Making a Movie Is Like Sculpting With Sand in a Sandstorm

Question: How is screenwriting different than other forms of writing?

Guillermo del Toro:  Yeah.  I tell you, what I’ve learned with dabbling in the media... in the different media is writing a screenplay for an animated film is one thing, writing a screenplay for a live-action film is another thing.  Writing a screenplay for a video game is fascinating and great.  And the disciplines are very different because you’re not only thinking of a language, you’re thinking about immersion techniques, if you will.  How are you going to make the viewer or the player, the gamer, immerse into the world.  And as a writer of fiction, that’s again almost a different set of rules.  

In some of these mediums, the sort of Aristotelian structure of three acts of beginning, middle and end, goes away at certain points.  And I find that truly thrilling, but what has been great for me in writing fiction is that, a) I don’t deal with notes from anyone.  I have free reign over what characters do what and the fate of the characters, there’s no, there’s not such a thing as a down ending in writing fiction, you know, you can please the tale rather than please the demographics and the quadrants of a movie.  But I would say the same can be done doing an independent European or Mexican film.  You have that freedom.  

What is great here is that you... moving making, the process of making the movie goes against the product.  It’s like sculpting... I think Francis Coppola said, "It’s like sculpting with sand in a sandstorm."  You know, things are flying away from your hands as you’re trying to shape the thing.  And I agree.  And so the process of the moviemaking goes against the product, and at the end of the day you end up with a movie that compromises.  You compromise with the budget, with the time, with the elements.  There’s no filmmaker that can have absolute control unless you’re making an animated film in abstract.  

And instead of that in fiction, the moment that you are writing the scene is as good or as bad as you are writing it.  You can see the product come to life and that’s it’s final form.  So it’s very much like painting in that, or illustrating, you depend on our abilities, but definitely the product is part of the process. In movies it isn’t.

Recorded on September 22, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

Things are constantly flying through your hands as you’re trying to shape the product, says the filmmaker.

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