Friday, December 12, 1997

Interview: Boogie Nights Screenplay Introduction

Boogie Nights Screenplay Introduction
Written by Paul Thomas Anderson - December 12th, 1997

So here is the script I suppose, technically, was ten years in the making. When I was seventeen - young, impressionable and horny - I wrote a short film called The Dirk Diggler Story. I shot it on video and it was fun and actually pretty good.

What I was doing for the ten years I was trying to write this script? Well, I was actually devising what I think is an interesting method. The short film was a fictionally documentary, basically a Spinal Tap and Zelig rip-off. A couple of years later, when I was nineteen, I expanded the short into a feature, keeping the structure of a fictional documentary. Well, by that time, the format, so wonderfully done so many times, had, in fact, 'been done so many times.'

I spent a couple of years getting over that format and decided to write a straight narrative. So when approaching the first draft, I was basically adapting a documentary. It worked wonderfully for me to have a sort of 'bible' to reference whenever I felt myself getting lost in so many stories and so many ideas.

I want to note a couple of (some obvious) sources of inspiration and would urge anyone who hasn't seen these films to see them as soon as you can. Stop reading this stupid introduction and see these films: Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo), Nashville (Altman), GoodFellas (Scorsese), Singin in the Rain (Donen), Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim (Truffaut), Putney Swope (Downey, Sr.), 42nd Street (Bacon), The Jade Pussycat (Chinn). These are pictures which not only influenced and inspired me to make films but were really templates (all in odd and various stages), massive life preserves in the writing of Boogie Nights.

The script you have in your hands is the one we went to the set with every day. You will see that some stuff is shot exactly as written and you will notice that some stuff has changed. The changes, by a ;large percent, are the result of having brilliant actors who have me, the biggest geek fan of their work, laughing at any and all bits if improv that they could muster. If you hire John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Phil Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Luis Guzman, Heather Graham, Bob Ridgely, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Melora Walters, Ricky Jay, Bill Macy, Thomas Jane and Alfred Molina, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy all that they give.

I've come to realize that my function as a director is to be a good writer. My obligation as a director is to deliver the actors a good script, thus making my job as a director describable as 'hanging out' and watching them go. No good actor needs direction beyond 'Let's do another one' and 'Keep it simple.'

I hope one thing that is clear is that this script is not written like a book. In other words, this is a script not a novel. In other words, there is no description of behavior. In other words, there is not flour and sugar. In other words, this is a script written for actors. An actor does not need a full description of their character. They do not need: 'Angela, thirtyish and hot as hell. I mean real hot, hot like the Noxema girl (if you know what I mean). She walks smoothly and with a flair for the exceptional into the room, and then looks longingly at her hands, remembering that her father once told her, "You're a bad girl,"' This is how most screenplays are written. This sort of thing must be written by writers who have no interest in meeting or socializing with actors. If you have written this and you can find an actress to play this part, as described, you will have a bad actress. Actors do not need this, they do not want it. Don't give it to them; they will not read it anyway. This is writing for studio executives. Studio executives do not make movies. They pretend that they make movies. This is a script written for people who really make the movie, people who physically put it into existence, and all they need are the facts. Pure and Simple.

There are two sequences in the script that are fairly important to the script, but in the end were not very important to the picture. They are Becky/Jerome/Dirk's Car sequence (sc. 138 - 146) and Dirk's return home to Sheryl Lynn (sc. 182 - 185). We shot these bits and they were wonderful, but in an effort to focus the storytelling, I cut them. I miss them only when I see them, but I sure don't miss them when I'm watching the film.

The 'Sequences' that you'll see listed through the script were mile markers for the production crew. It's a system that I formed from ripping off a more complicated system that Preston Sturges devised in structuring his shooting scripts. Each Sequence, marked by letters, usually meant that some very specific piece of music was being used and we should all pay attention to that vibe. It translated into costume design stuff (more color, less color), camera moves (fast, slow, with zooms, high or low contrast, etc.) and a general handle on how the film would structure. Sequence D was our favorite because it was a free-for-all. No matching. No rules. No anything. D for debauchery, D for drugs, D for down, D for do anything.

I wrote three drafts of Boogie Nights. This is the final shooting script. The 'pink pages' (noted with asterisks next to the scene) or rewrites are stuff that I did either right before shooting as a result of something in rehearsals or as a result of budgetary/scheduling conflicts.

A few people to thank for this script and its publication: John Lesher, Joanne Sellar, Walter Donohue, Mike DeLuca, Lynn Harris, Lloyd Levin, Wendy Weidman, Dylan Tichenor, Paula Chavez.

If you liked the movie, I hope you like the script. If you didn't like the movie, this script isn't going to help much.

P.T. Anderson

12 December 1997

Los Angeles, California