Friday was the long day of the Give Me Direction event and it kicked off with comedian Sharon Horgan interviewing writer/director Nicola Holofcener. I’m a major fan of both these ladies but especially Holofcener ever since her film Lovely and Amazing, which contains possibly the most toe-curling “what do you really think of my body” scene in cinema. She followed that up with Friends With Money and the excellent Please Give, which was screened for us later in the day.
In the flesh, Sharon Horgan was super-glam and Nicole Holofcener was small and kind of looked like her preferred leading lady, Catherine Keener. Here’s what she had to say about writing scripts and shooting movies:
· She doesn’t outline (another one!) because she likes to not know where her story is going. She re-reads and edits every day so that by the end, it’s not too much of a mess.
· Her agent once told her she should stop writing (!). Sony Classics told her Please Give was too depressing. Note: They are on crack. It’s hilarious.
· She doesn’t try and write funny scripts.
· She had a terrible experience directing a short before making two that she was happy with.
· It took her 6 years to get her first feature made, and in the meantime she worked in production, retail and as a secretary. Miramax then bought her debut film Walking and Talking.
· She takes out any dialogue that sounds like “cinema dialogue” or that’s too smart. Her big tip was to take out the first line of any piece of dialogue or at least to look closely at them because they are very often the lines you can lose.
· She bases characters on people she knows and this has led to hurt feelings. The “gay” husband in Friends With Money, for instance (one of my favourite characters), was based on a guy she knew, although he failed to spot that and was oblivious to the similarities!
· She can’t pitch big concept movies and has failed to get rewrite jobs because of this.
· Turned down the chance to direct a Seth Rogen comedy in Vancouver cos it would have meant being away from her kids too long.
· She waxed lyrical about Keener, her favourite actress and screen alter-ego. Emma Thompson apparently turned down the lead in Please Give.
· Her next project is a film with Sarah Silverman, who she’s stoked to work with.
· She doesn’t wonder if her experiences are universally interesting. She just writes them up anyway.
What was inspiring about this lady – and indeed, about Bobby Farrelly – was that they took a lot of the intimidation and complicated crap out of directing. Bobby Farrelly said frankly that he and his brother still don’t know anything about lenses or camera angles. They just hire a good DoP, concentrate on getting good performances out of the actors and make sure there’s loads of material for the editing suite. Nicole Holofcener, similarly, made it sound like a much easier job than is usually understood. Their message was: hire good people and then trust them.
Next up was novelist and screenwriter Pat McCabe, who was interviewing veteran producer Stephen Woolley. Woolley is a fascinating guy even apart from all the films he’s produced over the years (among them Absolute Beginners, Angel, The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, etc, etc, etc). He started out running the legendary alternative London cinema The Scala, before moving almost by accident into producing and eventually directing the Brian Jones biopic Stoned. He was full of interesting stories and it wasn’t hard to get a great interview out of him. What I couldn’t understand was what the interview was doing in the middle of an event focussing on comedic writing and directing, because Woolley wouldn’t be a known authority on this. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to see it. I just would have rather seen someone else interviewed at this event who’d written and directed something funny. One thing that does look reasonably funny and is bound to be a hit is Woolley’s latest producing number, Made in Dagenham (they showed a trailer for it).
After lunch (ah, Yamamori!), comedy actress Alice Lowe talked about sketch shows and movies. She and director Jacqueline Wright are halfway through a year of making one comedy short a month. They showed a few of them and they look astoundingly good for films shot on a shoestrong budget, not to mention being well-written and highly amusing. Lowe’s worked on almost every big U.K. comedy show going as well as the movie Hot Fuzz, but still finds it hard to get her stuff on TV. There’s the old “we already have a female comedy show” chestnut, apparently.
Lastly before we all went to watch Please Give and then inhale a lot of free drinks was an interview with Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam McBain. Peep Show is just one of those shows that makes me develop a stitch when I’m watching it, I laugh so much. It was kind of a shock to see that the guys responsible for it look like kind estate agents. Or nice uncles. Anyway, they talked about how they work (one writes the dialogue for one episode, then the other takes over), how a writing partner is invaluable when you’re writing comedy, and how if you can’t get something made here, you should try Britain (this makes sense as the crowd across the water make most of the best comedy). Oh, and they kind of wrecked Richard Blackwood’s career by writing a really bad sitcom for him. If they don’t deserve an award for that at least…
Overall, I really enjoyed the event and learned at least some things from it. As I said, I don’t think the Stephen Woolley interview was appropriate for the kind of event it was and the theme it had. For the most part though, job well done, JDIFF and (here I’m going to say something you won’t hear very often from an Irish screenwriter) nice one, Film Board….