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Screenwriter Roundtable: Apatow, Boal, Haneke, Krasinski, Magee and Terrio On Writing

Film is a director’s medium, or so I’ve been told. With this in mind, you probably recognized all of the directors by last name in the title of Joe’s post the other day on the Director Roundtable from The Hollywood Reporter (okay, maybe you thought Spike instead of Ang, but then quickly realized your error, and hey, you can name two directors with the last name Lee). Beyond Apatow, you may have been hard-pressed to recognize this post’s list of surnames as screenwriters at first glance, but you’re likely familiar with their current and upcoming work: Judd Apatow (This is 40), Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty), Michael Haneke (Amour), John Krasinski (The Promised Land), David Magee (Life of Pi), and Chris Terrio (Argo). Today, thanks again to The Hollywood Reporter, the screenwriters get their turn in an hour-long roundtable discussion in the video below. And their table, unlike the directors’ table, is actually round. Because words are a writer’s medium, or so I’ve been told.

To give you a taste of the entire roundtable, here’s a quick clip of Oscar winner Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) discussing the U.S. military’s lack of involvement in Zero Dark Thirty:

Here’s the full hour-long conversation:

Highlights from the discussion include:

  • One of the most awkward introductory questions ever
  • Judd Apatow’s revelation that his story development process for This is 40 was basically coded talk with his wife Leslie Mann about their relationship issues
  • Mark Boal’s need for a page-one rewrite of his “failure to capture Osama bin Laden” script in pre-production after bin Laden was killed
  • Michael Haneke’s thoughts on Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and how it will force you to reexamine your own opinion of that film
  • John Krasinski’s literal chasing of windmills before focusing on fracking and natural gas for The Promised Land
  • David Magee’s use of the book Ulysses as a reference for his adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi
  • Chris Terrio’s realization that there could be an excellent Iranian film telling the story of the Canadian ambassador’s housekeeper Sahar from Argo

What I found interesting during this conversation was the argument that all films must be entertainment at a certain level, and therefore, certain topics should be avoided in narrative film because they should not be reduced to mere entertainment. I would agree that most narrative films are forms of entertainment at some level, but I also think one can argue that a narrative film’s purpose can be provocation, and sometimes provocation alone, not entertainment, is the purpose of a particular film (the films of Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick spring to mind).

Can a screenwriter write a screenplay that merely seeks to provoke and not to entertain, or must a screenplay (and its subsequent film) entertain an audience at some basic level? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments.

Link: The Hollywood Reporter – Oscar Roundtable, The Writers: Full Uncensored Interview

[via Go Into the Story]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • Okay — the films of Lars VT? Yes… but Terrence Mallick? SRSLY? His films are supposed to immersive… dreamlike — not provoke.

    • Daniel Mimura on 12.9.12 @ 4:14AM

      I just thought the same thing.

      Just cuz Malick has people who strongly like/strongly hate his films does not make them in anyway provocative.

      LVT exploiting an all MR cast? Provocative.

  • I’m certainly not one to defend Schindler’s List. I agree with many of the criticisms of the film.

    Haneke mentions the shower scene as a “nail-biter,” with an intent to entertain the audience. I wonder where the line is, though, between offensively entertaining and bringing the audience into the emotions of the characters.

  • That guy whispering in the corner was really being pretty rude hahaha

  • putting these mortals in the room with michael haneke tsshh….

    • thadon calico on 12.2.12 @ 3:00AM

      haneke is a god, everyone should tremble when even typing his name…IMO he overshadows the rest on that panel

  • What a great glimpse into the lives these filmmakers live. Their thoughts and dedication, the way the try are exactly the same as one would hope– they’re trying their best to reflect their interests, passions and points-of-view through their stories in human and compelling ways. Which, is no different from what any artist, and, the folks here are doing. Humble, hard work is the mantra– thanks for this post!

  • Gavin Kilduff on 11.30.12 @ 4:21PM

    I have to say these series of videos are excellent. I have watched every single one available. I love how informal and informative they are. Dedication, talent, self belief. hard work and a bit of luck is what they all have in common.

  • What a terrible interview. A very strange mishmash of screenwriters, no attempt to facilitate a conversation, the interviewer cutting people seemingly at random. And asking the Zero Dark Thirty guy that many fucking questions after he has proven he knows dick about his craft? The least illuminating, most uncomfortable interview I’ve ever seen.

  • I agree that these THR videos are great, but man, to have Magee and Haneke sit there in silence for half the show is terrible! Those were the two I most wanted to hear speak and I don’t think Haneke said a word between the 15 and 45 minute mark! For some really great and hilarious content from him you should all follow his twitter @Michael_Haneke

    • thadon calico on 12.2.12 @ 3:01AM

      i will follow him asap…haneke is a god, its ashame that he was silent for most parts of the interview

    • thadon calico on 12.2.12 @ 3:03AM

      i doubt thats his real twitter page, its in english and the latest tweets seem wierd / funny, not sure if its really his

    • thadon calico on 12.2.12 @ 3:05AM

      his twitter page sounds like an american teen….thats not his, plus i heard from someone that worked with him that he doesnt like social media

  • I hate the whole film is just entertainment thing, sure it is entertaining and yes it’s called show biz and not show art but for me the greatest films out there straddle the world of art and entertainment. Film is a language and a form of communication capable of profound revelations that other mediums cannot convey. To say certain subjects shouldn’t be touched becaus film is entertainment and thus not appropriate just shows how narrow and distorted mainstream hollwood’s grip on the medium is. They’re sense of ownership of the medium is unjustified and suffocating. It would be like if text were for only documenting actual events and that line was pushed by the biggest and most powerful publishers on the planet. What a destitute and shallow place the landscape of self discovery would be in such a case.

  • I heard this story. When asked about Schindler’s List, Stanley Kubrick said, “Schindler’s List is about winning. The Holocaust is about loosing.”

    I agree that the interviewer was horrible. He kept looking for someone to give him the answer her wanted. And his questions seemed chosen more to provoke than illuminate.

  • This interview is soooo awkward! The interviewers are so serious! It created an awkward closed atmosphere. I get the impression that these writers are very American, hollywood & don’t really have a global picture on things.

  • Tom Torbeyns on 12.26.12 @ 10:37AM

    I think this is a very interesting interview. It shows in a very painful way how little these writers (Haneke excluded) think about how their work influences society.
    I think this is a topic that deserves some more attention, also on this blog.
    If this community includes the next generation of filmmakers, and i think it does, things like this should not be ignored.
    I am convinced that the concept of nofilmschool is legit, you can be a filmmaker without having to pay for education.
    However, I am a student at a film school, here in Brussels, where the main goal is to challenge the students to form their opinion on modern cinema and it’s impact. This is something that is rarely discussed here.