“The origin of THE APARTMENT was my seeing the very fine picture by David Lean, BRIEF ENCOUNTER . It was the story of a man who is having an affair with a married woman and comes by train to London. They go to the apartment of a friend of his. I saw it and I said, ‘What about the guy who has to crawl into that warm bed…?’ That’s an interesting character.”
The above quote comes from Billy Wilder, describing to Cameron Crowe how he came up with the idea for his film THE APARTMENT.
In 1999, Crowe published a book called CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER, documenting his encounters and talks with the late-great writer/filmmaker, furnishing us with stories like the one above. Last week, when Crowe was here at the Library (before conversing with Winnie Holzman about his own writing life and process), he took the time to scribble a note in our copy of his book.
For regular visitors to the WGF Library, it’s no secret that you can sit amongst Wilder’s personal, bound copies of his scripts — and if you ask really nicely we might let you read one. As part of This Week’s Script Cavalcade, I’m doing my part to hail the maestro by telling you that if you choose to read one of these Wilder scripts, THE APARTMENT is a very nice place to start.
From imagining the unseen flunkee who lets his friend have an affair in his apartment in BRIEF ENCOUNTER, Wilder and his co-writer I.A.L Diamond create CC Baxter (or “Bud”), a corporate drone, who naively believes that if he lets his bosses use his apartment for their affairs, he’ll get a promotion.
Bud embodies the always-relevant notion that if you let other people take advantage of you without complaint, they’ll see what a deserving person you are and you’ll get ahead in the world. The problem is that Bud has let the higher-ups use him and abuse him for so long that he no longer has a sense of his own worth.
Even mother nature and the common cold take advantage of him:
To boot, Bud spends the majority of the script enamored with the elevator operator in his office building, Fran Kubelik. The plot genius at work is that Fran happens to be having an affair with the head of Bud’s company, who also wants to use his apartment.
The theme of the film pops up again and again and it’s particularly relevant today:
The specific wisdom that THE APARTMENT puts out into the world is that when we get “took,” we can find surprising solace in sharing rejection with people who understand because they’ve been there too.
Read how Bud and Fran find themselves alone together on Christmas. Without family, friends or lovers, all they have is each other and they form a makeshift bond. It creates a feeling of losing and winning at the same time. Without going into too much detail, Bud consoles Fran and makes her feel better after she’s attempted suicide by sleeping pills in his apartment.
Bud proves himself an everyman hero at every possible turn in the script. When his neighbors and Fran’s brother-in-law believe he’s the man who has broken Fran’s heart, he doesn’t contradict them, going so far as to take a punch for her. Ultimately, he learns that treating people well – no matter how much it hurts – is its own reward. For people who tell screen stories, there’s a lot to be gleaned from studying his every move.
It seems Cameron Crowe reveres this film and this script and has studied it thoroughly. It shows in films like JERRY MAGUIRE and ALMOST FAMOUS, especially in the relationships between Jerry and Dorothy and especially William Miller and Penny Lane.
In fact, movies like Wilder’s and Crowe’s endure because they feel like a person telling you a story like the one Bud tells Fran to make her feel better. They feel like a person telling you that you are not alone.
What better way to keep good company while you write than to read their encouraging words while sitting amongst fellow scribes in the WGF Library?
While you’re here, you can also read:
- Scripts from the entire first season of Netflix’s THE CROWN written by Peter Morgan
- The entire series run of HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS created by Damon Lindelof
- Gillian Robespierre‘s feature script OBVIOUS CHILD
- And a handful of scripts from Mike Schur‘s THE GOOD PLACE, including the pilot
And since you’ve stayed to the end of this post, I’ll leave you with the last, classic exchange from THE APARTMENT.