A note from Vicenzo Cerami

Unfortunately, Italian screenwriter Vicenzo Cerami will not be able to attend the conference.

However, he has sent us a message about his experiences with screenwriting, along with some advice, and we hope you will find it inspiring.

Vicenzo Cerami

Vicenzo Cerami

I’m a creature of the set. I discovered cinema with Pier Paolo Pasolini, working with him first as general assistant, and then as assistant director in the films with Totò, a great Neapolitan comedian. Working side by side with my master Pasolini I began to take an interest in scriptwriting.  Literature had been my original vocation. I’ve been writing since I was 12 – again thanks to Pasolini, who was my teacher in middle school.

It was in fact thanks to my experience as a writer, and also specifically as a scriptwriter, that I rapidly realised the inadequacy of writing a film without knowing the director who would be shooting it. In cinema as in every art, it is not the stories that matter but the way they are told, the style. How, I wonder, can you write a film without knowing the director and setting off, together with him, in pursuit of a style?

I’ve written films with “dramatic” directors like Bellocchio or Gianni Amelio, but also comic productions with film-makers like Roberto Benigni. In each case  I would adopt the vision of these artists, and with that vision (which is, ultimately, style) I observed the world that was to be recounted and drew upon my narrative resources, inventing structures, scenes and dialogues.

I have never accepted work on genre films, apart from inventing some spaghetti westerns to make a living as a very young man. In every case I need to meet the director and talk about all sorts of things, not only the idea of the film itself. I must, however, point out that the directors I have worked with were friends of mine even before meeting over a film. With them I have always shared an ethic, poetics and way of being. But then I give full rein to my old love for narratology. Years ago I wrote a book that has become quite well-known here in Italy entitled Consigli a un giovane scrittore (Advice to a young writer); it is in fact a best-seller, used in schools and universities. In this slim volume I explain to readers that there are many ways of telling  a story, in the various languages that bring words into play: literature, cinema, theatre and broadcasting – systems involving different signs and diverse narrative conventions. I was able to write this book on the strength of my long experience with these languages in the course of my career. What I teach is not writing but, in a particular sense, reading. The most salient feature is a positive passion for the modes of narration, which I place at the disposal of directors. In general a director does not  make all that many films in his or her career, while a narrator, a scriptwriter, has rather more experience of manipulating narrative mechanisms. He or she places at the disposal of the director all his/her experience, plus a personal stylistic flair.

My experience has convinced me that, before succumbing to cast appeal, audiences must be gripped by the “story”. The rest will work only if the story works. If it’s good, and told well, the actors will show all their bravura, always, like all the others contributing in one way or another to constructing the film. If the story doesn’t come off they all make a poor showing, even the stars.

I work side by side with the directors. I talk to them for hours, taking notes which I slip into a folder. I don’t open the folder again until I am next with the director: it is his task to shoot the film, his eyes that determine the sequence of shots. Ideally, the scriptwriter should get the director to write his own script. I’ll never forget what Hitchcock told Truffaut: to make a good film you need three things: a good script, a good script and a good script. So let’s face it: there will never be a good film without a good script.

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