The 16th Annual Casey Shearer Memorial Lecture featuring Joe Morgenstern

Good afternoon, everyone. We’re going to start
the program because I know everybody has a tight
schedule, although we have a lot of people who said
they were going to come and they’ll be filtering
in as we do our talk. My name is Ruth Goldway, and
I am Casey Shearer’s mother. I’ve been helping to organize
this annual event in which we both honor Casey’s
memory and encourage Brown students to continue his
tradition of writing honestly and beautifully, but focused
on reality rather than non-fiction. And each year, it’s
both hard for me and wonderful to
remember my loss, but recognize that goods things
are continuing to happen, and we have wonderful,
beautiful young people every generation, every year,
coming forward at Brown. Brown is a wonderful place
that’s been nourishing. Casey found himself here
and blossomed as an adult, and we see it happening
over and over again. Every year, I mention
that a metaphor that Beth brought forward when he
died, about a person making an impact in life. You drop a pebble in the lake
and the ripples circle out, and those circles
continue and continue, and I feel that you’re a part
of that continuing circle. Every year, the
circle gets bigger and the impact of
Casey’s life grows. And the only other
thing I’ll say is that Einstein
proved Beth right, because this year,
the scientists of who knows where actually
discovered that they could hear the universe waving. And it affirmed that
every little action we take every, little movement
in some way or another tilts the world and moves it. We can’t feel it,
but when it gets way, way far out, you can actually
feel it in the universe. So Casey is certainly here with
us in that way, and inside us as well. And I’m pleased today
to note that we not only have Derek Shearer, Casey’s
father, who inspired him to write, and was himself
a journalist, and Julie, his older sister, who’s
organized today’s event for us, and June will be
speaking later, we have a Rhode Island dignitary
with us today, Seth Magaziner, who’s also a Brown alum. He’s the state treasurer
and the youngest statewide elected
official in the country. So you guys can
be proud of that. And we have our two
brilliant winners this year, Paige Morris and Anisha
Dias Bandaranaike. And my job is to
give the podium over to Elizabeth Taylor, who’s
the Senior Lecturer in English and the Director of the
Nonfiction Writing Program. She was Casey’s mentor
when he was here, and with her, we’ve developed
this program over the years. And she’s been our
friend and our stalwart as we move forward,
and I’m pleased to be working with her every year. And I’m honored that she’s
here to introduce our winners and explain the program. So here she is. Thank you all. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Ruth. Welcome, all of you. It’s wonderful to have
Joe Morgenstern here, our renowned film critic
from The Wall Street Journal to help us honor
Casey’s memory, but also to honor our winners of
the Casey Shearer Memorial Award for Excellence in
Creative Nonfiction this year. I wanted to note
that you can now find online, Casey’s writings. We have on our Nonfiction
Writing Program website, under Prizes and
Awards, if you go to the Casey Shearer Award,
there’s a link now that you can go to to
find all of his writings when he was here on campus. A lot of sports
writing, but also the essays he wrote in the first
creative nonfiction writing class that we had here in 1997. And it’s true that his
legacy from those writings through our courses
continues to ripple out in all kinds of ways. We do have 50
courses now, ranging from all kinds of journalism
to all the iterations of creative nonfiction,
historical narrative, science writing, memoir,
research, to essay, multidisciplinary, and
multi-platform forms. As always, we are
grateful to Ruth and to Derek for creating
this award in honor of Casey. And I want to also remind
you that our winners, Anisha and Paige will be reading
their award-winning pieces at the bookstore sometime in
May, that date to be announced. And their pieces
will be published on Prospect, which is the
online webzine of our best undergraduate creative
nonfiction each year, and that should be
posted by July 1. So now on to the awards. First, I will announce the
second place Casey Shearer Memorial Award for Excellence
in Creative Nonfiction. For her eloquent essay
entitled Telescoping Series, in which she allows us
to see math as metaphor, as path to possibility,
and as the medium for love, we honor Anisha Dias
Bandaranaike, Class of 2017. Anisha? [APPLAUSE] Well, the First Place
Casey Shearer Memorial Award for Excellence
in Creative Nonfiction. For her moving and
provocative essay called Black Girls
Don’t Cry, which shows us depression in the
contexts of race and history, inter- and intra-cultural
assumptions, and in doing so, begins to break down
depression’s isolation, we honor Paige
Morris, Class of 2016. Paige? [APPLAUSE] And now, I would like to
introduce Casey Shearer’s sister, Julie, whom I always
remember from his memorial service at Sayles
Hall as coming up in the midst of everybody’s
disbelief and grief and doing a cartwheel
across the stage, because that honored
the spirit of Casey. And she’s going to
do it again today. Yes, but I’m actually
wearing a dress. So you’ll be spared that. A couple of logistical matters. My mother asked me to remind
you that Joe will give his talk and then we’ll eat after. And there’ll be a Q&A, so
Joe doesn’t get to eat. [LAUGHS] Well, just don’t ask
too many questions. Eventually, you get to eat. And all of Casey’s writings
associated with this award are redirected from as that’s easier to remember. So we took care of that. I don’t think I’m
going to say much about Joe, because he’s
amazing, and his career speaks for himself. When my dad sprung
on me this morning that I was going to
have to introduce Joe, I decided not to
prepare anything. And the only thing
that came to mind was, of course, my brother. Sorry. [TAKES DEEP BREATH AND SIGHS]
Hang on. [INAUDIBLE]? No. Every time I come
here, I’m amazed at the beauty of these events. And I always come here
think, this really isn’t how it should be. And I have realized in
life that resisting reality is always a losing proposition. And this is a pretty
incredible reality. My spiritual teacher– and
I’m a yogi, sorry, mom, I had to bring that
up– has a quote that I thought of this morning,
“Life is a flow of love. Only your participation
is requested.” And I think that [INAUDIBLE]
is my brother [INAUDIBLE] here [INAUDIBLE] his work. Sorry. You want me [INAUDIBLE]? No, no, no. I’m going to do it. You asked me to do this, so
you have to deal with it. I’m going to do it. [LAUGHTER] I did not expect to cry. Sorry. It’s hard to come here. But that quote, “Life
is a flow of love. Only your participation
is requested” also embodies Joe, because Joe’s
been a friend for our family for about 10 years. My gosh, time flies. And every year,
we have this rush in our family, who’s
going to speak? What are we going to do? And I said, well, maybe Joe. And so, my mom said,
will you ask him? And I asked Joe, and
I sent him an email. And in about three minutes,
he said, of course. So this great flow of
love that Casey embodied, that he put out into the
world, and this person that exists through his
friends, and his family, and through his writing,
and through all of you who are participating, through
Beth, also flows through Joe. So, I don’t know
how to close this, but I will introduce to you
Joe Morgenstern, Pulitzer Prize film critic for The
Wall Street Journal and beloved friend
of our family. [APPLAUSE] I didn’t expect that. I didn’t either. I’m sure you didn’t. I’m relieved to hear
that I’m not here, and was not invited
only because I’m Derek’s connection for DVDs. [LAUGHTER] We live near each other,
and I’m a movie critic, and Derek has never
been shy about saying, when a movie has
been interviewed, do you happen to have– How
many movies, how many DVDs have I drop off in your mailbox? And how many deals
did you get in return? [LAUGHTER] It works. It works. I’m not going to talk
about movies so much. And I mean, this is the
Casey Shearer Lecture, but I’m not going to lecture. Lecture is what my mother
did when I brought home terrible reports cards,
which I did for a long time, until I started to have
some success as a writer. What I’d like to talk about is
writing, a bill of how I do it. And then I’d love to
hear from you, questions, and instead of the
lecture, we can just have a schmooze before dinner. I read a good deal of
Casey’s work, and I must say, I had very mixed
feelings about it. One of the feelings
was utter dismay, because he was so far ahead
of where I was at his age. And, you know, that old devil
competitiveness kicks in. I was reading that
stuff and thinking, how do he did he do it? I was particularly moved
because I live in Santa Monica, and he wrote this wonderful
piece, which, of course, you know about, coming
back to Santa Monica after having lived in
Finland for awhile, coming back to his
native Santa Monica. And what I found in the piece
was this wonderful combination of the repertorial instinct
and the artistic instinct. He’s very good on
details, but he was wonderful at evoking
the joy, and the emotions, the surprise of coming
back to a place. His piece was so
good that it kind of pulled the scales
off my eyes again, and made me realize how lucky
I am to live in Santa Monica. It gave a sense of
rediscovery, which is really all you can ask a writer to do. So in addition to the dismay,
I felt a very strong sense of commonality with what
he was doing, because it was what I was trying
to do at the time without really knowing
how to pull it off, and what I continue to
try and do, honest to God, every week in my reviews. I’ll get back to the
evocation issue in a while. Just quickly, I think
I became a writer because my parents gave
me a typewriter when I was eight-years-old. It had a big effect on my life. Being eight-years-old
is a crucial moment, and it made me think
of a documentary that Michael Apted,
the guy who did 21 Up, do you know those really
remarkable documentaries. He did a not-so-remarkable
documentary with a bad title
called Inspiration, and it was interviews with seven
really gifted people, David Bowie, Dale Chihuly or whatever,
the glass artist, a few others. But the common denominator
was that they all discovered their calling
at the age of eight. And I discovered my
calling at the age of eight with that typewriter, but I
thought my calling was typing. [LAUGHTER] And looking back on it, I
realize that, well, it was. I mean, there’s plenty
of OCD in my make-up. And when I look at The Shining
and watch Jack Nicholson doing what we note of those
repetitive sentences instead of the novel he says he’s
writing, I think, oh, boy. How many thousands
of times did I write the brown fox
jumped over the lazy dog, and timed myself doing? But the typewriter–
a Monarch typewriter, and I went online just before
I was preparing this to see if they’re still available. I can get one, $95 at eBay. I don’t want it, thank you. I love computers. But what it was about,
I didn’t realize, was learning the pleasure
of manipulating words. And it was also
avoiding learning to write handwriting,
which I have managed to do over the years. My handwriting is
lamentable, and I can’t resist telling you a quick
namedropping story about that. Because addition to
doing movie criticism, I’ve done a lot of
entertainment reporting, and I was a foreign
correspondent, and blah, blah, blah. But I was in London
for Newsweek doing a cover story on Charlie
Chaplin in 1967, I think it was. He was doing what was
obviously his last movie. And I was hanging
around the set. I was on the set
for about 10 days, taking notes in my
crippled handwriting. And he came over one day and
he looked at my notebook, and he said, what is that? Arabic, Hebrew? And I said, no, it’s English. And I said, my handwriting
is just so horrible. I can never read my own notes. And he said, yes, I know. I’ve read your stuff. [LAUGHTER] But part of the problem
with the damn typewriter was that I think my parents gave
it to me because they wanted me to do what I
didn’t want to write, which was thank you notes
to my aunts and uncles for $2 and $3 birthday presents. And I began to write
these flowery thank you notes with very
precocious vocabulary. And my parents
were dazzled by it. I thought that vocabulary
was the key to writing, just as so many people think
that dialogue is the key to screenwriting, but it isn’t. I mean, the important
thing in screenwriting is structure and carpentry. I won a writing prize in high
school, but what I won it for was this very pretentious,
precocious essay about what the world looks
like from the top of the Empire State Building. And the language was lofty
as the subject was lofty. And I just kept
going on that path until I guess sophomore
year in college. I went to Lehigh University. And I took a philosophy
course, Philosophy 1. It was a small course, because
it was an engineering school, basically, and the engineers
didn’t care about philosophy. But it was taught by a
young graduate student at the time, Adolf Grunbaum,
who was a young Jewish refugee from Germany. And all of us dumb
kids in the class were smart enough to realize
that Mr. Grunbaum was somebody special, someone
kind, and brilliant. And in fact– again, I did my
homework before talking to you all– he’s still teaching
at Carnegie Mellon at the age of 92. And he Is the most
distinguished philosopher of science in the world. And we detected
a little of that, and when time came
to do a term paper, I wanted to impress Mr.
Grunbaum like nobody’s business. And I marshalled all of my fancy
vocabulary, and wrote a paper. And so the time came to
distribute the books, and there were only eight
or ten of us in class. Everyone else got their books. And he said, Mr.
Morgenstern, could you wait? I’d love to talk to you after
class about what you wrote. I gulped and I said, yes. He sat me down and he said, you
have an astonishing vocabulary and an astonishing grasp
of the English language. The formulations in this
are not the sort of thing that you would expect
from a sophomore. But, oh, my dear
Mr. Morgenstern, this is complete bullshit. [LAUGHTER] And I’m telling
you, it started– I can’t say it turned me
into the writer I am today, but it set me on another
path, and it was very helpful. My first job out of college
was as an office boy at The New York Times. And there was a writer,
and I recommend, if you ever have a spare
moment, look him up. He’s a really interesting writer
in the history of magazine journalism, Gilbert Millstein. And Gil Millstein is
an arthritic, nasty, inward-looking guy,
but he was a guy who wrote coco prose style that
was clearly proto-Tom Wolfe. I mean, I’ve never
talked to Wolfe about it, but I’m sure that he read Gil
Millstein and learned from him. And as an office boy,
I had to be there before all the writers. And Gil Millstein would
come in on a Monday morning, and he would take
off his clothes, pull up his suspenders,
sit down at his desk, and warm-up his typewriter. And then the periodic
sentences would flow as if by magic,
perfect, rolling sentences, and complex clauses. And I thought, watching that,
if that’s the way you do it, I’ll never do it. And it wasn’t until,
I’ll bet 20 years later that one of my
fellow office boys– we were talking about Gil
Millstein and my awe– and Charlie said, but didn’t
you know what he was doing? Didn’t you notice it
only happened on Mondays? He was writing all of that
stuff over the weekend. He had it memorized,
and he came in, and he did it to
impress the copy boys. [LAUGHTER] Another piece of education. Writing is hard, but
maybe not that hard. But writing is hard, and one
of the things that I’ve found, as writing continues
to be hard for me, is the best thing you can do
for yourself when you start is just put something down. And put a sentence on the screen
that may, if you’re lucky, have some tangential connection
with what you want to write. But once you’ve done it,
you’ve exteriorized something. It’s not all a swarm
of half-formed ideas stuck inside your head. It’s an it that’s out there,
shimmering on the screen, that you can then get to
work and fix and change. And I’d found that very
useful on deadline writing. I think I became a critic
because my mother and father– we lived in suburban
Jersey– they would go down to the
shopping street in Teaneck almost every night and get
a copy of the Daily News. And I was such a snob at that
time– junior high school, and high school– that I
was sort of vaguely ashamed of my parents, that they
read the Daily News instead of The New York
Times, not realizing what fun the news was in the
heyday of tabloid journalism. But my father would
read the paper, and he would go to the
reviews, the movie reviews, and they were written
by Kate Cameron. It turns out, as
I learned later, that Kate Cameron was a
corporate name given to whoever was the critic at the time. My father would
read the reviews, and often, he would just
throw the newspaper down. Kate Cameron is such an idiot. You can’t tell me that
woman isn’t being paid off. Then I became a movie critic,
and I met the incumbent Kate Cameron– it was a dowdy old
lady named Loretta King– and realized they didn’t
need to pay her off. She hardly knew
what she was doing. [LAUGHTER] I did an interview once with a
charming, funny, volcanically enthusiastic schlock producer
named Joseph E. Levine. And we had lunch at
Sardi’s, and Joe Levine produced these awful
money-making Hercules movies. He was from Boston, and he
exalted in his schlockiness. And one of the first
things he said was, you know, when decided to be a
producer, I wanted to find out, how much does it
cost to buy a review? And I said, and? And he said, oh, it’s cheap. Lunch at Sardi’s. [LAUGHTER] Ooh. Ah! When I did become a theater
critic, an off-Broadway critic, my mentor was Walter Kerr. And I’m at that
point, I’m old enough now so that I know quite a few
people who are dead and have theaters named after them. Knew Walter Kerr. I’m going to the Helen Hayes
next Friday night, [INAUDIBLE]. But Walter and Casey
have something in common, their gift for evocation. I began to notice, when–
Walter did Broadway, I did off-Broadway–
Walter would come back from a play or show. And his criticism was pungent,
but his repertorial instincts were so sharp that he
evoked being at the event. He evoked the
thrill, and the joys, and the feelings of being
at whatever thing he was reviewing. He evoked experience, as
well as made judgments, and I aspired to that then,
and I still aspire to it now. I know we’re kind of rushed,
and you’re getting hungrier. But since were in a
room mostly of writers, I do want to tell you
about one random remark that has been enormously
helpful to me as a writer. And maybe it’ll be
of some help to you. I had a long intermission
between being Newsweek’s movie critic, after which, I
kind of burned, I thought. And then going to The
Wall Street Journal, where, Heaven help me, I am
going to celebrate my 21st year next month. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you. I never thought I would
do it without repeating all the same adjectives every
week, but so far, so good. But during that intermission,
I did a New York Times Magazine and profile of Frank Garrett. And this was 1981, the
architect and Frank was up. He was famous in Italy
and in Japan at the time, but all but unknown
in this country. And I say, immodestly,
as he says, my story really put him on
the map in this country. But he was doing the
Loyola Law School, at the time in downtown LA. And Loyola is not
a wealthy school, so the law school was
a very modest project, and it was still underway. So we went down and put
on yellow hard hats, and we trudged around the
dirt and he showed me. It was organized as a kind
of little Italian hill town, really discrete buildings. It not cute, but it was likable. It was endearing. It was the opposite
of overpowering. And Frank has become the
most eloquent of orators and speech-makers, but
at that time, he wasn’t. He was kind of like a
bop musician, mumbling, and you weren’t quite
sure what he was saying. But I said the obvious
journalistic question, how’d you think of this? And he said, I don’t know,
you just get a nudge. And I said, a nudge? And he said, yeah,
you know, a nudge. That’s all you get. You don’t get thunder claps,
you get lightning bolts. You get a nudge, and
you have to understand that that’s all you get. You have to pay attention
to it and believe it. And I came to realize
that what he was talking about in his down-to-earth,
down-to-foundations way was, of course, the subconscious. Sounds pretentious if you
call it the subconscious. It sounds OK if you
call it a nudge. [LAUGHTER] But I’m here to tell
you, I have opened myself to a lot of nudges, and
I think I’m a better writer than I was 20 years ago. And that’s not an
expression of the narcissism it may sound like. It’s an expression
of kind of wonderment that you really
can improve things. And I mean, I have been the
most anxious and compulsive of writers in my time. And now, if I get stuck, if I
can’t figure out a transition, I kind of sit back and either
wait for a nudge, or better still, realize I already
know, or I’ve already heard somewhere in the recesses
of my head a word or a phrase, or an idea. It’s there already. Your subconscious does the work,
whether you ask it to or not. I will tell you in the
spirit of pure narcissism, about my Andy Warhol 20
minutes of fame, the one thing that I’ve written in my
pretty long career that really did just go around
the world like that, and it was just such great fun. It was when Gandhi was up
against E.T. for that Oscar. I think 1984. And I was working for
the Herald Examiner doing a three-time-a-week column, but
they asked me to do the Oscar story. So that meant working under
a really tight deadline, and I didn’t=w that they were
literally holding the presses for me. I would have been
paralyzed if I had known. But you know, I had to hold
my story until the last thing, the Best Picture of the Year. And I knew that E.T.
wasn’t going to win. It was my favorite. I thought Gandhi
was kind of stiff, and old-fashioned,
and pretentious, but I also knew that it
was politically correct, and it was going to win. But I couldn’t write anything
until the announcement was made. Then the announcement was made. It’s 11 o’clock at night. The second edition should be
rolling, and I’m sitting there. And then, I don’t know,
nudge or not nudge, the lead just came
out of nowhere. And it was if I
may quote myself, “it makes perfect sense. Gandhi was everything the voting
members of the Motion Picture Academy would like to be,
moral, tan, and thin.” [LAUGHTER] It was great. It was just quoted
everywhere [INAUDIBLE]. And I ran into Spielberg
years later, and he said, do you remember that thing
you wrote about Gandhi? And I said, yes, sure. He was shooting,
what was it, Indiana Jones and the Temple
of Doom, and they were shooting in Sri Lanka. And Universal insisted
that he schlep all the way from Sri Lanka to LA
to not get the prize, but they wanted him to be there. So he said he went back. It took him three days
to get back to the set. And he was exhausted
and depressed, and then somebody took
him over the main camera and pasted on the side of the
magazine was a fax of my piece. And he said it gave
him a good laugh. [LAUGHTER] Coming up on 21
years at the Journal, I think it should come
as some encouragement to you, because it sure comes
as an encouragement to me, that what keeps me going and really
keeps me looking forward every week to doing
another column is, sometimes the movies, sometimes
they are wonderful movies to bring news about. There’s a lovely movie
called Sing Street that’s opening on Friday–
I recommended it highly– by John
Carney, the guy who did Once if you ever saw it. But what really keeps me alive
and looking forward to writing is just the fun of
playing with language, doing what I did as a
kid with the typewriter, and then more and more
boldly, just arranging words into sentences, and getting the
rhythm of the sentences right, making the words
dance on a good day. The name of this course
is Creative Nonfiction. I don’t try to judge
whether I’m being creative when I’m writing nonfiction. On a good day, I am. On a bad day, you move on. But making the language
work, it’s great. We’re all privileged
to be able to do it. And I’d love to
hear in the time we have before we have lunch to
hear from you all, if there’s any questions I can answer, or
any movies I could recommend. [APPLAUSE] Well, maybe not. I’ll tell you– My name is Ian Garrity. I’m a senior at MCM. I feel really
blessed to be here. I’m inspired by your
director, and it’s wonderful to hear the words
of a critic such as yourself. The first question
I want to ask you is, the relationship that
you have with the industry. Aside from being The
Wall Street film critic, how would you define
the relationship that you have within the
industry– friends, enemies? I would define it as
non-existent as possible. My employers think that I’m
living a glamorous life, and hanging out with the
stars, and all of that. And I hope they can continue
to think that so that I can justify expense accounts. [LAUGHTER] But I think the proper
place for somebody who calls himself
or herself a critic is in an adversary relationship
with, I mean, in this case, the industry or the media. Every time I have
developed a friendship with someone who makes
a movie, I’m in trouble, and I’m overcompensating either
worrying about praising it too much or damning it too much. And I don’t have a relationship. I’m not part of the industry. And I’m a journalist
looking in and maintaining my independence. And one word about that. I have a friend,
Tom Bernard, who’s co-chairman of Sony Classics. And he’s a funny
guy, and he used to, every time he’d see me say, hey,
it’s the last of the Mohicans. And the last time he
said that, I said, I want you to stop
calling me that. It’s not funny any more. And it’s not funny
anymore for me, not only because I’m my
age, but because I am, along with Tony Scott, Manohla
Dargis, Charlie Lane of The New Yorker, three, four, or
five people in the whole of mainstream journalism,
the last of the Mohicans, to be independent,
to be left alone by the pressures of
corporate journalism. I mean, I was told
a couple weeks ago that Warner’s was outraged
by my review of Batman versus Superman, but I
never heard about it. Their outrage was
directed at the office, and the office respected
my independence. So I have to maintain
my own independence. Cool. Yeah, I really liked your
comment about screenwriting is carpentry structure. That’s something
that I try really hard to apply for my own work. One other question for you. With the onset of
video on demands, television, digital
realms, content has never been as immediately
available and as free as it is now. So a lot of the ways that
corporate journalism has responded to this is by
creating content of their own, or serving as a
platform for others. The New Yorker has a
screening room, New York Times [INAUDIBLE]. I know this might be a
little bit out of your field, but what place does The
Wall Street Journal have inside a field such as that? No. It’s not out of my
field, but it’s a source of confusion and evolution. Because I’m one of
those people who, until recently, has
drawn a bright line between theatrical and
non-theatrical features. If it shows in the
theater, I’m up for it. If it doesn’t, it’s some
form of TV or video. And I’ve come to realize
it’s simply not realistic, let alone fair to make
that rigid distinction now, because distribution
patterns are changing. Talented people are gravitating
toward video on demand. Wonderful small scale movies
that are being made that could never be made if
they depended entirely on theatrical distribution. I mean, Beasts of No Nation
with Idris Elba, not exactly a musical comedy, but a worthy
movie about a worthy subject, that was shown on
Netflix to something like 10 or 15 million people. A movie like that
would have been lucky to have an audience of
750,000 maybe in the theaters. So it’s all changing. I don’t have any answers. I’m working it out as I go. And The Journal’s going
along with [INAUDIBLE]. I’m not alone in
being an aspiring film maker in this room. Alone in being what? Alone in being in an aspiring
film maker in this room. You mean it’s a disease that’s– Oh, it’s infected us. –a virus that– Oh, my goodness gracious. We’re everywhere. Yeah. What advice do you have for us? Believe in the medium. Believe in the
beauty of the medium. I can’t imagine how
much of a struggle it is today to make good films. And I’ll give you a
very mainstream example that didn’t seem mainstream
at all when it was first shown at Telluride last year. A filmmaker stood up rather
apologetically and said, I hope you like it. All I can tell you is that
it was very hard to make. It’s almost impossible
to get movies like this financed today in
the shrinking world of cinema. And the movie was Spotlight. Who knew that movie would
find the audience that it did and engender the excitement
and respect that it did? You don’t know, going in. But Tom McCarthy was a good,
and honest, and virtuous, and also lucky. Filmmakers now are
struggling to get small budget things done for
online, for video, for iPhones. I mean, to use the bleakest
word, it’s all content. To use the best word, it’s
all emotion and information, and who cares where it gets
out, as long as it gets out. But I know it’s a struggle. Thank you. Sir? I teach, and I have
lots of students who write, but in economics. And as a kid, I
loved mathematics, because when you solve
the problem, it was done. In my writing and
my students writing, of course, you can rewrite,
and rewrite, and rewrite. Tell us a little bit
more about the craft. Put it down on paper. You have a deadline. Sometimes I don’t, and
I can rewrite forever. How do you do that? I used to be deeper into
denial than I am now. And I would tell people, oh, you
know, deadlines doesn’t matter. You just do it. And now, I realize,
yes, I do it. And I mean, I had
a two-hour deadline to turn around a 700-word
review on the new Star Wars. And I did it by just throwing
myself into it, and not daring to think of transitions,
connections, what it all means. I was just going for
the juice, and writing what I thought were
charged sentences, and hoping for the best. But how I do it when I have
the time to do it is, I obsess. I do what I learned to do, and
I realize that I didn’t really articulate the lesson of
all of that flowery writing that I was taken to task for by
my philosophy professor and all of that. The lesson is cut back,
simplify, strip back. I mean, that’s what
I do now, and that gives me enormous pleasure. It isn’t mathematics, but
it’s verbal mechanics, and I love to do it. I love to discover,
after I’ve written what I think is a really tight
sentence, abiding by what no less an authority than
Winston Churchill, who said, the best words are the
short Anglo-Saxon words, the strong verbs. And I think, that’s a
good solid sentence, and then I see, oh, no. I can dispense with that
word, and that’s repetitive, and that one can go, too. That’s amazing. It’s fun. But it’s hard work. Yes? Thank you. I just wish to [INAUDIBLE]
my admiration for your work, and how you can oh, I
too write in no time. And I’m [INAUDIBLE]
inspired with a chance to enhance at a glance
than to answer my words. [LAUGHTER] Am I hearing what I
think I’m hearing? [LAUGHTER] That I speak with hilarity,
clarity, and jocularity, [INAUDIBLE]. [LAUGHTER] If I did that, I’d be fired. [LAUGHTER] I’m sick of popularity. Which is not [INAUDIBLE]. So at what point,
when you were writing, you said, that was the point
that took you to the pinnacle and it was a oracle
talking to you? Oracularity, you mean. [LAUGHTER] I’ve never been to the
pinnacle, but I’m still hoping to get there. And actually, with
your influence, you made me, for the
first time, stumble, and I stumble, and
mumble, I’m humbled. [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHTER] You had a question. Go ahead. Any comments, thoughts about
the black and white films? Yeah, I love them. It’s a source of some
real sadness to me that I keep being told that
film school students don’t want to watch them anymore,
just as, not just film school students, people. I think we’re becoming a
less-curious and more insular film-going public,
if not nation. And people aren’t much
interested in subtitled films. I just watched The Third
Man recently again. Suddenly, it’s my
favorite film again. You know, Roger Ebert was really
impressioned back in the ’80s, I guess, when he said black and
white films would eventually become a special genre of film,
with a black and white lending an aesthetic distinction. And they do, but
people aren’t up for– Is The Revenant a
black and white film? The Revenant was black and
white, but it was in color. [KNOWING LAUGHTER] [INAUDIBLE] I think we need
to say thank you to Joe. [INAUDIBLE] Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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