Hollywood writers writing about writing
by Pamela Buchignani
To a writer, there is nothing more difficult than writing.
For many of us, it’s like that one true love who breaks our heart over and over again – but each time, we come back for more. Nothing gives us the satisfaction — or deep sense of failure — in quite the same way.
For many writers, we write because we are better at it than any other form of self expression – say, talking in front of an audience, writing songs or painting a landscape. So, it becomes the way we deal with strife — including the strife that comes from the writing itself. A natural cycle, a catch-22, ironic or poetic – whatever it is, it’s inescapable.
Naturally, some of my very favorite films are about writers struggling with writing. Because a close second to actually writing about writing, is to experience someone else doing that very thing. And a common theme when writers write about writing? It seems the only thing more difficult than writing – is to not be able to.
Adaptation – perhaps the ultimate “writers writing about writing” film, the beyond-brilliant mad genius Charlie Kaufman takes us on an adventure into his own mind, as he struggles with writers block and the never ending, idiotic, sell-out antics of his fictitious twin brother and wanna be writer Donald (who is also credited as a writer on the film). Charlie desperately struggles to adapt an unadaptable real life non-fiction book by writer Susan Orlean about… orchids. Without giving anything away (to those of you who haven’t yet seen Adaptation – please see it!), there is a scene at the end where things are looking quite grim for the twins, and Donald remembers the first girl he ever loved – and how happy she made him, although she never loved him back. “You are what you love, not what loves you.” From the mind of a writer indeed.
Episodes – Co-created by David Crane (of Friends fame), Showtime’s Episodes is perhaps the most horrific, hilarious and realistic TV show about what it’s like to write a TV show in Hollywood. Matt LeBlanc is beyond awesome at playing a super-hilarious version of himself in this show. And you can feel the honesty and torture behind every single encounter with “the network executives,” so much so that viewers are left feeling as if the characters simply must be based on real people.
Barton Fink – I was lucky enough to see this film before I actually consciously knew I was a writer. Brought to a little indie theatre in San Francisco circa 1991, by a great friend who also didn’t yet know she was a writer — this was my very fortunate introduction to the Coen Brothers. In Barton Fink, they tell the story of a young NYC playwright brought to Hollywood in the 40’s to write for the movie business. Needless to say, he’s overcome with writer’s block. And it only gets worse from there.
Infamous – The “other,” dare I say superior, movie about Truman Capote. The screenplay for this film was one of the best I ever read while working as a d-girl. Written by writer/director Doug McGrath, based on the book by George Plimpton, about the life and work of writer Truman Capote. I’ll never forget the end of the film, after Capote’s long-labored-after masterpiece In Cold Blood was released to great acclaim, all people could ask him was, “So – what’s next?” It was as if the great work of art, barely fresh off the press was already passé, and if he couldn’t deliver again – so was he.
As a side note, no offense to the late and great Philip Seymour Hoffman, but fantastic actor Toby Jones who plays Truman in Infamous absolutely channels the spirit — and voice — of the late great writer so much so, you feel as if you may be watching Truman Capote himself.Tags: Adaptation (film), Barton Fink, Episodes (TV show), Hollywood, Infamous (film), Pamela Buchignani, Screen and TV writer, Writing as a calling