William Goldman was a multi-genre, multi-media (novels, plays and films) maestro, with a phenomenal ear for zingers too. Beginning in his thirties, and not stopping till about 80, his work spans from the New Hollywood Movement, to the well-oiled hit making machine of 2000’s Hollywood, but no matter how far back a script of his stretches, it feels alive and contemporary.
If you had a look at his filmography, there may be no other writer with a body of work so recognisable, and yet so detached in the public consciousness from its creator. I know when I first became aware of him outside of his most famous film, and had a look at his filmography, the key
phrase was: “That was HIM?”
A Western buddy comedy (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), a revealing Hollywood biography (Chaplin), a bitingly satirical horror mystery (The Stepford Wives), a political thriller and bombshell
take on the Watergate scandal (All the Presidents Men), a historical war drama (A Bridge Too Far), a Stephen King thriller (Misery), and most famously, the fairy-tale to surpass all fairy tales; The Princess Bride.
Many of these films were adaptions, and often Goldman would adapt his own novels, but three of these were chosen by the Writer’s Guild of America for their top 101 Greatest Screenplays Hall of Fame. It is an amazingly varied career, and a testament to the skill he had to deliver so consistently whilst noodling from subject to subject, tone to tone, genre to genre. He could play with genre conventions, but always told his stories with clarity. They were intelligent, but always accessible to general movie goers. The only person who seems to dislike Goldman’s writing, is Goldman, who looks upon much of it with “humiliation”.
Goldman was a very outspoken man, with strong convictions, but a fair bit of humility, and in this video he discusses much of his life; from his childhood love of film, to tragedies in at home early on which may have coloured his perspective on the fates of morally upright characters, and beyond into insights on his career and the nature of stories for a living.
For instance, whilst dispensing his thoughts, somewhat reluctantly it appears, he shares his dislike of conventional film school, and his preference for learning through a love of film (very much of the
Quentin Tarantino school: “I didn’t go to film school, I went to films.”). He also speaks at length not only about his film canon, but his process as a novelist starved for ideas, and how these moments he’s chronicling helped him break into Hollywood. One of the early challenges in his career, detailed here, is having to search Time Square bookstores at 1 AM to find out what a screenplay looks like to get started writing on his first assigned project. He was less than pleased with the format, and never liked to stick to it.
This is a valuable document about the life experiences of a titan of screenwriting, told with much of the wit and perceptiveness he brought to his work. The interview was conducted by Michael Winship for the Writer’s Guild Foundation, and filmed on May 27, 2010