Casey Affleck, producer and co-star of The World to Come, has some thoughts on screenwriting that he jokes might land him in hot water with more seasoned screenwriters.
“Well, there are people who have spent way more time thinking about and writing screenplays than I have,” he explained on a recent episode of the MovieMaker podcast, where he was joined by co-star Katherine Waterston and director Mona Fastvold. “And I can hear their objections to what I’m about to say. But if you write more drafts, the writing gets better. Taking that time means that you’re going to have a more refined blueprint to start your movie with — it’s just more carefully done.”
Affleck is referring to the long writing process The World to Come went through with co-writers Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard.
Affleck knew author Ron Hansen from starring in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which writer-director Andrew Dominik adapted from Hansen’s novel. He approached Hansen about collaborating, and Hansen sent him two short stories from Jim Shepard. “The World to Come” was one of these stories. Together, over a long period, Hansen and Shepard adapted Shepard’s short into a feature.
The long writing process might be partly influenced by how long the film was in the development phase. Affleck joked: “It took about 12 years to get the financing, which was $673 to make the movie.”
“Everything that’s good: performances, director’s work, writing, whether it’s writing screenplays or writing novels — but it seems to me that everything that’s good is embedded. It’s what you don’t notice,” added Waterston. “And you can’t get there until you chip chip chip away at all the crap that’s showing off, and that isn’t deeply known or learned.”
Waterston’s ideas about the embedded nature of good art extended to Hansen and Shepard’s script.
“Why do some scripts jump out of us when we open them up? Why were Mona and I desperate to be a part of this? One thing is that you can just feel the difference when they’ve taken the time necessary and deeply considered something, and they know it well,” she said.
Some writers might not even be aware when they are showing off, but Waterston felt right away that this was not the case when she read The World to Come.
“These guys know so much about this period, but they’re not using the film to brag about it. It’s just in there in these subtle, delicate ways, and you can feel it in the film. And then Mona can use that as a road map to give us this texture that we then see on the screen and articulate that deep understanding in a visual way.”
The World to Come, directed by Mona Fastvold, and starring Casey Affleck and Katherine Waterston, is now available on VOD. Main image: Katherine Waterston and Casey Affleck in The World to Come.