Writing the silences

Posted by · 3:14 pm · February 14th, 2009

Hard as it may be to believe, it seems there are a lot of people in and around the industry who don’t fully understand what a screenplay is — who think that ‘writing’ equals ‘dialogue.’ This makes it all the more laudable that the Academy’s writing branch recognised “WALL-E,” a film that hinges, of course, on extended stretches of dialogue-free storytelling.

As I’ve written before, it’s a significant challenge to build empathetic characters, credible relationships and narrative immediacy with a minimum of on-screen words. And yet, one still hears occasional murmurings questioning the validity of the film as a feat of screenwriting. (Presumably they imagine the animators made up the story as they drew, or that all silent cinema was entirely improvised.)

So I was pleased to read Andrew Stanton thoroughly address this issue in a chat with Pete Hammond, wherein he states that of all “WALL-E”‘s 6 nominations, he takes the most pride in the screenplay nod:

“I am prouder to be in writing more than anything else. At Pixar we say ‘story, story, story.’ It’s the root of everything,” he says. “It’s the biggest pat on the back I can think of. We put ourselves fully into every aspect but it’s all in service of the story.”

It could be a tough sell to the overall academy (every branch votes on the final screenplay award) as a lot of members just don’t understand how a virtually silent movie, in which the main characters speak their own language, could possibly have been “written.”  But Stanton says it’s no different than the process any other writer would go through.

“How you tell a story is just as important as what the story is. In my mind these characters were gonna speak. They just weren’t gonna speak in a language you and I knew. When they spoke and why they spoke was just as important as if you could understand their language,” he says.

Well said. Got it, voters?

→ 16 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

16 responses so far

  • 1 2-14-2009 at 4:00 pm

    Josh said...

    Stanton absolutely deserves to be proud of this nom. He SHOULD be even prouder next Sunday if he wins. Let’s hope the voters see the light here.

  • 2 2-14-2009 at 4:36 pm

    JC said...

    They’ll probably give it to Milk, given the Best Picture nom, but it’s nice that WALL-E made the short list.

  • 3 2-14-2009 at 5:15 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    That would be fine if I had felt emotional towards the characters and had some connection with them.

  • 4 2-14-2009 at 5:36 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    Well, that’s a personal thing. But saying that a films does not deserve a screenplay a nomination for lack of dialogue is just blatant ignorance. I’m studying to be a screenwriter, and dialogue is usually the last thing you think about when writing a screenplay. First you need to have the story, then the major beats, then individual scenes done with every action, and dialogue comes last. Every beat, everything that happens in the film is screenwriting, which is why I;m so happy WALL-E got recognized (by the way, The Pianist and Lost in Translation are two other films with very little dialogue that won an Oscar for writing).

  • 5 2-14-2009 at 7:45 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    See, this is EXACTLY why WALL-E should have been a Best Picture nominee. I’m going to throw something at my TV if this film doesn’t win Best Original Screenplay.

  • 6 2-14-2009 at 8:43 pm

    Joel said...

    Robert: Pizzas are best. It’s a lot of fun.

    And WALL-E should win. It’s a terrific screenplay. Balancing act if I ever saw one.

  • 7 2-15-2009 at 9:13 am

    David said...

    I think it’s fine that Wall-E got nominated for writing. I still think Milk is a better written screenplay. I didn’t find the writing in the last third of Wall-E all that great.

  • 8 2-15-2009 at 1:31 pm

    junjun said...

    wall-e will win it. Even Milk is the only best pic nominee in the category, it’s no slam dunk. Many recent best pic nominees lost orig. screenplay to another film that was NOT a best pic nominee.

  • 9 2-15-2009 at 1:46 pm

    Heath said...

    being the only best pic nominee in the category doesn’t necessarily say Milk will win it hands down. like junjun said, many recent films won that award over a fellow nominee that also happened to be a Best Pic nominee. Personally, Wall-E deserves it. Sadly, anti-animation sentiment will still win out for now.

  • 10 2-15-2009 at 6:17 pm

    Jim said...

    God, I want to watch this movie.

  • 11 2-15-2009 at 11:42 pm

    Rob said...

    geez, writing is not the sole component of a screenplay. I find it ludicrous that many voting members and even those in the film industry are of this opinion. Do those people also think that simply brushing your teeth is the sole component of Oral Hygiene? (what about Flossing, mouthwash, Dental check-ups…)

  • 12 2-16-2009 at 12:06 am

    Scott Ward said...

    First off everyone, even if you realize that a screenplay is not all dialog, that still doesn’t mean that WALL-E would necessarily win. It’s almost as if you all are taking for granted that everyone would consider this screenplay so great.

  • 13 2-16-2009 at 12:08 am

    Scott Ward said...

    And Jim, don’t get your hopes too incredibly high. I’m on the same boat as Kris with this one. Good, certainly not great.

  • 14 2-16-2009 at 2:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Scott: I’m not taking anyone’s opinion for granted, so don’t put words in my mouth. (“WALL-E” isn’t even my favourite screenplay of the nominees — “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “In Bruges” are ahead in my estimation.)

    I’m just genuinely disturbed to hear that there are people actually involved in the industry who think that “WALL-E” isn’t a “real” screenplay.

  • 15 2-16-2009 at 10:00 am

    Scott Ward said...

    I understand your sentiments completely. I know that when you or Kris or John say something, you have thought about it and can back it up. So I wasn’t putting words in your mouth. All I was saying was that I get the feeling from all of these posts that nearly everyone believes the one and only thing holding WALL-E back from winning is whether or not the Academy is discerning enough to realize that a screenplay is not all dialog. It just seemed to me reading these posts, that if WALL-E doesn’t win, nearly everyone will think it is because the AMPAS had this misconception. All I was saying is that I don’t believe that many people believe it is the best screenplay by a country mile. That is what I meant when I said it was almost as if most of the people on this thread were taking for granted that the smart ones in the Academy will all recognize that WALL-E is the best screenplay this year. While I don’t agree that it was the best this year, I’m not saying any of you are wrong, just that maybe some of the people on here were exaggerating WALL-E’s greatness in comparison to some of the other films.

  • 16 2-17-2009 at 10:01 pm

    Rob said...

    Wall-E was great, all the hype and kudos it has received and will get this Sunday is well well WELL deserved