At Austin Film Festival we’re obsessed with telling great stories. It’s been a noisy week out there, and we believe stories are not just the way we make sense of the world, but the way we change it.
Below, a few of our favorite writers share what this looks like for them. We hope these words inspire you to get writing this week:
Christopher McQuarrie, (writer Usual Suspects, Edge of Tomorrow, writer/director Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation)
One of the lessons I learned directing my own film is that your message has to tell a story. The story can’t tell a message. People react violently to being taught, and I learned that the hard way when I tried to do everything as accurately as humanly possible. When you tell a story as truthfully as possible, one of the things that happens is that everybody focuses on the three things you didn’t do correctly instead of the political issue at the center of the movie. I think it’s a matter of conscience, rather than a matter of content.
Herschel Weingrod, (writer Trading Places, Brewster’s Millions, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Space Jam)
Clearly, the movies that were directly about the Iraq war never found an audience. The reason why The Hurt Locker is such a great film is that it’s not about the Iraq war at all. It’s about a certain kind of character who is only alive in a certain kind of situation. The war is just the background for the character’s journey, the adrenaline rush, and the meaning behind it. There is a lesson there.
There are ways to be subversive in one’s writing and filmmaking. District 9 is as much about apartheid, racism, and segregation as any movie like Ghosts of Mississippi. There are ways to subversively deal with real social issues in a new context. You have to sneak your message in. Trading Places is really about race and class in America, but it is a comedy and fairly broad.
Bill Broyles(writer Cast Away, Apollo 13, The Polar Express, Unfaithful, Jarhead, China Beach)
I am aching for a really good filmmaker to find a way to do a sort of Grapes of Wrath story. Again that is a journey. That is using the classic filmmaking technique.
One of the thing the secret of Apollo 13 was we wanted it to be an antidote to the kind of Reagan “every man to himself” attitude that seemed so prevalent. This is a group of people not working for money but out of love for something. All of us getting together and creating something extraordinary and what we can do when we get together to solve a problem. Now if I asked a hundred people if that is what Apollo 13 was about I would get 0, but that is the subliminal message. Castaway is really about coming home from Vietnam. The island is war. I wanted to see what it would be like for someone to go into world that was so different from his own only to come back and found out that nothing had changed. Except he had. Again that is what we should be after, to be subversive and not shy away from what is going on out there because it is important and I wish I could say that I am going to go out there and work on just that. Haven’t figured out how to do it
Want more? Check out our book On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films where renowned, award-winning screenwriters and filmmakers discuss their careers and the stories behind the production of their iconic films.