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Towne tells all at screenwriting course

Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, Robert Towne and Professor Ted Braun (Photo/Carell Augustus)

Celebrated screenwriter Robert Towne made the last of his three visits this semester to discuss his 1975 satire Shampoo and, among a host of subjects, touched on how research is a key to creating a standout script.

Towne talked about the real-life hairdresser who inspired the lead character George, portrayed by Warren Beatty.

“I was fascinated by him. So I started hanging out with him, just listening, picking up on the dialogue,” Towne recalled. “I even lived with him for a couple of weeks to see how he lived. I was curious. I did my research. I spent a lot of time [at the salon] and a lot of time listening to the women [there]. It was a great place to view it from the point of view of a hairdresser.”

Towne was visiting Professor Ted Braun’s course, “Screenwriters and Their Work,” which this semester has focused on “Sex, Violence, Crime and Paranoia: Great Screenwriters of the ’70s.” Each Tuesday night the class screens a film, which is followed by guest speakers who offer insights on the process of screenwriting.

This spring, the class has examined the work of screenwriters Towne, Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy) and Mardik Martin (Raging Bull), who, as Braun explained, “responded to the passions, people and problems of a turbulent decade with originality, rebelliousness and a storytelling verve that redefined American cinema and forged a new foundation for the art form and the culture.”

Towne’s career as a screenwriter has spanned more than five decades with such films as Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise and Mission: Impossible. Towne previously visited Braun’s class to discuss The Last Detail and Chinatown.

When asked about his approach to writing and rewriting, Towne said, “Well, you’re always rewriting on a movie. Whether it’s the script or in postproduction or editing, you’re always making changes to make a point or when you realize you haven’t made a point.”

Braun said: “I hope to demystify some of the lore surrounding these films to give students a truer sense of the real work of screenwriters and their role as collaborators. In the process, I also hope to deepen our students’ appreciation for the genuine gifts, talent and contributions of these great writers.

“In the long run this will, with luck, make the students more imaginative and effective in whatever area of the cinematic arts they choose to pursue.”

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