July 30, 2012

inspired: kenneth lonergan interview

I recently caught an interview with playwright/director/writer/actor Kenneth Lonergan on NPR's program "Fresh Air." Interviewer Terry Gross discussed his film "Margaret," just released on DVD in two different versions: a theatrical release and an extended cut. At one point in the interview, Ms. Gross notes that the two DVD versions differ significantly from one another, not only in scene edits but also in music choices and placement. She inquires about the tedium of this process and the thousands of choices it must have required of him. Here is his reply to that question, along with one further interview question and reply:
KL: "It's very daunting. You can't really do it if you don't have an internal track you're following. And when you lose that track, my feeling - my definition of technique, whatever that means - is to use your conscious mind to slowly and stupidly find its way back to your unconscious mind, where all the really intelligent and interesting and meaningful thoughts and feelings come from. But you can't edit or write line by line. I was listening to a Beethoven symphony at the time I was editing and at one point I was very frustrated, and I was like, 'How does he decide every single note? There are so many notes in the symphony!' And then I thought, 'Well, you dummy, of course he doesn't decide every single note, he hears it in his head, and he writes it down.' And that's where you try to get..." 
TG: "OK, so if you feel that way, it must be very difficult when someone else intervenes or somebody else tries to logically tell you why you made the wrong decision, if you are working from your gut. But then you have to defend it rationally as opposed to intuitively. It can get difficult, right?"
KL: "Yes, and if you haven't found it yourself yet, and that happens, it sometimes can prevent you from finding it for months, whether it's a positive comment or a negative comment. If I'm in the middle of trying to decide whether to include a scene or not and someone tells me they love it, then next time I go back to it, instead of having a private relationship with it, I keep thinking, 'Oh my God, Josh said he loved that scene! It must be very good, I must keep it in.' And the scene maybe should be cut. And of course the opposite happens. It's even stronger if you put in a piece of music and you're not sure about it and someone walks in and says, 'Boy that music isn't doing any favors.' Suddenly that's what you hear in your head. I'm particularly - I don't like to use the word 'defensive,' because I don't think it's accurate or fair - but 'protective' of the material as best I can be, because you have enough of your own bad ideas to wade through without other people coming and joining in." 
I am fascinated by his thoughts on these aspects of the creative process, his belief in finding the most true answers within his own unconscious mind. I have been thinking about this idea a lot since I heard the interview, and I am inspired to continue to dig deeper within my own creative self to discover my answers, too. Do you believe, like he does, that the most true answers are located within, and that this internal process needs protecting?

I am definitely curious to see "Margaret," as well as his previous film "You Can Count On Me," after hearing this interview! Have any of you seen it? You can hear the entire interview here.


  1. If you want to learn more about the creative process and haven't checked out the book Imagine How Creativity Works by John Lehrer already it would probably be worth your while. I plan to pick up a copy and read it during my sabbatical after my postdoc residency. His thoughts on the creative process are intriguing and ring true with me. I heard the full interview with him on All Things Considered on NPR a while ago. You can read about it and listen to an excerpt here: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/19/148777350/how-creativity-works-its-all-in-your-imagination

    Here is a quote from it: And what scientists have found is that when people are relaxed, they're much more likely to have those big 'A ha!' moments, those moments of insight where these seemingly impossible problems get solved.

    This is so true. During me and Ryan's epic cross the country and down the West Coast roadtrip in summer 2010 I planned to make myself write with my computer in the car, but found that what I really needed to do was just gaze out the window and daydream. When I was relaxed I had a ton of A ha moments and jotted down a bunch of character development and plot ideas in my journal. This is how I came up with the bulk of the ideas that will be the base for the second half of my book when I finally make the time this Fall to write it.

    I have been enjoying your writing and look forward to reading your posts each morning during my commute to work when I am stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge. Keep them coming! Xoxo

    1. Hi Jan!

      Thanks for your thoughts and recommendations! The book 'Imagine: How Creativity Works' has come up like four different times and places for me in the last couple of weeks, so I will definitely have to look into it more! Sounds like a fascinating read! My main goal for this vacation we just took was to enjoy the quieter, slower, more random flow of creativity and inspiration, and to rest both my body and mind. It has been really therapeutic! I hope I will continue to glean many, many moments of clarity and 'Aha!'s' to come in days and weeks to follow.

      It is so great that you have your sabbatical to look forward to - I hope it will provide SO much time to relax and create and soak up even more inspiration!

      Thanks again for reading and sharing!! xoxo