Free movies… and CAPOTE

Yes, boys and girls, it’s awards season in Hollywood.   For screenwriters, this means one thing above all:

                                                  !!!!!  –  FREE MOVIES – !!!!

At theaters all over LA and NY, and a few selected in San Francisco and a couple other lucky cities, you present your WGA (Writers Guild of America) card for just about any showing and get in free.   

Now, this is a joy.   Because not only do you get in, but if you’re going in with another WGA member, you can get a whole two other people in free.   You can feel like Santa, or God, simply by turning to the most lovely (In spirit, of course) moviegoers behind you in the cinema line and asking, oh so casually – “Are you going to BABEL?   Do you want to get in free?”  And watch the faces light up like Christmas….

Even better, we screenwriters get DVDs of the Oscar hopefuls IN THE MAIL.   Now, that’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like a professional.  Free stuff. 

There are some really great films up for Oscars and various awards this year.   And I’m thrilled that as a WGA member I’m getting so many more awards screeners this year than last.   Last year, in a fit of piracy paranoia, the studios sent a bare minimum of free DVD screeners out to writers.   CRASH was one of the only free screeners sent out to voting writers last year.   CRASH won every major award for Best Screenplay.   Coincidence?   Oh, I think not.   

Studios are arguably moronic, but they’re not stupid.   

Suffice it to say the studios realized that after the CRASH sweep, they’d better start sending the freebies out if they wanted the writing awards this year.  Result?  More DVDs in the mail than I’ve had time to watch.

And I’m sure I’ll get around to talking about all of this year’s fine screeners – I mean films – because there are some really good ones out there.    But not this week.

Because I finally saw CAPOTE  this week (I know, I know.  A year late.  It’s ridiculous.  I was BUSY last year, okay???)



A Dan Futterman screenplay based on the book by Gerald Clarke, directed by Bennett Miller, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote

This film is a must-see for writers.   Stunning – from the first second: the opening image, the cinematography, the pace, the writing…

All of which get dwarfed by that incredible character and performance. 

You watch Hoffman/Capote breathlessly as he seduces what he wants out of Perry Smith, lying left and right…   

And you’re thinking – “That is one ice-cold bastard…”

And in pretty much the same thought I was also thinking –

“God, I am JUST like that.”

Now, people who know me would disagree.  Most of them would, anyway.   A few who REALLY know me, like my brother and sister, would say – “Well, not exactly like that, but I know what you mean.”

For all our sensitivity and empathy and wit and charm, which we also do have in spades… there is a ruthlessness about professional writers, combined with the thickest skins you’re ever going to find – that makes us, well, let’s just say – different.

That’s not all there is to me, of course.   I love puppies and kittens and I do ridiculous amounts of volunteer work for worthy causes and I stand up to bullies and bigots and you would definitely want me around if your small child needed saving from drowning or a burning building.   

But when it comes to my writing?   Just back the fuck off.

When Capote says, “I’m here working.   That’s all this is.   I have work to do.”   

That is so me it’s scary.

I really do find myself doing appalling things when I’m working, and justifying it all to myself because, after all, if it’s going to get me that scene or lock in that character, then how can I not?   And I don’t just mean that you better not even think of trying to talk to me when I’m writing.

If there’s some part of you that I want for a character?   Watch out.

Do not leave your diary unlocked around me.  I’m not saying I’d for sure read it, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t, either.   Letters?  E mails?   Lingerie drawer?   Depends on what I need.  I’ve slept with all kinds of people I shouldn’t have because it’s about the fastest way to get to the heart of someone.  Really, I have no shame.   Complete and total vampire.

But what I thought was especially stunning about the writing and the characterization is that at the same time that Capote was milking Perry Smith for every bit of humanity he could squeeze out of him – he was also completely and totally and honestly falling in love with the man – not as a mere sexual object, but falling in love with his soul – wanting to know him in a way very few of us are ever known by anyone.   How thrilling.   How vampiric.   How very much like a writer.   What we want is to know you.   Is that so wrong?

So, fess up now, writers.   Did you recognize yourself in Capote?  A little bit of the vampire going on?  Or am I the only sociopath here?

17 thoughts on “Free movies… and CAPOTE

  1. Mike MacLean

    Alex, you scare me just a little.

    Bits and pieces of people end up in my characters. A figure in one of my stories is an amalgamation of personalities—one part guy at the post office, two parts fictional character.

    Often times, I rely on my imagination (but subconsciously, real people probably end up in the mix).

  2. spyscribbler

    I have to admit, I’ve had hairdressers walk away from me because my interest in their life turned into an interrogation of their feelings and motivations, LOL.

    Oopsy. Must learn how to interrogate with a delicate touch.

  3. billie

    I know what you mean – for me it works like that but the sequence is backwards. I write the stuff and then real people pop into my life who seem to embody the characters I’ve already written, in such specific ways it’s eerie.

    Or I’ll write a scene set somewhere I’ve never been, and later on in the course of the writing I’ll travel to that place and find it’s exactly what I wrote, again in such small, specific ways it seems impossible I could have done it.

    The weirdest part of it is that in two cases, the people who popped into my life, not having read the mss, started changing their lives in the same direction as the characters I was writing that they seemed to embody.

    I’m a Jungian so it makes sense to me on some levels – on others it is just plain exciting while working on a book. And when in the midst of it, I often feel like I’m living in a Twilight Zone episode.

    Re: movies – I haven’t seen Capote and am woefully behind on current film. My best friend in LA had a WGA card and boy did we have a blast going to all the free movies! I miss that.


  4. Guyot

    I think I’m able to accomplish all the same things, but without sucking blood. Yes, I’ve had quite a few experiences in my life, both by chance and forced, but as a writer now, I just use my overactive imagination.

    Sure, there are times I may see or hear something from other people that I’ll use – all writers are observers, and all good writers do this. But I don’t need to sacrifice myself or others to mine some nugget out of their soul.

    I make it up.

    It’s sort of like the old “Try Acting” story from Marathon Man.

    I’ve noticed that earlier in my writing career I used more “real moments” – for lack of a better word. Stealing something that just happened or creating a situation in order to observe reactions – mice in a lab, if you will.

    But as my craft has improved, and I’ve understood more how to do my job, I have had to rely on that less and less. My memory is full, and my imagination is just sick (in both ways), and using them together gets me just about anything I need.

    I still love to talk to people and research and experience, etc. But as far as going down the rabbit hole of manipulation or breach of trust, I’ll pass.

    Cuz in the end, it ain’t gonna be about what you wrote, it’s all gonna be about who you were.

    On to DVD’s. Yes, I love this time of year. Nearly every day the mail carrier brings a little package or two. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be chosen as a judge a couple of times, and then – holy cats do the DVD’s roll in!

    Then you become the cool kid on the block after you’ve watched them as you hand them out to your non-Hollywood neighbors. It’s like giving out free crack. Uh, you know, to crackheads.

    Capote… I liked it very much, but as far as the script, while I did think it was quite good, it wasn’t the writing that blew me away nearly as much as Hoffman’s performance.

    I don’t think there’s another actor who would have/could have delivered the same lines as well. Perhaps someone might have nailed an impression of Capote, but not without all the incredible stuff going on under the surface.

    And a lot of the best lines were Capote’s, not Futterman’s.

    Have I spouted enough opinion for a Saturday morning?

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    “in two cases, the people who popped into my life, not having read the mss, started changing their lives in the same direction as the characters I was writing that they seemed to embody.”

    Yike, Billie – that IS so Jungian it’s scary (and you thought I was, Mike…)

    That’s a book right there, if you ask me…

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I don’t really write about real people at all. It’s all – collage, maybe, is the workd, mostly from the past. What I meant is, I tend to push myself into unsusual circumstances and encounters to have all that in my repertoire when I need it.

    No doubt about it, G. – Hoffman is one of the best we’ve got out there. (and that other Hoffman, too – I love Olivier’s line to him, but I personally would never argue with Dustin’s process!)

  7. Iden Ford

    Free movies? I love the fact that you get to view these films, I love the fact that you are a scriptwriter. Maureen is having a whole series of scripts written, based on her characters from the Murdoch novels, for her upcoming television series “The Murdoch Mysteries”. These will not be adaptations of her novels, they did three of those already, they are all original 50 page, one hour stories. It has been very hard for her to read the early drafts, now 16-20 page outlines. The hardest part for her is that most of the writing team do not understand the period (late 1800’s) and are writing stories that are too modern and on the nose so to speak. The executive producer gives Maureen some comfort and tells her that these are just at the outline stage, the period flavour will be woven in later. The good news is that the writing team from the three movies, who did a great job with the period flavour, our now on board. That has given Maureen some relief. Prep starts on March 22nd, prinipal photography begings April 30, 16 million dollar budget for 13 episodes.Anyway, when you say free movies it reminds me of a fellow at my workplace who came in with a DVD copy of The Departed, the new Martin Scorcese film. He was giving it a client to view. I yelled “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?????”. He replied “I got it and get it”. I yelled back, “YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE THAT!!!” He looked sheepish and tried to make a joke out of it. I will not report him to the police because I gotta work with the guy, but piracy is illegal, is a major problem, and I wish people would not do it. I did file sharing of music for a few years and am sorry I did. I have used I tunes for the past few years and I am very happy to pay for evey song I download.

  8. JT Ellison

    Alex, I know exactly what you mean. I had that same kind of realization watching Capote, and honestly, it gave me a thrill.

    I’m feeling a bit vampiric lately too. I absorb scenes and people but I don’t do a lot of research anymore. The research I did was damaging to the psyche, at the very least. So I stick with contacting people with specific issues and depend on my imagination a great deal.

    I had a vampire moment over Christmas with the jumper. I’m going to blog about it this week. I’m still mixed over my reaction.

    Thanks for this post. It helped me clarify some thoughts. : )

  9. pari noskin taichert

    RE: free stuffI’ve got a large shelf now filled with television dvds because I’m on a committee for a national award. At first, I loved getting all the freebies. Then, it was like . . .”Oh, hell, another one?” You see, I couldn’t watch most of them with my kids around. Too many late nights.

    As to being a vampire, well, I think I was much more so in the past. Now, I take small lines of dialog or situations and expand them in my own odd way.

    On Monday, I’m going to write about my frustration re: imagination. Please, fellow writers, give me some advice then. I need it.

    For now, Alex, thank you for this insightful post. I look forward to the day when I can finally enter this decade in my movie viewing.

  10. Louiseure

    I think I’m less vampiric than self-cannibalizing.There’s not one character I’ve created that doesn’t have some piece of me in him, even the villains. Maybe especially the villains.

  11. Elaine Flinn

    Fascinating subjet, Alex! Methinks you’ve plumbed many of our souls with this one. Personally, all my characters are conglomerates of people I’ve known – friends and foes alike. As an antiques dealer for twenty plus years – I had the marvelous opportunity to meet some of the craftiest charlatans and conmen/women around.

    Even my series protag (Molly Doyle) is a combination of my two fiesty daughters and daughter-in-law. I’m not nearly as bold.

    So call me Vampira – just don’t call after ten pm.

    And Hoffman? An actor’s actor I should think. Did I nail that, Alex & Guyot?

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hmm, interesting how much more quickly the women here cop to vampirism than the men! đŸ˜‰

    I’m wondering if we have to be a little more deliberately ruthless to break ourselves out of proscribed “feminine” behavior and thought patterns and write universally. (Don’t mind me… everything’s a gender issue!)

    An actor’s actor is right, EE. I was in a Circuit City the other day and a TV was playing some movie with Hoffman in a courtroom scene and I stopped and literally dod not move from where I was standing until the scene was done.

  13. Iden Ford

    Ooops, I may have been a bit insensitive with my post, where I really wanted to shoptalk with you, a scriptwriter. No offense was intended Alexandra. Curious about your own scriptwriting experience, and the piracy thing.Thanks

  14. Kristy

    Oh, I loved loved loved LUUUUVed CAPOTE! And yes, I absolutely indentified. I’m just now learning to recognize the appreciation turning to fear in the eyes of new acquaintances as my questions turn ever more personal and insistent. Ah well, just keep pressing, get the story, we can makes friends in our next life, right? Um, right?

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I didn’t think you were being insensitive, Iden. I generally keep my mouth shut about the development process if someone (or someone they love!) is going through it because I hate to sound like the Voice of Doom.

    But I’d be fine talking about it if you have things you want to talk about.

    Kristy, you make me feel not so bad. đŸ˜‰ I think our friends are resigned to our periodic interrogations. After all, we have many other fine qualities.

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sorry, posted too soon. Iden, I wasn’t sure what you were asking about the piracy things. The screeners we get aren’t pirated – they’re sent directly from the studios to voting members of the guilds for awards consideration. In fact, we all have to sign in blood that we won’t copy the discs, and they give us specific instructions about how to destroy them once we’re finished watching. Very Mission Impossible, really.

  17. Iden Ford

    Yes thanks Alexandra, it will be interesting for us to see how things progress as it gets closer to production. It is hard for a writer to see what gets done to their work by people who do not understand the period. However, we have been lucky in that they do take Maureen’s input, which is unusual I know. All of this, exciting as it is, we are taking with a pinch, because on Monday the Canadian Actors guild may go out on strike. They have been negotiating with the independent producers for the past few months and there is a strike deadline for tonight at midnight. This would effectively shut down all production in this country indefenitely which would be awful for 100’s of people who work on sets, etc. Fingers are crossed big time. Thanks

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