5 Things the Safdies Did in 'Uncut Gems' That Will Make You a Better Writer
The Safdie Brothers are two amazing voices unified into one insane vision taking Hollywood by storm.
If you're like me, it took approximately 24 hours for your heart to stop beating out of your chest after you saw Uncut Gems. There were times I thought I was in danger of cardiac arrest.
But that's just how the Safdies make movies.
From Gems to Daddy Long Legs to Good Time, these guys are blowing up everything we knew about thrillers and genre.
Today, I'm excited to bring some in-depth quotes from them about their writing process behind all of these films.
Check out this video from Behind the Curtain, and let's talk after the jump!
5 Lessons from 'Uncut Gems' and The Safdie Brothers
I unapologetically love the Safdie Brothers. It has to do with their movies, but it also has to do with the fact that they got me a job...not directly, but I was an intern who approached them in the lobby of Scott Free to talk about Daddy Long Legs. They were so cool to me, and when it came time for their meeting, the president of the company saw me chatting with them, and later that day hired me.
If they had blown me off or complained, I'd have been fired probably.
But I was not, and I get to write to you here and now.
So let's dive in.
1. Learn How to Lie
How did the Safdies become such good storytellers? It started out with them lying a bunch. They would make up stories as kids and see if they could string the adults along. The one thing they found added the necessary realism to trick people...
The key to all great worldbuilding and storytelling is in the details.
Details are so important. They give every story nuance and make the fiction more palpable. They allow us to explore aspects of the truth while building a fake reality.
So, the next time you write something, think about the details that will help us understand the world you promise to present.
2. All Writing is Rewriting
This old maxim is something we come back to time and time again. And for a good reason, a lot of times, your first draft sucks! Mark this as an extreme example, but Uncut Gems was finished over the course of 160 drafts!
And they didn't just work on the story. They tried to solidify themes. When they began, this was a movie starring Amare Stoudemire. The themes changed when they decided to cast Kobe, and then again, when it was a movie about Joel Embiid.
Shoot dates changed again, and it was rewritten for Kevin Garnett.
The point is, they accepted every rewrite needed to get the movie done.
That's what it takes to succeed.
3. Be attracted to wrongness
You will not always have the intuition that leads you the right way. Sometimes it's okay to chase the wrong way too. Inspiration comes through finding a scene's purpose, but iron sharpens iron. So, if you hit a scene that feels like it gets into the story in the wrong way, be okay shooting that shot.
Sometimes the weirdest ideas lead to the best results.
But you have to be open and attracted to what's wrong in a scene to get there.
4. Be open to new openings
One of the most powerful things about Uncut Gems is the series of scenes that open the film. We start with a mine in Africa, a tragic accident, and the stealing of an opal, the seamless transition into a colonoscopy of the lead character, Howard, who then walks through New York's diamond district.
I'm aware of how wild that sounds, but it thematically works.
The Safdies explain that these crazy scenes are linked to their Jewish heritage. They knew they wanted the movie to link up to who their character was thematically, but they had all those scenes on the table, so they used all of them.
How did they get there?
They were open to just brainstorming.
Being set in exactly what you want is a great trait for a director, but not for the writer part of a brain (or editor). You need to break versions of ideas and entrances constantly. We know the most powerful opening scenes say something bold about the movie.
Uncut Gems accomplished that in three scenes that work together perfectly. It really is an opening sequence.
5. Catch enough
When we're writing and directing, we get so caught up in what the audience knows, that we forget it can be okay not to give them everything. What Uncut Gems does so well is let people talk over one another and argue.
We understand the emotion of every scene, but maybe not the entirety of the complex plot. We get that on multiple viewings.
So what do you need to make sure your story absolutely pays off?
Forget the plot, take your character somewhere the audience understands and feels, and you'll always have a huge payoff.
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