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by dr andrew cousins

In Conversation with William Goldbloom

William Goldbloom has been described as America’s "greatest living screenwriter". His career has spanned four decades and he has worked with everybody from Scorcese to Spielberg. He is currently in Britain promoting his autobiography, "Pass the Correction Fluid; A Life as a Screenwriter". He guards his privacy fiercely and rarely gives interviews. However he did agree to talk exclusively to Netribution.

AC. How did you get started as a scriptwriter?

WG. I started out working in the post room at MGM. From there I moved into the script reading department. I gained a bit of a reputation as somebody who wasn’t afraid to speak my mind about a script. If it were bad then I’d say so. Gradually I was asked to do little bits of re-writing and eventually I was asked to write a complete script. It probably took me around ten years to get from delivering letters around the studio lot to writing my first film for them.

AC. What was that first script about?

WG. It was a crime thriller called A Town Called Homicide. It was a very low-budget film starring Richard Widmark. It didn’t do great box-office but it got me noticed enough to be asked to write something else.

AC. You wrote the original draft of All the President’s Men How did your version differ from the film we know today?

WG. It was a very different film. My version was all told from the perspective of the doorman at the Washington Post. You would pick up bits and pieces of the story from conversations he would have with Woodward and Bernstein as they came in and out of the building. When the studio executives saw it they just didn’t understand what I was trying to do. So they hired William Goldman to come in and do a total re-write of my script.

AC. Does anything of your script survive in the finished film?

WG. One line. "Good morning, Mr Bernstein" It’s a good line though.

AC. I believe that you also worked on the script for Jaws?

WG. That’s right. Richard Zanuck asked me to read the book and then tell him what I thought about it. It was clear that there was a hell of a film in there but the narrative was just too dense as it stood. There were about two or three sub-plots that worked well as prose but would drag the story down to a crawl on screen. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that they had to go. I told Richard as much and he asked me to prepare a script along those lines. My version is pretty close to what you know as the final film. My ending was different though.

AC. In what way?

WG. Well in the book, the shark is exhausted by the chase and eventually just drops dead. That wasn’t going to work and so I was asked by Steven Spielberg to come up with an alternative. I proposed that Quint should kill the shark. We’d established that he drank like a fish and so my idea was that he’d wrestle with the shark and by breathing alcoholic fumes over it he’d effectively suffocate it. It had a nice story-arc that the final version lacks in my opinion. But Steven wanted to finish the film with an explosion and so my ending had to go.

AC. You also worked with Stanley Kubrick didn’t you?

WG. I did do some stuff for him. I worked on a couple of drafts of The Shining. He was very demanding. He constantly wanted me to do re-drafts. "Change this, Bill. It’s not working" he’d say. Eventually I got so frustrated that I threw the manuscript at him and said, "You can’t polish a turd, Stanley!" He looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said, "You can if you freeze it."

AC. You’ve been very critical of modern Hollywood films. Where do you think they are going wrong?

WG. They just don’t know how to write scripts any more. Did you see Titanic? It was like something written by Danielle Steele! It was terrible! And what the hell is the deal with sequels?! Did DeMille make sequels? Did we ever have "Samson and Delilah 2" or "Moses 3: This Time it’s Personal"? Did we hell! I was asked by Coppola to work on a sequel to The Godfather. I told him exactly where he could stick it.

AC. Do you regret doing that now?

WG. Francis would like to think so. Sometimes he rings me up and just laughs down the phone at me. He doesn’t say anything but I know it’s him.

AC. Where do you get your inspiration from?

WG. Usually from the voices in my head. They say things like "this character needs more development" or "that sub-plot is weak". Sometimes they say "humanity must burn" but I mostly ignore them.

AC. Typewriter or Word Processor?

WG. Typewriter. Computers make it too easy for you. Writing should be hard. It should be painful. Each word should be wrenched out of you like a little piece of your soul. Each page should be stained with the sweat of your toil. Also correction fluid is a great pick-me-up.

AC. What are you working on now?

WG. At the minute I’m working on a script for Fox. It’s a live action version of Scooby Doo. It’s quite tricky because the character of Scooby is incredibly complex. I’ve worked in a whole gay love triangle between Scooby, Shaggy and Fred. It’s a very 21st century take on the story. I’m trying to raise the whole thing above the level of a bunch of teenagers driving around in a van solving mysteries. It’s almost an allegory for the state of humanity at the present time. I think it’s going to be huge. George Clooney is very interested in the role of Fred. But who knows? I could be replaced tomorrow. Hollywood is fickle like that.

AC. William Goldbloom, thank you.

Note: Since this interview was conducted William Goldbloom has been removed from the screenwriting duties on Scooby Doo.

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