BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters Lecture

Paul Laverty talks about his approach to writing screenplays and the importance of team work in film making in his BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters Lecture 2011.

On whether writing in Glasgow vernacular comes easiest:

Yeah, by a mile. I suppose I’m very lucky too. Ken’s always really been supportive in helping with that. We’ve made films in Los Angeles and Nicaragua and other places, and I’m always just really respectful of the differences with people. Someone from Mexico City has got a different life view from a Campesino in Nicaragua, or someone who’s grown up in Los Angeles. They’re all very, very different, so you have to work much harder and listen. You can never capture it the same way. But with something from Glasgow, well it’s your natural rhythm and it’s much easier.

I’ll never forget, the day I actually sat down to start My Name Is Joe. I remember the blank sheet and the absolute exhilaration because I thought this man was going to bring us to troublesome places. What I loved about the character Joe, in my head before I started, was one of the steps – one of the 12 steps, I think it’s the fourth one – he’s got to make a fearless moral inventory of himself. And there’s great juice with that.

So you don’t know exactly where it might go, but you just feel it’s going to take you on a journey and I love that kind of sense of excitement, of not exactly knowing where you’re going to go.

On where his characters come from

I do listen and talk to an awful lot of people. I think listening, for a writer, is greatly underestimated. It’s underestimated for a human being. People are happy to talk about their lives. What you’re doing with a screenplay is that you’re trying to understand the world from someone else’s point of view. You only see the world from your point of view, so to try and understand it just by listening to people just gives you great information and new ideas.

I don’t think you can copy a screenplay from the street. You can’t do that. But it really gives you a lot more information, a lot more ideas, if you’re talking to a kid, or someone from a different culture, a different language, a different sex or who is much older or younger; someone from a different country who has just seen the world a different way. And when you listen and talk to them it’s sometimes absolutely remarkable. So I like to do all that. But when it comes to the character, I’ve never copied a character that I’ve met; not consciously. I think you rob and steal and take little bits here and there but I just felt when I confronted Joe, I felt I knew him, you know?

On researching Bread and Roses in Tijuana and Juarez

It was amazing, going to Tijuana and Juarez and all these places along the border where they have all these maquila factories. What was remarkable about them, when you actually go to the factories, is that they’re state-of-the-art. I went to see one at Ford and they were making beautiful brakes and machines and all that. Then I met some of the grass roots organisers. I went to see where they lived. And the wooden pallets that brought in all this fancy machinery, that’s what they lived in. And they were working so many hours their children were just left to wander. It’s an experiment of absolute, totally unrelated brutal capitalism. They just work and then they’re dumped, there’s no infrastructure, there’s absolutely nothing, so there’s no surprise in a way that one aberration breeds another in Juarez. I don’t know how many thousands of women, literally, are murdered each year along the Juarez border.

They’re actually working so hard, doing double shifts, that at the weekends they go absolutely crazy. They go drinking. And often, because they don’t have enough money, they drift into prostitution. So after seeing all that, talking to these people, seeing their faces and seeing where they went, you have the confidence perhaps to try and write that and give them a voice.

Click here to see the 30 minute video.

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