Richard Price and the Art of Screenwriting

So this is how it goes on the Montclair Film Festival screenwriting panel. The great novelist and screenwriter Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland, Lush Life, The Wire) slouches in his chair, looking as if he’d rather be somewhere else, anywhere else, and delivers bon mot after bon mot, pearl after pearl, about writing, about writing for the screen and the difference between them.

Some samples:

What makes a good story? “It’s all about what happens next, what happens next, what happens next. It’s speed chess, not chess.”

On characters: “I have to love the characters I am writing about. Even when they’re horrible animals.”

On film and TV: “I used to bitch about screenwriting all the time. Now after TV, it’s like the Elysian Fields of writing.”

On actors: “The scariest words from an actor are ‘I think we’re missing an opportunity here.’ But when an actor comes to you and says ‘My guy wouldn’t say this,’ you gotta listen, because he is now on more intimate terms with your creation than you are.”

On the difference between novel dialogue and movie dialogue: “You write this great dialogue, or you read it in authors like Robert Stone or Don DeLillo. And everybody loves it and tells you how much it sounds like real people talking. Then comes the table read. And all your gems are falling like pieces of lead crystal from the chandelier overhead.”

AMC executive Joel Stillerman moderated. The producing and screenwriting team of David Levien and Brian Koppelman helped fill the stage, but Price was the star. And only one question from the audience about how can I get someone to read my students’ brilliant screenplay!

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  1. Price was great. Your description of him (and his “bon mot’s”) were right on the money.

    It’s funny though, having been around talented people, and either asking them, or listening to them answer the question of “where does it come from/how do you do it.” I’m reminded of something Paul Simon said about how he writes: I pick out one of my favorite guitars, find a grove and, just let it go.

    In other words, I was blessed by God and have not a clue where it comes from or how to tell you to get it. Other than, work hard everyday.

    … And be Paul Simon… Or Richard Price…

    Once again, great job MFF!!!

  2. What makes a good story? “It’s all about what happens next, what happens next, what happens next. It’s speed chess, not chess.” Price said this specifically about screenplays- aka the difference between that and a novel. Yes warren depicted the guy perfectly- Price really made the day- wry, blunt, hilarious, smart.

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