My whole weekend went by listening to the Hungarian-American script writer, Joe Eszterhas at a `master course` in screenwriting. I basically spent my weekend with studying, but I don`t regret any moment of it. He was born in Hungary, but his family immigrated to the United States at a very young age and by being opened to the world, he could learn the language fast. Over time his strong Hungarian accent went away and Eszterhas gained reputation in Hollywood with his original screenplays. He made the American dream come true.
On Saturday, we started by watching Eszterhas` probably most successful creation – which has been written in 13 days – Basic Instinct (1992). The movie has a provocative plot with plenty twists, completely original at that time, eager enough to show erotic scenes, bisexuality and sociopathy on the big screen. Eszterhas himself said after the screening, that no one could write such a successful erotic thriller since Basic Instinct. The second sequel of the film (that has nothing to do with Eszterhas besides that he created the characters) got censorious criticism, and both Eszterhas and his film producer friend, Andrew G. Vajna told the audience that it shouldn`t have been made.
There was another screening in the evening, a film that is very special to Joe Eszterhas, Music Box (1989). He reckons that it`s one of his favorites of his own works. It has a lot in common with his own life. It`s about a family that immigrated to the US and decades after World War II, the father is accused of having been a war criminal. He denies every accusation, and asks her lawyer daughter to defend him. At the end of the story we got to know that he has really been involved in Nazism and her daughter, horrified about the actions her father did, cuts every connection with him. The irony of fate is that years after the movie had been made, Eszterhas` father has also been charged with involvement in Nazi crimes during World War II. He never forgave him, didn`t even said goodbye at his father`s death-bed. This attitude also shows up in his works, the stubbornness and the passion.
Throughout the days he spoke about his working style, tried to explain the method he uses when writing, but also added that it`s different with every person. There`s no secret to what he does, he feels it in his gut if he writes something special, but if he has any sensation that something is just not right, he drops those parts, no matter how long he had been working on them. He tries to write every day for a few hours, and when he has a writer`s block, he stops and does something else, like taking a walk. Sometimes this block lasts for weeks, and these times he reads through the script and figures out why he can`t move on. He jokingly added that he also has a stone at his desk engraved `Writer`s Block` and when he throws it back, something always breaks.
He treats his characters as his children and when someone (directors, actors – anyone) tries to change something, he defends his writing as long as he can. He sincerely spoke about his fellow workers, directors, Sharon Stone, Mel Gibson and his relationship with his father. He is very sensitive when people ask him about his father, but he was open about it, just like in any questions that he got. The audience could ask him anything, and he always tried to give the best advice that he could.
He left one really important advice to the end of the course, that makes one a better writer (or person after all): We are Hungarians and we`re not lazy. Don`t be lazy!
Barbara Farkas – student of the Budapest Film Academy
The Screenwriting Master Class continued, this time with Joe Eszterhas, and as a Budapest Film Academy student I got the chance once again to visit the event. I was always a big fan of Basic Instinct, and to meet its writer who happens to be a fellow Hungarian was a great pleasure.
When Joe Eszterhas arrived, he opened with a heart-warming speech in Hungarian, then the Q&A began just like last time. However, he didn’t just answer the questions, he really managed to engage with the audience, even getting to know a few of us (the paradigm guy, the “just a quick follow-up question” guy).
We got the same amount of interesting Hollywood stories as last time with Oliver Stone, but Joe talked a lot more about writing and about us young writers, giving us more advice then to just “write everyday”.
In overall, it was a really great event, and although I can’t wait for the next one, whoever comes, it will be hard to top Joe Eszterhas.
Budapest Film Academy student