and let any writer will tell you when they're free they're they're doing their better work or doing what you've always believed that you had in you to do accomplish well somebody better asked about expect how much can they expect I don't think expectations really get in the way in our lives all the time you know I mean you expect somebody for dinner you know but um for the most part you work and don't don't have some expectations that somebody's gonna read this and they're gonna make this and they're gonna love this I mean that's later you know say you really just have to keep you have to write a lot and you have to write outrageously you know don't be afraid to just do that outrageous thing that maybe Charlie Kaufman has gotten everybody excited about and observe you know watch behavior right behavior don't worry about words all the time just right props picking up something looking at it seeing what it does seeing how that has some effect on them maybe they want to throw it through a window or something or maybe they want to cherish it we don't know why they just it's them let the character is really alone because movies have they're human beings you know they have the right to live their own lives something like that you want to talk about spider-man we're doing spider-man 1 and Laura my wife which leads to another kind of interesting thing we walk past Bridal Show we've been together like 22 years now we're not married and we walked past bridal shops I always gonna buy a dress and her answer is always no and I then go but she was working on spider-man 1 and she asked me to oh she asked me to write a scene for Tobey Maguire's test he tested and I wrote please I think she said I was asking her about it the other day she said you wrote the cemetery scene at the end of spider-man 1 there's some when she I forget anyway it was new help help them and then there was some other stuff that I worked on with the relationship of Peter Parker and Mary Jane and some little scenes in the backyard and I forget I didn't get any credit and I didn't expect any and then they asked me to write oh no then they get spider-man 2 and there were some other writers Huff and Milan Maillard know what's up anyway Twitter writers they get some really good work and Charles Scheffel oh boom you know Michael Schiphol he did some work on it and apparently they finally came to me and asking you write a script based on whatever I had there to work with and I did and they made it and the Writers Guild of America West um surprisingly gave me full credit on it which so I just told people I wrote it but but I think the the maillard don't know what is it no but anyway they were really unhappy they didn't think it was fair and that often happens but I wrote that and then I worked on spider-man 3 which I think was a very unsuccessful movie there were many writers and he worries about the characters and there were many characters there were too many villains and anyway it came off apparently made a lot of money and and I sure credit with Sam Raimi and his brother who started the whole greater the story the beginning and it's all been fun without 7 years of spider-man and now I've been writing on some other stuff for my of my own which I kind of like but I'm not expecting anything so now I'm old soldiers fade away you

7 thoughts on “The Writer Speaks: Alvin Sargent

  1. I'm one of this guy's biggest fans. A wonderful screenwriter, Ordinary People's one of my all time favorite films, and I wish I could put emotion on the page as well as he can.

  2. I found this to be one of the most interesting interviews with a writer, even though he doesn't get into technical stuff, I found it very useful. I remember that movie he was talking about, with Maggie Smith, that was a great film.

  3. I owe a lot to him and his late wife. Their wonderful work in cinema defined my childhood.

  4. thank you for this. i've finally met the man behind some of the most influential movies of my childhood.

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