Sunday, April 30----Filmfestivals.com Industry Editor Sandy Mandelberger sat down with legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, who was in San Francisco to receive the Kanbar Award for Distinguished Screenwriting at the International Film Festival. Carriere, who at 75, is remarkably energetic and prolific, is polishing his script for GOYA'S GHOSTS, his third collaboration with director Milos Forman.
Sandy Mandelberger (SM): You have worked with an extraordinary group of French and international filmmakers. What was your earliest exposure to world cinema and what films and filmmakers influenced you as a young man?
Jean-Claude Carriere (JCC): I came of age during the Nazi Occupation, and the only films you could see then were certain French films and all the German films. I remembered seeing a film like L'ENFANT DU PARADIS upon its first release. After the War, there was a whole flood of American films which had been banned during the Occupation. Suddenly, I saw the great films from people like John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler and Howard Hawks, and saw my first films with James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. It was a true orgy of American films, and they greatly influenced me.
SM: How did you enter the film industry in the early 1960's?
JCC: I started out as a novelist. My publisher had a contract with French director Jacques Tati, who chose me to contribute to a book of short stories that he was assembling. Through this experience, I was introduced to a man named Pierre Étaix, who had been the Assistant Director on Tati's MON ONCLE. We made two short films together, one of which actually went on to win the Oscar for Best Short. This recognition allowed us to make the feature film THE SUITOR in 1962, my first big screen credit.
SM: For your second film DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, you began a celebrated collaboration with the surrealist Luis Bunuel, with whom you made 6 more films. What was it like working with him and what was your process of collaboration?
JCC: Working with Luis was like living with him. We would be in some small Spanish or Mexican village, miles away from any big city. We would spend time talking, drinking, walking together. It was very intimate, with very few distractions. By sharing experiences together, we could improvise freely and then eventually write down the film scene by scene. It doesn't appear so, but there was little or no improvisation on the Bunuel films....we did not make many changes when on the set. After a film or two, we had a shared common language and point of view that made the collaboration process so rewarding and fun.
SM: You have worked with some of the great French filmmakers of all time, including Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Deray. What was it like working with these individualistic directors?
JCC: We shared the same feeling that cinema had the potential to influence hearts and minds. Also, for these directors, the script was like the first draft for the finished film. As the film was being made, it was constantly refined by things they would find on set or by accidents that no one expected. The final version of the film was only figured out in the editing process, so one had to be open to the possibilities of chance, accident and fate. I felt comfortable in that environment.
SM: Another filmmaker with whom you have worked several times is Milos Forman. Starting with the satire TAKING OFF in 1972, Forman's first American film, through VALMONT and the current GOYA'S GHOSTS, what is it about Forman's style that has kept you interested in working with him over the years?
JCC: Milos works in a similar fashion to Bunuel. When we were researching GOYA'S GHOSTS, we spent time traveling in the Spanish provinces, spending every moment together. When we then returned to Milo's home in Connecticut, we both had the same point of reference on Spain and the tragic story of the great painter Goya. We see things from a similar perspective and that makes the collaboration process very enjoyable.
SM: A film of yours that I greatly admire is your adaptation of the Gunter Grass novel THE TIN DRUM, which was directed by Volker Schlondorf. What were the challenges of adapting such a complex novel for the screen?
JCC: Well, the first decision we made was to adapt only the first half of the book. The novel continues through the 1960s, but Volker and I made the decision to stop the action in 1945, to give the film a tighter structure and to comment more on the Nazi period. The biggest challenge with adapting this book was that there is no dialogue in the book. Therefore, I had to create the dialogue sequences without any background. This was a great creative challenge. The key to that film was in the casting of the young boy, David Clement, who was extraordinary. I did not need to add a lot of explanatory dialogue, because David was able to act with his expressive face and really communicate everything that was needed in a scene. This is a particular favorite of mine and I am very proud of it.
JCC: Although this was a project in English with an American director (Phillip Kaufman), it was a very European story. I have never really written an American story, since I don't really have enough of an insider perspective on America. I don't feel I can really create a deeply American point of view, since I am always looking at things through my European eyes. However, I have a great respect and love for the American way of making movies, and maybe my next project can be a truly American one.