Film Courage: West, when you first start writing a stage play or a screenplay (even for a short film or a feature film), is there a structure that you follow? Do you start outlining? What’s your process? Let’s say you have an idea, you have a story you want to tell. What are some of the things you first do in the beginning?
West Liang: For me, I let it sit for awhile. You know, I let it sit for awhile. And I tend to…what I’ve learned over the years from my own personal kind of instrument is that when I first started I would get excited about an idea and I would tell everyone about it. I would call my brother, I would tell my friend, I would call you and tell you, I would call him and tell him. And then (because you’re excited about it and I think that is a good energy to have when you have a story to tell), but what I do now is I don’t tell anyone about it. And I think that is important for me because I think you want to…it’s almost like a boxer. You want to get into the ring with a much energy as possible so that when the bell rings, you’re coming out [punches his hand] swinging! And what I’ve discovered over the years is that when you spend all your energy telling people about it and then you get in front of the computer, you have no energy. You’re done telling people about it, right? So for me, I keep it all bagged up. I get excited about it and I talk to myself about it and I think about it a whole lot, and I get it to the point where it’s about 70 percent done. I never want to get to the point where it’s 100 percent done because you want to allow for more inspiration and changes. So for me I get it to the point where it’s about 70 percent figured out and then there is all this kind of energy boiling and then I wake up really early in the morning, have my coffee and I spend all that energy getting it out on the page.
And then it’s on the page and then you have a little bit of kind of security, and then maybe you can tell people about one scene or whatever. I think it’s great to keep energy wrapped up.
Film Courage: That’s interesting because I think that there’s a lot of people that don’t [keep their ideas under wraps] when they first come here [to the Los Angeles area]. I’m just wondering, were you always like this? Was there a turning point? Was there like something that happened where you said “no more?”
West Liang: I think trial and error. I think that’s what it’s like for everybody. What works for me may not work for other people. I’m a morning person. I like to write during the day. I know what my habits are when I get into a writing block. I know what my habits are when I get into a writing block. When I get into a writing block, I almost always go hiking by myself. I almost always go and watch movies by myself. And again, other people have different things. For me, I’ve gotten to know my kind of “instrument” over the years. I’ve gotten to know how I like to work and how I like to solve problems. So for me, not telling people about the story works.
Film Courage: How do you know you’re in a [writing] block? I know that sounds like a really strange question because it sounds like it would be so obvious…but maybe you’re not in a block? How do you know you’re not simply tired or something else is going on, but it’s an actual block with the story?
West Liang: That’s a really good question. I do think that sometimes you do get tired. I think for me…this sounds really kind of weird but…and I’m sure a lot of the writers who might be watching this might understand because this is such an esoteric, kind of writerly, bullshit…
Film Courage: I’m really good at that [laughs]!
West Liang: [Laughs] You know? But I think if the writer is too much in the driver’s seat, that’s a bad thing. I think at some point the story has a life of its own. And I think in some ways a writer has to sort of surrender to the story, to the characters.
Some of the work…I wrote this really successful play. It was produced in 2012. It was really well-received and I’m incredibly proud of it. That script came out of me in like two weeks. And the idea came to me at 3 in the morning in a flash. And so there is something kind of spiritual and metaphysical about that which I try not to answer and figure out.
Film Courage: Yes. That’s fair.
West Liang: So I think when you start to get too formulaic, when you start to try and shoehorn too many things together, when you feel yourself b*llsh*tting…it’s weird. It’s a fine line between being authentic, being inspired and being disciplined. Those are really kind of weird intersections.
Film Courage: So in other words, it sounds like you don’t really want to overthink it too much and have a name for the process. You just know it’s instinctual.
West Liang: Yeah. I try to. It’s a balance. We keep on going back to the word balance. Because I tend to be very heady sometimes, but you don’t want to go overboard.
Film Courage: Which I don’t think is a bad thing, because it keep you on track. Because if you go too far out, you might be too much of a dreamer and all these ideas are there and you’re telling everybody, but nothing is happening. Whereas, when you talked about it earlier, “No 90 pages is not going to work. It’s got to be 75 pages because it’s going to cost this [too much for our budget].” That sounds like it’s working.
West Liang: I think ALL I WANT (the project) was unique because it’s a collaborative project with another person (actress Melissa Center) who is very personally tied to the story in terms of her heart strings. So I didn’t have the authority to make all of the decisions in a vacuum, for better or worse. We had to really have conversations about character and plot all along the way. Which is different from previous projects in the sense that I kind of wrote it on my own and I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish.
Question for the viewers: What are your thoughts on sharing screenplay ideas before the screenplay is written?
ALL I WANT (WORLD PREMIERE | DANCES WITH FILMS
on Sunday June 11th, 2017)
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