Woody Allen Makes It Sound Like Great Films Write Themselves

“I’ve never been called a communist, I could never even share a bathroom.”

                                               --Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s latest, “Midnight in Paris,” finds the writer-director back in top form for the first time in a long time, and will likely earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who regrets never having lived in Paris to write the Great American Novel. While visiting the City of Lights with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), he magically finds himself transported back to the Paris of the 1920’s, where he hobnobs with the Lost Generation and falls for a beautiful French model, played by Marion Cotillard.

At a press conference yesterday, Allen discussed his writing process in general and how this script in particular came about. He makes it sound like it requires almost grueling discipline -- but also suggests that great films write themselves. Be warned, there are some spoilers in here, but they come from the director himself, so…

“(Writing is) unpredictable and constant. There are times when I have to force myself. When I first started, I was a television writer, the shows were on at the end of the week, and you had to come in on Monday morning and write—you couldn’t just come in and wait for your muse to inspire you—you had to get in there and turn out something, because something had to be on the air. So I can still do that, I can get into a room and force myself. It’s no fun, let me tell you, but I can force myself. But usually the ideas come in the course of the year and I write them down and go and look at them later. And some of them seem terrible, and I don’t know why I bothered to write them down, but others are OK.

"You know, in the case of 'Midnight in Paris,' I was going to make a film in Paris because it was being financed, and I had no idea for a film in Paris. And I was thinking and thinking… I thought that it would be a romantic film, because we all grew up on Paris in the movies as romantic, so… And I thought of the title, 'Midnight in Paris,' and I thought, gee, that’s a very romantic title, it’s a great title for a movie. And for a long time -- six weeks or so -- I had no idea what happened at midnight in Paris, you know? What goes on at midnight tin Paris? Two people meet, they’re having an affair… and then one day it occurred to me that the protagonist would be walking along the street and a car would pull up and there would be some exciting people and they say, 'Get in,' and take him on an adventure. That’s how it happened, it’s very unpredictable.

"I wasn’t even thinking period—he goes to a party and he meets Marion (Cotillard, in the role of Adriana)... and starts to have an affair with her, but he’s gonna marry Rachel (McAdams, as Gil’s fiancée, Inez). Then I thought to myself, what if he… walks into the party, but there’s Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter. And once that happened, everything came easily, because the idea is so pregnant with possibilities.

"Then, automatically, they go out for the evening, and they meet Ernest Hemingway, he becomes personally involved, (Gil) wants his script read. That’s why (Gil) had to be a writer, he wants his script critiqued, and he runs out and then runs back and (the place where he met Hemingway was) a Laundromat. He can’t find the place any more.

"Then he keeps going back. And of course the second time there had to be some development, he couldn’t just go back with nothing. So then he meets a lovely woman, and now the story gets richer, because once there becomes a romantic conflict, the thing really starts to give you potential. From there it was very simple. That he was in competition with Picasso and Ernest Hemingway was a funny idea to me… Everything just kept tumbling in the right direction for me.

"Then I got the final piece of inspiration, which is always the key to writing. I’ve used this example before, but when I did 'Purple Rose of Cairo,' the guy steps off the screen—fine, you get a lot of play out of that. But then what do you have? Half a movie. But then it occurred to me months later, because I had put the screenplay away, that the actor playing Jeff Daniels, the actual Hollywood actor, comes to the town and now there’s two of them, the guy who stepped off the screen and the live actor who‘s playing him. That’s what gave me the movie. And the same thing here…

Sorry, but some spoilers are too much; “Midnight in Paris” opens Friday.

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