Interview: Tom Hanks on Screenwriting, Collaboration and Typewriters

“There will never not be an audience that doesn’t want to pay to be entertained, in a brand new way, by seeing something they did not expect.”

A regular episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast is wonderful enough, a warm and welcoming round table discussion of movies, TV shows and other media (and way more spoiler- and snark-free than this site). This particular episode is pretty special: an interview with Nicest Man In Hollywood, Tom Hanks, ostensibly to promote his book of short stories, but which encompasses so much more.

To outline the differences in nature and opportunities he’s found in short story writing, he offers by way of comparison succinct breakdowns of the nature of script writing, and the collaborative nature of film making.

Screenwriting

Hanks describes this part of the process as “writing blueprints” which (for example) “the art department will understand… that the production designer will read and say: ‘Oh, I know what kind of wallpaper to put in’.”

Further comparing and contrasting with other forms of prose writing, Hanks continues: “Every full-length story has to be like a deck of 52 cards… if it only has seven, or if it’s missing two, you’re not done.” A short story, by contrast, is “like a really great hand of cards: there’s this anticipation of what it’s going to be; there’s the reality of what it is; do you draw, do you pass?”

Collaboration in Film Making

“As an actor… I do the thing that they hired me to do, and then someone else¬†really does impact the performance in a big way: the hair and makeup people help shape it; the costume people do a magnificent thing that really alters your body; the cinematographer and the editor, they make all these artistic decisions that funnel your performance into a very specific place.”

Typewriters

Hanks’s passion for typewriters is clear. He swoons over¬†“the tactile percussion” as each word is “struck” onto a medium that is “about as permanent as something carved in wood” via “a machine that is built to do one thing, and one thing only.”

Listen to the interview in full.