In the middle of her interview with Coppola, Ariston Anderson asks him, “What is the one thing to keep in mind when making a film?” Coppola replies:
When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.
It’s great advice for writing short stories, too. And perhaps essays. And sections of books. I am going to try it out as I revise the first few sections of the boat book, now that I think I know what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.
I’d also like to try that advice in writing a short story: I should note that I was very inspired by my viewing of the Walker Percy film yesterday. What Percy did again and again was to observe life around him and try to capture it accurately. He didn’t reach for far away places and he didn’t reach into the past. The New Orleans of his novels was the New Orleans he knew.
In his wake I find I want to challenge myself to do much the same: to document as best I can the reality around me. Right now I am working on a book that’s about boats, but it’s also about the prairies, a place much mythified even by folklorists. (I just saw a film today that was about the country Mardi Gras, one day out of a year filled otherwise with trying to wrestle rice out of the ground.) After the countryside, it would be nice to turn to this small city in which I life, Lafayette, and capture it as it is, try to understand it as it is. It is much like other places, and it is also different from other places, but we can only those similarities and differences if we actually document them. Otherwise we are only working from a collection of so many personal anecdotes, which is poor stuff compared to a more organized study.