Week 18 – Jean-Claude Carrière

“In a certain way every narration is a conspiracy.”

Pascal Bonitzer

In week 18 we will talk about Jean-Claude Carrière and Pascal Bonitzer and their book >Praxis des Drehbuchschreibens<. IMDB lists 143 credits for Carrière as a writer until today. He often co-writes his scripts with his directors. For Pascal Bonitzer IMDB lists 55 credits as a writer. Since 1996 he has also been directing films.

As you can see in the appendix, I’ve been reading quite a few books on screenwriting over the years. And believe it or not, most of them tell you the same. So I was astonished and thrilled to find a book that was totally different in every aspect: >Praxis des Drehbuchschreibens< (Jean-Claude Carrière & Pascal Bonitzer) and >Über das Geschichten erzählen< (Jean-Claude Carrière). Surprisingly you will hardly find the words ‚’protagonist’ & ’antagonist’, ’turning point’, ’climax’ and even the ’three-act structure’ in the course of his book.

As far as I can see, there is no English version of this book until now, perhaps one of the reasons it is hardly known. There is only the original French version and a Spanish one. So what it is about? It is about storytelling and offers a lot of insight into their process of developing a story. But there are also a lot of useful tips about the creative process itself, how to train this muscle that we call imagination on a daily basis.

When it comes to storytelling their starting point surprisingly (you may say) is a moral and ethical question: Can the one who I am talking to, benefit from what I will tell him?

The book is full of exercises and examples of a very unconventional thinking. I will give you some examples – think about it!

  • Find openings for films and stories, change openings of existing films.
  • Find out more about the origin of myths.
  • To tell means to present an event.
  • Don’t announce what you will see – don’t tell, what you already have seen.
  • Every dramatic incident must be both unexpected and unavoidable.
  • Imagine scenes and movements in films as doors you walk through, and doors you close.
  • A script is the first version of a film.
  • Abstract and simplify literature and short stories!
  • It is preferable to know the end of a story – if it is but to avoid it!
  • Feelings must create events, not the other way round!
  • A story has many dimensions; there is also a foreground, a background and an aside.
  • Don’t show everything, don’t explain everything.
  • A story that you tell is different from one you hear. (Ingmar Bergman: >Persona<)
  • The hidden is better than the unseen.
  • To fascinate the audience it is enough to perform mysteriously: Characters are acting, but the audience doesn’t understand the meaning of the actions immediately.
  • Learn to observe the details of everyday life, what authenticity means. Observe and immediately create little stories.
  • Even if you work by yourself, you are several (as if you would work within a group).
  • A scriptwriter sees a film, a plot everywhere.

As you can see in my selection of films especially Jean-Claude Carrière has been working with many quiet different directors. Try to find – while watching – some of his above mentioned strategies in these films.

Your turn!

1. Have a look at these videos with and about Jean-Claude Carrière:




2. Play a game of the Surrealists: tell a scene in 25 variations!

3. Ask professionals and shop owners about a certain topic you are interested in.

4. Take whatever photo and ask yourself: is there a hidden story behind it?

5. Watch a film with your friends. Afterwards everyone is supposed to write down a description, a summary. Compare!

6. Another group exercise: give all of your friends the same 10 photos, but in a different sequence. Let everyone design a story out of them.

7. Develop a story out of one sentence, for instance: „Tom left the building at 5pm without having called his younger sister…”

8. Watch pedestrians, try to find a story for each of them, a tragic one and a funny one.

Films to watch

(Scripts by Jean-Claude Carrière & Pascal Bonitzer)

Luis Buñuel

  • The Phantom of Liberty (1974) IMDB

Jacques Deray

  • La piscine (1969) IMDB

Jean Luc Godard

  • Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) IMDB

Atiq Rahimi

  • The Patience Stone (2012) IMDB

Jacques Rivette

  • La belle noiseuse (1991) IMDB

Juan Carlos Rulfo / Natalia Gil Torner

  • Carrière, 250 metros (2011) IMDB

Volker Schlöndorff

  • The Tin Drum (1979) IMDB

Fernando Trueba

  • The Artist and the Model (2012) IMDB

Daniel Vigne

  • Le retour de Martin Guerre (1982) IMDB

Andrzej Wajda

Wayne Wang

  • Chinese Box (1997) IMDB