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New York Conversations:

Budd Schulberg
Paul Schrader
Richard Price
David Newman

The Storytellers:

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Sergio Donati
New York Conversations: Budd Schulberg
28 September 1998
by Mikael Colville-Andersen

[These interview transcripts are a part of conversations with screenwriters at the Hotel Chelsea in New York and at Vassar College. The interviews are published in the book 'New York Conversations', by Mikael Colville-Andersen]

Preamble before the screening of 'On The Waterfront':
About 50 years ago, if someone had offered me a bet of 1000 to 1 that we would be talking about this movie in 1998, way back in '51 and '52, I would have taken that bet.

When I saw the other day on a list that our old movie was in the top ten, at number 7 or 8, as one of the best pictures of all time, I thought again about tripping to Hollywood - Kazan and me, Kazan who directed this film, who already won an Academy Award for A Gentleman s Agreement - all the way out telling me what a great script we had. He was saying we were so lucky because I had Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams Streetcar and I think that is one the best three scripts I've ever had.
And I was worried... I told him I was worried about coming back (to Hollywood). I told him I didn't think they would like it out there.

Kazan was annoyed with me. I ll try to make it brief, but we got off the... we actually went by train... and there was no one to meet us and I said, "Kaz, there s no limo". Now Kazan is a very down to earth guy and he said "we don t need a limo, I hate limos".

So we went up to the Beverly Hills Hotel and got there, checked in and no invitations from Daryl Zanuck - it was a film to be made for Zanuck - no invitation to come down to Palm Springs and play croquet. I said "there s no invitation to play croquet".

Kazan says "I HATE croquet!"

And we went up to the room, we had a little suite, and there weren't no flowers. I looked around and didn't see no flowers. And I said, "Kaz, we have no flowers". Kazan says, "What it is with you, I don t need flowers. To hell with the flowers".

And I said, "Kaz, you come from New York, I come from Hollywood. And I know the unspoken language of Hollywood and Zanuck is telling us something. Kazan didn't believe me. But the following Monday, when Daryl Zanuck met us, raving about Cinemascope, he said "I m so excited, I m so excited, we have this great new medium, Cinemascope, he said that s the great thing about our business. First it was flickers, and the films jumped, and then we learned how to make them more smoothly. And then we had colour and then we had sound and now we have the Cinemascope.
Kazan and I looked at each other because we had written that this film should be something in flat black and white.

As he went on about what could be done, he said, "Can you imagine what Prince Valiant would look like in Cinemascope?"

And finally Kazan said, "Daryl, what about our picture?"

There was a long, pregnant pause and Mr. Zanuck said, "Boys, I m sorry, but I don t like a single thing about it".

And I think I was quiet and Kazan said not a single thing.

He said, "Whatta ya got except a bunch of sweaty longshoremen". And that stabbed me in the heart because when Kazan came to talk with me about doing this movie, I went down on the Lower West Side, in the Chelsea area - you'll see some of that experience up here in the movie - and I got involved with and amazing man, one of the most amazing I ever met, the waterfront priest - Father John Corridon.

I mean, we've learned now that the ILA - the International Longshoreman s Association - was totally in the hands of the mob. They were killers and thieves. Corridon was really filling the vacuum and trying to guide the rebel longshoremen into making some effort to win back their young and make a real living.

This went on for several years and I hung in with these people. I love these people and when Zanuck said that all you got is a lot of sweaty longshoremen... my heart was broken.

After that, every studio in town, had the same reaction. We went to Warner s, Paramount, MGM, every single one said no. They wouldn't make the picture. And as I said... what we were talking about a few minutes ago... one thing that really warmed me to Kazan... and I tried, I really tried... and I turned on him. Back at the hotel... I was so mad.

I had spent about two years, I had actually mortgaged my farm, I was going broke doing this movie... and I turned on him and I said, "Goddamit, I told you there weren't going to make this movie".

And Kazan said, "Budd, I promise I'll make it. I have to get on the docks with a handheld IMO and use the actual longshoremen - the rebel longshoremen who were working with Ed Xavier and some of the actors out of the (Actor s) Studio and make this movie. And that s pretty much how it was made - I won t go in for the details, we can talk later. It really was the longest of the longshots. It was almost accidental that the movie ever got made at all. It was a longshot.

It was all shot in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from the Manhattan West Side docks. It was made for 800,000 dollars and it was shot in 37 days. And every single night, every single night, twelve o clock, one o clock, two o clock my phone would ring and it would be our producer, Sam Speigel and he would say, "Budd, you've got to make them go faster, you've got to make them go faster".

So, the film was a film that was almost like our own film, that nobody would like so we would say to each other, "oh well, it doesn't matter that nobody likes it, at least we like it".
And so, I m really pleased that you re here to see the movie and that there s still that much interest in it after all these years. Enjoy the film.

After the screening - Fielding Questions:

Question: What were the initial reactions after the film was made?

Budd Schulberg: Our producer, Sam Speigel, was still very worried. Columbia had looked at it and they didn't like it. So Sam Speigel got the idea that maybe it needed some kind of lift, and he got Bernstein to do the score for the film. It was the only one that he ever wrote and he did a terrific job. And when we got all those Oscar nominations and we won... all those Oscars, we were really amazed that Bernstein was left out completely. But the score wasn't left out, it'll always be there. Occasionally it s played in philharmonic programs and it was the only one he did and he did one hell of a job at that.

Question: In most modern films, the score fades into the background, but in your film the score is right up in front. Was that Speigel, or was that your choice?

Budd Schulberg: That was in the mixing. As the writer of the picture, as much as I admired the score, there were times that I thought it was maybe it was a little bit... too loud. (laughter)

Question: I know it s a general question, but how do you approach writing dialogue. Is there a certain method that you use?

Budd Schulberg: One thing you do in writing dialogue is that you make up as little of it as you can and you listen as much as you can. Watching it this evening, I was reminded how many times something in there was not really written by me, I simply wrote down what they were actually saying.

The scene in the hold, after Doogan gets killed, Father Barry comes down and when he talks about Christ and the shake-up, that was something that I actually heard. When I heard the real waterfront priest talk about that Christ is here and he carries a hook and he sees the men who get passed over and who gets the jobs and the wine and I was just so amazed by it that I just had to try and put this old sermon, or whatever you call it, in the film.

Dialogue, you try to build your characters... if you try to get an idea about who you re writing about, then you listen to that person or those people. When Charlie gets killed, the ordinary cliché ¦or Terry would be "I'll get 'em or I'll kill ''em" or something like that, but I actually heard a longshoreman say "I'll take it out of their skulls!". And it just rang a bell, a loud bell, that that s the line I should use. I won t use "I'll get em if it s the last thing I do" or some such line, I'll say what I heard my friend the longshoreman say, "I'll take it out of their skulls".

So, a lot of dialogue comes out of listening, carefully, to the characters and getting an ear for how they talk and plus, you have to shape your scenes and build your scenes on all of that. I find it very, very valuable, I think.

Filmography for Budd Schulberg

© Mikael Colville-Andersen 2006-2011