That's true, to a degree. But I've always tried to listen closely to that little voice in my head which says: Why not go down this other path? It's just a question of the time you have to take those different paths. With digital, you can do more exploration in less time. But the real question is: Are you the kind of person who likes to explore? . . .
THE LAST CONVERSATION
The talent to edit and the talent to conceive or write a film, how distinct are they?
Pretty distinct. Everyone creative has elements of both. The editorial part of me is fairly muscular, but the other part -- the generative part -- is weaker, more undernourished. Or becomes frightened of the muscularity of the editorial part.
So when I'm writing I have to find a way to let these two parts work safely with each other. Born writers -- well, they're people who, by some fluke, have those two aspects of their mind in perfect harmony. Without even being conscious of it, they are generating and editing at the same time, in perfect modulation. It's like those double-barreled tubes of epoxy glue, which dole out the resin and the hardener in equal amounts.
In my case, I realized the danger was that I would come up with an idea and then, immediately, the editorial part of me would begin to attack it. And you never get anywhere that way. On the other hand, if the generative part of you is very strong and the editorial part weak, you wind up with lots of words but a lack of structure and precision to the ideas.
When I write a script, I lie down -- because that's the opposite of standing up. I stand up to edit, so I lie down to write. I take a little tape recorder and, without being aware of it, go into a light hypnotic trance. I pretend the film is finished and I'm simply describing what was happening. I start out chronologically but then skip around. Anything that occurs to me, I say into the recorder. Because I'm lying down, because my eyes are closed, because I'm not looking at anything, and the ideas are being captured only by this silent scribe -- the tape recorder -- there's nothing for me to criticize. It's just coming out.
That is my way of disarming the editorial side. Putting myself in a situation that is as opposite as possible to how I edit, both physically and mentally. To encourage those ideas to come out of the woods like little animals and drink at the pool safely, without feeling that the falcon is going to come down and tear them apart.
It's a bloodthirsty profession!
Michael Ondaatje appears in conversation with critics David Thomson and Elvis Mitchell on Friday, October 4, at 7:30 p.m., at the Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. For reservations, call Writer's Bloc at (310) 335-0917. Ondaatje also appears at Barnes & Noble on the Third Street Promenade, 1201 Third Street, Santa Monica, on Saturday, October 5, at 7:30 p.m. For info, call (310) 260-9110.