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The Editor's Blog

Contemplations and digressions from Filmmaker's Editor-in-Chief by Scott Macaulay

Iggy Pop, Jim Jarmusch, Sleep and Script Development

Originally discovered by E.V. Grieve and reposted by Gothamist, this short video of Iggy Pop touring the East Village in 1993 contains an interesting nugget of script development wisdom. I was watching the video this morning purely nostalgically — checking out my neighborhood 20 years ago — when I came across, at around the 10-minute mark, a short bit about the shooting of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. Pop says his segment with Tom Waits — a one-day, 16-hour shoot — was his best shooting experience ever. When the interviewer asks if the shoot was improvised, Pop says there was a script, but that Jarmusch only gave it to them the night before, at 11:00 PM. Read it before you go to sleep, he told them, and then we’ll go over it in the morning. In the morning, Waits told Pop that he didn’t think the script was funny, and they all got to work.

Something I’ve tried to employ in my work and creative life is the power of the brain at night to solve problems. Go to bed thinking about something and the next day you’ll find that your sleeping mind has found connections and developed solutions. (Or so I hope.) Needless to say, though, Jarmusch’s method here isn’t one I’d recommend on more formal productions. For example, I produced a film once where a fellow producer was constantly trying to revise script pages the night before, and it drove the actors nuts. Here, though, Jarmusch, wasn’t about the actor performing words on a page. He was doing something different — using the script as a framework, an instigator of the unconscious.

Jarmusch’s technique is nothing new. Researchers have discovered links between REM sleep and creativity. Here’s the BBC on one study:

The experiment illustrates that combining what we know to generate new insights requires time, something that many might have guessed. Perhaps more revealingly it also shows the power of sleep in building remote associations. Making the links between pieces of information that our daytime rational minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re offline, drifting through the dreamworld.

And Stephen King is famous for likening the state of writing to dreaming. From his On Writing:

In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night — six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight — so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.

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