When writers are at their best, they’re in a more-or-less constant state of flow, where ideas and connections and whole paragraphs pour forth from heretofore hidden recesses in the brain. When they’re not at their best – a much commoner state of being for most writers – the material still comes, but it’s stilted and unfinished, and the truly worthwhile stuff has to be sought and plucked from piles and piles of absolute crap.
Neither of these states is particularly responsive to scheduling. Notions arise in the shower, on the drive to work, on the verge of sleep. And sometimes our best writing moments come at unexpected – but always welcome – moments. One of the more amusing items in the WGF archive details one exec’s (probably futile) attempt to impose order on the chaos of creativity.
Apparently, Jack Warner didn’t really understand the unpredictable nature of creativity when he sent a memorandum to all writers on the Warner Brothers lot demanding that they work regular hours. Warner, who was known for having an aggressive management style, would never have been called popular among the studio’s creative staff (he reportedly banned actors from the studio’s dining room because the hell with actors, man).
“Certain writers have become very lax in the hours they keep at the studio, coming in late in the morning and leaving early in the afternoon” he wrote. “This is not true of all the writers, but it unfortunately makes it necessary for me to send out a general note of this nature.”
He goes on to demand that writers be stationed at their desks by 9:45 AM at the latest. “Even the elite in any other businesses come to work earlier than that,” he asserted.
The rest of this story is apocryphal, but it’s told in writerly circles often enough to feed our hopes that it’s true. If anyone out there has any confirmation, please share it with us.
After receiving the letter, Julius and Philip Epstein – they of the Casablanca script – asked Warner for a meeting to discuss a writing assignment they’d been given. Warner agreed to the meeting, and the twins visited his office.
“We have great news,” they told the studio chief. “We finally cracked the nut and figured out an ending for this screenplay we’re working on.”
“Great!” said Warner. “What is it?”
“We can’t tell you,” they said. “Because we came up with it at 8:30 this morning.”
At this point we like to imagine Warner turning red and spewing steam from his ears.