BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture Series – Alfonso Cuarón

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The BAFTA Screenwriters Lecture Series gave me the opportunity to sit mere metres from one of my cinematic heroes and hear him talk for almost two hours about cinema. It was a magical experience, and one that only managed to deepen my respect and admiration for Alfonso Cuarón and his craft. Here is a selection of things I noted while listening to his talk:

  • His belief is that “cinema is a language in its own form” and it is made from tools. Tools like sound and performance – but the fundamental tool is the screenplay. Cinema is form built on the idea of storytelling.
  • The relationship between cinema and time. Cuarón said “when you’re reading a book, a piece of, a novel, you get immersed, you get lost in those pages, but you’re not bound by time”. His idea of cinema is that time is the element that is most important: “the sense of time binds us with the now”. Screenwriters need to understand this fundamental and write for an experience that will happen in real time.
  • The idea of the music of screenplay – how a screenwriter can orchestrate an experience through the use of rhythm. Tarantino is a writer that is about the rhythm of his dialogue; Cuarón’s approach is about trying to find the rhythm of the character.
  • As a filmmaker he tries to ignore the distractions around economic models for cinema and the different approaches to distribution. At one point he made the plea to us to see Roma at the cinema, not on our TVs. But this was clearly motivated by his intent as a filmmaker to share his vision with an audience in a pure cinematic way.

The most moving thing about Cuarón’s talk was when he was asked about what is cinema to him – and this is where the full transcript was handy.

For me it’s this language in which…all of these other things around are just tools for that, for the sake of that language….[Y]ou have seen other expressions of amazing, amazing, amazing films and masterpieces that have been done without sound. Without music, without colour, without actors, even without stories but there is not one single masterpiece that has been done without images….[W]hat matters is those images flowing in time… I’m not really interested in …series, they are fantastic and I love watching them because I can watch most of them with my eyes closed.

But most of, I have to say most of contemporary mainstream cinema is the kind of cinema that you enter the theatre, you get your popcorn, you sit down the lights go off, you close your eyes you eat your popcorn, the movie ends and you didn’t miss one bit. You know it’s more like, again, it’s more like books for lazy people. And when it’s about cinematic is when the dance between the elements are greater than the sum of the elements…And that is what is amazing; that is what I consider cinematic.

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