20 December, 2008

David Scarpa, "The Day the Earth Stood Still", interview


" In an era where an almost scientific focus on structure dominates the scripts for many of Hollywood’s biggest films, David Scarpa -- the scripter behind the giant new Keanu Reeves-starred remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still -- is refreshingly, even shockingly simple in his approach.

While so many screenwriters today are obsessed with systems and metrics for structure, Scarpa seems to think if you have a good story, structure is the last thing you need to worry about.

“If you’ve written the perfect little campfire tale, then it will work out,” says the Connecticut-raised and NYU-schooled scribe. “That’s why pitching can be so helpful. If you can verbally tell that campfire story and grab your audience, then you can tell it in a 120-page screenplay. You have to understand your story on that simple fundamental level, otherwise you will have trouble with the whole process.”

“It’s not a math equation,” he continues. “In a sense, the structure is implicit -- it arises naturally out of storytelling. Those early cavemen all the way up to Mark Twain never thought in terms of structure. The problem is writers now are trained to put the ‘structure’ first when they should let it come out of the story and characters they’re trying to explore. I think structure comes last.” "

Article in full


Michelle Goode said...

Yes, this is true, and is perhaps why the story should be told verbally (into a recording device) or written straight into a Word file, before the scriptwriting commences. That way, you don't let structure distract you from the flow of ideas. That, or you just don't give much attention to the structure until the re-write. I wonder who this affects most - screenwriters just starting out, or those who are under representation and pressure to get it right?

Anonymous said...

Seeing as the movie is total crap, it might not be the best idea listening to any "nuggets of wisdom" he gives.

As one reviewer says: The Christmas turkey has landed, in the form of 20th Century Fox's worst blockbuster ever.

Add to that some unimpressive CGI and a bizarrely abrupt ending and you have the day your buttocks went to sleep, your brain melted and your will to live evaporated.

Robin Kelly said...

I think there might be a middle way in this. Scarpa's screenplay perhaps does show the disadvantages of that approach all too obviously.

But we do have to guard against the opposite extreme; where we might structure obsessively and lose sight or even enthusiasm of why we wanted to write the story in the first place.

There are those who can work on the structure during a re-write but I think it's much easier to change structure in the outline than when you have a finished script with nice dialogue you don't want to lose.