Actor/writer/musician Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola get along well, at least that was the obvious impression I got from Schwartzman at the A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III‘s press day. They’ve collaborated many times in the past, which seems to be a collaboration that Schwartzman is completely gung ho for. For Schwartzman, the more (good) cooks in the kitchen, the better.
Since A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III deals with an artistic roadblock – and as did the last movie Coppola directed, CQ - it felt like the right opportunity to discuss Schwartzman’s own creative process. Here’s what one of the many stars of Charles Swan had to say about his collaborative nature, why fancy notebooks won’t help you, and problem solving:
Do you enjoy talking about your work?
I don’t “like” talking about myself, but I do like the idea of promoting a movie. If you believe in the movie, it’s nice to go and talk about the movie. It’s great having people’s time to listen so I can talk about it. I read a lot of interviews with other people, and I feel like I learn a lot from them about movies. I like interviews.
Plus, an indie like this needs press days.
Exactly. I mean, Roman worked so hard on this movie. He wrote it for eight years, off and on. He was there for all of us, so it was up to us to be there for him.
This is the second time you’ve worked with him as a director and you’ve both collaborated on a script before. Is it rare finding a creative partner like that, who you seem pretty in sync with?
Yeah. By nature, I am collaborative. Every dinner I have at a restaurant the waiter and I come up with what I’m going to eat together. I feel like it’s all a giant collaboration. I love learning from people and talking to people. When you get around certain people, for whatever reason, the conversation can get boring and die. Then there are these people you talk to who naturally start spit-balling these ideas with and you have these great conversations.
Roman is an optimist who works harder than anyone I know. When you know the sky is the limit with him, it does feel like you can do anything. He facilitates a collaborative discussion, just by his nature. We’ve worked on a lot of things and we tend to work very quickly. He just brings out ideas. We did this New Yorker iPad commercial thing where we started off with very little, but then we’d go, “Wait, how about this or how about that? Yeah, then we can do this trick and have you to do this!” You know what I mean? He knows low-budget ways to do incredible things. If you can think of it, he can do it!
I mean, his love of movies, objects, cars, people, and music is so genuine. Like, if you were to walk up to him and grab stuff out of his pocket, I’d guarantee it’d be notes like, “Look up this! Research this! What does that mean? ‘Interesting word.’” All day long he’s just interested in things.
Since you’re a writer yourself, do you write down things to research as well?
No, I am terrible. I underline things. One of my New Year’s resolutions was keeping a notepad in my pocket. Typically I’d go like, “Oh, that’s a cool thing! Ah, fuck it…” I tend to not value things as much. I can’t tell you how many notebooks I buy, pull out, and say, “Wait, no, this notebook is nicer than that idea.” I get too precious with it all, but now I got a real cheap piece of shit notebook so if a terrible idea goes in there it won’t ruin it.
[Laughs] The last time we spoke you said you write an hour a day–
I still do that. I just don’t keep the notes and stuff. With music, if I don’t play piano, I find my fingers will get…I know people who are real professional piano players who practice everyday, because they don’t want to use their faculty…wait, facility? Which one do I want to use?
Facility. Yeah, they don’t want to lose their facility or their faculty, because they love their teachers. For me, when I write everyday I try writing music for two hours. Sometimes it’s good or it’s bad, but I’ve noticed that if I take enough time off I just hate it, start to feel weird, and gets harder to get back into it. When you keep doing it, you feel good and flexible.
During that time are you only working on music? Are you working on any scripts?
Both. I try to do as much as I can. I usually do music after dinner and other stuff during the day.
Any particular reason why after dinner?
When I record music I do banker’s hours. When I write music I do night time, because it feels quieter, dark, and better for me. Honestly, all my rules have changed since my baby was born. Now I just do music whenever I can [Laughs].
[Laughs] I understand. When you, Wes, and Roman were writing Darjeeling Limited you spent a lot of time on trains. How often do you do that, try to experience whatever a character or song goes through?
I think it’s a combo of experiencing it and the other half you see what you want to experience. Like, it’s your fantasy. When Roman and Wes were asked if Moonrise Kingdom happened to them, they said they “wished” it happened to them. I don’t know if it’s important you know it, but it’s important if you know it at some point, whether it happened or not. I don’t think that if you write about a murderer you need to know what it’s like to murder somebody, for me at least. I like to be surrounded by stuff, but I just like the whole ritual of writing and stuff. If I’m writing I like putting pictures on a wall, play music, and have a playlist just for the writing. I don’t think that’s a necessity, but it helps you get in a mood.
The place I like to write is near Amoeba Records and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to write something about Brazil and go, “Okay…page 1…Brazil…okay…I need to go to Amoeba records and get some Brazilian records.” Like, I want to be in the spirit of it. Like some people say they need to go to Brazil, but if I get two records, I’m good and feel Brazilian. I like the fun of it. I wish I was more productive in actual word count, but I think I’m productive in imagination count.
Whenever I’ve spoken to Roman, even though he spent eight years on the script for Charles Swan, he makes his writing process sound pretty easy.
For me, it is not easy. Okay, when I’m first writing music, I’m free with it and let it happen. I like the game, the puzzle of it, and intellectualizing it, but I wish I had that more with writing. Roman has an ability to sit down and write. He’ll play a game of sitting down and writing 50 pages of whatever you want, and I can’t do that. I’ll keep stopping myself and erasing.
I know I have to let you go, but to kind of bring it back to Charles Swan, it is a movie that in some ways deals with the creative struggle. When you hit a roadblock, how do you deal with it? Do you move on to write something else?
It depends. I think it has to do with your proximity to it. With writing you’ll write, write, and write…you know, there was an Ernest Hemingway interview with the Paris Review where he said, something like, “Write, but when you stop, know where you’re going the next day. Don’t just get all done and start fresh the next day. Save a little bit, so you’ll get off to a good start the next day.” I think it’s important not to be too self-critical where you lose momentum. I feel like when you sit down you keep looking over and over at one thing, so I think it’s best to move on and comeback to it later. Many times I’ve written something, thought it was going well, and then come back to it ten days later and think it’s terrible. God, I felt so close to it and maybe it worked in the moment.
The same thing happens with music. I’ll do a bunch, put it on my iPod, and go listen to it on a walk and say, “Whoa, that’s not good. How did I ever get to that chorus?” Sometimes I’ll spend months and months trying to figure out a chorus, but then all the sudden I’ll go, “Wait! This thing I have can go that way!” I mean, sometimes the stuff is all there, but you don’t see it. I mean, I’m not really the authority on productivity in terms of coming up with stuff, but I am a fan of problem solving. I love talking about it, which is why I love collaboration.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is now on VOD and opens in theaters on February 8th.