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Jean-Louis Barrault


A screenwriter must know more than how to write
Jean-Claude Carrière Film-maker
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What I can say about screenwriting is it is without doubt the hardest, because alongside imagination and some talent – required here like elsewhere – it requires a certain knowledge of film-making.

A screenwriter can't ignore film-making. He needs to know how his writing will be turned into a film. If, when I work with Buñuel or Forman, they start talking about technical things, and if I'm unable to answer them, then they don't need me. I mean that, contrary to what people think, a screenwriter is not a novel writer. He is not a writer, a writer gone astray or a failed writer. Not at all. A screenwriter is a film-maker. He is someone who writes as part of a film team, surrounded by technicians. He is himself a technician, whether he wants to be or not. So you need to be aware of that. You need to learn film language if you want to be a screenwriter, and that is why so many novel writers fail because they think they can become screenwriters overnight, using a language they didn't give themselves any time to learn.

Ce que je peux dire ce que sans doute l’écriture cinématographique est la plus difficile parce qu’elle suppose, à côte de l’imagination et d’un certain talent qui évidemment est nécessaire là comme ailleurs, elle suppose une connaissance technique de cinéma. Un scénariste ne peut pas ignorer la technique du cinéma. Il doit savoir comment ce qu’il écrit va devenir un film. Si au moment où je travaille avec Buñuel, ou Milos Forman, il commence me parler technique et si je suis incapable de lui répondre, il n’a pas besoin de moi. Je veux dire, un scénariste n’est pas, contrairement à une idée reçue, un écrivain. Ce n’est pas un écrivain, ce n’est pas un romancier fourvoyé ou un romancier de deuxième ordre. Pas du tout. Un scénariste est un cinéaste. C’est quelqu'un qui écrit à l’intérieur d’une équipe de cinéma, et avec autour de lui, des techniciens. Il est un technicien lui-même qu’il le veuille ou non. Donc il faut être absolument conscient de ca, que… il faut apprendre le langage cinématographique si on veut être scénariste, c’est d’ailleurs pour quoi tant des romanciers se plantent et échouent quand ils croient pouvoir devenir scénariste du jour au lendemain, c’est-à-dire qu’ils utilisent un langage qu’il n’ont pas pris le temps, et le soin, d’apprendre.

French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (1931-2021) began his association with films aged 24 when he was selected by Jacques Tati to write for him. This early experience led to further contact with other film-makers, including Luis Buñuel with whom Carrière collaborated for many years. He wrote screenplays for films including Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie, Tin Drum and Danton.

Listeners: Andrzej Wolski

Film director and documentary maker, Andrzej Wolski has made around 40 films since 1982 for French television, the BBC, TVP and other TV networks. He specializes in portraits and in historical films. Films that he has directed or written the screenplay for include Kultura, which he co-directed with Agnieszka Holland, and KOR which presents the history of the Worker’s Defence Committee as told by its members. Andrzej Wolski has received many awards for his work, including the UNESCO Grand Prix at the Festival du Film d’Art.

Tags: Screenwriting, film-making, Milos Forman, Luis Buñuel

Duration: 1 minute, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2010

Date story went live: 18 October 2010