Auteur Talk

No doubt some Faustian deal was made, but nonetheless, when Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda was released earlier this year, the Suicide Girls website scored an interview with the legendary filmmaker.


Daniel Robert Epstein: Do you prefer to write the dramas or the comedies?

Woody Allen: It's always fun to write the heavy stuff for me because over the years I've done a lot of movies and almost all of them have been comedies. So it's occasionally fun to do something heavy just for the change. But then when I realized I was going to be working with Will [Ferrell] I went back over the script and started to customize it for him and that became fun.

DRE: How did you customize it for him?

WA: First of all, he's so physically different. He's a big silly person and everyone including me has laughed at him in these broad ridiculous comedies. The question was, could he act and be believable. It turned out; I guess because of his size, his face or whatever talent he has, he's vulnerable. There's something sweet about him so your heart goes out to him. There were things in the script, the actual dialogue, that he couldn't do. Since I'm writing the dialogue, my tendency is to write it for myself even though I knew I'd never be playing it. But I write it instinctively for myself and I had to cut some lines and dialogue out of the thing because he couldn't do it. It never sounded funny when he did it. But there were things he did do that I could never imagine when I was writing it. Before I met him, I never could have imagined it for the script or the contributions he would make sort of built in to his ridiculous persona. The way he moved, there's something in the look of his face, it's intangible, but it's silly and sweet.

DRE: Is there a good example of something you cut?

WA: I can't give you an example of exact lines I cut, but they were one-liner jokes that I do that are easy for me but they don't sound like a joke when he does it. Rather it sounds like dialogue rather than a joke. It comes naturally to me, but it's not so natural to him. I've had that problem before with Diane Keaton. She's someone I used to write these sharp remarks for and she could never do them. She's the funniest person I ever met and always used to steal the picture from me. I always wrote the movie for me and wrote her a secondary role and when the movie came out she was always the funny star and I was always the secondary part. But she couldn't do those kinds of one-liners either for some reason. There are some people who just can do them and Will is not one of them. Will has a different comic gift and it's hard to quantify it but it's working great for him, not just on my picture but in general.


DRE: Do you ever miss doing standup?

WA: I miss doing standup but I'm too lazy to do it again. To write an act and be funny for 45 minutes on stage is a huge amount of work. Much more work than a movie. In order to get an hour's worth of really funny, potent material, it's a huge amount of work that I don't have the energy or patience to do it. But I do miss it because it's a wonderful medium to work in. I also love watching it so the fact that you can turn on your television set at any time of the day or night and see two or three comics working in perpetuity around the clock is wonderful.

DRE: Would you ever direct something someone else has written?

WA: I've never done that. I've really only directed because I'm a writer and I like to write but I wouldn't rule it out now that I'm getting older. It would be an interesting experience to see what it's like to direct someone else's script. But I've only directed in the past because I wrote the script.

DRE: What is your writing process?

WA: I still lay down on the bed with a yellow pad and write. Invariably I have to type it myself and that takes three days. I was taught to write on a typewriter and I think it would be healthier for me to do it because if you write on your typewriter, you act out the scene and you type it down and you sort of know it works. When you write on a pad, you're hearing it in your head and you don't know that it works when it becomes audible, but it goes so much faster that I've gotten into the bad habit and I've been doing it for years.

DRE: I've heard so many stories about actors getting fired from your movie sets. What is a fireable offense on your set?

WA: Fireable is only when it turns out to be my casting mistake because the person does no wrong. I hire them and I'm convinced they can do it and then they come in and they don't do it. I try every conceivable way to get them to do it. I talk to them, I explain it, I try and be as lucid as I can and then if that doesn't work sometimes I try and trick them transparently. Sometimes they do it and sometimes they don't. I'm not a skilled director like Elia Kazan or Mike Nichols who can get a performance out of someone who can't act. So after three days of trying to get the person to do the scene, I fire them because I don't know what else to do. I feel we're doomed if we use them and I can't think of what else to do. It's possible that someone will come in and read and they'll be very good at the reading and then for some inexplicable reason they can't do it when the time comes. It doesn't happen a lot but it does happen occasionally. It's a terrible thing.