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Jean-Luc Godard


How to write a screenplay
Jean-Claude Carrière Film-maker
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The screenwriting and directing workshops could take any shape, of course. It was not about theory, it was about... everyone presenting some ideas, and we would all work together. So it could be about adapting Maupassant, or an original idea that someone had brought in... and then every Tuesday we would go to the market, in front of Tokyo Palace, where the FEMIS was at the time. I would bring students to the market, telling them, ‘Three steps: first, you walk around the market, watching and listening but picking different angles, so that, for instance, instead of being the clients, you go to the side, and see as though you had put a camera behind the back of a vendor, see the rotting fruit he throws under the stall, the dogs going by, people misbehaving and so on... See what you usually don’t see. Then, note down everything that could happen in a film. That will take about three-quarters of an hour. Then we go back to school and there, the third step, you talk about what you have seen and heard.’ Which is still different from the other two steps. And that often gave amazing results. Something that reality gives; how to see it, how to take it down, how to transmit it. That is an exciting exercise anyone can do anywhere, like I used to do with Tati and Pierre Etaix, sitting at a café. You simply look at people going by and you wonder what could happen, what could happen in a film, adapting it. It is not often and quite artificial, when reality can be inserted into a film. I remember that one day – I was doing an exercise with the students – I remember that one day I found something that was so improbable that you wouldn’t dare put it in the screenplay and that is often the case, the truth is too big to be filmed. There were three men, quite heavy, real mugs, in front of a stall with potatoes. And they were picking up the potatoes, looking at them, feeling them, turning them over and then they would put those down and pick up some more. I went closer and I realised they spoke Russian. They were three Russian guys looking at French potatoes. That was something... you can’t imagine, because using it as a starting point you can develop an entire scene, maybe an entire film.

Les ateliers de scénario et de mises en scène réunis pouvaient prendre des formes très diverses, bien entendu. Il ne s’agissait pas de cours théorique, il s’agissait… que chacun présente une situation et que nous travaillions tous ensemble. Alors il pouvait s’agir d’une adaptation d’une nouvelle de Maupassant, d’une idée originale que quelqu’un apportait et puis on avait pris l’habitude tous les mardis devant Palais de Tokyo où se tenait la FEMIS à l’époque, il y avait un marché, extérieur. J’amenais les étudiants au marché et je leurs disais: «Voilà, trois étapes: d’abord vous allez faire le marché et regarder et écouter, mais en choisissant des angles différents, au lieu de marcher comme les clients au milieu, essayer de passer derrière pour voir, si vous mettez la camera le dos du marchand ce qui se passe: les fruits pourris qu’il jette sous la table, les chiens qui rodent, les gens qui resquille, tout cela. Voyez ce qu’on ne voit pas. Ensuite notez tout ce qui de votre point de vue pourrait prendre place dans un film. Ça va durer trois quart d’heure. Ensuite nous rentrons dans l’école,  et là, troisième mouvement, il faut raconter et donner à voir et en entendre ce que vous avez repéré». Ce qui est encore une autre activité, différente des précédentes. Et ça donnait des résultats souvent formidables. Quelque chose que la réalité nous donne, comment le repérer, comment le noter, comment le transmettre. Ça c’est un exercice tout à fait passionnant qu’on peut faire un peu partout, comme moi je faisais autre fois avec Jacques Tati à la terrasse d’un café avec Pierre Etaix. On regarde tout simplement passer les gens et on se dit: «Que-ce qu’il pourrait bien arriver? Que-ce qu’il pourrait se passer, qui pourrait prendre place dans un film, bien entendu en l’adaptant ?» C’est très rarement et d’une manière très rare, presque artificielle que la réalité peut s’introduire dans un film. Je me rappelle un jour, parce que moi j’ai participé aussi au travail, je faisais moi aussi mon repérage. Je me rappelle une fois avoir trouvé mais quelque chose qui paraît absolument invraisemblable qu’on n’oserait pas mettre dans un scenario et d’ailleurs c’est souvent le cas, la vérité on n’ose pas la filmer.

Il y avait trois hommes assez gros, des belles trognes devant un étalage de pommes de terre. Ils prenaient des pommes de terre, ils les regardaient, ils les sentaient, ils les tournaient dans tous les sens et puis ils les posaient et ils prenaient une autre. Je me suis approché et je me suis rendu compte qu’ils parlaient russe. C’était trois russes qui examinaient des pommes de terre françaises. Ça c’était quelque chose… qu’on n’ose pas imaginer, parce qu’en partant de là on peut imaginer toute une scène, voir quelque fois tout un film.

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: Jacques Tati, Pierre Etaix

Duration: 3 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: January 2010

Date story went live: 18 October 2010