Ritesh Batra (THE LUNCHBOX) breaks down refining tone and time, making characters real, and using your roots for discovery.
Key Insights
  • You need to figure out how time functions in your story. You can write something linear and increase the interest and efficiency of the story by restricting the parameters (e.g., the final day of someone’s life). Conversely, the expansion of time using a nonlinear structure can be used to enhance the story and inform the characters (e.g., as in Pulp Fiction). You can also find a way to give the feeling of more time or a way for time not to matter.
  • A character’s wants vs. what they need is a great tool for writing. In The Lunchbox, Saajan wants to be left alone, but he needs human connection. Ila wants to fix her marriage, but she actually needs to leave her marriage to find love. 
  • Decide on the tone for your film and then do a tone pass on every scene - do they all fit in or help to build your chosen tone? In The Lunchbox, the both funny and sad were tonally worked into each scene.
  • Explore how different characters support your tone. In The Lunchbox, Auntie has a sad life but her character’s being is intrinsically funny - and Ritesh found a way to physically show it.
  • Your characters should adapt to their settings and who they are with - just like people do in real life! In The Lunchbox Auntie has little control in her life but finds freedom to be lovingly forceful with Ila.
  • Throughout the process of writing your film, you should seek economy - find the most efficient yet artful way to tell the story.
  • The writing process doesn’t end in development. When you reach the post-production stage, you will find yourself making adjustments and discovering deeper possibilities when editing. 
  • Throughout the long (sometimes many years-long) writing and filmmaking process, you as an artist will evolve, and so will your characters. Be open to that evolution and adapt accordingly so you can produce the best, most honest story you can at this particular moment in your life. 

Watch The Lunchbox

Writer, Director
Ritesh Batra is a BAFTA awards nominated writer-director recently named one of Variety’s "Ten Directors to Watch". His film, OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, starring Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Matthias Schoenaerts was released on Netflix.

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