April 8, 2013
On the Towne
Academy Award-winning Screenwriter Visits SCA
By Valerie Turpin
In addition to classroom work, internships and creating projects, part of the School of Cinematic Arts’ student education is the many guests the School brings in through the year. On April 2, legendary screenwriter Robert Towne made his final of three visits of the semester to discuss Shampoo (1975) and, among a host of subjects, touched on how research is key to making a standout script.
Towne talked about the real-life hairdresser who inspired the lead character George (portrayed by Warren Beatty), saying, “I was fascinated by him. So I started hanging out with him, just listening, picking up on the dialogue. I even lived with him for a couple of weeks to see how he lived. I was curious. I did my research. I spent a lot of time [at the salon] and a lot of time listening to the women [there]. It was a great place to view it from the point of view of a hairdresser.”
Towne was visiting Screenwriting Professor Ted Braun’s course, CTWR 431 – Screenwriters and Their Work – which this Spring focuses on “Sex, Violence, Crime and Paranoia: Great Screenwriters of the ‘70s.” Each Tuesday night the class screens a film, and guest speakers give students insight on the varied processes of screenwriting. This semester, the class has examined the work of screenwriters Towne, Francis Coppola, Waldo Salt and Mardik Martin, who, as Braun explained, “responded to the passions, people and problems of a turbulent decade with originality, rebelliousness and a storytelling verve that redefined American cinema and forged a new foundation for the art form and the culture.”
Towne’s career as a screenwriter has spanned more than five decades with such films as the Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA-winning screenplay Chinatown (1974), Tequila Sunrise (1988) and Mission: Impossible (1996). Towne previously visited Braun’s class to discuss The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown.
When asked about his approach to writing and rewriting, Towne said, “Well, you’re always rewriting on a movie; whether it’s the script, or in post-production or editing, you’re always making changes to make a point or when you realize you haven’t made a point.”
“I hope to demystify some of the lore surrounding these films to give students a truer sense of the real work of screenwriters and their role as collaborators,” said Braun regarding the class’s intentions. “In the process, I also hope to deepen our students’ appreciation for the genuine gifts, talent and contributions of these great writers. In the long run this will, with luck, make the students more imaginative and effective in whatever area of the cinematic arts they choose to pursue.”
Next semester’s CTWR 431 course will focus on “Vampires & Zombies, Starships and Mysterious Islands: The Strange Characters and Other Worlds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Television” with Professor Michael Cassutt.