The WGAW, Writers Guild of America, West held their annual Beyond Words panel at the WGA Thursday night in Beverly Hills. All thirteen quippy, clever, witty writers are WGA nominated and some are Oscar nominated. The panel was moderated adeptly by “The Imitation Game’s” Graham Moore.
“The Shape Of Water’s” Guillermo Del Toro got the panel going by saying, “You have to know where you can secure the most freedom.” What stories call on him to do the most? “The one you feel that you’re choking to death if you don’t do it.”
“Lady Bird’s” Greta Gerwig unintentionally started the Aaron Sorkin (“Molly’s Game,”) running joke throughout the night. Greta explained that, “Writing is interior for me. I read a quote once that writing is like driving a car in the dark with the headlights on, but you get where you want to go.”
Aaron then said to no one on particular as he started to laugh, “I said that and I also feel old as hell now.” Sorkin then went on to explain a strategy he uses. “It helps to have a secret. William Goldman, who wrote “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,” talked about that. He went to the library often while doing research and he found out that Butch couldn’t swim. So his thing was ‘get him to the cliff, get him to the cliff,’ that’s the secret that drives you.” Sorkin also added that writing is not easy for him. “I spend months to what the untrained eye might look like lying on my couch watching ESPN. Most days I spend not writing, and those days are just hard.”
“Get Out’s” Peele noted his mantra is to “follow the fun,” although he admitted that occassionally on the set, “I got the point where I got very vulnerable then I ended the day in tears.”
“The Big Sick’s” Kumail Nanjiani kept the Sorkin joke throughout the night. When asked what was his mantra, Nanjiani quipped, “Well, the great Aaron Sorkin said once, write what you know.” which had the crowd in laughter since it’s a well-known Mark Twain quote. After Sorkin stopped laughing he added, “actually that’s bullshit. There are scenes I wrote for “The Social Network,” and “Jobs” that I still don’t understand.
Peele then had the panel and audience going when he was asked what inspired him. “ A quote from the bible helped me a lot.” He was just about to finish the sentence when Kumail jumped in. “Did Aaron Sorkin write that too? To which Peele retorted, “You fucker, you stepped on my punch line.”
“Logan’s” James Mangold talked about how he hates to employ tricks and cutesy gimmicks, like outtakes at the end of a film. “I never want to make a CGI fuckathon.”
“I, Tonya’s” Steven Rodgers added, “it’s always what’s the point of it? What do you want to say”? It’s always about the theme.” Peele then explained why he purposely used humor in his film. “My goal was to try to get to every single person in the audience. The premise was so divisive. Putting audiences through 90 minutes of racial awkwardness is a lot to ask so I needed the escape valve.”
Does structure matter? Del Toro doesn’t do it. “It’s the difference between being a traveler and a tourist. I’m the traveller.” He’s also careful about asking too many people for their advice. “In this business, if you ask for an opinion you’ll get one. “ He added, “Am I going to appease or awake the audience?”
The other talented writers on the panel were Vanessa Taylor for “The Shape of Water,” Michael Green for “Logan,” Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter for “The Disaster Artist,” Emily V. Gordon for “The Big Sick and “Mudbound’s” Virgil Williams. The event was presented by WGA West, the Writers Guild Foundation in partnership with Variety.
photo by Leah Sydney