writing and cynicism

I write a love story in virtually every film I write. Why not? It’s what life is about, isn’t it? It’s what makes life special. Men and women spend their whole lives thinking about it, dreaming of falling in love and when it happens, it’s the best thing to happen to a person; it’s heaven on earth, nothing else seems to matter.   So it makes sense that a film would want to end at that moment when love is fully realized between two people, when they’ve reached that dizzying height of togetherness, when they’ve finally reached paradise and returned to Eden.

You see, it doesn’t get any better than that. In fact, it’s all downhill after that. I mean, as wonderful and complicated as what comes next may be, no matter how great the marriage is, things start to settle down. Reality starts to poke its ugly face in. You get old. You start to wonder if this is all there is. You get the idea.

The film business is enough to make anyone cynical. You kill yourself writing a script only to find out no one wants to make that kind of film. You bust your ass trying to convince financiers that you will pour your soul into making this film and they look at their marketing team and ask them how much your star will bring in on DVD. Your film gets cut, compromised, dumped, dumped on, misunderstood, mischaracterized. Your blood and guts is what makes the red carpet red – it’s the audience stepping on your heart.

And maybe they’ll like it, but then, what does that mean? I’ll never forget a comment on my film that someone wrote on the internet: “I loved this movie! It was the best film I’ve seen since Nurse Betty!” It’s nice that they liked it, but I hated Nurse Betty.

As you get older in this business, and you see more stuff happen for reasons that usually have nothing to do with the quality or the art of a film, it would be very easy to stop caring. Why should you care so much about film? Nobody else does. I mean, sure they care about which stars you’ve met, but they don’t really care. There was an interview with William Freidkin about the French Connection where he was talking about how dangerous it was to do that car chase. He said something like, “I don’t think a film is worth the life of one ant, but at the time, I didn’t feel like that.” I’m sure he knows this, but you can tell watching his films. In fact, you can see almost exactly when, in which film, he stopped caring that much.

For a film to be good, you have to care that much. The script has to come from a passionate place. It has to be executed with love, uncynically. Characters in it can be cynical, but you cannot be. Cynical writers write characters that show rather than do.   It’s like an actor doing pantomime, you understand it, but he’s showing you the emotion, not feeling it.  An actor needs to do something to be believable, not show it.  He has to experience it.  The writer has to do this too.


How do you prevent yourself from getting cynical, or reverse it once you’ve become cynical? It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s impossible not to be, but I think it comes back to that love story. Because when those characters meet and start to fall for each other, it’s an incredible feeling and it’s a wonderful thing to watch. People are different in a lot of ways, but it is emotions that makes this stuff sing. It’s complicated, but once you’ve created that love or that other emotion, it’s as if you’ve experienced it at the same time.  Through the magic of a film, or reading, that experience is communicated, emotionally.

I’m married.  I’ll probably never fall in love again, but that feeling of falling in love, I can get a little of it every time I write it.  It’s hard to be cynical when you experience this stuff.  Watch a great film and you’ll see it, not just the promise of young love, but also the promise of what film can be.  And really, what else matters?


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