Sunday, May 28, 2017

Collaborative writing

While reading The Making of Some Like it Hot, by Tony Curtis, (with Mark A Vieira) a couple of days ago, the following piece on co-writing struck me as interesting in terms of the different ways collaborators work together. 

'Billy' is Billy Wilder, the writer and director, and 'Izzy' is I.A.L. Diamond, his second major co-writer. (Wilder had previously worked on several films with Charles Brackett.)

The work wasn’t glamorous. Billy compared himself and Izzy to bank tellers, coming in at nine and plugging away at the thing all day. But writing is mysterious. How do you do it, especially with another guy? First of all, they divided the labour, in part because they were different. Billy was kinetic. He liked to move around. He didn’t like sitting. He was always pacing back and forth, throwing ideas around the room, some of which Izzy would catch, some of which floated into the ether. Izzy was content to sit at the typewriter, like he was driving a car. He’d take everything down, all the crazy thoughts. He liked typing. Billy didn’t. He didn’t like being stuck behind the typewriter. It made him uncomfortable, and it was boring.
They would work on the overall structure first, then make sure all the funny ideas fit. That’s probably how they knew that the musicians needed only one disguise. That was funny enough. But who knows what they really thought, what ideas were flying around that office? I heard that they acted out scenes to make sure they played. Billy would play one character, Izzy would play the other. They would decide every element there, rather than having Izzy go off and dream something up and come back to show it to Billy. No. They agreed where the thing was going, get it down, and then Izzy would go home and type up the draft. The next day Billy would look at it. “Mm hm,’ he would say. ‘Okay. Now...let’s see what we can do to make it better.’ There’d be a lot of smoking, maybe a cocktail at lunch, but mostly batting ideas back and forth. Once in a while they’d hit a dry patch, and there would be silence for hours. But not often. Once they’d gotten rolling, they had momentum.
One thing I found interesting: they would start a picture with an incomplete script. As they were making the picture, they saw it go in directions they hadn’t expected, and they wanted to be able to follow that lead.

Famously, the last line in the film - 'Nobody's perfect' -  wasn’t decided on until a few days before it was shot. It had originally been in a completely different part of the script and was cut. 


The two writers didn’t allow the actors to change anything. One day during the shoot was horrendous in this regard because Marilyn Monroe couldn’t say the line, ‘Where’s that Bourbon?’ without altering something in it, and Wilder wasn't willing to have any of the three words altered. Eighty-one takes later she got it right. (Pages 165-7) Nevertheless, Wilder and Diamond would change lines overnight when they saw the actors giving new life to the original script. 
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