Writing is perhaps the least cinematic activity known to man. It is neither interesting to look at, nor (unlike, say, cooking, or the practicalities of war) can you learn anything about it from watching how it’s done. Writing a movie, in addition, is perhaps the activity that’s least like writing as we generally imagine it to be: it’s a practice more akin to wrestling than to art. There’s a terrific piece in this week’s New Yorker about Victor Fleming, one of the directors of Gone With The Wind; the whole thing is worth reading, but here’s the passage that most jumped out at me:
When summoned by Selznick, Fleming hadn’t read Mitchell’s novel, but he took a look at the screenplay and immediately told the producer, “Your fucking script is no fucking good.” … At one time or another, as many as fifteen writers worked on the movie, until finally, in early 1939, as production stalled and hundreds of salaried people sat around idle, Selznick turned to Ben Hecht, the greatest and most cynical of Hollywood screenwriters.
Hecht agreed to work on the script as long as he didn’t have to read the book. Selznick told him the plot, but he couldn’t make any sense of it, so Selznick retrieved Howard’s version, and, as Hecht listened, Selznick and Fleming read it aloud, Selznick taking the role of Scarlett, Fleming reading Rhett.
In this manner, the three men worked eighteen or twenty hours a day, sustained by Dexedrine, peanuts, and bananas, a combination that Selznick believed would stimulate the creative process. On the fourth day, according to Hecht, a blood vessel burst in Fleming’s eye. On the fifth, Selznick, eating a banana, swooned, and had to be revived by a doctor.