Interview with Syd Fields – The Screenwriters’ Guru5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Accomplished American writer and Hollywood’s screenplay guru, Syd Field, is bound for Singapore this March to provide a Masterclass on Screewriting. The writer of the hot-selling book, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, has been regarded as the leading authority in the art and craft of screenwriting.
Many of whom Syd Field has taught and guided have gone on to become the biggest names in Hollywood. These include Anna Hamilton Phelan (Mask, Gorillas in the Mist), John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice), Randi Mayem Singer (Mrs. Doubtfire), Laura Esquival (Like Water For Chocolate), Michael Kane (The Color of Money), and Kevin Williamson (Scream, Scream 2 & 3). Sinema takes this opportunity to find out more about the man behind the pen.
Full Name: Syd Field
Age: around 65 (he likes to say he’s the same age as Mick Jagger)
Tiffany Ng (TN): To be able to become such a successful scriptwriter, you must really love what you do. What, then, does writing mean to you?
Syd Field (SF): I find writing to be the most fulfilling thing I do. It get’s me up in the morning and I constantly feed myself creative questions right before I go to sleep. And, I always seem to find the “right” creative answers during my dream state, or during the day when I least expect it. I always believe that just because you’re not writing, (not putting words into the computer) doesn’t mean you’re not writing. Writing, to me, is a way of looking at the world.
TN: Share with us five of your favourite screenplays.
SF: Chinatown, Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, Casablanca and for more contemporary films, Slumdog Millionaire
TN:Every writer has a unique style. What is your unique style? Who or where do you draw that inspiration from?
SF: Inspiration is only a momentary thing. The patience to wait and work through creative situations and challenges, becomes the most important. As the old saying goes, Writing is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.
TN: What are some of your pet peeves as a scriptwriter?
SF: People who tell their story in dialogue. They explain everything. Good screenwriting tells the story in pictures, through the character’s behavior, through action and reaction.
TN: What would you consider a good script?
SF: Strong action and strong, interesting characters.
TN: In an article on August 3, 2001 (Screenwriting Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech), you mentioned that “…the hardest thing about writing is knowing what to write.” Share with us your scriptwriting process (e.g. How you start, what do you think of, what goes through your mind every time you start writing a script?)
SF: It’s always different. Sometimes I start with an idea, sometimes with a title, sometimes with a location. It can be a myth and how it applies to the present day, in terms of situation, action or character. If you start writing with only an idea, a notion, then it’s very easy to lose sight of whatever story you are telling. Movies are larger than life, and if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re bound to be lost.
TN: How do you encourage people who say, “I have a writer’s block”?
SF: Usually, writer’s block occurs when you don’t know what you’re writing about. Or, you become bogged down in your own self-criticism or censuring yourself. If you do that, focusing on your jugements of how good or how “bad” your writing is, you are bound to end up in the well of writer’s block. It’s not fun to be there, or fun to experience. As I say, “the hardest thing about writing is knowing what to write.”
TN: The use of language has always been a point of contention in the film and theatre industry here in Singapore. How can Singaporean writers integrate the uniqueness of Singlish (Singaporean English) into their works and, some day, take it to a more global audience?
SF: I would say to focus on the mistakes in communication which would create misunderstandings and lead to conflicts of varying kinds. Hard for me to answer this.
TN: Asian cinema is relatively young. What advice would you give the people in the Asian cinema industry regarding the creation of even better scripts and films?
SF: Write films about your culture, your society, your own unique challenges. You can set your story anywhere, have it be about anything, and if touches the human aspects of our souls, then you have created a universal response. And, that’s what all filmmaking should be about — to touch people, to move people and to inspire people.
TN: In previous interviews, you have always mentioned Jean Renoir and Michelangelo Antonioni as having an influence in your career. What advice have they given that has stayed with you all this while?
SF: The language of film is both emotional and physical. So the challenge becomes how to show something, emotions, behavior, that comes from inside the character, and how that relates to our own humanness — that spiritual dynamic that lies beyond the differentiation of culture, language, color and location.
TN: Is there a particular script/story that you have been dying to write but haven’t got the chance to?
SF: Yes, about a famous trial concerning a comedian accused of murder — the Fatty Arbuckle story. One day, maybe…
The Syd Field’s Screenwriting Masterclass is being held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic on March 7 & 8, 2009.