Figure Out A Story Before Or As You Write? by Barrington Smith Seetachitt and Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

 

Film Courage: I was looking at another talented screenwriter’s site and her name is Shelley Gustavson. And she says in this one article “There are stories that you figure out and then write. And then there are stories that you figure out as you write them.” Any thoughts?

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: Oh…that’s interesting. Stories that you figure out and write. Or stories that you figure out as you write them…

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn: I think that’s true both for my work as a journalist and a screenwriter. I can go into an interview believing that it’s going to go one way and it turns out to be an entirely new thing. [This] is a little off topic but I remember when 9/11 happened and I was supposed to have interviewed John Schneider at that time. He was Superman…

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: Father…

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn: He was the father of Superman.

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: Smallville.

 

“If I’m honest, I’m always figuring it out as I write. Even if I go in thinking that I know what it is, I’m still going to end up figuring it out as I go.  I have inside-out writing and outside-in writing and the outside-in will tend to be something where there is kind of an external story. And so you’ve got the container a little bit and you’re figuring out all of the ways that you’re furnishing and arranging what’s in that container and generating some new stuff.”

 

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn: Thank you. For the CW show Smallville. And we had been trying to get this thing [the interview] together. We had cancelled and he was out of town. And so I contacted his publicists and she was like “No, he still wants to do it.” And it was the day that George Bush was delivering the prayer after 9/11. I was on the freeway and we still hadn’t heard from one of my cousins who lived in New York. And so I’m just like weeping in the car and it was just so stressful. So I pull myself together, I go to his home, his wife lets me in. He’s upstairs watching the prayer. I’m trying to get myself composed and he comes down and I’ve got journalism face on and I’m like “Hello, how are you?” and he’s like “Did you know anybody?” All I kept thinking was ‘We don’t know where Barbara is’ and I just broke down. So what I thought was just going to be this innocuous personality profile about this actor turned into a really interesting revealing story, not only about the character he was playing but what justice and what patriotism and all of these things meant.

So a story that was supposed to be this cute little personality profile about this actor turned into something deeper and richer. I talked to my editor about whether or not I should include that I wept on this man’s white shirt [laughs]. And so it was one of those things that even now in the work that we’re doing, we had a certain focus and idea about it and I think as we’ve gone through this screenwriting workshop in Switzerland and the experiences we’ve had there, just stepping back from the screenplay for a couple of weeks and then coming back and just kind of reevaluating what it is that we’re trying to say and how are we saying it and are we really affecting not only good story but are we really saying something with the way that we’re going. I think it can happen but I think it can definitely happen both ways. I was open to it as a journalist because it was always fun. It’s like a discovery when you have preconceptions of what your story is but then it develops into something very different. I think there is something very exciting about that and something very freeing about it if you allow yourself to open to that, it can go in a direction. Because I think even to a certain extent the things that we’ve done at least in this screenplay have moved further from what I thought my original idea was. But it’s so much better. I’m working on a documentary where I thought I was going to have a particular story that was going to go in a particular way and time and finances (because I don’t have the money to continue to generate it) once it’s done. I can see it’s already a different story because there was a particular timeframe on that story that I thought “Oh, I’m going to get it done and I’m going to get this and the personality is going to be great” and it didn’t turn out that way, you know [laughs]. And so looking at how that story can evolve now it’s going to be a…you know the story I wanted to tell was great. This story could be even greater because of not only my experience in time but because of new circumstances and new developments and new undertones and things like that. So I think working with something and having it be what you thought it was going to be is great but also the discovery of something new from what you thought you had is also a wonderful gift.

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: I think…yeah…really if I’m honest, I’m always figuring it out as I write. Even if I go in thinking that I know what it is, I’m still going to end up figuring it out as I go. Yeah….[laughs]. I have inside-out writing and outside-in writing and the outside-in will tend to be something where there is kind of an external story. And so you’ve got the container a little bit and you’re figuring out all of the ways that you’re furnishing and arranging what’s in that container and generating some new stuff. And occasionally I have the luxury of doing kind of what I call the inside-out where you just have almost nothing, where you woke up in the middle of the night with an image in your head or just this kind of very fragmentary thing like a grain of sand and then it’s like you’re making a narrative stone soup. You’re like “Here’s the pebble…” Do you know the story of stone soup? They go around and get the meat and the carrots and everything. Then it’s more like they found art by just pulling all of the things from your life: your memories, what’s going on, and you’re kind of building it out from this little thing and it becomes something where you really didn’t have much of an idea of what it was going to be at all and so that’s pretty fun. And that would again be an example of figuring it out as you go.

 

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Question: Do you figure out your story and then write it? Or do you figure out your story as you write it?

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