Interview with: Vickie Patik - Writer/Director/Actor
Vickie Patik has enjoyed success in nearly every facet of entertainment, first as a singer/dancer in Los Angeles civic light opera and Broadway productions and actress on soap operas, then as a screenwriter of numerous movies for television.
A frequent lecturer on screenwriting, her best-known work, 'Do You Remember Love', starring Joanne Woodward and the late Richard Kiley, won her an Emmy, a Writers' Guild Award, the Humanitas Award, the Christopher Award, D.W. Griffith Award, and a George Foster Peabody Award. Her script for 'Silent Cries' won both Christopher and Writers Guild awards.
Her film directing debut, 'Now or Never', was given a feature short exhibition at the 1999 Santa Barbara Film Festival and was honored with a Certificate of Merit by the Houston International Film Festival. Going back to her first love, the theatre, she has directed productions at the Circle Bar B Theatre in Santa Barbara, including Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna's 'Bermuda Avenue Triangle' and Neil Simon's 'Rumors'. In July Vickie graduated from a rigorous 2-year Meisner Method acting course at the Baron/Brown Studio in Santa Monica and followed that with a short run as Lady Capulet in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre in North Hollywood. Momentarily between projects, Vickie took a breath to talk to us about her passions for acting, writing, and the theatre.
WHAT'S THE BEST ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO A WRITER?
Some of the best advice I've ever heard about how to pursue a career in writing is something many new writers do not necessarily believe, but it is imperative: (1) do a lot of reading, and (2) do a lot of writing.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be well read in order to understand the possibilities of different modes of expression. Among my students, I find the biggest limitation is not being familiar with good writing.
Ironically, the very process of writing teaches us much about writing itself. The process can help us solve storyline problems. Unlike other work where you have to figure out what to do before you can apply your ideas, writing allows us to at least start and figure out the details later.
WHAT WRITERS DO YOU RECOMMEND?
I love author William Styron's work. His use of language is unparalleled. His writing is so fluid that there are surprises in every sentence. I never see it coming. His writing is heartfelt, complex, mature, psychologically insightful.
In Hemingway's work, there is an exquisite economy of expression, and transitions that are so unpredictable it takes my breath away. I'm a huge fan of the autobiographies of Ben Franklin (I read it and fell in love with a dead man!), Mark Twain, pianist Arthur Rubinstein, and the late psychiatrist, David S. Viscott, M.D.; they're absolutely brilliant.
I also think it's important to read non-fiction: The books of Dr. Warren Farrell, who shows a compassionate attitude toward women and men, have helped me understand characters better both as a writer/actor and mother/wife. As a former philosophy major, I found 'unconditional life' by Deepak Chopra one of the most profound experiences I've ever had.
WHAT MARKS A GREAT SCRIPT OR STAGE PLAY?
The most essential and possibly most commercial element in a script is the emotional hook that pulls the audience in and keeps them interested in your ideas and themes.
This is especially important before the half hour break of an hour- long show, or the hour break of an M.O.W. (Movie of the Week, ed.) Ratings are won or lost at these crucial points because the viewers are either hooked or alienated by the program.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A FORMULA FOR STORYTELLING?
Maybe for bad storytelling. For good storytelling? I had to look up the word formula: 'A fixed form of words ... or rule or method for doing something. Especially one that has lost its original meaning or force. And is used or repeated without thought.' I suppose if you analyze any story genre you can discern the underpinnings of a formula at work. But 'Formulaic Storytelling' suggests that a good script, i.e. one that 'plays,' can be written simply by duplicating a tried and true structure with specifics plugged in where appropriate. No Way!
Indeed, there are age old storytelling rules that must be honored (see Aristotle's 'Poetics'), and heart, and understanding of compassion for the human condition is, of course, sine qua non. Otherwise there are as many effective ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. (If 'Sleepless in Seattle [written by Jeff Arch and Nora Ephron] had followed the 'Boy Meets Girl, Loses Girl, Gets Girl Back' formula, we wouldn't all still be crying. )
WHY DO SOME MOVIES GRAB THE AUDIENCE AND OTHERS DON'T?
We as writers need to go into the difficult emotional places: war, personal failure of work or relationships, loss of love, etc., and that requires a lot of courage. Movies that only scratch the emotional surface and do not bear witness to the trust insult viewers. Even comedies must respect the human condition; the best ones do. Comedies often offer much needed insight into areas where dramas fear to tread. Movies that deal with deep emotional places need to counter-balance the seriousness with humor, or seat-clawing tension. If they don't sometimes the viewing experience is just unmitigated pain. Ouch. Writers (and actors) need to be willing to go to the emotional places and give themselves completely over to the storytelling so that readers/viewers can feel these emotions and care about characters.
HOW DO YOU VIEW THE ACTOR/WRITER RELATIONSHIP?
Actors can make writers look great, and vice versa. We need each other, are mute without each other. We need to respect and encourage each other. When I was first learning acting, I didn't understand the full-out commitment that actors must make. Because of my recent acting training, I now have a deeper appreciation of the acting art. I really admire actors who know how to project their character in the moment, giving themselves emotionally, letting you in on who they are.
Writers of very powerful, imaginative situations force actors to reveal their own emotions, humiliations, fears, the way they love, through their characters. None of this can be achieved by writing or acting 'safe.' It takes living where you fear to live, running from prudence and comfort and control, flying without a net.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK TECHNOLOGY PLAYS FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT WRITER?
The Internet an exciting new outlet. But having a camcorder and computer does not a writer make. Storywriting software can be a good tutorial for beginning filmmakers. Eventually, computers may even be able to 'write stories' at the click of a mouse. But I think we're talking 'formula' here and I don't believe such output will ever surpass human imagination for unique storytelling.
WHAT'S IN THE FUTURE FOR YOU?
Lots of writing, directing, acting, oil painting, tennis. I'd like to be the ambassador to a country in Africa.
WHAT ARE YOU WRITING THESE DAYS?
Spec scripts, features, episodic TV. E-Mail. I'm reading a great deal. Shooting short films and acting in them. I am researching several subjects for plays and musicals.
Playwriting is the writer's medium. I'm not talking about who gets to control things, the whole concept of 'control' being an illusion anyway. But because staged drama cannot play as fast as edited film, nor jump between as many locations, characters can engage and confront and joust with each other more deeply. The writer can expand ideas into longer monologues, play out scenes with more complexity, use language artfully for its own sake, and use powerful literary/theatrical devices that seem pretentious on screen. For any writer who has something to say, the theatre atmosphere where there is less collaboration on the script is ideal.
For the screenwriter, the goal is to touch the imagination of an audience out there somewhere. For the playwright, it is to cross the footlights to the immediate reaction of a live audience. The energy is electric. There's nothing more exciting.