Our Hidden History Radio Show | Chapter 27 The Spanish Inquisition
At the same time, the American screenwriter and director working in Moscow is amazed at the number of talented young people.
MOSCOW – Writer, director and producer Paul Brown is teaching a course at the Moscow branch of the New York Film Academy for the eighth time. He is famous not only for his works: scripts for the series “The X-Files”, “Quantum Leap”, “Star Trek”, “The Twilight Zone”. But also the fact that his seminars begin in the morning and end only a week later. Paul Brown is also famous for demanding absolute sincerity from his students..
Everything is fair. Brown is the first to put his feelings on the table. In a lesson that the Voice of America correspondent was able to visit, the student asked Brown to give an example for a new exercise.
“In Russia, I often come across the mentality:“ It didn’t work out for me. I failed. ” I always say: no, you tried it! … It is this freedom, the freedom to try and not be ashamed of it, I try to leave here, in my students ”
Paul Brown, American screenwriter, director, and producer.
“An example… Let’s take an example from my life,” Brown said simply. – The most important in life. I have always thought that the most important thing for me is freedom. And now I am revising my definition of freedom. I travel so much that I understand that, in fact, the main thing for me is different. And this is a very difficult process … “.
Paul Brown says that in his first class with students, he often does an exercise called “Tell me some truth.”.
“Imagine, the students meet for the first time, they don’t know each other. And I don’t ask them about education, work, any details of their life. Because this whole biography is often not at all who you really are, inside. In the truth exercise, I ask you to write and tell a monologue. On the stage. Telling, not acting, it’s important.
I am asking you to tell something that you have always wanted to say to someone, but you have never had the courage to do it. Or you just couldn’t do it. I ask you to tell it right now.
We go on stage, where there are two chairs, opposite each other. I ask five questions: Who are you? For example, it can be: this is me at 12 years old. Or at any other moment in your life. Even in the future. I ask: who are you talking to? It could be a father, a girl who bullied you at school, someone you had a crush on. Or even a cat! We had an amazing monologue with a cat! Then I ask: where are you? And it could be home, school, hospital, whatever. I ask because where you are determines how you behave. “You are where you are”, perhaps you can put it like this. The last two questions do not need to be answered aloud, but you need to know the answer. You can simply say: you will see everything. These questions are: “What is the conflict?” And “what do you want?”.
You can ask for forgiveness. You can confess something. Tell a secret. Someone speaks to his father, said that he would never forgive that he broke the life of the family. Someone confesses how a chance meeting changed his whole life. This is a very difficult exercise, because inside, each of us resists such sincerity. But if a student allows himself this, then the result can be amazing. I still cannot forget some of the stories. They stayed with me forever. Sincerity can be amazing. It captures everyone around. And it brings you closer. Because you see people throwing off their masks. And real beauty is always inside, under this mask.
This is a real miracle that is happening before your eyes. And many at this very moment understand: this is why we are here “.
After the class, Paul Brown talked about his work in Moscow. During the conversation, he gets carried away, begins to tell stories of students, scenes, ideas. He acts it out instantly, pulling you into a small new reality that only lasts a minute..
Paul Brown: For all the time I worked in Russia, I had only one group, which had, so to speak, “the Soviet mentality”. Closed. With very limited vision. It was a completely new experience for me. The vast majority of students are usually very open to new things and want to learn. Every time I am amazed at how much they are willing to work. Almost everyone has a higher education, many have moved to cinema from another profession. Yesterday I was at the screenings of films by students of our Academy. One of them made an amazing film about Auschwitz. He shot this film in four different countries. And he started with just a thousand dollars. But his idea was so good that they helped him everywhere, gave him money, equipment. It seems that in total in this film, in the end, more than 400 people took part. And this is just a short film! It was such a powerful and lively idea. Another student, from Russia, was chosen to go to America and shoot a short film there with Kevin Spacey. Now he works in television with great, new ideas. Over the past four years, many of those who have taken courses have worked in the profession. Even my former translator is now working on scripts for the show “The Eighties”.
Anastasia Laukkanen: Do you feel any changes during your work in Moscow?
P.B .: I must say that only four years ago, when people came to the courses, they had ambitions, but many believed that it was too difficult to really work in the profession, that it was impossible to break through. This has now changed. And in this I see our mission, including. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, these students are the future, they have a chance to change the future. If you believe that something is impossible, it will become your truth. But if you believe that something is possible, then you will begin to act to make it possible, and you yourself will make it your own destiny. I believe in it.
Although, of course, I am not saying that all students are required to write a large script. But you can try. And even with a small budget, you can make a short movie and learn a lot. And then try again. You start to build something, and now, you are already building your own career..
A.L .: Is there a difference between Russian and American students? What they want to learn and what they want to learn from you?
P.B .: American students have more faith that they can do anything. This is a real slogan: “Yes, I can!”. But one thing strikes me about Russian students … They seem to have more really good stories. A lot of American students work with completely typical topics, with clichés such as zombies, the apocalypse, some kind of crime. I try to dissuade them from this. They don’t tell anything new. These stories mean little. And I am really amazed at the quality of the stories I see here in Russia.
In my seminars, students do more than just write scripts. I ask them to stage and play themselves in their scenes. Of course, we involve professional actors from the Moscow Art Theater, the Shchukin School, or GITIS. We have an interesting mix of new writers, directors and actors. They help each other. And the results of these workshops are sometimes phenomenal..
Often students come up to me and say: but I can’t play, I’m a writer. And I answer: but I need you to play in your scene. How do you know you can’t play if you haven’t tried? And I’m not kidding, sometimes we saw the strongest acting from those who were sure that he had no acting inclinations. I am not saying that everyone should become an actor. I am not selling this dream. But I want people to explore all the possibilities within themselves. Discover new things in yourself. And I’m ready to work with them.
A.L .: And the students here do not think “Yes, I can”?
P.B .: In Russia, I often come across the mentality: “It didn’t work out for me. I failed. ” I always say: no, you tried it! Now look at what happened, and why, what did not work, and why. Then fix it. And try again. It is this freedom, the freedom to try and not be ashamed of it, that I try to leave here in my students.
A.L .: And you yourself learned this philosophy from experience, or you had it from the very beginning?
P.B .: No, I learned this. But I had great teachers. This does not mean that they never fought. If I did something wrong, they shouted: “What is this ?!” And we all laughed at how outraged the teacher was. Therefore, if you did a bad job, they let you know about it. They don’t want you to come back on stage next week and show you no one knows what. They want you to do your job well, but they understand how difficult it is..
I myself often shout at seminars! But the students laugh when I scream. And they know that I am angry so that they work better. So that they are not lazy and do not do stupid things. By the way, you know, the students told me that some teachers in Russia said they were “stupid.” You don’t need to do this. I never do that.
A.L .: What does it take to write a good story? What students should be looking at?
P.B .: I tell my students that film stories should be universal. And I also tell them that their own lives are enough to write an amazing story..
After all, a lot is hidden behind you alone. Remember, I was talking about the exercise with the truth. You can see it there. There is always a “public” you that you show to the world. There is a “real” you, who you really are. Our fantasies, dreams, fears. There is a “blind” you. This is what others see in us, but we do not. And the last you are the “unrevealed” you. “Unknown yet” you.
In a good story, we see how all four facets of the hero are revealed. And sometimes the unrevealed self comes by itself. This is a real revelation for both the actor and the viewer..
A.L .: But telling the truth is the hardest part?
P.B .: You’re right. It’s hard to even witness true sincerity. It’s easy to see the actors cry. Because they cry effortlessly. But in ordinary life, we try our best not to cry. We’re holding back. It is this struggle with oneself that is so difficult to look at. And she’s the one that touches our heart so.
And I can tell from my experience of working in Russia. The Russians hold back for so long to tell, to reveal something to you. But when they do it, you just lose your head. These are so strong stories and sincere emotions..