Script Apart: The Stylishly Silent Storytelling of 'Drive' Writer Hossein Amini
Hossein Amini fell in love with storytelling because, when his world turned upside down as a kid, creating his own worlds on the page gave him a sense of control. “My parents were going through a divorce, and I was Iranian while there was a revolution going on, so I had to leave my country and settle somewhere new,” the Oscar-nominated screenwriter recalls. Decades later, the writer, best known for 2011’s monster hit Drive, can trace a lot of his screenwriting habits to that turbulent adolescence.
Take the Driver, Ryan Gosling’s character from Drive, for example. Far from a knight in shining armor, he’s a morally complex enigma capable of both tenderness and violence. “The idea of complicated characters has always appealed to me because I do feel that's the human condition,” he says.
Hossein stopped by my podcast Script Apart recently to break down one of his early drafts of the movie, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Here are a few of the screenwriting tips and tricks I gleaned from an hour in his company – listen to the full episode below to discover many more, and to find out fascinating stories behind one of the biggest cult thrillers of the century so far…
Archetypal Characters Are Archetypal For A Reason
Stuck for an idea for a new script? Try taking a protagonist from a movie you love and airlifting them into an entirely new genre. The result might be similar to Drive, which took an archetype familiar in fairy tales and samurai movies — “the stranger who comes from nowhere, rescues a family and then rides out into the sunset,” Hossein explains – and parachuted them into a dark, grimy Los Angeles. “I think there are some characters that just resonate with audiences. If your core character isn't working, it doesn't matter how well a script is written, [your story] won't capture the imagination in the same way.”
All the more reason to return to the sort of timeless character types outlined by American writer Joseph Campbell in his influential book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, suggests Hossein.
Less Really Can be More When it Comes to Romance
Hossein Amini encountered an obstacle in writing Drive. How do you make a strong silent type like the Driver who’s not accustomed to verbalizing his emotions strike up meaningful relationships with the characters around him? How do you convey to the audience how he’s feeling and what he desires? For Hossein, the trick was to be inventive, channeling emotions into visual actions rather than dialogue. “There's a school of dialogue, whether it's Sorkin or Tarantino, where the dialogue is the art. For me, the writing I love is where what's not said is really [important],” he explains.
In the film, the Driver falls for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and vows to protect her and her son. The fact that she’s married means that neither character wants to admit their attraction in words. Instead, it’s communicated by glances between the pair and revealing pieces of behavior written into the script. “You feel that longing and desire but they can't express it or acknowledge it,” says Hossein. “I love that type of silent storytelling.”
What else did you learn from the episode with Hossein Amini? Let us know in the comments below.
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Al Horner is a London-based journalist, screenwriter and presenter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Empire Magazine, GQ, BBC, Little White Lies, TIME Magazine and more.