Noah Baumbach had never seen a script before he wrote one

Noah Baumbach recently spoke about his filmmaking process as part of BAFTA’s Screenwriters’ Lecture Series and there were a lot of interesting nuggets to take away from the talk. Most of all, I found it particularly interesting that the Marriage Story director hadn’t ever seen a script until he wrote one and used to spend a lot of time tweaking the formatting to make his screenplays look the correct way.

Here’s what he had to say:

“I’d never seen a script until I wrote one and it was before Final Draft or any of these screenwriting programmes. My first movie Kicking and Screaming was the first movie I’d ever seen which I had to actually write it to see it and I had so much trouble with the tabs, getting the formatting (correct)…. so my whole emotional memory of that process was just hitting tab and trying to centre Grover with the line and I spent so much time trying to get it to look like a script.

“Then I looked at some scripts just for the formatting, I bought scripts you could buy not on the street, I didn’t know about those, but I bought published scripts, but they were often, or the ones I had, were all kind of transcripts of the finished movie, they didn’t look like scripts as I’ve now come to understand them.”

There were plenty of other interesting takeaways from his lecture and Q&A session, such as his perspective on scripts as standalone things and how closely he follows them.

“I don’t think scripts are complete things, they’re by nature potential and, you know, they’ve been called blueprints and some directors use them very much as just guides that, you know, Robert Altman would make an entirely new movie out of the script he was given. I follow my scripts quite closely, I’m interpreting them as a director, but I’m following, the lines are the lines and the scenes are the scenes, but even so on their own I don’t get a lot of delight out of them.”

Or him explaining why he doesn’t like improvisation on set:

“I mean every movie is absolutely scripted, I don’t improvise on set. It doesn’t mean I won’t change something if it’s not working, I’m totally open to that but how I relate when we’re shooting a scene is also in the musicality of the dialogue, it’s hearing it, it’s seeing it, of course, but it’s also hearing it. It’s like music in that way, for me. So I often find if an actor, if a scene’s not working, if I actually recheck the script it’s ‘cause maybe an actor’s inverted two words or has dropped a line or something and something has fallen off and I find that usually if we go back then (it) doesn’t mean it works immediately, but then it starts to click in a little bit more.”

Or his revelation that he uses the names of real people when writing scripts so his characters feel real:

“I often use real names in my scripts of people I know. Not because I’m writing about them at all, I would never do that, but because it’s immediately a real person to me, I believe it. I know that, I know who Roger Greenberg is because I grew up with Roger Greenberg. He wasn’t Roger Greenberg in Greenberg but he, also because I hadn’t seen him since I was like 15, but I had deep affection for him and for that time in my life and even though the movie had no literal connection to that, calling him Roger Greenberg made me love him, and also it made it real to me.”

The talk took place at Curzon Mayfair on 5 December.

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