What Johnny Depp Taught Me About Writing
I was shattered. The editor had sliced and diced my copy into something unrecognizable. The article was to be an important piece for me. Of course, I know editors have a job to do, but the heartbreak came because I had not been consulted nor was the copy returned to me for correction prior to my seeing it in its published form. The real horror was that the editor had carved out chunks of text so that even the quotes from my interviewees were incomplete and connections between sentences were oddly missing. There were entire paragraphs that didn’t make sense. Yet, there it was in all its misery, published, engraved in stone . . . with my name attached to it.
The editing job was not a good one, so I did what any gal would do. I called my best friend to cry. Laura patiently listened. She sympathized. She felt my pain as only a best friend can. And then she told me the story of Johnny Depp. “Do you know that Johnny Depp never watches the dailies or goes to premieres of his own movies?” she said to me. Well, I did not know that, but she had my attention.
It seems that Mr. Depp has a philosophy. He goes to work and when the day is done and they call it a wrap, he walks away. He feels his job is done and now the work is in the hands of someone else. The film editor, the producer, the director and whoever else is in charge of such things takes over from there.
While the matter of the horror-editing I described above was many years ago, the Johnny Depp story stayed with me. His philosophy became my philosophy, too, and since that time, with only two exceptions, I have never read my writing in its final professional published form.
Laura’s Depp story was only confirmed for me over this last weekend when I finally had the opportunity to watch his interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. During that 2002 interview, Depp admitted to never watching dailies, or going to premieres and in fact he stated that there are some movies he’s never even seen a single frame of. “Once my job is done, once they say ‘your wrapped’, at that point it’s really none of my business what they do with it.” explained Depp. Incredulous!
So, Laura continued, “There are entire movies he’s made that he’s never even seen. And while at work he may feel that a certain scene was the best piece of acting he’s ever done in his career but that scene could well end up on the cutting room floor.”
As with Depp, who tells the students during that interview, that this choice to not watch his work is in no way meant to be disrespectful to the film makers, I will also say that my choice to not read my published pieces is in no way meant to be disrespectful to my editors and publishers. These days I’m proud and privileged to work with people I trust. Trust has a lot to do with it. But it’s devastating for me to go back and read my work in its final form. No matter the skill of the editor, no matter how many times I’ve read the piece before submission, I will ALWAYS find something that I could have written better. So, once I’ve submitted the copy, and unless it is returned to me for final editing, my job is done. I move on to the next piece.
“How can you do that?!” some friends and associates have asked. “Your name is on it.” Yup, I always receive a byline for my work. But hey, Johnny’s name is on his work as well. It’s his face. His reputation too. But, by god, if it works for Depp, it can work for me, too. And so far, it has.
We can only believe that film directors, editors and publishers want only what is best for their movie, magazine or publication. This is where the trust comes in. Perhaps also the confidence and experience of the actor, writer or creative is also a key issue.
In closing, I will also share with you that I found it delightful when Depp was asked, as are all guests to the show, the Bernard Pivot questions. When asked “What profession, other than yours, would you like to attempt?” I had to smile when Johnny answered, “Writing, I think, writing.” I have to wonder . . . What would he write about and would he read his words in their final published form?
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