Building a 'Castle'
Amid all the talk of writing, creating, building, doing, funding, and pitching going on at Austin Film Festival this week, at least two writers want to remind you that sometimes what you don't say is just as important as what you do.
In front of a packed Citadel room crowd on Saturday morning, Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller dissected pieces of the season four finale of Castle, their ABC hit starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic now in its sixth season. Though the talk was put on in conjunction with the Writers Guild Foundation's Scribble-to-Screen exhibit, Marlowe and Miller elected to do this one backwards: from screen to scribble.
The duo kicked off their talk by airing the scene from the season finale that finally put Castle (Fillion) and Beckett (Katic) in a liplock. After four seasons dancing around the will-they-won't-they tension, the show needed to get the two together. But that's a lot of pressure. You can blame the Moonlighting Curse for some of that and social media for some too – "We see your tweets," Miller said.
Fans of the show needed no refresher of the passionate scene, complete with rumbling thunderstorms in the background and shadows cast just so. But when Marlowe and Miller decided to screen an extended version of the scene (which never aired and, if everyone in the room keeps their promise, will never surface online either, due to studio kickback), we really started to see behind the curtain.
They'd written the scene, they'd shot the damn thing, so why not show it? Well, they decided the kiss was as good as it got, and audiences could be trusted to fill in the blanks themselves. "You have the opportunity to rewrite again in the editing room," Marlowe explained. "Taking away is often additive."
From there, they dove backwards through the process of creating an episode, always tying back to that theme of editing and culling: They'd create more than they had room for – timewise or spacewise or budgetwise – in every step of the process, and then slowly carve away until the final product was the strongest possible scene.
Many writers are precious about their work, and they grow attached to lines that, in the end, just aren't a sustainable part of the best work. But so often, those first drafts just overdo it: You start at a cliche, Marlowe explained, before your over-pared second draft dips into "anticliche, which is just as cliche"; it's not until you "throw away the stuff you love," as Miller put it, that you can start to get at the heart of the moment.
According to Marlowe, this all stems back to the fact that while film is the descendent of silence, TV spawned from radio, putting an overly talkative framework on the medium from the get-go. But if you can learn to "trust the power of the visual," that's when the magic happens.
In this duo's case, the already-difficult editing process is made slightly more complicated by one tiny detail: Marlowe and Miller are married. "We're each other's favorite people, but we're also both very opinionated," Marlowe explained. "Early on, it's very Mars/Venus." And while you have to give your spouse notes, "you want them to talk to you at the end of the day." Striking a balance between "you're crazy" and tact ("or not!" Miller chimed in) makes this all a "painful, wonderful, frustrating, maddening process" for them.
One thing that makes it a little easier? Their lovely sense of humor and kindness, clearly on display throughout the panel. As one would start to interrupt the other, for example, it turned into a scene straight out of The Goofy Gophers, as they'd trip over each other trying to let the other go first. Or when the audience was captivated by a heartrending scene between Castle and Beckett, Marlowe cheerfully added in some commentary to lighten the mood: "Oh snap!" The writers don't have a problem making fun of their own early drafts either – at least now that they know how good the final result was.
And that's really what it all boiled down to: "Give yourself permission to write poorly," Marlowe said. And really, what better advice is there for a room of aspiring writers? Writing poorly is something anyone can do. It just takes practice – plus a good combination of "collaboration, friends, and time" – to build something worth sharing. In the case of these two, they have a whole Castle's worth.
The Austin Film Festival runs through Oct. 31. Follow along with all our coverage at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.