Writer/Director Noah Baumbach Discusses While We’re Young

In writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest film While We're Young, a middle-aged couple’s marriage and career are turned upside down when a disarming twenty-something couple enters their lives. Thematically, the film centers on age – growing up and growing older in one’s relationship and career, as well as taking ownership of one’s life.

I asked Noah Baumbach about his writing process on While We're Young and how strictly he stuck to the script as the director.

Baumbach smiles and states: “My writing process is not going on the Internet.” More serious now, he continues: “I have to spend a lot of time on the script – for me, and for the actors. I stick close to the script when shooting. Scripts are a blueprint of a film. Actors bring their own interpretations. Going on set with actors on location you discover even more about the characters. Knowing that you are going to discover something else about the characters on location is something I have to acknowledge. I think about how it is going to be when they are in a certain location, how they are going to react. As the director, you’re guiding and controlling what you can.”

When asked about Jamie’s character (played by Adam Driver) Baumbach responds to the line in the film about Jamie: “He’s not evil. He’s just young.” Baumbach states: “I think that’s true. He is who he is.”

Jamie is a complex antagonist. He shoots a documentary in which the truth of the main subject’s “story” is put into question. The fact that the film is good – whether or not it is truth or a lie – adds a thought-provoking layer of conflict to the characters’ relationships.   

In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays I write:

Antagonists do not have to be villains, but they must demonstrate some type of opposition to the protagonist’s goals. They can be ruthless, mask their true intentions, relentless, selfish, manipulating, deceiving, scheming, and their loyalties are often questionable. Antagonists can also be tragic characters or can present themselves as noble or righteous. Readers love to hate antagonists! They want to see fully developed and compelling antagonists, who are emotionally complex, mysterious, vulnerable, smart, and/or have a sense of humor. Predictable and/or one-dimensional antagonists are dull!  

Jamie has an agenda, which becomes increasingly more evident as the plot unfolds. His youth, his age, offers a level of forgiveness for his actions. Jamie is indeed who he is.  

All the main characters are flawed and vulnerable with distinct personalities, which make them empathetic and relatable.  

As Noah Baumbach states about the characters in his film, “Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do.”

When writing your script, take the time to develop your characters and consider Baumbach’s advice and spend the time on writing your screenplay. “Know when your screenplay is ready to be a movie.”

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Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at SUNY College at Purchase and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. (www.su-city-pictures.com). Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Susan’s latest book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, is available at $1.00 off on https://www.createspace.com/3558862 using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD.  On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/

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