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Books Chat

William Goldman

The following is an edited transcript of a chat with William Goldman, Author of "The Princess Bride", conducted on Tuesday December 1.

Chat Participant: I hesitate to ask this question twice, but I was hoping to ask Mr. Goldman about his return to the world of prose. As a self-professed novelist dabbling in screenwriting (apologies for the word choice), I eagerly await a new novel or work of non-fiction. Although I greatly admire his screenplays (they rank among my favorites), I yearn to read his written word "The Season", "Hope and Glory", "Boys and Girls Together", and ""Marathon Man"."

William Goldman: The first fiction I've written in twelve years is the chapter of Buttercup's Baby that's included in the edition of Princess Bride. And it was just a wonderful experience. Screenwriting is not always a "wonderful experience."

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman, how difficult was it for you to write your first novel?

William Goldman: I was so panicked that I would end my life as a copywriter in an ad agency in Chicago that I wrote the "Temple of Gold" in less than three weeks. I had no idea what I was doing, but I remember when I got to page 75 I wondered "where is this?" I had never written that much before.

Chat Participant: Have you had a chance to update the "missing chapter" of the book over the last two years.

William Goldman: The missing chapter is included in the new edition of "The Princess Bride".

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman-what was your favorite book?

William Goldman: As a writer, the only book I really like is "The Princess Bride". As a reader, my life was changed when I was 18 when I read Irwin Shaw's story "Mixed Company." If you don't know Shaw, he is one of the great storytellers and a pleasure to read.

Chat Participant: Have you ever thought of publishing your adaptation of "Flowers for Algernon"? If nothing more, it could be a helpful lesson for the struggling screenwriters of the world. (Considering that you don't seem to be too fond of it, it might give hope to the rest of us.)

William Goldman: I'm writing a new book about screenwriting and I hope to include the thumb of Algernon there. I was very terrible at screenwriting then.

Chat Participant: Have you ever considered a "follow-up" to "Adventures in the Screen Trade"? Reading it in 1998, some of your observations are now dated, for example, your comments about animation and production costs.

William Goldman: Yes, I am. I'm 100 pages into it now. It's called the "Current Campfire", and, (I haven't told to this to anyone before!) it should be out in a year.

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman-who's your favorite writer of all time?

William Goldman: Several. Irwin Shaw, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Maugham, Cervantes

They're all wonderful storytellers.

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman, were you pleased with how the film "Marathon Man" turned out?

William Goldman: I loved Olivier. And the dental scene has made me famous in dentist's offices around the world.

Chat Participant: How different from the films of 20 years ago is the screenplay of a modern film?

William Goldman: I've been writing a very long time. Probably I started before most of you were born. And I believe this: Everything is about story. If any of you want to be writers, please try and believe me about story. If you have the story right for you, you have a chance. If you mess up the story, no matter how dazzling your style, you'll be in trouble.

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman - is the story about the scene and what Olivier said to Hoffman true?

William Goldman: I hope it is. It's a terrific story. I was not there at the moment. But I hope it's true.

Chat Participant: Do you use writing software now?

William Goldman: I have just gone to computers in the last three years. I am very unmechanical. They terrify me. I have no idea of what program I use.

Chat Participant: Do you believe the business has changed dramatically since you began? It seems it's all about event and high concept movies. A premise, not necessarily a story, appears to be selling. Old-fashioned storytelling (where story is everything) seems to be fading away, at least in Hollywood. Since everything is cyclical, can we look forward to a return to storytelling?

William Goldman: Well, it's different in that Hollywood is making, because of costs, fewer interesting films. So, basically you end up with a lot of explosions. I hope this period ends soon.

Chat Participant: There's a dentist in the town where I live who uses those virtual reality glasses to allow people to watch films while they sit in the chair. And he shows "Marathon Man" to his patients.

William Goldman: I think if somebody showed me that theme when I was in the chair...I would be out of that chair SO fast!

Chat Participant: What stimulates your creativity when writing?

William Goldman: I am instinctive. Which means - and I really mean this-I don't know what I'm doing!

Chat Participant: Did you have any specific actors in mind while you were writing the screenplay of "The Princess Bride"?

William Goldman: Andre the Giant. He was the only one. He's now dead, sadly. He was the most popular figure on every movie set I was on. During the shooting of "Princess Bride", small children used to climb on Andre and sit in his hands or on his head during the filming.

Chat Participant: Did Rob Reiner consult you? And, if so, how involved were you?

William Goldman: Yes, he consulted me on every step. I was more involved with Butch Cassidy. As a rule, I hate being on movie sets - they are the most boring places on earth. Michael Caine said: "I act in movies for nothing. I do not get paid for acting. But I get paid a great deal for waiting."

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman-who was your favorite character in the book?

William Goldman: Fezzik. He just was so big and dopey. But he had such a good heart.

Chat Participant: Although I know you have no interest in directing, does it ever bother you when your original screenplay is far from what you intended?

William Goldman: Of course it does. But I was offered chances to direct. I never took them because I am terrified of actors. Movie stars, many of them, can be very difficult.

Chat Participant: What do you have in development currently?

William Goldman: A movie with John Travolta called "The General's Daughter", which will come out next May.

Chat Participant: Do you believe that creativity in writing is a learned process or just something you're born with?

William Goldman: I think like anything, it helps to be born with skill. I'm not sure genius exists.

Chat Participant: Have you done chats like this before?

William Goldman: Never like this.

Chat Participant: I was in a production of the "Tempest" recently and I based my character on Count Rugen, and I wanted to thank you.

William Goldman: Who did you play? I hope it was a villain!

Kerouac: Antonio Prospero's evil brother

William Goldman: Ok, LOL. Thanks for your thanks!

Chat Participant: Is your "on-set" involvement based primarily on the willingness of the director to consult? Or perhaps your own motivation to hold the strength of the work?

William Goldman: I'm very abrasive. This will sound phony to you... but I really want the movies I am involved in to be wonderful. I think we all do. I am often not around during the shooting because directors don't want me there.

Chat Participant: All things being equal, is it easier to sell a great screenplay or to get a great novel published?

William Goldman: I can't answer that because there is such a hunger-both the book business and the movie business are in terrible trouble these days-and the hunger for material has never been as strong. The problem is, they may be looking for "Lethal Weapon 6", and you have written something about the human condition.

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman-were you involved in approval of the music in Princess Bride? It is awesome.

William Goldman: I think the music is awesome too. Rob Reiner is very strong on music.

Chat Participant: Just out of curiosity - should you ever pass this life would you want your work to continue on your behalf?

William Goldman: No. Once it's over, it's done. Because I look at every project with two hats. My artist's hat. And my hooker's hat.

Chat Participant: Why did you write the script for "All The President's Men?"

William Goldman: Many movies that get made are not long on art and are long on commerce. This was a project that seemed it might be both. You don't get many and you can't turn them down. I did one a year ago I haven't seen and you haven't seen either. It was based on a John Grisham novel about the death penalty experience, but it was destroyed. It ended up being a waste of time for everybody.

Chat Participant: Is there a sequel to "The Princess Bride" called "Buttercup's Baby"?

William Goldman: The first chapter has been written and is attached to the new edition of "Princess Bride."

Chat Participant: I just want to thank you for inspiring a lot of lazy weekends renacting all the scenes from "The Princess Bride." I can't tell you how many people that I know who have memorized the script and quote it constantly.

William Goldman: Thank you. I really appreciate that!

Chat Participant: Mr. Goldman: Forgive my ignorance, but are you teaching anywhere at the present time?

William Goldman: No. I taught once by mistake in 1966 at Princeton. I wrote "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" there.

Chat Participant: So let's say it's the "human condition" and not "Lethal Weapon 6." Is the novel a better route?

William Goldman: Yes! One hundred percent!

Chat Participant: That is the official movie of my drama department, and on behalf of my drama class I wish to thank you for being able to convey your imagination on paper.

William Goldman: That's really terrific. Thank you. You must understand something. If you are a writer, you live your life in a pit. And good news from your drama class is good to hear.

Chat Participant: (pit) of despair?

William Goldman: LOL

Chat Participant: Do you have a structured method for your writing - i.e. - write at a certain time of day, for a certain length of time, etc...?

William Goldman: This is my last answer. For any of you who are thinking of writing, almost the most important thing is to find a rhythm that works for you and never alter that. I knew a novelist who could only write on Sundays,

Chat Participant: one of the apostles?

William Goldman: And he wrote many fine novels. Try and remember this: It ain't about inspiration. It's about going into a room alone and doing it. I wish you joy.

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