Among that most pedantic of professions (the writer/director), Ingmar Bergman ranks alongside Stanley Kubrick and Fritz Lang as occupying the bleeding edge between perfectionism and folly. Luckily, Bergman was far less tight-lipped about the writing process than his compatriots, and consequently you could (if you so masochistically desired) follow his routine not only as advice but as a precise checklist. For the Bergman-approach you will need to:

First, the obvious; get up early, eat breakfast and go for a walk. Don’t “read the newspaper or use the telephone” before working (perhaps it’s for the best Bergman was never acquainted with the smartphone). Next, the good stuff.

Ingmar Bergman Process

Write down your ideas, beginning with a single arresting image begging a myriad of questions (ala the four white-clad women in a red room from Cries and Whispers, ‘who are they and why are they there?’), scribbling all into a series of notebooks. Preferring this early, untethered stage of the creative process, writing the script itself is obligatory to Bergman, but nevertheless that is the stage during which he confines himself to his most exacting habits.

Though he never revealed precisely how many, Bergman held himself to a minimum number of pages written in a day. Those pages were bound in a particular, yellow-lined pad; the same sort the director had first started writing on as a script hack in the early ’40s, and would continue to use all his life, going so far as to order a massive surplus upon learning that they would go out of circulation sometime in the 1970s, to last until his death. That surplus amounted to somewhere near 800.

Despite using the very same paper pads for his entire career, Bergman did transition from a fountain pen with a broad nib to a ballpoint pen. This might lead you to assume that the director wasn’t quite as exacting about his writing instruments, but per Bergman “it has to be a very special pen” with a very large ball. This is key to his insistence that the act of writing itself be enjoyable; that he take tactile satisfaction from it, and therefore that he avoid the use of ‘machines’ in the writing process.

Keeping things satisfying also involves, surprisingly, some leniency. Bergman would never write more than three hours a day, no matter whether or not he was in the middle of a scene or really onto something, once three hours had been put in, he would lay down the work till tomorrow, for fear of tedium setting in. Similarly, he would only work for 45 minutes on end, before taking a break. Rather than keep an eye on the clock for this purpose, Bergman would wait for his back to begin aching, before going for a walk on his island to purvey the ocean.

It’s not hard to imagine Bergman enacting these rituals, sitting at that famous desk of his by the window. These efforts were Bergman’s fight against disorder and carelessness, a measurement to uphold discipline. “I can’t be undisciplined in my work”. Are they maniacally pedantic? Maybe, but let’s consult the scoreboard: 40 successfully scripts.

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