Laurent Boulanger is a screenwriter, director, short story writer, novelist and interviewer. He spoke to Brendan Paholski in the lead-up to his Scriptwriting workshop at Writers Victoria.
What got you into scriptwriting/screenwriting in the first place?
I studied scriptwriting for the first time at Holmesglen TAFE. I had no idea what scriptwriting was until I did the course, and I found it fascinating. Like most people, I’ve always had a love of films, so it wasn’t difficult for me to be interested in scriptwriting. I also write fiction, so for me it was all about storytelling and my interest in people. Scriptwriting is just another genre of storytelling, a blueprint for what we are going to end up seeing on the screen.
What is the most difficult aspect of scriptwriting?
It really depends on what your background is, but most people would agree that it’s structure. For some of my students, it’s dialogue. Others will tell that it’s the genre itself that’s difficult because you have to work within accepted parameters of what is expected in films. On the other hand, you really can do whatever you please, but the more off-centre your work is, the harder it will be sell or to produce.
You have worked as a screenwriter, short story writer, director and interviewer – which area do you favour and for what reason?
I’ve actually worked as a novelist as well – one of my novels, ‘The Girl From France’, won the Paris Book Festival Award in 2014 for best ebook worldwide across all genres. The other, ‘Better Dead Than Never’ won the 2014 eLit Award Bronze Medal for Best Multicultural Fiction and was nominated for the ACWA’s Best First Crime novel a few years ago. To answer your question, currently it’s screenwriting and directing combined, because you get the best of both worlds. You sit alone and create the work (which I love doing), and then you socialise by directing what you have written. Writers live in isolation, but I am a social person, and I don’t enjoy spending all my time alone at a desk, so scriptwriting combined with film directing suits my attitude and personality best. After that, it’s novel writing – I like the possibility that you can do absolutely anything since you don’t have the budget constraints of filmmaking.
Who are the screenwriters/scriptwriters you admire?
I tend to admire screenwriters who also direct their own work. I am totally in awe of Woody Allen, who is far and away the most successful screenwriter-director in history. One film a year for the past thirty years or so. Also the Coen brothers, who write and direct most of their work. I also like Noah Baumbach and Sofia Coppola. I favour writers who focus on the human condition and don’t use Hollywood gimmicks to get their ideas across –- it might be because of my French heritage. I watch a lot of French and European films, and they are very focused on the human condition and less on the entertainment factor. American films are ‘entertainment’. In Europe, films are ‘culture’. A film doesn’t have to be entertaining to be enriching.
What aspects mark a great screenplay/script?
The storytelling. You are telling a story, and you have to have a story that grabs people so they want to know more about the characters and what is going to happen. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything interesting. Everything else is technique, which can be learned over time.
What is the best advice you would give someone wishing to become a screenwriter/scriptwriter?
Like any genre of writing, keep writing. Don’t let your ego get in the way. The best advice would be to find your own voice and don’t write scripts that are a carbon copy of something else you’ve seen. And the only way to find your own voice is to keep writing script after script.
Other advice is to realise that there is another world beyond Hollywood when it comes to scriptwriting. Think small and realistic when you start. Write screenplays that move you in terms of theme and emotional pull. Otherwise you are going to run out of energy before you get to the end of the screenplay.
About Laurent Boulanger
Dr Laurent Boulanger has been teaching scriptwriting at Swinburne University since 2004. His feature screenplay Six Lovers, which he also directed, was produced by Intermedia Arts in 2010. His feature screenplay Dirty Little Secrets is in pre-production for a 2014 shoot, and his French-language feature screenplay La Souffrance is currently in development.
About Brendan Paholski
Brendan Paholski is currently completing a BA in Media and Communications. He is a long-time volunteer and current Access and Inclusion Intern at Writers Victoria. He’s written theatre reviews, short stories and the occasional CD/DVD review.