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Louis Gardel • Scriptwriter

Louis Gardel’s literary leanings


Winner of an Academy Award for Indochine, Louis Gardel has written great, classic screenplays, in the noble sense of the term. He describes for us his way of working, step by step.

Scriptwriting, a team sport
Louis Gardel never writes a script alone because he thinks that we "work better in numbers". This belief is undoubtedly rooted somewhere in the success of his first screenplay, an adaptation of his successful novel Fort Sagane, which won the Académie Française Grand Prix. He first worked on the script with Robert Enrico, who was supposed to direct the film, then with Alain Corneau who took it over. Writing with others is part of my pleasure of writing screenplays. It’s a very strong human relationship. I like discovering the personalities I work with. Then I test the ideas in vivo and it’s more efficient."

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With whom?
To start off on the adventure of writing a screenplay, the subject is important, of course. But the question that immediately follows is: Which director?” I’ve understood very well that a scriptwriter controls nothing at all and that, for the result to be good, for the film to measure up to what I dreamt, someone “strong” has to do it. I’m very attentive to that". Gardel belongs to this very private cast of scriptwriters who don’t dream of being directors.

What comes first
The characters, but especially the scenes. Gardel imagines the set, sees the characters, feels how the scene is going to be emotionally charged. But everything starts more or less at the same time. "Pieces of scenes, pieces of characters, it’s like a puzzle in my head and very quickly I end up with a first narrative structure."

The end … at the beginning!
At the cinema Gardel is often disappointed by the end, so he takes particular care when writing. "I really need to know, from the moment I begin writing, where the story is going, where it will lead to, what the dramatic or psychological resolution is, in short, what the end is. Even if that means changing the story while the work is in progress. "But without a beginning, there is no end. It’s elementary. The work at the beginning and the end are therefore connected. One feeds the other.

Version 1
Gardel develops with his co-writer a new, very detailed treatment, with much detail and many pieces of dialogue, but he doesn’t write it in a literary way because he won’t give this version to read. The writing is done by "bundles" of five to ten pages that he gives to his partners. In the time he takes to write five or ten following pages his partners are reading the previous bundle. The script advances, "by little bundles", with as many re-writes as necessary until coming up with a first version that is still much too long. "At this stage, I listen a lot to the director. I’m entirely at his service. I don’t try to impose my vision. Often the cuts he wants to make are not the ones I would spontaneously make." So begins a new session of work with everyone. After which comes a second, third and fourth version and so on.

Battle scenes and love scenes
Gardel regularly writes battle scenes and love scenes. In principle, the battle scenes are the prerogative of directing. But at the cinema, the viewer Gardel gets so bored during the scenes that the scriptwriter Gardel does his utmost to find scenes that are out of the ordinary, one or two good original ideas for the battles to be quite different from what we usually imagine. For the love scenes, he admits to being much more “shy”. “I’m a little puritan and at times when I read scenes written by others some of the details shock me. I say to myself that the actors won’t dare do that!"

We see every day that at the cinema we talk very little about scriptwriters, something which often frustrates Gardel. But as we have just seen, he adapts rather well to the situation and gladly hides behind the director and actors. "Live happy, live hidden" is his motto. That’s where he gets his freedom and pleasure of creating." From time to time, I get fits of egoism, asking “And me?”. But most of the time it makes me laugh to see them singing their praises and turning the situation to their own advantage! The combination between my shyness and my grief is a cocktail that makes me adapt rather well to the situation, the scriptwriter that I am!"

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