BPS 124: Screenwriting Rules You Need to Learn Then Break with Julian Hoxter

You should all know this by now. I love bringing on different perspectives on the craft because you never know what might click for someone. At the end of the day, we are all trying to tell a and compelling story. 

I invited to the show this week Julian Hoxter to talk about his book, The Creative Screenwriter: 12 Rules to Follow and Break to Unlock Your Screenwriting Potential

Julian is a published writer, lecturer, and screenwriting story consultant with extensive experience in scholarly writing.

After film school at UCLA, Hoxter returned to his homeland, England, where he served as a senior lecturer at Solent University for some years before starting up at San Francisco State University, where he currently is an associate professor of cinema.

Hoxter’s latest textbook, The Creative Screenwriter: 12 Rules to Follow―and Break―to Unlock Your Screenwriting Potential, distills the craft of screenwriting into 12 key elements, from developing your story to revising and rewriting, plus plenty of inspiration to create your screenplay with confidence. It encourages readers to look behind the scenes at iconic films using a classic screenwriting structure, along with experimental films from innovative writers that have transcended the rules and paved their way to the silver screen. 

Apart from academia, Hoxter has been producing his independent features, documentaries and doing rewrites collaborations with other filmmakers. One of his most known productions is the award-winning documentary feature, Imagine a School… Summerhill, produced in 2009. 

Other must-read textbooks or scholarly papers written by Hoxter include, Off The Page: Screenwriting in the Era of Media Convergence, The Pleasures of Structure: Learning Screenwriting Through Case Studies, and Theorizing Stupid Media: De-Naturalizing Story Structures in the Cinematic, Televisual, and Video Games

Keep an eye out for Hoxter’s sci-fi novels that will be out soon, The Ballad of Coopy Meakes.

I collected a lot of knowledge bombs from chatting with Julian. Enjoy this conversation with Julian Hoxter.

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Alex Ferrari 0:11
I'd like to welcome to the show Julian Hoxter, how you doing?

Julian Hoxter 0:14
Hey, I'm good. Thanks. Nice to be here.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for being on the show. I wanted to have you on the show to talk about your book, the creative screenwriter 12 rules to follow and break to unlock your screenwriting potential. And like I I've said so many times before, I love bringing on different perspectives on the craft, because at the end of the day, we're all going towards the same place a good story. And how you get there could be one person's way could be another person's way could be a million different ways. And I always like to expose the audience to as many different ideas because you never know, what will click with the right, or what the right right, would you agree?

Julian Hoxter 0:51
Completely. I'm nothing. You know, I teach screenwriting at San Francisco State, we have a number of people that teach screenwriting, and they're all really good. But you know, if you're a student, you want the person not only who knows what they're talking about, but who you kind of click with. And sometimes that's me, sometimes it's very much, not me. And that's fair. You know, there'll be people who don't like my accent, don't like my beer don't like the fact that I'm an old fat white guy, all these good things. And yet, hopefully, there'll be others who will find that I have something of value to offer. So,

Alex Ferrari 1:20
I mean, to be fair, I think the accent really adds credibility to your teaching. As an American.

Julian Hoxter 1:27
I have a nine o'clock lecture start, I reckon it gives me 20 minutes, just sort of wake up into the coffee to begin to percolate inside me before. You know, they really listening to what I'm saying. And they're kind of in that, Oh, my God is actually set up but in America. So yeah, I count that as an advantage. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:46
No question. So how did you get into the business?

Julian Hoxter 1:49
Well, I went to film school, went to UCLA many, many years ago. And, and then I really discovered a love of teaching. And I went back to England and got a job part time teaching at a university. And then that became full time within it began to run department and on it went, and so I've really been education for a very long time. And in that time, I've been working as an independent filmmaker. I've made some documentary features, done some rewrites, on, you know, indie features, and so on, and so on. And but also, I've been writing and working on more scholarly work. So the history of screenwriting, and the state of the industry, and so on, and so on. So I kind of straddle two camps. I'm partly a screenwriter, partly, you know, story consultant. But I also research write and teach it income status.

Alex Ferrari 2:45
I have a curiosity, you talked about the history of screenwriting, I actually have never had that conversation with anybody. What is the history of screen? Right? Like, I know, like, when, when Edison started with his camera, you know, they were just kind of like doing short little bits. But like, at what point was there a screen? what we, what we considered any sort of guidance, as far as a story is, and then what we would know, as a screenplay today.

Julian Hoxter 3:10
Well, I mean, I think very early, there were what you would call scenario writers. And indeed, even before 1920 there are people who are writing books, like like what we're talking about today, you know, how to write a screenplay or, or a scenario. There are people who are pitching ideas for short comedy movies, and, you know, concepts as opposed to fully drafted scripts. And that comes a bit later that comes more in the as we're approaching the classical Hollywood period, perhaps. But you know, Griffith was making features in the in the teens, you know, when we, whenever we say about them, that they're very, very important. And people were writing some form of a screenplay, some form of a scenario from almost from the word go.

Alex Ferrari 3:52
It's also went so in the teens, you know, did what was that big, epic film that he did not Birth of a Nation, but the other one onwards, intolerance? Did intolerance have a screenplay? Well, I

Julian Hoxter 4:03
don't know. I'm sorry. Yeah. Did they don't have a specific answer to that? I don't recall. But I think what you have to kind of understand is that, you know, this is a period where everyone is kind of learning what it means to make films, right. And there are different versions of story that are going around that, you know, we don't come to the the sort of modern screenplay, you know, fully formed. Even in the heart, even in the classical period, you have a range of different formats. And of course, you know, until really into the 40s and 50s. The screenplays were a list of shots with they weren't, they weren't all very, they weren't typically broken by scene, they were broken by shot and scene. So, you know, these formats have developed over time and the formats also have developed according to the role of the screenwriter in the process. So in the 50s when you move After the Paramount consent decree after the the studios had to divest some of their divisions, and after they basically sort of said goodbye to having buildings full of in house screenwriters with screenwriters became independent or semi independent, and freelance, you know, one of the things that changes is the way that you tell a story on the page, a screen story on the page. And, you know, you begin to tell a screen story to be read, because the reading is part of the gatekeeping as to whether or not you're going to get your, your, your story sold. Before or, you know, you'd go and you'd pitch to the producer, you'd pitch to the studio, as a writer, you know, within the the writing department, after, after we get into the freelance paradigm, well, you have to tell a story a different way, you can't just be be having been given a pitch and you're writing out a list of shots, it doesn't quite work that way. I'm simplifying the course.

Alex Ferrari 5:54
Right. So it's a basically a, you know, when they were in the studio system, it was more of like a mechanical document of like, shot, shot, shot, shot shot, where afterwards, you have to become a little bit more of a crafts, artistic crafts, man or woman to kind of sell the idea a little bit better, I

Julian Hoxter 6:11
think so that sense of wonder, entrepreneurial ism entrepreneurship, which is the way a way? You know, that's something that I think has always been part of a brighter shake, they have to be able to sell their ideas, but it becomes more and more important, I think. I'm sure, yeah, but, you know, and I think Yeah, you know, writers learn that their style is the sales pitch as much as whether you can do a, you know, an elevator pitch in 20 seconds and get get the producer to know, you know, like, what you're what you're selling, because the whole relationship between writers, the studios changes, and the whole way in which writers interface with studios, or writers agents interface with studios, and the idea of kind of, you know, story readers who who sit as the gatekeepers, you know, between the writer and and the studio, you know, that becomes more and more important for writers to deal with and engage with, you know, from the 50s 60s 70s onwards, you know, and that sense of the development of coverage and how coverage is incredibly important, not only for the scripting hand, but for your reputation within an organization and so on, you know, we'll look back and see, well, what what coverage Did you get last time you submitted to ask them something?

Alex Ferrari 7:25
And then in then, so when you hear of a of a studio or an agency signing a writer based on their voice, even though that script that they might have submitted will never in a million years get produced, but they look at it as a voice that is their style? That is their signature in the marketplace?

Julian Hoxter 7:43
Yeah, during misquote the cones, you know, that that's their button thing feeling, right. I mean, that's exactly what you want, or what what you just said, Right, yeah. We can discuss the realities, but, you know, is is somebody who has a unique voice, and you know, that we've got we've moved beyond in the in the, the tentpole era, such as you know, we can call it that. We sort of move beyond the time in which writers write specs with the expectation of selling the spec. And now, it's the expectation of selling themselves, as you as you indicated, or these rights aspects are still being bought, but the market is way down from where it was in the 80s and 90s.

Alex Ferrari 8:23
Oh, god yeah, I mean, I love talking to sometimes I get the pleasure of speaking to some of those those screenwriters when they were like getting $3 million a script $2 million. If you're finding out what Astor house I mean, Jesus. I mean, he, I mean, he, I think he made I think, what was the I think 20 or 25 million on scripts that never got produced? Yeah. Like the other obvious examples? Yeah. It was an insane time and but a lot of screener I still think today that that's a thing where it does happen, but it's rare. It's much rare.

Julian Hoxter 8:55
I mean, it's, it's, I was researching a book a couple of years ago, and I try to remember who actually, was it john August, I can't remember. I can't remember who it was. Someone may made a really good comment. But now it's a less than you guys. That the there really isn't a kind of market for the journeyman screen black screen. Right? What you have, I mean, again, I'm simplifying course sure. But what what you have now is you have a list guys who are going to have their own relationships and are going to you know, maybe have a you know, first looks or whatever but, but are basically going to typically be asked to do rewrites. And then you have the new guys who are cheap and get the one step deal and then get fired so that you can, you know, afford the, the writer to come in for a lower rate or rewrite rate and then rewrite the new guys script. That's more of a pattern, though, the idea that there are screenwriters who are, you know, able to get to maintain a living in the way that was the case two decades ago. It's a lot

Alex Ferrari 9:57
it's a lot tougher to become not only become a great But to make a living as a screenwriter because that the studios are not making as many movies as they used to all the movies that they are making are based off of IP, or or, or existing comic books or whatever that they're dealing with. So the the market for independent ideas are basically regulated to the independence or the many majors. And even then, they're looking for IP as well. No one's dumping 100 million into a, into a spec script, unless there's a massive actor massive director, Master producers attached. Right.

Julian Hoxter 10:33
And this is one of the reasons I mean, you're absolutely right. And this is one of the reasons why when I'm teaching screenwriting, you know, at my college, that we're developing classes, and we're developing competencies in asking students to think beyond the screenplay, and to think about, you know, what do you need to do in this convergent world? In order to become visible to Hollywood, and it's partly, you know, you'd like to screen then you can show to agents and you can win competitions, and you can do all the all the all these things. But even so, Hollywood is not interested unless there's an IP with some track record, typically behind it. Yeah, how do you go about getting that track record? Well, maybe you write a novel, maybe you do something online with, you know, online comic? Who knows? Maybe you do your own independent comic book, maybe, maybe you? Maybe you, maybe you, maybe you Maybe so, you know, one of the things that I think that we have to do as educators, and here I'm talking as an educator, is to think about how do you prepare students to be what I loosely call screenwriter? 2.0, right? Because if you think of screenwriter 1.0, that's, you know, the the person who I mean, there may also have been journalist or novelist or something else in that time, but basically, the person who, you know, wrote movies, that was their career, they did as well as they did. But that was kind of what they did every now and again, maybe they did something else. Whereas nowadays, I think that the young writers coming up, the screenwriter 2.0 model is the screenwriter, who is also thinking about all these other media, all these other convergent media, all these other ways of beginning to get an idea out there, particularly if they want to work in, you know, in Hollywood as we might still define Hollywood. And it's the twin track, right? If it's my IP I want, I need to get some kind of audience. If it's my spec, well, my spec no longer is what I'm selling. I'm selling myself, as you say, because you know, what we want? If we're a studio is someone who can, you know, write the next IP based movie for us?

Alex Ferrari 12:36
Exactly. And, and I've seen I've seen a lot of success with podcasts, like, you know, different podcasts that people are writing story based podcasts narrative, podcast that turned get that get picked up, gets, they get optioned, and, and obviously, calm, independent comic books, novels, I've seen a lot of screenwriters, create novels off of their screenplays, and sell them and then get optioned the book, when when their screenplay was rejected, they'll option the book because it becomes a bestseller, or even if it doesn't become a bestseller, even it has some sort of success. For the for the for the studios, a lot of times, they just feel more comfortable, because it covers their ass a bit more.

Julian Hoxter 13:14
But as you know, this I mean, it's precisely it's a theater of media, right, particularly when you're an executive at a big studio. And because there aren't the development budgets anymore, I mean, it's, you know, the upside, I guess, is that if you're if you do some spec, it's much more likely to actually get produced now than it was in the 80s. Right? Where it's like one in 20. Now, it's like one in three or four or five, maybe out of date, numbers, but you're much less likely to actually sell that script in the first place. I mean, so is that a trade off? You want? I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 13:47
Yeah, it's it's it's it's a new world for writers as well as filmmakers, you Oh, we have to be thinking of multiple revenue streams, other ways to make money other ways to, to maintain your, your, your craft that your career, and I've seen film, I've seen screenwriters who write those novels, and they generate money automatically from self to self publishing their own stuff. Every month, there's money coming in, keeping the lights on while they're chasing the screenwriting dreams and getting assignments or selling a script or something like that. But it's those writers who are like making a living and that could be blogging that could be that could be podcasting. That could be teaching, it could be a million different revenue streams that you can create as a screenwriter.

Julian Hoxter 14:28
You're absolutely right. I mean, this is why I developed a class for SF State in Greene storyworlds, right, which is about developing an IP and thinking about how that IP might work. Yes, by all means is a feature film, but also you know, as a anything from a TV show to a comic book to a blog. Yeah. But this is exactly correct. I'm think we're on the same page with them.

Alex Ferrari 14:50
Absolutely. Now, you've been working with screenwriters for a long time. What is the biggest mistake you see first time screenwriters make

Julian Hoxter 14:58
Oh, Good question. There are many. You know, I mean, I'm lucky that I work with very inexperienced screenwriters, people often don't have the the confidence that they can actually do that thing, literally functionally, let alone sell anything. And yeah, my number one job, I think, I think I'm coming around to answering your question. My number one job, I think is to actually give them the confidence that they can do it. Now, maybe that comes from, you know, the people who I'm seeing, you know, who I think, you know, need that sense that somebody is taking their their work seriously, is going to engage with it seriously is going to give them you know, hard but fair feedback, but on the basis of encouraged them to move forward and finish the first draft, I think one of the things that people get wrong, is the idea that it's fine to, you know, quit halfway through and start another project. And, you know, I think that one of the most important things if you're a young screenwriter or or Sweden just starting out is finished your draft. And the the screenplay itself might be garbage, right. And I, you know, hold my own hand up here, of course, I've written bad screenplays, and some of them are on the shelf over there, and I will never look at them again. But no one else will ever either. But that sense in which once you've done it once, however bad, you think the outcome is, and you know, you might come back to it in five years and actually find something that's, that's interesting, and you want to develop further. But how bad the outcome is, you know, you can do it. And then the second one is easier. It's not easy, but it's easier. Because you don't extraordinary difficult thing. And then when I think about you know what I do, as an educator, you know, I'm asking 18 1920 year olds, to write a feature, a feature screenplay, that's an incredibly difficult thing to do. at any age, and obviously, there are some writers who come to us and they're wonderfully prepared, advanced and they want to breeze through, you know, they, they, they find it less, less difficult. But there are a lot of kids who come, you know, with very little competence in their own abilities. And with lots of, you know, good reasons why, you know, writing is something that doesn't come naturally. And, you know, the more they do it, and the more they engage with the process, the better they get.

Alex Ferrari 17:17
It's like building, it's like building a table, like you build the first table you build, it's gonna be pretty bad, I'm sure. And then the second table get better, the third people get better, and so on and so forth. And that's some of the best advice I've ever heard from, from screenwriters that I've spoken to is like, right, right. Right, just keep right. I don't care if it's bad, just right. I mean,

Julian Hoxter 17:34
yeah, I mean, the kind of part two of that is right, every day, is something that that relates to writing every day, it can be actively thinking about stuff and taking notes, it can be, you know, going to a location and seeing if it inspires you, because you think it might be of interest in your script, it can be anything, but if you feel like you're doing something that relates to your writing every day, then it becomes part of your life. And it isn't the thing that sits there going, haha, you haven't done me today, you know, and then becomes kind of the, the the unspoken, you can't do it that sits behind you, you know, you find ways of engaging in the writing process, engaging in the creative story thinking process every day. And, you know, it's one of those, you know, take care of the pennies and the pounds or the dollars will take take care of this. Get my currency, right, get take care of the cents and the dollars will take care of themselves.

Alex Ferrari 18:27
Right, exactly. And it's like they say, you know, you tell the Muse that you're going to be here every day. She shows up every once in a while. But if you're not there, she might even you might miss her. Yeah, that's nice. I steal it. I stole it from somebody. So yes, please, what writers do right? Well, I've got and that's another thing. We let's just this dismiss all of this thing. Like, Oh, I can't, you can't steal from everyone steals from everybody. Every director steals from every director from the first person who made a two shot. It's been stolen by Martin Scorsese. And everybody has stolen from Martin everyone's to and Spielberg stole from Kurosawa and copalis. It's,

Julian Hoxter 19:03
and the good ones admitted, right? the good ones. Yes, of course, this was my influence, but I tried to do something with it, you know, right. You know, the bad writers steal good writers or influence, you know, I mean, this is no,

Alex Ferrari 19:16
no good. Good. Good. Writers borrow. Great writer steal. There you go. Exactly. And it's, but it's so true. But like, I remember when Tarantino showed up, everybody tried to be quittin. And you can't, like he is such a unique voice in the craft. There's literally he's a once in a generation writer. And level writer, period, let alone screenwriter, there's just so many things going on the complexities of what he's writing and how he's writing and how he's delivering it. You can't and they trust me if you remember the 90s when when Pulp Fiction came out how many Pulp Fiction ripoffs came out and none of them were anything close, but also

Julian Hoxter 19:59
he had no cyclopedic knowledge Oh, it's insanity, all kinds of cinema that you wouldn't even think about it, you know? Absolutely. And when I was in film school, it was shenbang. Right? It will be the weapon came out. Everyone was reading that screenplay, the Shane Black isms, you know, the kind of idiosyncratic way in which he wrote, everyone was copying that, and it was a, you know, yes. But you, there's no substitute for having your own voice.

Alex Ferrari 20:27
And that's the thing. And I think a lot of times people start as a writer, at least I've done it. I know, a lot of other writers who's told me the same thing as they'll start trying to copy someone else in their style. But then as you go through the process, your voice comes out through it. And they have I think that happens with all writers, I think every writer who ever read something is influenced by how many people have been influenced by Shakespeare. I mean, people have been destroyed by Hemingway, or Dickens. And then you start to start down their road, and then all of a sudden becomes your thing. But you got, you got to kind of like work out that thing. I think it was, I forgot who it was. It was a famous musician, who said that when you start writing songs, it's like turning the faucet of a bathtub. And the first stuff that comes out is sludge. It's just deep, muddy sludge. But as you keep letting it run, it starts to clear up and clear up and clear up until the point where it's crystal clear. And now I can start writing. So you got to get those bad drafts out as fast as possible.

Julian Hoxter 21:29
I couldn't agree more, I think, you know, the other way of looking at it, and this is with my sort of scholarly hat on is the idea that we are all media texts are into texts, right? They are a combination of things that you know, that you're being influenced by, and things that you had no idea, you know, so, you know, it's like the cliche write what you know, well, of course, you're gonna write what you know, what else can you do? And that's partly a conscious process. That's partly thing. Well, I want to be in the style of x. And that's partly, you know, you are the accretion of experience and and neuroses that you are. And so that's somehow going to manifest in how you write. Yeah, I mean, I, there's just no way of saying what you said. But

Alex Ferrari 22:11
I agree with you, 100%. Now, one thing that a lot of people, a lot of writers specifically, I've heard, say that structure is too formulaic, that it's going to make it No, I'm not going to just be a formula guy or gal and I need to be free and free flowing in my ideas. I can't be boxed in by structure. What would you have to say about that?

Julian Hoxter 22:31
It's a great question. And it's a huge topic. I mean, one extended thing, it depends on who you're writing for. Right? If you're making your own micro budget movie, you can do whatever they, whatever the hell, and I'm not sure what a profanity filter is, whatever the hell you want, right? Sure. But you know, if you're writing with a particular market in mind, then you have to be professional about it. And there are many different versions of it in between kind of, you know, formula and complete an artistic freedom. I think, for me, I look at it this way. That understanding how most movies stories with relatively mainstream movie stories are told, is a very, very powerful tool. Because that gives you a set of questions that you can ask yourself, when you're getting to a certain point, and you're not quite sure what to do, or how to do it, you can go well, alright, well, what are most movies do at this point, and then you can assess what you're trying to do. So for me, that's where I think, formula or or structural paradigms, structural models are useful, because they give you opinion, or they give you a way of disciplining, your thinking, and a way of cutting through and asking the real questions, as opposed to the what if generalized questions. But yeah, I mean, all all models. And really, frankly, most of most of the people who write about screenwriting, including myself, are basically saying the same thing with little tweaks. You know, and it's really about whose version of eloquence Do you do appreciate it? I think I think that understanding a model, I don't care whose it is, you know, a model is a very, very useful thing, because that gives you a basis for your own thinking. And that also makes you think, if I'm going too far away from this, am I actually really going to be talking to the people I need to talk to, but using it as a kind of crutches is not what you want.

Alex Ferrari 24:29
Yeah, I was talking to a screenwriter the other day and he told me that basically, all stories are either three 3x or or four at the most you can try to cut up a movie you can cut it up an 8x it's it's irrelevant, because but certain things that happened through into stories in popular films, it throughout history, without question hit these marks, all the time, even Pulp Fiction which is out of order in the conventional in the Have that story in the way he wrote it and shot it and edited it. Even though the stories are timelines off, the hits are happening at the points where they should be happening. So that's why it seems like an experimental film, but it's not. And it's so brilliant. That's what the brilliance of pulp fiction is.

Julian Hoxter 25:21
You can say that doesn't make it not clever. But yeah, but we'd have to wonder what it is. Yeah. I totally agree. Yeah, yeah, it was something. momento or Yeah, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 25:30
some momentum is another one. I mean, look, I mean, anything Christopher Nolan, for God's sakes. I mean, he's always, you know, messing with time and everything in it, like inception, and Interstellar and all of those things. But they all hit those marks. I mean, you, you, you That's why you look at a movie like any David any David Lynch movie. Any David Lynch movie. They're not there. They're all over the place. And that's why his films, you know, I think, I think Blue Velvet was the closest, maybe, maybe Elephant Man, Eraserhead? Possibly. But blue velvets, probably his most mainstream story was also one of his most popular Mulholland Drive. Like it's all like, Can you can you not? Can you can you pin those things on monitor? I

Julian Hoxter 26:20
don't think you can not in terms of convention or means a loop. Right, literally. And as is. Yeah. I mean, I think I think you know, but then when he's trying to be semi conventional, like the blue velvet or like with the original Twin Peaks. Yeah, he's doing that to, to expose the conventionality as a as its own kind of artifacts, right? So I mean, he's not, he's not being conventional. He's, he's showing you that he's being conventional, if you know,

Alex Ferrari 26:47
exactly, but it's so so for everyone listening. So I just want you to kind of look like someone like Tarantino, who sometimes seems like he's unconventional. The genius of Tarantino is he's completely conventional within this unique structure that he's created and characters and things that are strictly his. But when you look at someone like David Lynch, who's like, I mean, pinpoint a movie that has a conventional, it's very rare to find, because he's making art films. And that's okay, that's okay. as a as a writer, as a director, you can do that. But if you're trying to sell to the studio system, you're trying to sell a conventional process, you need structure, you need to pin. And I personally, when I write I love structure, because it gives me a goalposts to write it makes me feel a lot more. It's like, this is the this is the lane that I'm in, and I can play within this lane as much as I want. But I can't go off roading.

Julian Hoxter 27:40
Right. I think that's a stimulant, but I feel basically exactly the same. I always want to know that I have some fallback, some fallback questions to ask myself, you know, and to begin to kind of judge what I'm doing against, unless I'm really, you know, going off into the wilds of micro budget funds. But having said that, one of the great things about the contemporary moment for screenwriters, and there are many not so great things, and we've kind of covered some of them already in the discussion, is the fact that micro budget is is is alive in a way that it never really was previously, and that, you know, you can be Shane Carruth and make primer for $7, or whatever, he made it for it. And you can be, you know, a queer filmmaker, or a woman or a person of color, you know, and be making stories that are deeply meaningful and radical, without having to, you know, deal with the system. In many ways.

Alex Ferrari 28:36
I feel that this I feel that the system is as we know it, because I mean, you and I both kind of grew up in this, I think we're similar vintage close enough to the vintages of our age. So we kind of grew up in the, in the, in the time when the system was the system. I remember when that, you know, Warner Brothers was putting out 15 to 20 movies a year, at some of them are $5 million, maybe $10 million movies, you know, and then occasionally would have these big budget things where now it's just like, everything's a big budget, everything but it's all very calculated based on IP and things like that. They were taking chances. I mean, can you imagine taxi driver today? Can you imagine raging? Raging Bull? Maybe we'll get made, but you can make a version of taxi driving for 10 bucks. And if you make Yeah, yeah, but within a studio system, I know exactly. No way in hell that anything in the 70s will become a Midnight Cowboy, LA.

Julian Hoxter 29:30
But also all the short movies that I grew up with, right. I mean, john carpenter and army, then name any genre Movie Maker of the 70s 80s 90s. You know, a lot of that's gone. I mean, yes, there certainly is new iterations of things like horror movie and blumhouse and, you know, and so on, and that's cool. But, but you know, where is this, the mid levels are a movie that they kind of don't exist, or at least they're very few of them that either really schlocky and kind of their budget or they To be $300 million, because, you know, one of the lessons that we learn, you know is that the B movies become the a movie and and so now there's genres are our tentpole genres as opposed to being, you know, knockoffs,

Alex Ferrari 30:12
right? And then specifically, like, you could make a $30 million genre piece with john Carpenter directing back in the day. And that was acceptable. Now, do you need Guillermo del Toro to make it and it becomes an art piece? And when's the Oscar? You know, it's,

Julian Hoxter 30:28
I mean, there's this horrible word niche, which which applies to like most of where India is gone, right? It's an indie there's like, niche or crossover or specialist. And then, you know, you're in this indie wood frame where you're kind of working in a very different notion of what independence is. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 30:46
Yeah, that's the Sundance $3 million independent film. That's Yeah. With with major stars attached. Well took pay cuts. Yeah, that's not indie to me. It's, and I'm glad that those films are getting made. Because they're, they're telling there's telling stories that might not get made. But when I see them at Sundance, sometimes I'm like, really? Do you? You got an Oscar winner in your movie? Yeah, sure. It cost you a million dollars to make and they, they're working for scale. But you know, where are the where the ED burns? The Spike Lee's that Robert Rodriguez is the Quentin Tarantino's the Kevin Smith's of the world, all that 90s crop of filmmakers, where are they? None of those guys would even make it today. If they were coming out and I and I've spoken to some of them. And they said the same thing. I'm like, would you would brothers MC Mullins show up today? He's like, never just what it wouldn't get the light of day. so much stuff going on in the today's world. So it's a very interesting place we are in history.

Julian Hoxter 31:40
You know, I couldn't agree more. And it's a place that sort of, weirdly, simultaneously, a place of more opportunities and way less opportunities. It's a strange, a strange, you know, scary mixture between the two. I think what I

Alex Ferrari 31:55
think today, though, I think that before the barrier to entry was creation. Now creation is not the barrier to entry. Now its marketing its eyeballs is getting to an audience is getting seen is that's that's the art now were the creation of it used to cost so much. But now, like I made my last two features were made for under 10,000. And I sold them to Hulu and internationally. Because you know, and they got sold. But that's that's the world we live in today. It's about that as well. And I think also for screenwriters, you know, the competition for screenwriters is I think there's more opportunity now for writers than ever in history of Hollywood. So many shows, so many things going on,

Julian Hoxter 32:35
streaming is fascinating is where it's gonna be in five years, I don't know. But right now, it's it's genre breaking, it said, there's a whole lot of really interesting things going on.

Alex Ferrari 32:44
That's where all the independent film makers went. That's all the independent writers went, because they can't go,

Julian Hoxter 32:49
which is one of the reasons why I mean, I'm not an expert on TV, but it's one of the reasons why what's so fascinating to me from the outside, about streaming is that all of these film, people have gone into television. And they're trying to renegotiate what a series is, what an episode is what, what it means to write, you know, sequential narratives, and the the breadth, the variety that we're getting all that works, of course, but you know, is is really fascinating. And I think that's something that is changing the model. And there's kind of a battle going on, it seems to me between, you know, those shows that are invested in the idea of the episode and the episode is actually a good thing. The episode is something that you want to, to kind of cherish you know, for its own purposes, and those who basically want to kill the episode dead and chop their long movie into, you know, random 30 minute 60 minute chapters, you know, and so, so that the war for sequential narratives is ongoing and I'm very interested to see where it ends up

Alex Ferrari 33:51
there basically is like, I want all the Harry Potter movie all the Harry Potter books out now as opposed to waiting little by little year after year waiting for them to all come out is like I want the whole story right now or I'm gonna value the episodes. And there's there's Netflix's and there's the hulu's of the world. Like I'm waiting for Handmaid's Tale and every week I'm like, right away. It is horrible. You know, I'm so used to just like bingeing everything. But it's a it's an interesting place we are without question. Now in your book, you also talk about mechanics, and some of the mechanics the screenwriters need to learn what are some of those mechanics?

Julian Hoxter 34:30
Well, I think there are many, but for me, one of the keys is format. And I think one of the things that certainly my experience of my students, one of the things that they often leave behind or feel a little bit frightened or is actually being creative with format, and realizing that format on the page is something that isn't simply a chore isn't simply a lesson to be learned, you know, slugline and the Scripture and character and dialogue. But once you get beyond that, it's something that you can be very literal. Memory with that you can be very stylistic that you own and that you can use as, you know, a creative tool. And I think that's something that often students take more time to come to terms with. Because, of course, you know, if you haven't written a screenplay before, and you're trying to think about story and character development, all the good things that you have to do structure falls down the, you know, the, the gap sometimes. So one of the things that I try and do in the book a little bit, but also, you know, my classes is really to show examples of format and different genres and different kind of styles, and get them excited by how to use that creatively, as opposed to just being, you know, the, the shorter learn, and then you do the basics, and then you move forward. And that's just one example.

Alex Ferrari 35:52
Now, can you talk us a little bit about the sea of white, that most producers, the sea of light, on the on the page, they want to see as much white space as possible, and that descriptions are not novels. And they have to make those concise?

Julian Hoxter 36:08
I mean, there are lots of reasons for this one that I've mentioned up front, I'll come back to exactly what you're talking about, is the the idea that, you know, when a producer or certainly a reader is engaging with your script, what is going to turn their blood cold, you know, particularly if your sample in turn, it's got 20 scripts through, you know, is is as walls of text it both in dialogue and in an inscription. But also, you know, the idea is that what you want to try and do is replicate the style of the movie on the will be on screen as much as you can in the way in which you set it up on the page. And sometimes that's about trying to anticipate things like kinesis, you know, movement, dynamism, action. So there are ways you can play fast and loose with with grammar and syntax, and you can carry a sentence over and we, we, your eyes move on moving us through, and we're kind of getting excited and reading fast. And that sometimes is exactly what you want. But anyway, what you want to do, you know, in my opinion, is to think away from, you know, the big descriptive paragraphs and to think more in what I call 40 images. So the sense that you aren't calling shots unless you have to, but what you're doing is implying shots by describing something succinctly, eloquently, and then line of wide, and then describing something else. And it's like, what you're doing is effectively calling the shots through, we're looking at this, we're looking at this, this happens as develops. And I think that's something that, you know, we just take a little bit of time to learn, but their instinct is to kind of you describe what's on screen, and you end up with, you know, the wall of text that we all want to avoid. But the idea of the 14 years, the idea that what you're doing is trying to inspire readers, directors, actors, and give them every opportunity to kind of launch from your disposable pages, you know, and and make them feel invested not only in the story in the abstract, but actually the style that you're implying that it will feel like once it's once it's on the screen, that I think is really important. And it's you know, the joke I was making, not much of a joke, but you know, is that when you have the director talking about their vision on late night talk show, you know, there's a there's the screenwriter, with his or her whiskey shouting on the screen saying that was my line, you know.

Alex Ferrari 38:30
But that's been going on since the beginning of I mean, what who was it was a jack Warner or something like that, that said that, you know, did this movie, this was great if we could just get rid of the writers or so. It's I can't remember the exact quote, but I know, it's one of those things. Now, one of the most difficult things I think to do as a writer is to develop a story out of an idea. How what what advice would you have for that?

Julian Hoxter 38:59
Again, you know, I guess I would backtrack a little bit. And I would say it depends what where the idea comes from? It depends to a certain extent, what what is the spark? Because sometimes the spark is a plot idea or a setting idea. Sometimes it's an image you get, and I wrote a novel I'm working on that just began with an image, an image came to me and I was interested in that image. And I began to ask questions about it and said, Well, why is that person doing what they're doing? What where is this What's going on? Sometimes it's you know, character. Sometimes it's a situation it's something political, with a small or large P. So the idea can come from anywhere. And I think that your first job is to give that idea space and begin to interrogate it and ask it logical questions. And those logical questions are really story by story telling questions. Because as soon as you ask, you know, here, here's my image. Well, okay, that's a character in that image. Who are they? What are they doing there? Why that Why are they feeling what they're feeling? What is the world around them? And so you begin to spider diagram and kind of expand beyond. So that is the kind of the organic development process, right, you begin with some Spark, and then you begin to kind of ask the questions. The other process is, you know, I guess to kind of think, cleverly about genres and hybridity. And, you know, loglines and think about well, okay, if I, if I take this, this kind of horror movie, but I add this kind of element, well, what does that become? And then I begin to expand it out. And I place a character in that world, and I see what goes on. So there, I guess there's top down and bottom up versions of story thinking, but this is really the only the beginning of it, then I think, you've got to decide, well, alright, who's my audience? Who is this for? Is this going to be a relatively conventional movie? Or am I kind of going somewhere way off on my own either, which is entirely fine, just deal with the consequences either way. And the consequences are relatively mainstream is you need now to talk the language of development in your own thinking. Because even if you don't conceive of the world, you made the point about free apps and forex a few minutes ago, and I agree with you completely. But even if that's not how you instinctively think you need to be able to articulate your idea in those terms, because that's how development things. Yeah, you know, and, and so I think it's, you know, another reason why it's a good idea to have some relatively coherent notion of conventional structure to fall back on, is because you're going to have to explain it that way to someone who doesn't have magical insight into your creative brain isn't an idiot, and does understand what they think story is and how it works. And you have to meet them halfway and be able to, to explain it. So this is a very good way of a reason to say no, you don't have to be formulaic, but you have to be able to talk to people who understand story in a certain way. And if you can do that, and if you can make your story work in that kind of frame, somebody will take the idea seriously, in principle, whether they like it or not, is another conversation in, then you begin to get into more. And then you begin to think about genres. And what kind of genre is this. And, you know, George has come with their own histories and joys, and also constraints, you know. And so all of these questions begin to put flesh on the bone on the bones. And I think that unless you're running up against the other, the one thing I would say on this is, unless you're running up against some really hard deadline, give yourself the luxury of time. Because I think, wherever your idea comes from, and however you begin to conceive it in terms of, you know, genre, and our audience and market and all these kind of pragmatic, professional questions, the more time you give it, as long as you'll be active with it, and thinking about it, the more chance there is that you're you'll develop it organically, rather than forcing it to a point comes where, you know, either you got to, you know, shut off the pot, right? I mean, you actually got to do something. But, you know, I think I've always got 234 story ideas that are somewhere in the, in the bubble of my cauldron mind, you know, different layers of levels of cooking, whatever I'm working on. And that's also a really great thing to have as a writer, because it means that, you know, you've got more than one idea, you know, you have things to move on to it, and you feel like you're part of an ongoing process of creative thought, and you aren't just I have this one idea. This is all I know, if it fails, my life is over, you know,

Alex Ferrari 43:28
there was, there was a movie I was watching the other day that which is gonna lead into the question I'm gonna ask you, I was watching a movie The other day, and I absolutely did not care in the least about the main character and what he was going through. And I was watching the movie. And I started to saying, you know what, I'm going to watch this to see where this goes. Because I'm curious on what the writers and the director, and the acting was good and had a nice cast to it. But no one I couldn't grab on to anything that the main character, I didn't care. The only moment at all, which I found interesting that I even remotely cared is when the main character was in some sort of real peril. Like they were going to go to prison because that they were wrongly accused or something like that. But throughout the entire movie, there's no stakes for this character other than emotional stakes that I really didn't care about. It wasn't enough and not enough to like hook on to. So what are some things that you like to see in main characters?

Julian Hoxter 44:26
Well, again, it comes down to this old writing cliche of needs, you know, but they need to need something. And, you know, I think the way I conceived the story is a lot of narratives is that you know, you have story and you have plot and and plot are things we see on screen surface action, and all the rest of it. And plot and story, you know, is this sort of motivational arc, right is why characters do what they do? Beyond the simply pragmatic, you know, someone shoots out in the dark, but I think, you know, understanding needs in relation to story and plot that will be the shorthand and theme. So if you don't have a coherent theme for your character, if they are trying to achieve something, trying to, you know, men some break, get some advantage. Find a woman man, the horse of their dreams. And I meant that in a golden pony kind of way.

Yeah, yes. Yes. That in a in a weird way. Yeah. And, you know, I think I think that's what gives stakes because then what you've done in your first act is you've established that this is a real person who has real flaws wants needs in the world. And you know, they make a decision to go out and trying to achieve that. And that's something that we want to see. That's what the basis of the story is. It doesn't matter how plot driven your story is. I mean, you can think about some movie like 2012 that's the the Mayan history. Yeah, the big the big world crushing it, then

we go to that movie, because you want to we want to see California fall into the sea, right? It's a spectacle. specter. Exactly. But But what holds the movie together is it's a story about, you know, some failing writer who can't keep his family together. So the story of the movie is about the john Cusack character, you know, trying to prove that he's not a deadbeat dad, and he can get into that video. Do we care about that? No. Is that how the movie sold to us? No. But it's coherent. And it's there. And that's the underlying narrative that holds the whole thing together, and allows us to forget about it and enjoy California falling into the sea. So even in very, very plot driven movies, you need that sense of character coherence behind the plotting. Otherwise, it's simply an exercise in stylistics.

Alex Ferrari 46:50
Right, so, so a character like Indiana Jones, who could have who could have been a very one dimensional character, I mean, because and the question asked me, because after Indiana Jones came out, a lot of one dimensional copies of him showed up and other in other films. But the thing that the theme, and that the I don't know if there's a theme, but the need behind Indiana Jones is that he wants to protect archeology, archaeological treasures, and they because they belong in a museum, they belong in a museum, and he fights for that if he was just a treasure hunter, or if he was just a grave draw arriver which so many of his copies were, they fall flat, but because of that one little tweak in the character that there's a real earnest ness about why he's doing what he's doing. That's what drives his character.

Julian Hoxter 47:39
I could not agree more. And this is why you know, what wonderful as some of the Tomb Raider books are books of games are books. You know, that's why they don't work as movies because you don't have that kind of lesson. But the other thing of course, the Indiana Jones has, is a really engaging B store. Right? A really engaged antique stores. Yep, yeah, we see that he's basically an asshole. But, but also he you know, he will sacrifice himself to save Marian, Marian. And of course, not the Marian always the saving, right. I mean, this is one of the joys of the movie is the man you know, so so she can meet him on his own ground which is which is you know, cool all these you know, they they sell are out a little bit here and there

Alex Ferrari 48:24
but basically, and but the whole but the whole the whole list, but let me looking at Raiders, the whole thing has so many different layers, so many different things going on subplots, other storylines, you know, making Indiana Jones who is essentially a superhero of its of his day, his kryptonite of snakes and how hilarious that is, and giving him a weakness like that. Throughout the piece, and all of these things. It's great. And then like looking at Last Crusade, where the thing that brings him, like kind of like weakens him as his father and his relationship with his father join. Yeah, it's so brilliant. Yeah, yes. Please, please continue with your Sean Connery, sir.

Julian Hoxter 49:10
That's all Yeah. Well, I guess what, by the way, when I was growing up, you know, if you're a kid in England in the school in the 70s, you didn't have a bad Michael Caine or you've never bad Sean Connery, you and so on. So,

Alex Ferrari 49:20
obviously, I guess

Julian Hoxter 49:23
we'll always Indiana Jones. Yeah. I mean, and this is also the way in which, you know, its own intertext right, going back, this is how you land a bit or not, is only intertext as you know, an adventure movie, a kind of mash serials, you know, all all the other genres that can come in, you know, is so wonderful because every each one you do allows you to do a different thing allows you to add another element to it. And also, you know, but I think we were talking about you know, style and style of writing and how that you plays, you know on screen one of the things that, of course, makes Indiana Jones also so real is the fact that you don't have digital statistics. Yeah, facts don't you have people who actually getting dragged behind trucks and all the rest, and it may be somewhat less dynamic than, you know, the Avengers movie, which I admire in some way. But, you know, you feel that he's been through hell to get where he's going. So not only is he emotionally had to deal with things, and not only has he has to deal with his integrity, and the fact that you know, Nazis hate those guys. But also, you know, you can feel how he's been beaten up, all the way through the movie, and it feels like, it feels real. But it feels real in a way that most movies made the last 20 years never do.

Alex Ferrari 50:52
Right. And even when that showed up, it was something that really, people were just completely blown away by, because it was just something you've never seen before. One thing that I really love to hear your opinion on is mixing of genres. When you when you collide genres, that's where some really interesting things happen. So, you know, Star Wars, or let's let's deploy, by the way, that's what I have to do. So, so let's, let's combine something very contemporary Mandalorian, which is a spaghetti western, meets a sci fi film. That is, it's not a sci fi film by itself, it's not a spaghetti western by itself. It is a mixed genre. And because of it, it allows for so many different tropes and things that you couldn't do in its own if they was just to separate. There's things that you can't do in a spaghetti western that you can do a Mandalorian. And there's things in the Mandalorian you could do you can't do in a sci fi standards. ffl. Right.

Julian Hoxter 51:48
I mean, you know, thinking about the history of screenwriting, one of the great interventions that the first star was made is the idea of centering the assumptions around the potential hybridity, right? I mean, this is the thing that you know, Star wasn't a samurai movie, Star Wars was Western star was a science fiction, movie and cereal. And so and this is getting to the end compared to what we were talking about with Indiana Jones. So that sense in which hybridity has become increasingly Central, as opposed to occasional King is a really, really important idea and one that you know, if you're, if your pitch if your movie, if your spec has an interesting hybridity to it, it's actually much more likely to get read seriously. And

Alex Ferrari 52:36
a sci fi romance is more interesting than a romance, like, the great movie somewhere in time. When Machina Christopher Reeve you think it came out in like 80. But that was a a back in time romance sci fi film, but it took place in like, Victorian times, if I remember correctly, or the wet at something like that. But it was it was a romance sci fi, I mean, Back to the Future. Right. I love Ladyhawke.

Julian Hoxter 53:09
Oh, of course. Right. You know? Well, so Exactly. And I couldn't agree with you more, I think. But I think this is one of the great things about the current generation of potential writers is that they think I bring it in almost instinctively. Now. Because I grew up I have so much it's almost one of the things I don't have to teach in my classes on all the teaching Exactly. But you know, because my, my students are coming from video games, and they come from comic books, and they're coming from, you know, everything that's going on in YouTube in the media and tik tok, and who knows what stuff that I I wouldn't know, because I'm too old. You know, and I think that they're already doing half of that thinking. And that's very encouraging. But yes, I mean, I think that this is right. One way of thinking about it, though, is what is your lead genre? And what what is the hybrid your and how are they colliding. So an example of that I would take would be the first alien alien, which you know, opens as a science fiction, we're a science fiction, but we were on a spaceship, people are waking up, they're figuring out what the hell's going on. And then it becomes obviously an old dark house film, that becomes, you know, here's monster chasing us through the house, and the horror comes into it. But the lead is science fiction. And that I think, is important to understand, you know, what the, the hierarchy and the most important part of of alien is the horror is the the nature of the alien being and its stages and its abilities. But, you know, it's sold as a science fiction movie in which these other things happen. So thinking about what what genre leads and what genres, you know, infested, but also thinking also not just about hybridity, in terms of mixing two or more genres, upfront, but also the idea of mode. And the idea that there are times in a movie where another kind of genre can bleed in infested and then can go out again. So if you think of a movie like Silence of the Lambs, right, which is a procedural, right? And, but there are moments when it absolutely invests itself in horror, but those moments come and go. So, you know, for example, when lecture spoilers when Lecter escapes, and we think that he's injured some cop very badly, and they're in the back of the ambulance, and he sits up and takes off, so great, not only a CUDA, CUDA cinema, great moment, but also that's like, that's modal, right? That's the moment where another drone goes up, and then back down again, as opposed to being the constant. Right? You know,

Alex Ferrari 55:41
like alien, like, alien would be like, yeah, yeah. And then and then, of course, Cameron took aliens to another level where it took whore action, sci fi and war, right. And he jammed those all together. And I think Cameron specifically who, oddly enough camera doesn't get the credit that he deserves as a writer, because he's so well known as a director being one of the most prolific, you know, and, you know, most popular directors of all time, but his genres, the way he combines genre, and all it Titanic, True Lies. I mean, from the beginning from Terminator, he's combining genres and themes. That you know, the is is pretty remarkable, like in Terminator, I mean, I mean, there's a few things going on in Terminator between science fiction, action, the almost like the Immaculate Conception, idea, you know, like, he's got a lot of stuff going on. But he's been doing that throughout his career in almost every movie. And I, when I talked to when I talked to some, some very popular screenwriters, Cameron is one that always pops up when I talked to them. They go, yeah, just James man. Jim knows how to do this, or Jim does that. And like avatar, I mean, I just love to talk to you real quickly about avatar, because he gets so much crap. A lot of a lot of other writers. They're like, Oh, it's so visceral. So that, but yet, yet, he was able to combine, you know, it's basically Dances with Wolves, beats ferngully, and jammed in those two ideas, and then jammed in a bunch of other things as well. But the way he presented the story, it touched a chord in humanity, because it's still the biggest movie of all time. 12 years, however, long later, it's still holding strong in the era of Avengers, which it did beat of avatar for a minute, but that avatar got re released, and it took over again, you know, but it's, it's remarkable with Cameron and Avatar, like, What? How would you analyze that? Because it is it's, you know, it's I can't say it's paint by numbers, because it's not, it's it's this it deceives it's, you are deceived by its simplicity, but yet the complexity behind it? Well, I

Julian Hoxter 57:59
think, I guess where I come in, is, I think it's two thirds of a genius movie. And then the last one. In other words, it feels like all of the things that invested me and engaged me that cleverness growth, you know, I mean, again, as you say, it's not it's not most complex film well, but, but the cleverness Of The Avatar system, and other building relationships and all this kind of stuff, which, you know, half of me is going Yes, yes, yes, I get, I get where this is coming from and how this is working, but it works. And but, you know, that setup I found genuinely engaging and interesting, I like the world and IV and all this. But, but then it kind of defaults to an action movie. Yeah, then, you know, there are, you know, the humans has fallen to cliche, and it's so obvious that I have to hate them. And, you know, almost, I kind of lose interest. It's well done. I mean, it's amazingly, you know, as a piece of spectacle, it's very effective. You know, the flying around those those hobbit ships and more wrestling. But, but I kind of lose interest because it What happened, the hybridity, kind of the balance of the genres went away from me. And I began to feel that I that I was less interested towards the end.

Alex Ferrari 59:14
But when you see you see a film like avatar, or, you know, or like any of you go back to aliens. It's not a complex story. The stories are not like mine, Turner's they're not like a Nolan film, but they're executed to almost perfection. It's kind of like making a chocolate chip cookie. The recipe is not complex, most people could do it, but when you execute it perfectly, it's the best chocolate chip cookie ever.

Julian Hoxter 59:43
Right. And it's also a film that back in if you think back 20 years ago, it's a film that actually use 3d creatively and Well, no, no. So this is not in one sense. This has nothing to do with storytelling and I was in has everything to do with storytelling, you know, right. That you know, that there have been these You know, more recent experiments and with 3d and they were okay and whatever. And then I remember sitting in the cinema and watching avatar in 3d Oh, oh, okay, this is different. This is this is this is this is not like these other things

Alex Ferrari 1:00:14
was that when Hugo when when Scorsese to Hugo, he used 3d. Yeah, purposefully and with design and style and it's not just converted. It was designed that way and I saw I only saw avatar in the theater in 3d. Like I've never seen it in the theater without the 3d aspect. And it's arguably when the only movie I enjoyed in 3d, honestly.

Julian Hoxter 1:00:36
Well, exactly. This is what I'm saying that that I'm all for 3d when it actually becomes, you know, even radically part of the aesthetic. And I think people did it in avatar. You know what? Well, it simply becomes excuse to charge me 10 bucks more for my seat I'm not interested in.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:52
And I think the new avatars are going to be honestly the thing that brings people back to the theaters. It's going to be expected next time, next, next summer or next winter, I think it comes out 2022 it comes out. But then they're coming out every two years after that, where every year after that, because he's got all four of them in a row. But But I think that would be the film that brings people because I don't want to see that at home. Like there's certain films I don't want to see at home, I want to get that spectacle. Well, this,

Julian Hoxter 1:01:20
this brings us I couldn't agree with you more again. But this brings us back to the big unknown right now. What is the future of cinema as an institution as an opportunity to sell me popcorn? And I think obviously, the 3d was seen as being, you know, a life extender? And is it still you know, where are we going to be? I don't have an answer to that. Where are we going to be in 246 10 years time? Or are we going to have a few cinemas to show us specialist movies? Or are we really going to have a healthy exhibition sector? You know, I wonder?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:56
I think I personally my opinion is that it's going to go the way of Broadway. I mean, plays War The only thing for a while, but now, plays are expensive things that you go to in their spectacle in their high productions and things like that. And I think 30 or 40 years, seeing an independent film at a cinema, you know, or seeing a comedy or seeing, you know, is is going to be rare and rare and rare. Because it's just the way it is, but but I don't think it will die. I just think it will. It's gonna be spectacle. And there might be arthouse things like like there's like there's Off Broadway, or there's like, you know, plays somewhere else. There always be some form of it just like plays are still there's no reason to go see a play. But people do see it because it's enjoyable. It's a different form of art. Right? I mean, I

Julian Hoxter 1:02:41
guess I guess he I mean, my instinct, I think I think I'm I largely agree with what you said. On the other side of it is the question is, where does that where does that social interaction go? Where? Where do kids go on dates? Where does it where what becomes the replacement for cinema as a social activity?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:56
is a very, it's a Ready Player One. Is that what it is? No, but like is that you? And I can't conceive of it because we didn't grow up with it. But my daughters are coming up and they're playing Roblox or, or, you know, or World of Warcraft or things like that. Where Warcraft? Yeah, you're in the digital space. And then that gets into a whole conversation. It was like, why people buying NF T's? And why are people you know, it's it's a different mindset completely than what we're used to in the analog world.

Julian Hoxter 1:03:28
No, you're right. I mean, I mean, absolutely. And, you know, I'm, I'm in well, Walker, I'm in the guild and ready to do these things. So obviously, that social space is something I'm familiar with. And yet, you know, I think, I think the that sense of, of the virtual versus the real, you know, where where do a gender and gender be or both genders the same? You end up where they can where they can be 14 and touch each other and make out in the back row.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:54
I agree. I don't know where that's gonna be. It might be movies still. But it might be. It might be it might be something else. Oh, I

Julian Hoxter 1:04:02
mean, that's the interesting question. Right. So I guess all I'm saying is that's my that's my big unknown as far as the future of the future exhibition. I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:11
Yeah. Yeah. So let me ask you, what are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Ah,

Julian Hoxter 1:04:20
this is one of the questions that if you said if you sent me this one before, I might have had a really interesting question. Um, okay. Let me try and find a quick answer. flicks in Sundance

Alex Ferrari 1:04:35
comes up often. Coleman Of course. Yeah.

Julian Hoxter 1:04:41
And the thing by Bergman I was in translation, but just anything by Bergman, Alex Cox's Repo Man,

Alex Ferrari 1:04:49
Repo Man, oh, under a certain definition of my favorite film, that's my favorite film. Oh man is one of those that deals with hybridity rapidly. Oh gee. uses does it? I mean, that's, I mean, look at they live. Oh, oh, god that just the fight scene alone is worth the price of admission. Well, you wouldn't back right? Yeah. Oh, rowdy right, s&p, sir. Now what? What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Julian Hoxter 1:05:21
Again, great question, tricky one, I think it well. Part One, it depends on what you mean by business. If you mean Hollywood, if you mean big, big budget movies, then you know, it's about having enough experience that you can, you can really write a screenplay, you haven't just managed to struggle through one you've got, you've written 234, you actually have that set of skills as a writer and you're flexible. Second is that you are an entrepreneur, you need to be an entrepreneur, you need to be able to talk to people, you need to be the cliche, good in a room, you need to be someone who has the guts, and the you know, the arrogance without being a dick. Ideally, to be able just to go and talk to someone, you have to be able to make connections, you have to be able to, to build relationships, because it's still a relationship driven business. Which kind of means that you can be a writer, you can be successful and not live in LA. But to be to start as a writer. Yes, I think that's trickier not to be in LA.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:25
I'm from Southern Indiana know, from someone who lived outside of LA for a long time, and I've been here for 13 years now. I get that I understand it. Is it possible to do it outside of La? Yes, no question. There's other places that have a lot of production in the United States. And if you're outside of the United States, you know, London and other other places within each country has but but la does something as its as of this recording, because there's an exodus right now, as of this record, there's an exodus out of California, that you learn here at a quicker pace, because you're working with people at a higher level than you would outside this market. And it's not because they're better or worse, it's just because they just do it so often, that you just get that experience much faster. Like I learned more in the first year, I was here that in five years of living in Florida doing the business, it's just, it's just that kind of thing. And the connections are here, the connections or hear you,

Julian Hoxter 1:07:26
and even if even if you take the route of you know, starting as a PA and wherever else, and just and just getting the experience of being on sets and meeting people, you know, you're gonna meet people, you're going to meet producers, you're going to meet people who are at a level that when they want to help you, they can help you. Oh, by the way, the worst thing, of course, you can do is turn up the first day I was on a on a shoot and talk to the producer and handling the screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:46
But don't, don't

Julian Hoxter 1:07:48
don't. But you know, we have a relationship. And then the point will come where they will say what have you got?

Alex Ferrari 1:07:56
That's the only the way I always tell young filmmakers and writers about making connections and stuff is, and I'm sure you have this experience as well, we can smell desperation coming from a mile away. It is a very bad scent. And you can smell it. If you're a professional. I've been in this business for a while. So when somebody just wants to meet from you, I need from you, I need from you, I need you, I need this and you need to do something for me that energy, you can smell it in a heartbeat. Whereas the opposite is where you go, how can I be of service to you? How can I help you? And it could be something super simple, could be more complex, and you start building relationships that way, because that's how friendships are built.

Julian Hoxter 1:08:35
Exactly. I mean, listen, I mean, I think again, I think you've hit the nail on the head. And what I would say is that the to some people who listen to this, that might sound like he's being cynical, he's not being cynical. Because, you know, it's about building a human relationship, which is based on trust and respect. And that, you know, frankly, if you meet somebody higher up in the industry, there's nothing they really want from you.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:00
What do you have to offer Steven Spielberg? Right, other than your willingness to be human helpful? And yeah, I mean, I've been of service and I promise you, that is very valuable. Because at when you meet people at that level, when you can connect with them at a human level authentically, that is rare in their world, because everybody's always trying to imagine being Steven Spielberg. Imagine walking into the last 30 years to every room, you walk into every eyeballs on you because you know you're you're kingmaker, you can literally just go you, you now shall direct you You shall write and with one touch of his hand, it's your your your The door opens Can you stay there is up to you. But the door opens opportunities open. And I've and I've had the pleasure of speaking to people who've, and by the way, Spielberg has touched so many careers, so many careers. It's he's one of the most giving people in this business. But can you imagine being him walking around with that

Julian Hoxter 1:09:59
I won't Exactly. But I mean, it's like this, that everyone in Hollywood or the industry knows that every relationship is, in some sense, contingent is some, in some sense in some way. So, you know, given that you need to try as hard as you can to be as human as possible, you know, so that that's not what you're thinking about when you're engaging with someone. Well, that's all they're thinking about. Right? And if you know if people like you, and they want to help you, they'll help you.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:28
Yeah, and also Time, time, right? I'm sorry, yeah. And it takes time. And it's not gonna happen in six months. I've had, I had relationships with people for three or four years, before I even asked them for anything, or before they even offered anything, because I learned that along the way, whereas when I was younger, I would walk on the set script, or the idea. I'm like, Hey, can I have your card? I got this thing. It's going to be worth me. I.

Julian Hoxter 1:10:54
Of course, you did. Because it's the law. Right. And I say this, you know, when you're young, and you're an asshole, you don't know. I mean, it's just, you know, I mean, with all due respect, but yeah, sure. Yeah. I mean, this is exactly the exactly the thing.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:07
Yeah, without question.

Julian Hoxter 1:11:09
I'm just saying, This is definitely something I'm going to show all my all my students because what you said there is, is so important.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:17
Yeah. And I and it's, I appreciate that because I I talked to filmmakers and screenwriters on a daily basis. And I talked to the most experienced and I've talked to the most that, you know, naive and delusional it of our species, and, and it's there's nothing worse than a delusional filmmaker who thinks that they're, I always go like, I always pretend to be this delusional filmmaker. And I'll say, when Why hasn't Hollywood knocked on my door? Why haven't they recognized my genius? I don't they understand that I am the next Tarantino or the next Nolan or the next Fincher, don't they get it that why haven't they just seen my short film and just automatically just given me a check? Why hasn't Sundance allowed me into their their little festival when they should be recognizing my talent? These are? These are serious conversations I've had with filmmakers who are and screenwriters to, who are they just think because they wrote something that they're owed someone to read it? That's not the way the game works, guys at all. And I'm sure you deal with it on a daily basis. I have nothing to add to that. That is that is. that's it in a nutshell. No, I mean that. Yes. And finally, last question, three of your favorite films of all time, I know Repo Man is on the top of that list. Now the Wicker Man original, the original. You mean the Nicolas Cage? Obviously the genius Nicolas Cage. The bees the bees? No, no, not No. The boy. originalism work of Jesus. Okay, we mentioned bourbon diversion spring. Okay. Great, great choices. And can we all agree that Nicolas Cage is a national treasure and should be it should be treated as such? I'm sure before Mount Rushmore or wherever, where, wow. But what I'm dying to have. I'm dying to have him on my show one day, or at least just get to speak to him one day, right? Because he is. I just love him and everything. with you. I think he's terrific. He's awesome. And you know what I love about him. And this now we're going on the side on a side side thing here. But what I love about guys like Nick, it like I know him, Mr. cage, is that they take swings at the bat. Where they get on Bay, the when they get up to the to the bottom of the batter's box, they take big monstrous swings. And you need artists to take swings like Nolan Nolan takes massive swings when he shows up to bat, you know, there's the safe bunkers and the first base hits and but then there's these guys that just show up and if a swing and they strike out, they take the hits, you know, and that's the kind of artists

Julian Hoxter 1:13:55
which is why you keep them on the roster, because you know that next time they're gonna

Alex Ferrari 1:13:59
they're the they're the big giant guys that just like they catch one. I'm trying to make a segue to cricket here, but I just done it. This is I don't know, what is it? Exactly. Yeah, it's best I can with baseball. I've had a few. I've had a few Brits who just like, I'm with you. If it was soccer, excuse me football. It would be. It'd be one thing it'd be cricket. But you get the idea. I totally get the idea. Julian has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I know. We could probably talk for another hour. Where can people find out more about you can look up your books? Well,

Julian Hoxter 1:14:33
they exist on Amazon. I don't have a functional website right now. But hopefully that will emerge soon. But I'm on faculty at San Francisco State University in the School of cinema. And that's where I do my teaching. And you can find out

Alex Ferrari 1:14:47
more about it. I'll put links to all of that in the show notes. Julian, thank you so much for for sharing your knowledge bombs with the tribe today, sir.

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BPS 123: Billy Crystal – The Art of Comedy Screenwriting

There are performers that impact your life without you even knowing it and today’s guest fits that bill. On the show, we have comedic genius, multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer, director, and television host, Billy Crystal. We’ve seen Billy’s versatile work across all areas in the entertainment world, stand-up, improv, Broadway, behind and in front of the camera, feature films, television, live stages like SNL, and animated movies. 

It’s fascinating how much the man has done over the span of his career—and his lengthy IMDB page is only the tip of the iceberg.

Billy’s career took off for his role in the 70’s sitcom SOAP, where he played a gay character, Jodie Dallas. This launched him into box office hits such as When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, Analyze This, and the kids favorite, Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. just to name a few. 

Aside from hosting the Oscars® a record nine times and being only one step away from an EGOT, he’s a philanthropist. Billy, along with Whoopi Goldberg and the late Robin Williams created the annual fundraiser stand-up comedy show, Comic Relief, in 1986 that has over the years, raised over $60 million to support the homeless. 

The late 80s and early 90s were a really magical time for Billy’s career. He had the box office hits Running Scared and Throw Momma from the Train. He had scene-stealing parts in the classics This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride

There’s the 1989 box office smash hit When Harry Met Sally, starring Billy alongside Meg Ryan and Carrie Fisher. The story follows Harry and Sally who had known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.

You can’t talk about Billy Crystal classics without mentioning City Slickers for which he won a Golden Globes award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical/Comedy. On the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest.

Billy’s interest in entertainment started way before college. But his decision to go to NYU put some goals into place for him. He was a member of an improv/comedy group in college and soon he started to host solo standup shows. By 1978, he landed his first starring feature film role in Rabbit Test in which he starred with Joan Rivers

Towards the end of the 90s, Billy joined iconic Robert De Niro and Lisa Kudrow in the box blockbuster hit Analyze This and its sequel to the Analyze That.

Billy’s work transcends generations and Gen Z is his newest fandom; distinctively for his role in Monster Inc. and Monsters University, Mike Wazowski. Monsters University revisits the relationship between Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sully” Sullivan during their days at Monsters University when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.

Billy will reprise his role as Mike Wazowski in the Monsters at Work Disney+ series that is set for release later this year.

One defining element of Billy’s work, be it writing, acting, or directing is that the pulls from real-life experiences and balances funny and hard conversations effortlessly. Having started out in the business since he was 20 years old, it is absolutely thrilling to watch how he’s knitted together diverse platforms and filed into an accomplished career. 

This Friday, May 7th, Billy’s newest film, in which he wrote and directed, Here Today, stars himself and the incredibly funny, Tiffany Haddish, will be released only in theaters. These two make a seamless pairing and their chemistry is oh so charming. The intergenerational teaming of Billy and Tiffany tells a love story that is of friendship, support, and empathyI absolutely LOVED the film. Do yourself a favor and go out and catch this gem of a film. 

When veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz meets New York street singer Emma Payge, they form an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust.

Billy has always been there to make me laugh, in good times and bad. I can not tell you what an honor and thrill it was getting to sit down and speak to a filmmaker, writer, and actor that has meant so much to me in my life.

Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Billy Crystal.

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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I'd like to welcome to the show Billy Crystal. How you doing, Billy?

Billy Crystal 0:07
I'm great. I see Alex,

Alex Ferrari 0:09
thank you so much for being on the show. It is. I am humbled and honored to to have you on the show. Truly it is I when I was speaking to like I was telling you earlier speaking to my wife that was gonna have you on the show. And we both kind of geeked out a minute. It took it took us a minute, we kind of kicked out and I've, I mean, we just kind of like oh my god, it's it's you know, it's Mr. Chris, I'm not gonna embarrass you. I'm not gonna embarrass you. But I mean, I when I was when I was going, coming up, in growing up in high school, I was in a video store. Wait a minute, calm down.

Billy Crystal 0:40
I know. I know. But you know, when I said when I was a kid I loved you know. My mother was listening to city slickers. I heard you in a womb. No, you're

Alex Ferrari 0:51
not that young. I'm not that young. Thank you. Thank you, though, for saying that. But I'm not that young. When I was in high school. It was the 80s, late 80s, early 90s. So that was kind of like, a really magical time for your career from running scared and 86 When Harry Met Sally city slickers in that whole kind of that run. So, you know, you, you, you've been a very big part of my life growing up, and I just want to say thank you, before we even get started. Thank you for all the amazing things you've done over the years. And now my daughter's when I told them, they go my daughters now who are nine, they say, I told them like, oh, we're gonna I'm gonna, they always want to know who I'm talking to. I'm like, I'm talking to Mr. Billy Crystal. And they tell me, and they go, city slickers. And I go, yeah, yeah, because I showed him sleeve slickers. The other day, literally, like, probably a month or two ago, we showed him city slickers, and he loved it. And then then they go, what else is he done? I'm like, oh, his Mike was our ski. And their eyes just exploded like you're talking.

Billy Crystal 1:50
When, when, you know, I have four grandchildren. So when they first started to be aware of grandpa in a different way, other than the guy who carried them and put them into bed and stuff. So now we were walking in very interesting, beautiful mall here called the Grove. And in LA, and some paparazzi just started taking pictures of us and it was was weird for them. What is what what is? What, what, what, what, because I hadn't mentioned anything, and they will let you know. So I said, Well, you know, I'm in the movies, I do movies. And and we're who I while I'm Mike wazowski. And they flipped out. They just flipped out like your daughter's except they're my granddaughters. So they will call the house looking for Mike wazowski. So if I answered Hello. Oh, is Mike there? I'd have to be Hold on. I'll get him that went on for like three years. It was it was just every day. I'll get him. Oh, I said those kids again. Yeah, Mike. Oh. So I appreciate you know, we have a new series coming out called monsters at work, which will be July 2 under Disney plus, we just finished 10 of them john Goodman and I and a whole new cast of wonderful new characters. So it'll be it'll be kicked up again. You know? If it's Mike, they know we buy I'm very happy about that. He's one of my if not my favorite character I've ever played.

Alex Ferrari 3:21
He's the Monsters Inc. I mean, let's we have to get started with monster take up. And when I first started, like that last scene, just like tears, just me. I don't care if you don't have a heart. You have to cry in that movie. It's amazing. It's amazing. Now how did I want to let the audience I want to go back a little bit into your career. How did you get started in the business?

Billy Crystal 3:40
Um, you know, I in the bit? Well, it's two separate kind of answers, Alex, I mean, I got started when I was about three, four years old, literally making what your parents laugh, your relatives laugh to older funny brothers. They're hilarious still. And, you know, when you're the youngest in the shortest, you tend to be the loudest. So I had a fight from my, my spot, you know, and usually when we had an act together, I would close. And I'd be on the coffee table. And I was sort of like a little Jewish, Don Rickles at three, four or five years old, I could imitate them and so and so but and that never stopped. That just has never stopped. And when I graduated from NYU film school, I had two wonderful friends that we did improv together because I was always, you know, still doing comedy in some way. And we formed a comedy group. And we've been together for a long time, like four years. But all during that time, I knew that I was sort of hiding and that I needed to be out there by myself that I was at my heart really a stand up. And so we have to four years towards the end. It was just a really emotionally hard time I had a baby already. And and I was substitute teaching and the junior high school that I went to. And which was weird because I'd be in the teacher's dining room and they would teach us that I had. And now I said, it's okay to call me by my first name. And I would say, No, you're still Mr. Graf. You're Mr. tardy? No. So, so then we started working, working and, and I said, I just got to, I just kind of get off on my own and out of the blue, a friend of mine calls from NYU and said, Listen, do you know what I wanted to do stand up at a fraternity party zbt house on Mercer Street, in the village and and I instantly said, I'll do it. I'll do it. And he goes, well wonder, when did you start doing stand up? I said, oh, I've been doing it for a wild lied my ass off, put together a bunch of, you know, lift 1015 minutes that I thought would be okay. You know, this was a Tuesday and the gig was a Friday night. This might work that went work, but I just, I just had to do it. And I got up there that night. And I I just exploded? I did. I just improvised for like an hour. And, and that was there was no turning back. I mean, that was that was really it for me. So that was like 1973 and change.

Alex Ferrari 6:21
And I mean, I've I've worked with stand ups a lot in my career as a director and I, it's it's hard to improv, yes, it is hard to get up on that stage. And do you know, and you always think you're the funny guy? Yeah, like, Oh, yeah, I could tell jokes. Yeah, with three or four people, but you get in front of a bunch of strangers with that light on you. And that mic, all of a sudden, you're not as cute as you might have thought you were?

Billy Crystal 6:41
Yeah, no, it's, it's until you get your feet underneath you and, and your brain working the right way. Right. And you're able to put yourself into your act, you know, and not not just do like an act, but talk, talk about what's important to you and find the funny about that, then that's, that's really something, you know, for me, it's, it's, you know, all these years later, it's, there's only a few places I'm really comfortable. In my own skin, and onstage is one of them.

Alex Ferrari 7:15
Now, what did stand up do as far as helping you prepare for the very gentle and inviting and warm film industry.

Billy Crystal 7:30
And I think about that. Because, you know, it's hard when you do your own things, and you believe in what you're doing. And then suddenly, as you you know, you're, you're starting to show work to people who tell you no, but or we don't like that we like this. And it's a different audience. But and a powerful one, because they can say yes or no. So that was, you know, that's it still is always a challenge. That's why I you know, we're here today, I am so thrilled that we were able to get something made. And, and, and finished during the pandemic, but that we were able to write a funny, moving movie, full emotional journey for an audience that and I have to say, at this age to get to get something done, and have people embrace it the studio people embrace it like Sony has with this movie. So yeah, so it's the standup. Or it's always the place that I returned to for new ideas. You know, if if and money, but it's

Alex Ferrari 8:57
mostly money. It's mostly man, let's just because

Billy Crystal 8:59
It's just downtime and and God knows there have been, you know, well, why don't I this isn't happening, that's not happening. Well, you know, what if I can't let's, let's book some days, and I'll go out on the road, like three years ago, I did 35 cities, and I had the greatest time. And then your mind starts getting all oiled up, you know, and and you start seeing things differently. And then, you know, I, we were on the road, you know, Janice, and I've been married almost 51 years. So right from the beginning. She'd be making notes in the audience for me, or I'd run back to the motel after I did a gig. And and she'd be there and we go over the notes. And so so now, three years ago, we're running back to the hotel and doing the notes. You know, we're just and then seeing all that could be this that could go that that that could be that that's funny that workers and then it's just it's all how it started out and it all feels very right.

Alex Ferrari 10:00
That's amazing. And it's amazing that, that you you still you as you were explaining it to me, you were like, a 20 year old, you were like a kid like, yeah, and then we got this and that the juices flowing, we got this and that and this and that. And it is fascinating. The, the the creative mind and how it works, especially, again, the stand up comic is very interesting creature to say.

Billy Crystal 10:25
Well, the thing, the thing about it I love the most are the surprises, right? And it's thrilling, it is absolutely thrilling when you can knit together an entire sequence off the top of your head because the juice of the audience is so good. And then it's like, you know, you're, it's a there's a power about it, that it's very hard to explain unless you experience it yourself. You're walking, you're talking you're thinking you're thinking ahead. You know, you're it's almost like chess, you three moves, you're setting up things, you're setting the audience up where they don't see it coming here, but when you get on a riff and it's in it's, it just comes and you get on a roll. It's it's really it's, you know, it's really something it's, it's still it still is a great feeling to have.

Alex Ferrari 11:23
Now, I have to ask you this because my father told me, I have to ask you this. He was a monstrous fan of soap. One of your early shows that really kind of arguably kind of blew you into the into the mainstream a bit and, and your character Jody that you brought to life on soap was, I mean, I remember watching it later, like when I was in high school, I would watch episodes, and my father just so obsessed, obsessed. He couldn't stop laughing with that film with that show. But it was a pretty, pretty bold character in the late 70s to be bringing out a gay character on television was where you were the first I don't even know if you were the first Yeah, it was the first

Billy Crystal 12:06
week recurring starring character in a network television show. They are like films. And but nobody, you know, approached it with humor, right? The way that the brilliant really, you know, they say boys, she, he's a genius. She's Susan Harris, who created so it was a genius to me. She wrote the first 65 or 68 episodes all by herself. Wow. For a lot of characters. You know, we had like least 12 main characters and then supporting characters in one eight people and so on so forth that would come in and out of the story. The jokes are great that the characters were fantastic and amazing cast. And, and and Jodie Dallas was when they approached me about playing him after seeing me on a Tonight Show with Johnny and and I met with him and I was nervous about it until I met with him. And it was Susan and her late husband, Paul Witt and Tony Thomas, great producers. And to me the best director in television at the time j SandRidge, who would was Mary Tyler Moore director and and just, you know, one of the MTM heavyweights and, and we talked for a long time, about what Where's he going? What what's what's to be said, you know, what, what, what? how honest is this going to be how, you know, and, and it started out, honestly a little rubbery I thought and and, and then it's settled in into a real interesting, thoughtful, funny, stood up for himself strong character who knew who he was that most of the time, there was some confusion about his to himself, his own sexuality and so on. But then, you know, he just was very endearing to people. And it was four years of it. And I think the test of it, Alex was he had a one night stand. And he ends up fathering a baby girl. And his mother sues for custody. And it was a big court battle. That was my story, you know, because it was a soap opera. So that you know your story comes around every couple of months sometimes, which was frustrating. But Jodie wins custody of the baby. And they did a poll. I remembered ag xavc did it who should get the baby and it was almost unanimous that Jodie should get the child and I thought that was the victory. Have the character, the trust for a gay, single gay man to get cut to the child, so I'm very proud of those years, you know, it was four years. I saw on Twitter that I don't know, two weeks ago was the last episode of soap aired 1981 I guess two weeks ago, I don't know. But it was a great group of actors to work with, that really was supportive of me, knowing the pressure that I was under. And Richard Mulligan, who played bird Campbell was a genius. And, and Catherine Hellman, who passed away last year also just really nurtured me. And rock, you know, was, so who played best you know, but Bob was very, very, always such a strong man had to play a black servant for white, white people, or rich white people, that he played it with dignity and with humor, and, and sometimes was the the only sane one on the cast, and sometimes both portrayed that way, the only two same people or, or, you know, the gay guy and Ben Benson, you know, back then they would say stuff like that. And Bob was very nurturing for me. And, you know, he would wait for me when I would do a scene, and I'd come off the set, and he'd be like, one of the first ones there to give me a hug and say, that was really good, so and so forth. And, and we had a long talk about it once. And it was really, it was really beautiful. He said, you know, art to carry characters are minorities. And, and, you know, so we have to stand up for each other. And it was, it was a beautiful thing. All the people there were were great, just great.

Alex Ferrari 17:04
Well I mean, from there you I mean, you obviously you're, you know, a legendary actor who it's been in so many classics, and I said again, don't wanna embarrass you, but you're a very event a veteran actor who's been in tremendous amounts of you know,

Billy Crystal 17:19
legendary better than veteran price means he's all in good shape everybody.

Alex Ferrari 17:30
You get you get you get paid more as legendary as as opposed to veteran I think that's generally the difference. But you've not only been in so many amazing films as an actor, but what a lot of people don't realize too is you're very accomplished writer and also an accomplished director. And one of the things I've noticed in a lot of your writing and and directing and some some of your projects, but writing is that you pull from real life experiences as as a writer with things like my giant, Mr. Mr. Saturday night, America, sweethearts, the comedians, do you find it easier to write that way? Like the pull from, from things that you know, because I remember watching, I might have been one of those PR junkets from America's Sweetheart, that you said the story like, Yeah, I just, we just kept doing these things. I'm like, this is kind of ridiculous. Someone should write a movie about this. And my giant was about you and Andre and Princess Bride. Like, is that a fertile place for you to write from?

Billy Crystal 18:27
Oh, yeah. I think that's, you know, you write about what you know, what you feel. And, you know, the longer the longer I'm around, the more material I have to draw on, either as a writer or as an actor, is his life experience. And sometimes those aren't fun experiences. But you know, I liken sometimes my word to Rumplestiltskin. The, the mean, fairytale character would turn straw into gold. And, and sometimes you take the straw in your life, and you turn it into into gold. And I did that, you know, throughout your chapter, trust it, that if it's real, and you know, you make it you make it something, you know, artistic, there's a line in here today is I, I take the truth and make more interesting. Yeah. And as a writer, and you know what that was, that was very true for what 700 Sundays was on Broadway was a story of my life and my relationship with my father, both alive and when he passed away in the aftermath of a sudden loss when I was just 15. And, and so, yeah, so it's real, it's painful, but you know what happens out if you tell it the right way. When you're on stage, you see the audience nodding their heads. You see them engaged, you feel the laugh. They're Of course you feel the tears is very powerful feeling to be on stage on blood I did every night for years on Broadway, feeling the audience feeling your own your pain, because they're feeling their own. And I think that comes with, you know, a confidence that sometimes you just have to unburden yourself and in let it go and just hope that it resonates.

Alex Ferrari 20:29
Now, there was another movie that you did. I think it was your first it was if not your first feature was jeffie your first feature that you were the star or carried it which was rapid test. Oh, yes,

Billy Crystal 20:41
the book is gonna be pleasant. Yeah, with Joan Rivers directed it's about the world's first pregnant man. It's a farce. It's just seemed It was.

Alex Ferrari 20:56
It was. It's fascinating because I saw because first of all, it was a woman director back then was a big deal. I remember seeing her and then she was in the marketing of it, but she wasn't in it. If I'm not mistaken. I remember that.

Billy Crystal 21:09
All the posters, all the posters for me with a belly and have pointing to it with a going like this. You know? Yeah. Something on that said director person.

Alex Ferrari 21:21
Right. Exactly. Center. Right. Exactly. So director person,

Billy Crystal 21:24
y'all had a jump was first of all, she was a phenomenal comedian. just hilarious person. And one of the hardest working funny people I ever met was was Joan. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 21:41
yeah. And was that was that when you got that job? As an actor? You're like, well, I'm a star of a movie. How would What did that feel like? I need to get back to that.

Billy Crystal 21:49
of all First of all, I wasn't the first choice for that movie. Okay. And I have to say it because he maybe he'll watch it but we laugh about it every time we see each other. Dennis Dougan who direct Yeah, so many of Adam Sandler's films and is a really good funny director and was a wonderful actor. He had a series called Richie Brock on the private eye and he was at Hill Street Blues all the time. And he was he shot for like a week. He was shooting for a week. So I was at a Dodger game. And these days, remember, there was an announcement by Billy Crystal to the white courtesy phone please Billy Crystal to the white courtesy. My wife was pregnant at the time so don't Oh, no. Oh noes have seven a baby now now and now. So I run to the Hello. This is a belly Hi, it's Joan. Listen, I made a mistake. Can you come over to the house? You'll start tomorrow start tomorrow what the movie is that? It didn't didn't work out with him. It was the end that was wrong. And so that ended the bummer. So I have to leave the game. go to her house. Walk script weather and and start the next day. And yeah, and they said they Yeah, it was that's how that happened. The highlight of that movie for me and then we were Alex no matter what you say we're moving on?

Alex Ferrari 23:15
Yes, absolutely.

Billy Crystal 23:19
Was I got to work with imaging coca. And imaging was from the original sin Caesar your show shows its uses our she was a genius, comedic performer, comedy actress, and I just loved her. So I had a chance to work with her. So that was that was the highlight for me. And now we will move on now.

Alex Ferrari 23:44
Now, when you're writing I always love to ask this about writers do you start with character? Or do you start with plot?

Billy Crystal 23:51
Um well here today started with in the sometimes you just the whim of like, Well, what about this guy to do a story about something and then you start like fleshing it out in your mind for weeks making notes here and then then if you guys don't you start to see if you start to write it. Here today started out of the totally out of the blue. My my co writer and one of my closest friends ever Allons y bell. Allen was an original Saturday Night Live writer created Roseanne Roseanne Adana with Gilda, we've been friends. He was like the first friend I made and when I started doing stand up, we live near each other in Long Island and I would pick them up on my on our way to a wonderful club called catch a rising star on the Upper East Side of New York. We'd hope to get on by one o'clock. Then I drive them home, I lived in an hour outside of Manhattan. We'd listened to the cassette tapes of our shows that we just don't know sets and forget and help each other get better. So we we were very, very close. as friends, and then I saw him, and he worked on seven or two Sundays with me and collaborated with me on seven or just Sundays and was invaluable. And then he's on Letterman. And he's telling the story about this auction luncheon that someone had purchased. He was the prize of this luncheon that someone get to have lunch with him. And, you know, as we often do, and raise money for a charity. So he's at the restaurant with this, this woman who's really not into comedy at all. And he said, Well, how much did you pay? I'm just curious. For the charity says, Oh, 22 is 20 $200. That's good. No, no, no. $22. So now he's sort of like hating her. And I teach there, then she then has reaction to the seafood salad she has she blows up, she goes into shock. This is true, totally true story. He's telling the story on Letterman. It's hilarious. And he has to take it to the hospital, there's total stranger, she doesn't have insurance. And it's charity lunch and cost them I think, like 20 $200. So I'm watching the show. And you know, because he's on, and I started typing right away on my computer. And I sent him an email saying out what a hilarious story. This is a great way for two people to meet. Who are they? Where do they go from here? If you're interested, this could be a really, really great way to launch a movie. So we talked the next day, and then we shouldn't then we just started, you know, who could they be? What could what can happen to them? And and, you know, I wanted to do a story about an intergenerational teaming. And not a love story, but a love story, but not a romantic love story. Right? But the movie about friendship about support about empathy, which I feel is so lacking, you know, and, and then so now, alright, so then you go, who are they, and so on, so forth. And Alan and I both had a very wonderful relationship with a senior writer at SNL. From the beginning, and from when I was there, and at 45. His name is herb Sargent. And herb was in his 50s, when everybody wasn't, and he was very much who Charlie burns is in here today. And we just loved him. He was witty, he was funny. He was he wrote most of the jokes for a weekend update in the beginning helped create that section and, and he just sort of like, would roam around and approve or disapprove of what you were writing, you always ask them, you know, what do you think and he'd give you an honest, and he was just the greatest. And so we thought that was a good guy. And then, and then I was in Penn Station in New York. I was heading out by train, and I and I saw this little band is woman singing with a combo in the waiting room at Penn Station. And I thought, well, that's interesting that I saw her again, in Soho on the street, with like a gypsy jazz band. And she was great. And I and I emailed Alan immediately said, this is who she could be. She's a performer, she's got bravado, she's sassy, she you know, and and she's got a career that may happen, and so and so. And so then we started writing and, and then here we are,

Alex Ferrari 28:31
you know, I can't believe that. Most of the movie which which, by the way, I saw, and I had the pleasure of watching and as I told you, before we started recording it is. So there's so much heart in the film, and it's just almost took my wife and I back, because we're not used to watching content like that anymore. Because it's just not something unless you start going back into older movies of you know, 1015 2030 years ago. That's what we can act what I kind of grew up with the you know, the city slickers of the world, and the winner made salad, there's heart in those films. There's art in those those stories. And it just was so wonderful. I can't believe that a lot of that was based on kind of based on a true story,

Billy Crystal 29:12
or a short story he wrote called the prize, and Alan was the prize. And so it just just took off from there. And then, you know, the added element of, you know, that he was had suffering from the early onset of a form of dementia was something that I was dealing with, with a relative of mine who was a novelist, as my aunt was a brilliant woman. And she came to me one day and said, I'm I, I'm losing my words. I'm losing my word. And that was profound to care for and we thought, Well, you know, what if Charlie is has that a funny man, who who's losing his funny, who's losing his currency, which is his words, just I want to go broke, has a great deal of drama about it. And and then, you know, as they become friends for her to give up a promising career to take care of him as the ultimate kind of friendship, and and really defines love. So we decided to go that way and then and we did and we're, you know, it's, it's a really funny movie Don't get me wrong

Alex Ferrari 30:28
that was about to say how do you how do you balance? How do you balance that, that is a pretty heavy comp, it's a pretty heavy conversation when you're talking about dementia onset, but yet it is funny and heartfelt. So you get you really balance that so beautifully, to the point where it wasn't too sad. And it wasn't too funny. It just has a perfect kind of just right balance between them. How do you balance that as a writer and a director?

Billy Crystal 30:52
Well, it's just, you know, as the writer, that's, you know, you lm, we're very careful in where we were going. And as a director, it's, it's making it real, and trusting the performance, and when you have somebody as wildly funny and charming as Tiffany and, and being able to play off her and counterbalance that with his appreciation for and is affected for which grows. So the movie, and the story grows on you and keeping those at the right levels was really, you know, I think the task and and creating a whole other life for him, which I think is, for me very interesting in a movie about his late wife, who comes to life in his mind. And shooting it with, you know, the subjective camera, which is me, and you get to know her. And you get to love this woman who you know, was taken from him. And she's funny, and she's charming. And, and so I would play I would shoot her would I be right behind the camera. So she would talk right to the camera. So she's like talking to Charlie, because when you remember things out, you don't remember them in two shots or wide shots. Or you just remember that you remember what you see. So that was that was, you know, I think a choice I made while we were writing. I said I could I could shoot it this way because I knew right away I wanted to direct this and I told them that I I know what this should be. And when that happens. It's It's a wonderful feeling. I hadn't directed a film 20 years, like 20 years from an a movie, which would just honor the night again, honoring the 20th anniversary of 61 about marrison mantle who I knew very well and I was so I'm not in that movie. But there's as much of me and 61 as there is in here today. Because I I love those guys and that that year, but you know, you have to just make sure that the balance is right. And it's it's a tricky one to pull off. But I but I know we did.

Alex Ferrari 33:16
Now how do you direct a force of nature like Tiffany haddish? Like, I mean, she is an literal force of nature as an as a performer. She's so wonderful. And you guys have all the chemistry in the world. By the way. She's you guys, you could just tell that you love each other. How do you direct that? And not only directly from off camera, but how do you drink it while you're in the scene with her? Like that's a that's a juggling act to say the least.

Billy Crystal 33:41
Oh, for sure. Um, she's a brilliant talent. And she she, from the time we first met. I told her what I needed from her and what I didn't want from her. And that yes, so I said, I need Emma, I need Emma page. And when there are moments where I need Tiffany will plug those in. But But you but you have to, you know and she was so grateful for the chance, I guess. And and looking forward to it so much to to stretch her talent. And she just gave herself over to to what I wanted her to do. And if it wasn't comfortable, we talk like it would with any actor actors. And then there are moments where just let us sprinkle. You know, I need something here. What do you think what do we got? I'm here, I'll be right that you know. And so and I needed to get emotional in a way that she hadn't before which he was very scared of. I said and I kept telling him to just stay in these moments. It's hard, you know with movies are frustrating to do because they're forever And then you have to hit that moment. You know, and, and as many texts as it is, I, the director needs to satisfy the movie. And the movies are a collection of moments, so we have to get to a certain place. So there's a moment where she cries, which was very difficult for her to do, but I was sitting there with her on camera, and the cameras behind me. And she was fighting it. Because that's a natural instinct for anyone not to, you know, show emotion in their life, you know, and she's, uh, she had a tough childhood, and she, you know, would and, and she didn't want to get there, but I talked to him, just very quietly while and as hard as the crew was all around. So you know, everybody that that doesn't need to be there is just me and her in the camera behind us. And I just talked to her and it came, it came in, it came in and suddenly that's there as a beautiful moment, where she's listening to Charlie talk about the darkest moment in his life. And it's, it's just Bond's them forever. And you know, I think she's, she has extraordinary personality and and there's so much so much there for the world to see. And I'm excited for what she's going to do next.

Alex Ferrari 36:31
You know, and I i can i can tell when you let her go a little bit. And when it was Emma and when it was Tiffany because you can kind of sense that while you're watching because I've watched Tiffany I've been a huge fan of her so I can see when she goes off that you know she does Tiffany when she's Tiffany you can tell so like that scene in the bedroom. With that, that's all all Tiffany

Billy Crystal 36:52
love a girl and I you know what? I said you know what? It's going. I love it. She looks at She looks so looks so cute. With the way she smiles and looks at him. And it's it's just a great little. But those of you know what Rob Reiner used to call freebies. Those are freebies. Yeah, you know. But that's when you work with somebody like that. And, and they can just do that. It's it's, it was very exciting to you know, and I'm sitting opposite are trying not to laugh and no one. This is good. This is good. And then she just went, and then you know, an editing room I just said, Now let's keep that. I want that.

Alex Ferrari 37:38
Yeah, you've worked with some of the most remarkable film directors in history. really remarkable. I mean list of people you've worked with, is what is the biggest lesson that you've taken from one of those directors, any one of them?

Billy Crystal 37:54
I guess, rob the because it Rob's got a fantastic year. Robert does. And and there's a line that the Charlie says in a meeting with the two other head writers of the show that he he works on in the movie. And he turns to her and says there's a music to comedy. There were notes. Yeah, that's a great line posts. And that was very much Rob thing about when we were doing Harry and Sally about hearing it the right way. It the inflection which drives trolley crazy would like

Alex Ferrari 38:41
oh my god, the inflection thing was that that blow up was genius.

Billy Crystal 38:44
Oh, yeah, that's great. And yeah, so I think you know, Rob Sure. And, and then directing yourself. I learned so much from I love this guy, Danny DeVito. I just adore Danny and Throw Momma from the Train is a really, really funny, odd and to watch him handle both things. You know, both jobs so effortlessly. And you know, the DP and I movie was Barry sonnenfeld.

Alex Ferrari 39:16
I've had Barry on the show. He's remarkable.

Billy Crystal 39:19
Yeah, and he was a dp he also shot When Harry Met Sally. Yes. And raising Arizona and on and on and on the Coen Brothers movies and those big wide angle shots and so on. Gorgeous and, and hilarious person himself. And yeah, so I would say I would say those two guys for sure.

Alex Ferrari 39:38
Now when you're when you're working on When Harry Met Sally, did you I mean, I'm not gonna ask you to Joe was going to be a hit. But did you did you know that it was going to have this cultural spark as far as like a conversation about men and when? Because when you watch it, you go on? Well, yeah, women and men can't be can't be friends. And then you're either on one side or the other. Like, yeah, you can. No, you can't. You can't. No, you can't. Did you know Did you guys know? When you were writing this? I was gonna spark this kind of because it was it was for people listening, you have an understanding 89 when that came out? I mean, it was everywhere.

Billy Crystal 40:09
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Everywhere was a provocative, it was a provocative one liner can men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in a way that was nor as you know, that was their premise. And, and then, you know, handled in such a beautiful way and witty way in a very realistic way that, you know, the and I hope this happens with here today that people want to movie ends they walk up the aisle talking about it and they go out for coffee and they're talking about it. you stimulate conversation you you know, and Harry and Sally definitely. That, you know, because you know, Alex You know, there's so much you said about the fake orgasm scene. Because nobody had nobody had really used the word orgasm, you know in a movie, except Ron Jeremy. And so

Alex Ferrari 41:08
let alone with fake orgasm and then to have her do it on camera that was like,

Billy Crystal 41:12
mine. It was it was Mind blown. By

Alex Ferrari 41:15
the way, Rob and Rob's mother's line, still, arguably the best line in the entire movie. I'll have what she's having with your mom or his mom.

Billy Crystal 41:23
No, no, no, it was.

Alex Ferrari 41:24
It was it was it was the

Billy Crystal 41:25
line that I wrote. So I did so Oh, so Oh, yeah. Yeah, Estelle Rhino was one of the my favorite people. And the late Carl of course was like a, like an uncle and, and to me, amazing people. But But yeah, but it, it got people yapan that for sure. And here it is. All these years later. People are discovering it. Younger people. And the people who grew up who were at the ripe age of falling in love When the movie came out, and now telling their kids to watch it. We're now falling in love. And and so if the beat moves on to beat moves on, you know, so I, we had a 30th anniversary screening, I guess, what, two years ago that the beautiful Chinese theatre here in LA and Meg and I were there and and you know, Chris and Rob and Rob introduced us and they brought us out on a loveseat like we are in a you know, in the end of the movie and and the place went berserk. They really was it was really kind of it was really nice. It was really nice.

Alex Ferrari 42:42
That's amazing. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Billy Crystal 42:51
Have a rich uncle

Alex Ferrari 42:54
that's the best way to get in

Billy Crystal 42:59
it's so hard it's so hard but you know write write something that you believe in you know and just don't don't don't ever get deterred from from your your goal in your in your career and in your life. You know, things happen, things happen.

Alex Ferrari 43:26
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Billy Crystal 43:39
I guess patience is mine.

Alex Ferrari 43:44
Patience is the big is the big one and three of your favorite films of all time, as of right now not forever but just today that you can think of

Billy Crystal 43:57
Some Like It Hot genius. Both godfather films will count them as one even though

Alex Ferrari 44:07

Billy Crystal 44:09
Oh, and you know I visit but it's a movie from the I guess the 40s every time I see it, I cry. It's called the best years of our lives. And it just it just kills me. Myrna live Frederick March Dana Andrews. It just is. It's just a killer about America after world war two and soldiers returning home. It's just that that's I you know, when I need a bit of something. Go to that. I just I just adore that movie.

Alex Ferrari 44:54
Now and where can people watch here today?

Billy Crystal 44:57
theaters only, man. The only

Alex Ferrari 45:00
Yeah, so 99 so 2019

Billy Crystal 45:08
We have Fred Bernstein who is a mic producing partner who's a fantastic person who, you know, from the time he read the script until, well, well, till the day we open has been just such a strength for me and the movie always getting me everything I needed to make the movie The way that I, I saw it. And yeah, so we had a lot of offers to stream. But after a while, the streaming thing, it's a great was great because we couldn't get to theaters, but then everything just sort of got to look like television. And, and, and we held out and held out. And then Sony swooped in, really like a month and a half ago and said, We love this. And we want to put it in theaters. That you know, if America does what it's supposed to do, and and get vaccinated and wear masks all the time, you can get your life back. And, and that's why I don't understand people complaining about it and and then that stops everybody else from you know, getting our life back, we can do this. And so so they came in and we're in theaters only starting May 7 all across the country. I think we're 1200 theaters, and hopefully, you know, Mother's Day people will want to go and take mom and have a cup of laughs and and feel something that's it's a real family is very together. It is about the movie,

Alex Ferrari 46:43
and it does spark a conversation. It will spark a conversation without question. But it has been an absolute honor and pleasure talking to you on the show today. Thank you so much, not only for being on the show for making here today, which I tell everybody you got to go see. But also for for the years of, of just making me laugh and now making my children laugh.

Billy Crystal 47:05
It's a pleasure, Alex, I'm a veteran,

Alex Ferrari 47:08
obviously, as a veteran as a veteran actor, writer and director. But thank you so much for everything, Billy. Appreciate.

Billy Crystal 47:15
You are welcome, nice talking to you.

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BPS 122: Oscar® Winner Eric Roth: From Forrest Gump to Dune – Adventures in Hollywood Screenwriting

This week, I sat down with one of the most legendary and successful screenwriters/producers in Hollywood, Oscar® Winner Eric Roth. Over a 50+ years career, he’s well-known for writing or producing films like Forrest Gump, A Star is Born, Mank, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, Ali, and the list goes on. 

Read Eric Roth’s Screenplay Collection

The critically and commercially acclaimed American drama, Forrest Gump is an adaptation of Winston Groom‘s 1986 novel of the same title, adapted by Eric Roth in 1994. 

The story depicts several decades in the life of Forrest Gump, played by the incomparable, Tom Hanks, a slow-witted but kind-hearted man from Alabama who witnesses and unwittingly influences several defining historical events in the 20th century the United States. 

The $55 million budget film grossed $683.1 million at the Box Office and won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and three Golden Globes awards. 

With a dream to pursue writing, he got his start working crew on a bunch of independent movies being made by some experimental filmmakers at a local studio (the Millennium will film workshop) while studying at Columbia University and later transferred to UCLA Film School. 

While on the climb up, Roth got the opportunity through his good friend Stuart Rosenberg, to rewrite the script for the Paul Newman movie, The Drowning Pool, at the tender age of 20 years old.

Last year, Roth co-produced the multi-award nomination biographical drama, Mank. mank earned ten Oscar® nominations and six Golden Globe Awards nominations.

1940. Film studio RKO hires 24-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles under a contract that gives him full creative control of his movies. For his first film, he calls in washed-up alcoholic Herman J Mankiewicz to write the screenplay. That film is “Citizen Kane,” and this is the story of how it was written.

A Star is Born, co-written by Roth became a 2018 phenomenon. Director, co-writer and lead actor, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga brought steaming chemistry to our screens in a way that had been lacking. The film grossed twelve times its $36 million budget which is more than any of the other three versions of the musical romantic drama film.

Seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers, and falls in love with struggling artist Ally (Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer – until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.

A must mention amongst Roth’s screenplays is the 2008 screenplay adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Academy winner Mahershala Ali and Taraji P. Henson

The film tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backward with consequences. 

I could go on and on, through the extensive list of incredible writing Eric Roth has given the world, but you can listen to our conversation to hear all about them. Even his Television writing and producing on shows like House of Cards, The Alienist, and the upcoming remake of the science fiction classic Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve.

I’ve been a fan of Eric’s work since my days working at a video store. It was truly an honor to sit down and talk shop with a master of the craft. Enjoy my conversation with Eric Roth.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Eric Roth. How you doing, Eric?

Eric Roth 0:14
Good. I'm doing good. Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on the show, as we were saying earlier, before we got on, I am a huge fan of your work over the years. And, and during my formative years in the video store. Some of your early works. I've watched, like suspect and wolfen in a couple of those things. And I just had Whitley on on a on another show that I another podcast. A wonderful writer. Yeah. Oh my god. Wonderful, wonderful. Humans.

Eric Roth 0:46
That was a special job for me. I mean, I came on to rewrite it. And Michael Wadley directed it and have a quick story. And stop me when I tell too many stories that relate to my age. I think more than anything, I'm Michael. I remember. I was remember watching a movie called The man who skied down Everest. And when he got a captain as a true as a Japanese guy who went to climb Mount Everest and ski down. It wasn't really so much skiing down he, after a bit, he opened a parachute and the parachute. But I said wait a minute. Somebody had to be the cinematographer on this who filmed this. Michael Wadley. And Michael went on to do Woodstock. And and then I met I met Michael on this, which Alan King was a producer was really an interesting movie. The whole movie was kind of interesting. Albert Finney and everything.

Alex Ferrari 1:42
Oh, yeah, it was you know, it's it was a remarkable good movie. Yeah. Going back to going back through some of the older films they do. At the beginning of your career. I started seeing the cast. I'm like, Oh, my God, is that said James Earl Jones. Is that is that that's it? It's like, it's like they're young. They're their kids. It was amazing to watch. Um, so how did you get into the business?

Eric Roth 2:04
Um, well, I, I think a few routes one. I went to let me see which way I could tell the step tale. I went to Columbia University as in graduate school as an English major. And I, I started to find myself gravitating towards kind of making short films. And so I switched over to the film department. And still, I still took a lot of English classes, because writing was what I wanted to always do. And I got to be crew on a bunch of very independent movies like literally with like Bob Downey senior movie called Baboo 16. They were very busy. A lot of movies being made from a place called the Millennium will film workshop, a guy named Adam schwaller. And a lot of experimental filmmakers, real New York, guys, you know, and we everybody sort of switched off crews and things on those and I was busy. I was making some shorts and I thought I wanted to be a director. And I actually had an opportunity to do a kind of compete for something that I had thing that was going on at USC with a little short I made and it got me a little bit of a cachet in that sense. But the thing that was a big difference in my life was that I was at UCLA and I entered the Samuel Goldwyn writing award. And I'd written a script that I actually tied was Collin Hagen's, who wrote Harold and Maude and then went on to write that was his that was his script. And he went on to write nine to five. And I think he died of AIDS, I'm afraid to say but he was a wonderful writer, and literally was the day after my first child was born. I was quite young, and the $500 paid for the baby. So I wanted a COBOL award. But more importantly, it got me an agent. Got me an agent, and I must say, that was 1970. Basically, I've been working ever since you know,

Alex Ferrari 4:20
the business has changed a bit over the years.

Eric Roth 4:24
Yeah, I mean, some some of it I've been either I can't say for good or for real, but like House of Cards was mined with David Fincher. And that's certainly changed the business, you know,

Alex Ferrari 4:35
right. And we're gonna get into into house of cards in a bit.

Eric Roth 4:39
But uh, yeah, for a while I was kind of treading water. I got a couple of little movies made and did some rewrites. I mean, I went to I always tell the story, which is a lovely story that I was friendly with Stuart Rosenberg, who directed Koolhaas Lu can, it worked together on later on? We worked on the onion field, but it's like my work as a young writer, and he brought me on to rewrite the Drowning Pool, which was a Paul Newman movie. And I was literally I think 19 or 20, maybe 20 years old. And I had on No, I mean it so amazing out this for good, you know, 50 odd years.

Alex Ferrari 5:25
So let me ask you a question when you're 19 working on Paul Newman film because I mean, at that time, Paul Newman was Paul Goodman. He was falling so when

Eric Roth 5:36
he called my house people against quit fucking around Alan a friend. I went down there and I bought a new HP I always tell the story the same way. So I've told this before, but I bought a new pair corduroys and I had a new briefcase. And I walked on the SAT and Newman said there was him. Joanna Woodward, Tony Franti, OSA, a couple other people that were mean no known actors, and he said our saviors he felt that there was a was a wonderful experience. I got to know Paul quite well, we remained friends for the rest of his life in a certain way. And Stewart had a kind of up down kind of career, but was was a nice man. And when he hit he was really a good director. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 6:26
So So what would So would you consider that your first big break?

Eric Roth 6:32
I think I think winning that award and getting me the agent was a huge thing. I was on a tiny little movie that was only released in America for like two weeks. But it was an original piece that I wrote with an oddball interesting man who was a director for Billy Graham, religious leader. Sure, he made his religious films and he wanted to do a les film set in Israel. And we I wrote a little love story for him. And we went to Israel that was then that was shot in 1970, I guess. Yeah. 69. And that was one and the other break I had was after the gold one where I'd written a script called the dead time. 5050 which was a oddball kind of, in keeping with the times the kind of they make a lot of and kind of, say anarchistic kind of movies or movies that were, you know, they were in keeping with that on this not anywhere as good as mean streets or something or easy, right, you know, these movies that were like, abstract, I guess better words. And I wrote a movie called 5050. That Bob Mulligan signed on to do and Bob Mulligan was famous for Kill a Mockingbird, and fear strikes out and he made some wonderful movies. He's a real kind of old timey director, and George C. Scott was going to do it and the premise was about a guy who is in a dangerous profession is turning 50. So I'm looking at that point, at whatever age I was, I thought 50 was so old is beyond. petrified and it was an odd little movie. And we Scott decided eventually not to do it with the star who was a guy named Jason Miller, who is in Exorcist as the young priest and also happened to win the the Pulitzer Prize for a play he wrote called the champ that championship season. He also was, he's married to Jackie Gleason's daughter. He was an interesting man, he had some drug issues. He was a father too. I'm trying to think of the actor's name now who doesn't have the same name as him but he was married to the father the son was married to try and think Anyway, my name is old man's memory. He's a pretty well known actor and the father died young from some drug problems I think but he's an interesting guy a wonderful actor kind of look like Garfield, I guess, you know, a little bit and the movie was movie was briefly. Tarantino loves a movie thought was one of the most interesting war movies and, and it opened a can and, you know, lasted very small time in America. But yeah, that one, I think got me a little more on the map in that sense.

Alex Ferrari 9:29
And then used and then you were off and running now. Yeah.

Eric Roth 9:32
Then No, I mean, yeah, I mean, I would get I was I was a good bargain for people for the price that I was charging and, you know, things that didn't get made and things are disappointing. You know, one of the one of the decisions I made that was not a good decision, I went back and did work on it as rewriting but I was asked to do the onion feel. I mean, I'm sorry, I was asked to Cuckoo's Nest. And my agent as also at the same time asked to do the onion field, which is A huge book at the time. And my agent said to me, they'll never make the Cuckoo's Nest movie. And I said, Oh, really? Okay. And so I decide I chose the other one. I was friendly with Michael Douglas. And I actually came back and did some work on it, but it's one of the great movies ever made. And it sure, yeah, I'd say probably, even though the guy who wrote it, I think is probably one of the greatest screen writers, whoever is Bo Goldman, won an Oscar for it. And he also won an Oscar for Howard Melvin. But he, he was a wonderful man, we he and our close friends from both like the race track, so we used to go to the racetrack. But anyway, he that was a movie I wish I had started from scratch.

Alex Ferrari 10:45
Now, you, you obviously, you know, had a successful career as a writer. And you know, as writers listening know, writing is not easy. It is a it's a it's a tough thing to have to come up every day and go in, what is your writing routine? What has kept you going for all these years at such a high level?

Eric Roth 11:04
Well, I mean, I the high level, I guess he had to thank God for something, you know, I don't know. Whatever, whatever alchemy makes up. What makes you may be good and not believe me not so good in many places. I've had real failures where I thought they were good. And, and most I think I could blame me in most respects. One, I think I blame a director on but I but I always tried to pick things that would have some lasting quality. I mean, I may have been wrong, you know, but I thought these things I can that will kind of attribute to me. Well, when I'm getting to the end of things, you know, when you look at the credits I have so I've been lucky that way. I've worked with everybody from Kurosawa through Marty through Spielberg, you know, so I've been lucky with incredibly talented filmmakers.

Alex Ferrari 11:50
What did you work on with corsola

Eric Roth 11:52
I did a little movie called Rhapsody in August that I just I wrote, you wanted to, and I think is one of my bigger claims to fame quite honest with you not because it's, he want there's a part in it for Richard Gere, who was friendly with and, and criticized wanna meet, it's a guy who is supposed to be an American who's marrying the main characters, a Japanese man's granddaughter, and, and there she lives in Hawaii. And Richard, he wanted me to write his part, which would be an American, and he felt uncomfortable quite getting that written through translations. And so I wrote all the scenes between the daughter and the Son and

Alex Ferrari 12:35
I have to ask you, what is it like working with course,

Eric Roth 12:38
was like, you know, really fascinating, mostly was, you know, we had many conversations, he spoke, I don't think he spoke much English and so translated. And then when he sent me the script, I just was so taken with it. If it was, it was written like a haiku. It was just, you know, he'd he'd write the answer the anteil. I mean, you just do two or three words. And it always gave me gave you the sense of what he wanted. And then you had me when I wrote my prose, which is very sort of Jewish, intellectual, psychoanalytic garbage, maybe, but, you know, it just was so different, you know? And, but it was like, a wonderful, yeah, it was like, we never matched, you know, they didn't have zoom or anything, then, you know, so we just talked on the phone, and he invited me over, and there's some reason I couldn't I think I just had a baby or something. And so I could go and, you know, but it's a great honor to have even been in the same breath of him with him. And he gave me a lovely, thank you on the movie and all that, you know,

Alex Ferrari 13:39
that's, that's remarkable. So So as a writer, what is your daily writing routine?

Eric Roth 13:45
My I sort of looked at writing as a job in a good way. I mean, I'm always thrilled to be able to sit down if I can create and I look at as a great adventure journey, you know, all those things, all those kind of cliche things, but it's always true. And I get to be alone and you know, sort of dream and try to make those dreams come true. I I do it like, I mean, I'd read once and I don't know if I this is what I didn't copy this, but I read this about john Cheever. And I've told this story many times he would get up at like, let's say eight o'clock and take a commuter train in from New York, Long Island. And he would go to a basement, little tiny basement room that he had it he rented his his office and quotes with the boiler and everything and he take off his pants, and he take off his dress shirt, and he'd sit in his underwear and work. Okay, so he worked till 12 o'clock. This is a story whether true but I like his pocket

Alex Ferrari 14:47
visuals are fantastic. Yeah,

Eric Roth 14:49
he'd get a 12 o'clock he put his pants back on his shirt ties tight but his jacket on go out and have a one Martini lunch. He'd come back at one you work till five, with his clothes off, he can put his stuff back on, you know, neatly fold and put it back on, go and take the commuter train home. That was his as if he went to work came in for a job, you know. And that's how he looked at it, I think you'll find most writers, not all. But most writers have some schedule, you know that whatever it is, could be goofy, they might write in the middle of night, they can write things in a month, they can write things in a year. But there is some kind of if somebody scheduled, I started about eight o'clock, and I'm done by noon or one and I dig around the afternoon, then I go back to work in the evening, not for very often, unless I'm really feeling it. And sometimes I don't sleep much I get up in the middle of the night and do it, you know, so, but I find it I find it mostly a joy in a way. In other words, I love that. And then and obviously, if you're successful, it makes everything so much easier. You know, you actually can not have to judge yourself against everybody else and start feeling the pressure. What's the next job and all those things? You know, so it's easier for me to say, you know, but that's my schedule. I mean, I've talked about this a lot. Also, I work on a, an old, an old movie, I don't have final draft, I have an old old program that requires me to have a das base per computer. So it's that's how old it is. It's called movie magic. Movie master. I mean, it's it went out of business. Like when it couldn't it couldn't figure out how to the people who made it couldn't figure out software, so you could email it. So they went out of business, but it's exactly the same function nasality as final draft is mine uses function keys, and they use tab keys for the exact same process. And but I like it, I mean, for a number of reasons is I'm superstitious. So I don't need to change. It's a pain in the ass. But it's good. In some ways. It runs out of memory after 40 pages, he had to open a new file. But that's a good way for me to sync Are you done with this app yet? Because you very good. And so it's also very safe because it's not on the internet or anything. So because I've had stuff that they've come to take out of here that they were worried with on my hard drive and all right, but it I and I and the other funny thing about it is and I don't know why I did this as this because I'm such a Luddite, you should have a white piece of paper that you're typing with black type on right like a typewriter on to look like against. And I for some reason have a black background with white. And I'd like thought I'm now I'm used to it now. So you know and so at some point, the thing goes over to the production company and they're gonna make the movie. And they they turn it into their final draft and and then I really don't even have the script anymore. I any changes I make they have to go retype them or I have somebody retype them into final draft you know,

Alex Ferrari 18:05
very cool now, do you when you start beginning when you begin to write? Do you start with character or plot when it's something original?

Eric Roth 18:16
Even was not original? I start with actually what I call theme. Okay. What What is this really about? You know, I'm saying don't not the story, but what is what's going on here? You know, what is this? What is this? And then after that, I'll think I'll lock up the story. And then I'd say character and story would be the same to me an incredible importance and I'm very I'm very diligent with character because I think they all should sound different. I always tell a story about how I rewrote a little movie from Michael Cimino called. Was it with Mickey Rourke? You're the drag. And I got to be friendly with Michael and, and I saw that he had given Mickey Rourke a wallet, which had everything that was, you know, the character would have in a wallet like photograph of a daughter, he supposedly had his draft card, whatever it was, and even down to like the detail of like a fortune he got from a fortune cookie, you know, that he kept like some people do. And I bet I'll bet you that probably Mickey Rourke never looked at it, but he had it in his back pocket and he knew it was there. And that that's how I look at character so that you have to have every understanding of the psyche, a psycho psychological portrait of the guy what does he sound like? What does his background I mean, you know, even down to smaller characters in the piece, so that each everybody's voices different. So any that's Yeah, so character, character, I don't know which is a B and C but character, gods in the details of all the reasons To do so you're using the stuff that's right. And then then the most important facility to be a really great writer and very few reach this, and I don't think I've reached it, some great novelists do is to be able to write sub textually. And that's to be able to write not about what's going on in the scene, which most people find themselves doing. Because it's just, it's, it's what we know how to do. But it's, you know, sort of earning the explainer. And you're telling things that people already know. And if you can avoid that and do it metaphorically, in a way, it's very hard writing, but it's a, it's what really good writing is. And there's and when you see a good movie, normally, you'll see a lot of really good metaphorically metaphorical writing, or the subtext of it. And some directors, I think, Marty Scorsese is a subtextual. Director. He doesn't need to have use, sometimes it's obvious what he's doing. Other times, it's not. And so it's, it's a real gift. And when the great playwrights can do it, you know, Shakespeare, I'm putting myself in company, but he didn't need to write about you know, that on the third, three weeks from now we're going to go do X, Y, and Z when people all know, I know, we'd have some other big concept. And that's what steam is, right? What is the concept of this movie? I was told once by Elvis Mitchell, the ex, who's who does the NPR show on film, and he's really, I used to be a New York Times film critic. He thought my movies were about loneliness. And I when I thought about, I thought he might be right, because I mean, if I started thinking of all the films, I wrote that, that might be the most pervasive theme, and main, and maybe sort of underlying all sorts of things about my own life, you know, so so I have that. And I also, I've never written a novel. And I keep thinking I should have and I want to, and I think I'm a frustrated novelist, because I write very, I think, pretty good prose. And I'll tell you a quick, sweet story. I tell. Brad Pitt was doing we were doing a read through of Benjamin Button. And I had what I think is pretty good prose. And Brad says, after someone read the pros, the narrow, you know, what the stage directions and you know, what people are supposedly feeling and what's going on? Brad says, look, Eric's got a pros Boehner.

Alex Ferrari 22:28
And I can imagine him saying that, actually. And I can imagine him saying that that's,

Eric Roth 22:35
it would be free. I was like, 30 people in a room doing a retreat with Fincher and everybody, Cate Blanchett, and whoever else?

Alex Ferrari 22:44
It's funny. Now you you have adopted some amazing novels over the years, how do you approach adapting someone else's work?

Eric Roth 22:53
Well, I mean, I think some things you have to try to be a little bit sacrosanct with because the work is great. And if the work seems like it's not, maybe not, it's not about great or bad or good for the thing, what what lends itself to be dramatize, you know, so, you know, I've done just recently, this killers of the flower moon, which is, was it you know, it's a really herculean kind of task not because, but to tell the story in this head, give it the size it deserves. Plus do it with some grace and elegance, that I didn't have to really change very much the dramas, basically all there, that's more the thematic of it about sort of, Marty and I agreed to about this the disappearance of sort of making the Native American invisible and that we're all culpable in a way, but also, the characters were all laid out, and, you know, how do we have shadings with each of them? And then, and then I but I didn't have to invent protect. I mean, I had to dramatize certain things. But other other books are more problems were problematic and different, like Doom was kind of

Alex Ferrari 24:01
how it's almost unadaptable

Eric Roth 24:04
Yeah, it's voluminous, you know, but you start eventually coming down to what the size of the thing hopefully should be. I mean, my scripts are usually too long. And a lot of it has to do with me, as I say, writing all this prose about what's going on, but if it's not, if it's not a book, that's particular, I mean, I've done a number i a lot has been, but I consider a lot original writing. So Benjamin buttons a good case, because that was a short does the art magazine article of Scotsman sherald of Genesis art wrote, and it was an article really wasn't very good. He did it for Colliers, and he, he just did it for the money, you need the money and but he had the idea of a guy going, you know, aging backwards. It's great. Yeah, which is a wonderful concept. And what does that mean? And then you can get into the theme of the piece, which I think is for me, it was like, well, who are the people you meet along the way of this journey? You know, either way, you're going forwards or backwards, but he But that I started just from scratch and inventing what the story was, you know, because the story he had was nothing that worked for me, you know, I'm saying and it really anybody who reads it, no matter how much you love us, because shall will say maybe my story is not any better. But his story was not something you write home about really was just a job for him. as best I can tell, Forrest Gump the book was kind of farcical to me in certain respects. And so I, I made it and it failed a couple times other people tried it and had no luck. So I had sort of free rein to do what I want it with it. And so I just took my imagination where it went and came up with a bunch of things that he said that seemed people seem to latch on to, you know, and and I looked at that as like doing candy, you know, it's, it's a journey of this guy through life. I'm trying to think what else in the main, though, is like, being a dramatist? In other words, you have to and I think we said this, I don't know, David said, his father said, or I said that which is relevant on manque that when they're talking about, you know, about Citizen Kane, because you can't, with the line we have is, to the extent of you can't show somebody's whole life in two hours, all you can do is give an impression of their life. Right? That's, you know, another part of it. So no matter what the book was, if I adapted it was to try to do the best to tell the best story you know, and, and yeah, summer dad stars born I think is adapted. But we started from scratch on that one. You know, we'd have to go roll whatever movies Munich music, Munich was pretty close to book, I don't think it would step for adding some more, kind of some ingredients that weren't really dramatic, per se will be more dramatic in the sense of the way Steven can do things with stucks trucks being stuck by little girls on the phone and stuff, which is not wrong. But it's so you have to count that that stuff was event invented a lot of that.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
Now, you mentioned Forrest Gump because I mean, obviously, you know, Forrest Gump by the time you started writing for his computer already been 20 years in 20 odd years in already. So you weren't, you know, you're you weren't a kid anymore. So you were a very seasoned writer at this point. But I think that Forrest Gump, at least at that point in your career, was a hurricane. I mean, it is it is a cultural milestone, it is in the Zeitgeist. I mean, people still constantly say all those lies you know, you never know what it like, you know, all the chocolate like, life's like a box of chocolate and everything, all those wonderful catchphrases and for people who weren't around to experience it and 94 year younger screenwriters in 94 I mean 94 was an amazing year Pulp Fiction, and yeah, it for us. I mean, it was a thing.

Eric Roth 28:02
Yeah. I mean, like, you know, talk apples and oranges. But if you want to talk great art, I would I would go with Pulp Fiction, you know. I mean, I love Forrest Gump beans obviously the world to me and world to a lot of people and has sentiment and heart and you know goofiness and but fiction was a pretty, pretty lasting movie that of its kind and, and ours is lasting in a different way.

Alex Ferrari 28:27
Right? They're very so different in so many ways, and both you and quit and both won the Oscar that year for original and, and adapted, but they couldn't be more different films and so different. But yet both of them are everlasting, and completely timeless. But what was it like even at that stage in your career to be in the middle of that hurricane? Because, I mean, it's

Eric Roth 28:51
obviously you can't expect that you don't know. Right? I have no clue I had met. I had met Tom Hanks. pretty early. And we were gonna do something else together. And then I was offered that book and I said, What do you think he said, Let's go for it, you know,

Alex Ferrari 29:09
and that was Tom woods. It's not that was before Robert Zemeckis jumped on board or was wrong? Oh, yeah.

Eric Roth 29:14
Yeah, it was actually there are two or three other directors that looked like they were going to do it. One was Barry sonnenfeld. One was a penny Marshall. And and Steven Steven was very interested in doing it at one point. And but I had the advantage of knowing Tom was going to do it if he was a music star, but not anywhere. He's not he wasn't quite Tom Hanks. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 29:37
it wasn't posted post Forrest Gump. I post Forrest Gump columns.

Eric Roth 29:41
This is pre Forrest Gump and he was actually I think when I met him. I think he was filming.

Alex Ferrari 29:49
Didn't you do Philadelphia wasn't doing Philadelphia?

Eric Roth 29:51
No, he's done that but even before when I met him, he was doing the Ron Howard movie with You know about the mermaid?

Alex Ferrari 30:02
Oh, yeah. Oh god splash splash. Splash. Yeah,

Eric Roth 30:06
I think that was his. I think that may have been his first break from television Bosom Buddies or something,

Alex Ferrari 30:12
I think was it close to but that was his big break, then splash, splash blow. But,

Eric Roth 30:18
but as big as he was he was I mean, Forrest Gump was hard to get made. Because if we wrote a script, I wrote a script that Warner Brothers wasn't keen on didn't quite get it. And fortunately for us, the producer, when do you find them a very good producer, she was like 24 years old. She was married to mark Canton who ran the studio, and was able to get it in turnaround, otherwise, I don't think they'd ever put it in turnaround. And we took it to paramount. And Brandon tartikoff, who's one point the president of MVC, really nice man and really smart. He was in the head of paramount, and he, he agreed to do it, I mean, develop it. And Tom came in and pitched the whole thing. You know, so it's easy for me having to sell it with Tom sitting there saying, because I'd say and he's sitting on a bench and whatever we had envisioned at that point, we hadn't written, right. And he Tom acted out what we'd talked about. And Brandon said, Great, you got to deal and, you know, I did whatever work I had to do. And then we went out looking for directors and and then Zemeckis came along, you know, he read it and said, this is for me, you know, and he was a big, obviously, wonderful, big director. And that was amazing. You know, so

Alex Ferrari 31:37
yeah. And then and then it was off and running. And, I mean, obviously, it was, it was just such a cultural cut that you were such raising, you

Eric Roth 31:44
know, you know, no, of course not. No, but and also, because there's a lot of fights about the money about what we could film and not I mean, because there's, you know, there's fights with the studio, I remember Bob saying, there's a lot of blood under the bridge, he said on movies. And he did everything known to man cleverly, to get around some of the budgetary restraints, he would take a crew on Sundays, just literally four or five people, which would be Tom cinematographer on making up himself and, you know, a couple of production people and they'd fly off to go to that whole run was done on Sundays. They fly to Maine from we were in South Carolina, they fly to Maine, shoot him running to the lighthouse, get back on the plane and come on back.

Alex Ferrari 32:33
I was wondering how they did that. Because I mean,

Eric Roth 32:36
we didn't really have the money for it, it was more about the money for it. And we we thought this was pretty special. But we also thought we could just be drunk, you know?

Alex Ferrari 32:47
It's tough. It's tough. Yeah. When you're in the middle of

Eric Roth 32:50
all this movie, I mean, another one. I've done substantial movies where you can kind of get a sense of, you know, what's, what's solid about it. And you couldn't tell on this one. So when we got done, we started, you know, when Bob was finished, and he started preview it. And we had, he always did previews for his movies in a very small theater, Paramount, and then a little bit larger theater somewhere, I think, in the valley, and then a big big theater in San Jose. And we had incredible reaction in a little theater, and with whatever, got, you know, a test screening and they were like humongous numbers. We went to the one in the valley, I think it was as my memory serves me, well. It got to incredible numbers. And everybody started getting a little nervous now this week, and there was really almost no criticisms of the movie. And everybody just was delighted with it. And, you know, had 18 million favorite moments, all kinds of things, you know about feeling good about Forrest Gump. And then we showed it up in San Jose to a huge theater that had like a balcony, and I don't know, it must have seemed like hell, 3000 people probably didn't. But I remember sitting on the balcony, and you can see down It was one of those theaters that didn't have a middle row. So anybody getting up to a bathroom at a walk across, like 30 people, you know, 50 people. Anyway, we were flying home, we were on a paramount plane. And either Sherry Lansing, or who is president then in the studio, a wonderful woman, or john Goldwyn, who is her second in command was looking at the cards, you know, and he did percentages and all I said, you just went into Raiders of the Lost Ark land. Because there was like, 98% 99 Yes, favorable. And we they knew how that we had something that was a monster, you know, they know but they, they did a magnificent marketing job with that poster. You know, things like that. And then I knew I knew I was in business. When I went in the race. I was in a race track, like getting in line to bet. And I heard someone say like, you know, starting to do the accent. I won't you know, he's doing Forrest Gump. Right.

Alex Ferrari 35:04
Now, I've heard I mean, over the years, I mean, I've talked to every screenwriting guru, so many different screenwriters, and one constant thing that it's always talked about is in order to have a story, you need conflict. That's what gets the story across. And I remember one day in film school, my screenwriting instructor said, you always need conflict, except for one movie that pulled it off. And it's Forrest Gump force doesn't have any conflict. And I want to ask you the question what it because force just seems to be the world around them is conflict. But he himself, and you start analyzing towards the end, there is a little bit more conflict, but I just want you to kind of analyze

Eric Roth 35:45
your pay, if you want to. Yeah, I think that's true. I mean, it's a it is Candide, I mean, there's been a number of other things that are like candy, where people take a journey in the conflicts within the journey. But it's also a sort of the conflict is he going to get from point A to point path. And also, I mean, the other thing, I always felt there was a conflict was about the fact that he wanted this girl to love him. So he right loves. So the love story would be the center of the peace, I guess. And then these other things, he believes in his mother and God, you know, and where's God betraying him? And, you know, I mean, it's, it's like, I would say, a more sophisticated version, I'm not saying better or worse, but was like, being there was conflict and being there, once he steps what you know, there's a potential conflict of a guy who, you know, is having, you know, certain issues, you know, so he has mental issues, you know, intellectual issues, and he steps into a world that he's just fine with, where, you know, he says things that everybody thinks what he's saying is, you know, the most genius thing ever said, and they all run out, but, so being there was like that. No, we didn't have the normal things, you're gonna get thrown out of your apartment, and that his mother, you know, was gonna, you know, lock them up, or we didn't have any things, you know, so that, and that those were mostly from the book. I mean, nothing was different netway from the book. I mean, that was his his story. And, and I think there's, I mean, I think that's, I mean, the other thing I you know, the other rule was never use voiceover. I've been one of those guys who keep those things. Well, all the great filmmakers ever, including, if you like Forrest Gump, he uses voice over Marty, his voice over and every movie,

Alex Ferrari 37:33
Shawshank Redemption, not so bad.

Eric Roth 37:35
Not so bad. I'm saying that I always found that funny. There was a guy that famous, co wrote the whole screen. The books got,

Alex Ferrari 37:43
I think it was Robert McKee, Robert McKee. And he said, Never use voiceover. If you ever use voiceover in your script, it's all relative. I mean, because voiceover is a crutch sometimes,

Eric Roth 37:53
but conflict is I mean, I remember saying I won't mention who it is who's always a pretty well known actor who wrote a script and sent it to me. And I said, it's really well written. And I think you've, you know, you've got work to do some of the characters in this, but you're missing the one I agree, the big C, you have no conflict in this. So I mean, I think you do need to know what the conflict is how you show it, how you do it. I think there's probably varying degrees. And I probably have to, you know, probably ask somebody else who's smarter about these things to me about what would be the conflict in Forrest Gump? I don't know. Well, good now. Well, maybe it's him versus a universe in a way the irony is in the universe. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 38:38
I would agree. I would agree with you. In other words, look, I

Eric Roth 38:40
mean, all these ridiculous things, you know, which we always we always were taken by, you know, how ironic or sort of ludicrous the absurdity of rah Reagan getting shot or, you know, john, I mean, of john or Bobby Kennedy, I mean, all these things, all the assassinations, and, you know, wars we entered into, and I mean, in other words, it's all slightly insane, you know?

Alex Ferrari 39:04
Well, the whole story is, is the whole story is slightly insane. In many ways. It is, but one of my favorite lines in the entire movie, and it's not one of the famous lines is when he opened up the letter and he goes, I invested in a fruit company. That's right. And I didn't need to learn I didn't need to worry about money anymore. One less thing.

Eric Roth 39:26
Yeah, well, I don't know why I don't know why I came to me I said it'd be kind of funny if he owned Apple

Alex Ferrari 39:32
because we all say that they

Eric Roth 39:33
actually say if he you know, he would have to cap the stock but that by whatever the price was, then they figured out that next to like Tim Cook he would he would be the second largest stockholder of Apple if he didn't sell it you know, he just kept it

Alex Ferrari 39:48
yeah him and jobs were like they're neck and neck. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, cuz everyone always jokes like I should have bought Tesla. I should have bought apple at eight bucks. You know?

Eric Roth 39:57
Why the same thing with when we did house a car For Netflix, not one of my genius, financial people want Netflix. She said buy Netflix stock. It was at like eight. I didn't buy a nickel. I mean, I would have done. I'm not. I don't invest much in anything, but I would have probably, I don't know, a couple

Alex Ferrari 40:17
bucks. bucks in there. Exactly. Now 900 hours, something ridiculous like that. Now you have you have collaborated with some of the most amazing filmmakers in history. We were just talking about Kurosawa, obviously Fincher Spielberg, Michael Mann, like, how do you collaborate with such established and then sometimes even legendary, like a Kurosawa or Spielberg? Or

Eric Roth 40:45
was it was less of a collaboration in the sense that he trusted me to write this character? And he, he didn't like he told me just could we not have him say this? Or was Yeah, sure. That was a little easier. It's very long distance, you know, Michael Mann or Spielberg.

So it each was different, because as some of them were writer directors, right. So Michael Mann was a writer also. So we had a shorthand together. And he's a tough guy, and we fought like cats and dogs about stuff, but I can't hold my own. And I always I also believe, to just be honest, that it's not capitulating, but I think you'll find a say you have my way, and you'll have Fincher his way. And it doesn't have to be the highway, then, you know, I'm saying you there might be a third path that that makes you feel you've created what you felt was accurate, and right for the material. And so does David Davis is a little tougher. Dave is very, Dave is very logical about what he wants and wants. Nothing wrong with it. Whatever one line is said that whatever comes back has some logic to it. It's a response. I'm a little more fanciful in the stuff I've done. So I've never looked at things that way. Michael Mann is wonderful writer and very analytical. And he came up with a great thing for the insider, which turned out to I think needed, and I would have never thought of it. He there's a scene early on. And we were talking earlier about, you know, trying to write some text the as, as opposed to expositionally, which is as bad writing mostly. But we Michael felt we needed to lay out for the audience quite early. What were the pet impediments to this guy? And what was what would what would needed to be accomplished. So we have a scene setting was supposed to be the CBS kind of kitchen where they're having like a lunch, and it's all exposition, which is not something I'm all about. But he said, we need to get this guy lawyer, we need to get this guy that we need to go talk to this guy, we need to get him out of his contract. In other words, and those were the kind of Michael's analytic about these were the kind of points we had dramatic points we were gonna have to overcome to become, you know, where the drop the dramatics worked for the movie succeeding. And it was a wonderful moment.

Alex Ferrari 43:06
Yeah. And I mean, I've had so many people on the show that have has worked with Steven. And I've just found so amazing how many careers he's touched. And early on, you know, Kevin Reynolds and john Lee Hancock, and like, he's the one that opened doors for people. He did. He's to me,

Eric Roth 43:26
I never had that relationship with him. I actually knew him when he was very young, he roomed with somebody I wrote a TV movie for okay. He was probably 18. And, and he was mean even that a wonderful entertainer, wonderful, a&r, dramatic director, he's, he has his own way of working. I mean, it's quite different than a lot of the people we're talking about. And he wants things in certain ways he had, one thing I liked about working with him was the Kathy Kennedy, who I adore is his producer. And she always send the pages to Stephen. And Kathy would then call me and say, here's what he likes and what he doesn't like. And I like that. So so when you went in, and I went to meet with them about this the work, you don't get your backup right away, you know, they've been getting a beef or you get insulted or your feelings hurt, or whatever it is, you know, about the work, you already know what's in you've thought about it, why is this not working? Why is it? How can we make this work for him and all that? So yeah, he was an interesting guy to work with. And it didn't come out. I mean, it wasn't holy. He felt at some point that we he wanted to have a little bit of a different voice. And he brought in Tony Kushner, who I adore, and a friend who was one of the great writers and in our lease in theater of Angels in America, he wants something a little more intellectual than some of the things I was writing. So, you know, I was wounded by it to some extent, but it all worked out in the end that we ended up having a movie that we're all very proud of, you know,

Alex Ferrari 44:56
yeah. And now you're working with Marty

Eric Roth 44:58
on Marty, Marty and I are supposed to work on two or three other things. And this was Marty's a dream. I mean, it's like to me, Fincher and him are very different in their approach to eating or char. So then Steven is too, but I mean, there's just these two guys, I know better, I've done thing to thing that Dave and I know, Marty over the years. And Marty, completely said, feels like you're a thoroughbred, and you should have your hand and just try to invent and imagine anything you want, he'll figure out a way to try to do it. And if he doesn't think it works, he just tells you in the nicest way. So he said, Let's, let's try it this way, you know, and, and he'll take you off, whatever you might get stuck on, you know,

Alex Ferrari 45:40
yeah. And he has that art, he has the ability to the almost the political aspect of being a filmmaker, it's like, as opposed to some other directors who are a little bit more hard, hard handed about it. Marty softer. And he's just knows how to play the game so well, that by the time you're over here, you're like, how did I get over here? I'm like Marty's like, this morning.

Eric Roth 46:00
I mean, it's also, you also know he, at least going in that he probably will get the money to be able to do anything he wants. It'll have the backing of a big differentiate on words. Somebody says, like, we can't do that, because it's too expensive, or something. And he'll say to you, I'll try it. You know, let's see what it looks like. If you want to, if you decide you want to run, do the whole movie backwards, or people walking backwards, they'll try it. You know, I'm saying might not work, but he'll try.

Alex Ferrari 46:28
And it's amazing how now Marty is working with Netflix. Because Netflix is basically I mean, please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm gonna say that giving them a blank check, but they're giving them

Eric Roth 46:39
a lot of leeway. He's actually moved on for the moment to go back to Netflix. But I think he he's an app. This is Apple, sorry, who's paying for this? Credit Apple,

Alex Ferrari 46:51
really, but it's going to the streamers though. He's going to streamers now now.

Eric Roth 46:55
I mean, that's where you're going to get the money from. But he does. I know that he wanted this on this that he wanted a certain amount of a theatrical release. It's not just a few days or a week. So he's gonna get that with Paramount's gonna release it theatrically. And then Apple have it part of the service and streaming service. And, you know, it's a wonderful thing for both for, you know, for Apple, I think, the idea of having Marty and Leonardo DiCaprio and Bob De Niro on this kind of big subject matter that will be wonderful fruit subscriptions and all that. And, and I think it's great when those when that when it works out that way? I mean, David has a blank check to a certain extent. I mean, I can't speak to that. But no, but in other words, anything creatively he wants to do Netflix is his home. And they they embrace David the way they should. So they're giving in a way an artist a chance to always express himself. How great is that? I think I think he's earned it.

Alex Ferrari 47:50
So without question. So you were there at the beginning with House of Cards, which it is a one of those moments in time where the business changed. The entire industry changed from the moment that Netflix says we're going to do original programming. And we're going to do and we're going to spend obscene amounts of money on an original IP. We have great people working on it. But it was when that came out. People were like, Wait, what? That was no. I mean, the story goes, which is true.

Eric Roth 48:23
I was sent in so as David the ARIA manual was, I think, trying to sign David more than me, but he wanted me as a client also at the time, and he said, I said, you know this, this is silly, Ari, I'm all for it. I've been the same agent for 32 years, but she and he said, What if I sent you a really great piece of material? He said, I'm always up for material. So he sent me house of cards on video, you know, which was the English show. And I said by Quint, I said to him, this is spectacular. I happen to know it because Michael Mann and alpa Chino, I had thought about doing it as a movie, because it's just Richard the third, you know, that's what it is. Right? So, um, within that, for whatever reason, we never, we never worked it out doing it, but it would have been great. So I said to David, if this is something you want to do, I mean, I think there's a there's a way to do this and not very difficult. Obviously, the work will be difficult, but that this would translate beautifully into an about America is politics. And so we hired a writer of Belleville men who had written a play about I think state of America, I forget the title of but it was a movie that actually George Clooney made, which understood politics quite well and, and Dave was agreed to direct the first couple of three and we got them. You know, that point Kevin Spacey was a great fine and David had worked with him and I and I helped get Robin right because she had been in Forrest Gump and all we were friends in So we've had a great package, I think, and there was an auction then and all the play all the players were there at that point, they came to David's office HBO, and I guess, Showtime, whoever it was, you know, they were We were in business and, and, and Netflix. And Netflix made an incredible offer. And I gotta be honest, I was, I didn't I understood that I thought there would be a place for this in time. But I said to David, I don't think there's enough eyeballs yet for this. And I think I would like to have the water cooler conversation like on the sopranos, they add, you know, at HBO, you know, and I thought there was, you know, the class of the field. And he said, You're wrong. He said, Those people are gonna know he did. And they said, You're a Luddite. You don't know what you're talking about. And this is going to be you know, people are going to watch this if we can make it, you know, attractive enough and interesting enough and dramatic all that. And we were, we were the second the first show is a shows TV Van Zandt did or something about called Oslo or something, a small little thing in Norway, and then then it was us. And obviously, you know, what happened that people start bingeing it and going crazy and, and all of a sudden, they got giant amount of subscriptions, which gave them money to go do other shows. And, you know, I it's a mixed blessing to me, because I'm such a movie lover and love going to movies and a 40 foot screen and everything, but I watch things on my phone, like anybody else, you know, and some things translate some things don't I liked it. It's available to everybody. I mean, one of the things I learned early on was, was not early, but we had like a 23 union of Forrest Gump at USC, and everybody was Bob and you know, Gary Sinise, the Hulk, everybody. And Bob asked the audience, how many people we showed the film first on a screening there. And Bob said, how many how many people have is this the first time ever seeing it on a movie? on a screen? Everybody?

Alex Ferrari 51:58
Of course, there's children there.

Eric Roth 52:00
Can't tell yet. though. I said on TV. So, you know, there's, you know, it's like, Alright, I understand when there's so many more people watching something how beneficial that is, you know,

Alex Ferrari 52:12
I mean, it started with cable and VHS. I mean, that's where movies now. Yeah, big Terminator was made on on cable, you know? And that's where it became.

Eric Roth 52:23
Yeah, yeah. So I was I was behind the curve on that one. And, and so but, you know, now we, I don't know, if we've reaped the wind, you'll sell the Whirlwind or if this is I think it's a mixed blessing. I mean, in the main is probably good. I mean, it was a little little disillusioning to me that they, they, particularly the way they handled it about Doom going right to, you know, day in date with being on the streaming on the streaming service, the same time was being released. But I think they're going to rectify some of that.

Alex Ferrari 52:57
I just read the article this morning, that it's going to be a 45 day window. So they are they are going to do a 45 day window. And Dude, I just literally read it this morning on. I'll call my agent when we hang up, see if I can get some money out of it. Yes, it is gonna be from what I read on on the trends. It Dune is going to be released 45 days, and then I'll end up on max. Yeah,

Eric Roth 53:18
it deserves to be seen. I've seen it as he deserves to CCI a great big screen and have the sound insight and it was so pretty amazing.

Alex Ferrari 53:26
I mean, to be honest, like how do you approach that that subject matter? It's such a,

Eric Roth 53:31
it was pretty daunting. But I mean, honestly, I'm a old hippie, done my fair share of I'm not advocating anybody do this my fair share of hallucinogenics even though I had some issues with the book, but the book is transcendent in some respects, and certainly for when I read a 15 year old boy. And I felt there's a spirit to it that I could probably capture and take you to places you haven't really thought about or seen. And I wrote a big full fat draft and it needed cutting down and Denise Villeneuve did that wonderfully. And, and then I think they brought in another writer because I was I've moved on by then to kind of even more grounded a guy named john speights is really terrific. And so three of us I think ended up creating something pretty amazing. And then Didn't he obviously, I think realized for what I saw, you know, as a piece of real work of art, and really a wonderful adventure and everything else is pretty special. I mean, I would tell you if it wasn't

Alex Ferrari 54:32
Yeah, and I have a feeling that you would have I don't think they know it wasn't when you were gonna tackle star is born. I mean, that movie has been remade with three times before you. This was before. And every time it was a hit from what I understand. And it was always like this kind of cultural touchstone when it came out. Yeah. And then you've got Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and Bradley. Bradley is the director. as well, so first time director. So you've got this, how do you approach telling that story again?

Eric Roth 55:09
Well, I mean, it was an interesting that was that was kind of a challenge. Not the work was very, really challenging. But I don't know, I hadn't had a movie made. And I was so used to getting movies made like every two, three years. And I hadn't had a movie, maybe maybe three years, maybe a little more. And that movie, even though it was nominated for an Oscar, extremely loud, incredibly slow, was not that well received either critically, or box office. And it was a disappointment to me. And there are many reasons why I think I have some things up. And I think that there were some decisions that maybe should have made differently. But, you know, that's, that's what happened. And they offered me the stars born, I said, Is this a good idea for me to want to my Am I too old for this? I mean, not just didn't understand the culture and music and, you know, and be as contemporary as it should be. And I in and they sent me a script, which I thought needed work. And I said, I kind of feel like I've got to, you know, start from scratch. To some extent. There was many some things there, that was certainly good. And I said, I'll, I'll tell you what if they said, you got to do it quickly. And I said, in six weeks, I'll have for you something new. And I think you'll hopefully you'll like it and, and I went to work and Bradley was there every day. And we would text each other in the middle of the night. He was wonderful to work with and had his own ideas about things. And we'd fight like cats and dogs, which I do with everybody. And in the end, we had something I think which was had the humanity that I think I can bring to things and he understood and and i think was a great contemporary story. One of the really wonderful moments for me on that one was Bradley and I and Lady Gaga working her house out in Malibu and it was the first time I had met her actually and Bradley pedigo. And I was going to leave when he did and she said to me mind staying, I said no, she's just like to talk about the character. And we did that and I gave her some I said take a look at Moonstruck how Cher played and was brought you know certain things. And I said I'll do everything I can to make this easy for you because she wasn't she's acted but she wasn't wasn't her, you know profession necessarily. And so, I promised her I'd make things as conversational as possible in the scripted that didn't have to be big monologues and all that and, and now, let's get to Lisa, do you mind if I play something for you? Like, yeah, okay. So she sat down pianist, he played Somewhere over the rainbow and sang it. He was like, Are you kidding me? It's like, Oh, my God. God just walked in, you know, really? He was like, yeah, I'm maybe it was, maybe it was not so accidental. But it was like unbelievable. I mean, it's like one of those moments you'll never forget.

Alex Ferrari 57:55
I saw a private concert by Lady Gaga at her house in Malibu

Eric Roth 57:58
kind of clip some of the songs are thinking about and yeah, and it's it was when I went and watch it with an audience. I was just so thrilled that people just really loved it. And they laughed and they cried, and, you know, the kind of thing that a good love story does. And you know, and I think Brad the Met, you know, added immensely to it. He had some great ideas for storytelling, and he certainly made it feel real and yeah, I think we were we did well together, you know.

Alex Ferrari 58:26
Now, what are three screenplays you think every screenwriter should read? Hmm.

Eric Roth 58:34
Well, I guess you'd have to start I don't know. But it's one of those you know, what's your what's the best movie ever made you as probably 20 you know? Sure.

Alex Ferrari 58:41
That's gonna come to mind.

Eric Roth 58:47
Wow, this is so hard. I mean, I guess you'd have to say Citizen Kane, because it has multiple points of view of one person is probably the first time that was ever done. And that is fresh with me because a mank I would say Chinatown. Because that's a movie that is all subtextual you're saying three is so impossible. I'll give you another I mean, to me, my favorite movie ever is 2000 either godfather 2001. So I don't know how to differentiate between sort of two fairly

Alex Ferrari 59:19
different they're fairly different. But so different, but godfather two's perfect. I always come anytime anyone says godfather I'm like, I will grant you godfather one and two as a warner because it's just as a as a whole that it's perfection

Eric Roth 59:33
to me is you know, even more perfect and in 2001 changed my life in some way. You know, so as I move experience, you know, so absolutely. are there so many I mean,

Alex Ferrari 59:44
oh, no, there's hundreds there's I mean, there's exactly, but three they just kind of like to start guiding people. Chinatown always shows up godfather always shows up. 2001 doesn't show up as much because

Eric Roth 59:56
it's not a script, you would say but look at the sparseness of it and then oh, No movie it said that the use of the by now but but those things have to still be written he had to write down that there's something as to black monolith even though it's from a book I know but especially the whole light of that says the use of ideas. Yeah, I don't know. It's like you know where it is where the things leave off between what the writing is and that's where you get into a whole thing. I mean, one of the famous I'll give you a funny little thing about US Citizen Kane, which is used as a thing about Writers Guild and the whole credit to speak credit. So they say they say what if I gave you a scrip which was about a famous man you know, magnet who owned newspapers and actually helped start a war and was one of the richest men in the world. They lived all alone, you know, sort of cloistered with his girlfriend up in this place. Zana do basically and and you know, at attract his life, you know, from beginning to end and you say it sounds like a pretty great story. Yeah, that'd be great. So you get credit for that, right, Eric Roth, and then someone comes along they, they read it, they sent it to another writer. So is there anything you'd add to it? And the writer writes on page one rosebud, on the last page wrote his book? And I said they get credit to that design. So you know, I don't know. screenplays are a tricky thing. I mean, I think they're, they're a they're a great craft. I'm not sure they're a great art form. You can be artful at it. But their craft, they're you because you can get away without finishing sentences. There's dots and dashes. You're not a player. You're not a novelist. It's a bastardized form a writing of a way. And it's also something that you that you need, it doesn't really exist unless you get amazing movie, you know, I mean, it could be something to read, it might be interesting. And there are many scripts who probably hold their own. There's a famous one called heroine alley that everybody always loved about the plague that a guy named Walter Newman wrote He also wrote cat in a bunch of movies and that but that always holds up I guess, is a great piece of you know, could have been a short story or something but uh, but it's of no value whatever scripts I don't have made, you know, the bid on the floor here.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:09
They're not best selling screenplays like you could still get not

Eric Roth 1:02:11
know you, wouldn't you and you wouldn't even feel they were if you bought them and read them. They might be really interesting visually and interesting. But they're they're such as I say, bastardized form of things.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:22
I always I always, I always tell

Eric Roth 1:02:24
other people would add probably in American screenplays probably add Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid because it created a whole way of looking at, you know, it's so meta in its way. You know, it was very postmodern. So I mean, I could give you all the all the screenplays that matter, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:40
right, of course. But I always I always tell people that screenwriting is arguably one of the most difficult forms of writing because of the condensed amount and like the, the you can't go like a novelist and just

Eric Roth 1:02:54
try to do I mean, good writers do less is more I unfortunately, haven't quite got there. I mean, it I really do. I mean, okay, Eric, you've done okay. Oh, but the director, I've done okay. But the directors appreciate the fact there's a lot more because they can make choices,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:09
and they can cut down. Yeah, I think it's better to have too much cut down, which

Eric Roth 1:03:14
is their job. I think good directors a great editor. Absolutely. Thank you work, we've crafted refashion. I mean, I always say that it's like kind of building as the writer gets to do and then director gets to take on this journey, you know, now,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:29
what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Eric Roth 1:03:37
I would first of all, ask them to please watch every movie they could watch and also read every book they can read. So they have knowledge both forms. I think literature is as important as film literature. Get to know what characterizations are get to know what dramatizing something isn't. Even in comedy. In other words, everything's going to come back to three acts maybe four. I don't care if you stand on your head if you do Pulp Fiction when starts to end and ends up in the being it makes no difference you're still going to have a beginning you're going to start complicating the problem in the second act and the third act you're going to come to either a conclusion by God coming in and a machine DSS Mac and or you can find a catharsis for people that they find organically amongst themselves and the movie is going to end with some conclusion or left left left inconclusive. So these rules will always apply. So I think I don't know I think I'd have everybody try to read and get a sense of what drama is what how does how to describe do this and then also to I don't know some some people and it's like anybody, anything else, some people just better than you at saying so just right to your own level. So I mean that in other words, everybody tries to, you know, say I want to be Aaron Sorkin I want to be, you're not going to be Aaron Sorkin you're going to be whoever you are. And maybe you'll end up being, you know, more valuable and Aaron Sorkin some way, but you'll, but you also may also write for the great comedies or for the most popular movies, and there's no, there's no criteria for any of this. And I think the things that I think people, if you can't write it, I think put it right into talking to a tape recorder. I tell people that all the time, so I want you to do my life story. And I said, you do your life story. You know, and, and talking to a tape recorder, have it transcribed and all of a sudden, you'll have yourself basically a basis for a screenplay, you know, and everybody has something interesting to say about themselves and about their lives. So I think it's true when they say write about what you know, but I would say don't write necessarily what you know, I think write would out what you know, but not specifically necessarily. It'll come in, in any you can't stop from whatever, you know, coming into a screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:59
And now and what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Eric Roth 1:06:09
I would say in life that I don't need to always be validated. I mean, it's like a whole world of that wanting these trophies and wanting people, you maybe don't critics or whatever you think, you know, starts sort of telling telling you who you are, that you can, you can be yourself without that, and I still haven't really quite learned it, I manage to have anxiety about things, you know, that I, why I do, I don't know, part of who I am about needing somebody love who I may not have gotten the way I wanted it all that thing was a question as either

Alex Ferrari 1:06:45
the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business, right,

Eric Roth 1:06:49
guys still think I'm learning this subtextual thing? The I mean, and you'll find that a great books have it I mean, no as you get it, right. You know, and it's not, it's not something you can quite, I just don't think I quite, I get up to the line. And in many cases, I can do it, and I can't quite always do it. I think also, I think I probably took too much time to write things before I'm a little quicker now. I was a little too, I was a little too precious with stuff, maybe, you know, I just I always wanted it to be the best version of what this was when I turned it in. Even though the next day you just start looking at and go, Oh my god, you know, this isn't so good. But I bet but the other thing is, if you can look at it, you look, it's very simple for me to say things, I get paid a lot of money, I get to live a great life, I get to be with all sorts of interesting people, not only actors and directors, but get to do research on things that are worlds I don't know anything about get to be a journalist of a kind and, and it's a struggle for luck. I have people in my family were struggling to want to be writers, you know, and it's like, and they just got to keep knocking that their heads against it, if that's what they want to be you know, and I know people who have one movie made in four years, and they still writing you know, and yet, that getting up and saying there's that blank page can be either incredibly frightening or incredibly liberating. And I think there's some, somewhere in between, and I don't think it has to do Prohm necessarily with being rewarded. But at least that you can finish it and then then see if you can get a reward out of it may just say, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:35
I mean, I get I get it. But look, a lot of these lead these core things that you're talking about No matter if you've won an Oscar or you've just written your first screenplay apply.

Eric Roth 1:08:44
Yeah, I can tell you this, that after I wrote for won the Oscar Forrest Gump, I was up for a job called the horse whisperer. That there Bob Redford directed and I remember, very, I mean, he didn't say it this way. But we met the first time and he basically said, What have you done for me lately? So I knew, okay, you got to start all over. You know, I'm saying you put yourself all over again. And every time I go up to the bat, you know, it's a little, it's a little less daunting now. Because you have, I don't feel the same quite pressure. But you know, it just but you still want to get these things made. And it's like, then you have to go, I have three things I'm basically working on and starting, and I have the same excitement and a little bit of anxiety about Will I be able to make this different, what is it going to make this stand out whether these voices is going to be unique and but it's like I say I'm lucky to be able to do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:42
And there it has been an absolute pleasure and honor to speak to you it has been great and I hope our conversation helps a few screenwriters out there. So thank you so much, my friend.

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BPS 121: Save the Cat! Writing for Netflix & Television with Jamie Nash

This week, I invited author, writer, and director, Jamie Nash on the show to discuss his ‘Save The Cats Writes for TV’ formula in his new book, Save the Cat!® Writes for TV: The Last Book on Creating Binge-Worthy Content You’ll Ever Need.

Jamie is a horror and children’s film screenwriter with fifteen years of experience writing projects for  Nickelodeon, Liongate, Discovery, Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc, and also teaches screenwriting to college students.

Some of his most notable horror credits include V/H/S/2, Lovely Molly, and Seventh Moon, A Comedy of Horrors, and Two Front Teeth. And others like Adventures of a Teenage Dragon Slayer, Tiny Christmas, etc.

Screenwriting, for Jamie, was a side project he pursued at leisure when he wasn’t working his Computer gaming/programming job. It wasn’t until early 2004 that he sold his first script, a horror feature titled, Altered, to Haxan Films that was later directed in 2006 by one of the Blair Witch Project directors, Eduardo Sánchez. The story premised on a group of men whose lives were forever changed by a strange occurrence who, fifteen years later Now, will spend a night together … in terror.

With some financial success and notoriety from Altered, Jamie quit his computer consultant job with Citigroup and went full-time on screenwriting in 2008.

Jamie is one of those writers who stay busy. He writes about five to six scripts a year for pilots, TV shows, podcasts, novels, etc. This justifies why he has a Writers Guild

It takes a lot of brainpower to create multiple plots that are so different in many ways within a short period of time. An example is his 2017 screenplays, The Night Watchman and Tiny Christmas. Two very distinct writing and audiences. 

He co-wrote The Night Watchman with Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca. It is basically a story of three inept night watchmen, aided by a young rookie and a fearless tabloid journalist, fight an epic battle for their lives against a horde of hungry vampires.

Tiny Christmas on the other hand is about a girl and her quirky cousin who are accidentally zapped by a shrinking ray at the hands of one of Santa’s inept elves on Christmas Eve and they must learn to trust and appreciate each other and work as a team to get back home before Christmas, or risk staying tiny forever.

On March 30th, 2021, he released his third book, Save the Cat!® Writes for TV in which he shares the essence of writing pilots as pitches for screenwriters considering television because more than 80% of jobs in the Writers Guild of America are skewed towards the television.

Nash takes up Snyder’s torch to lay out a step-by-step approach using Blake’s principles for both new and experienced writers, including:

-How to write and structure a compelling TV pilot that can launch both your series and your TV writing career
-All the nuances, tricks, and techniques of pilot-writing: the Opening Pitch, the Guided Tour, the Whiff of Change, and more
-The 8 Save the Cat! TV Franchise Types that will improve your story and your pitch

-The not-so-secret TV Pitch Template that turns your TV series into the necessary read-over-lunch industry document
-a how-to in creating layered characters who are driven by complex internal struggles
-Beat sheets of the pilots of Barry, Ozark, Grey’s Anatomy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, What We Do in the Shadows, Black-ish, The Mandalorian, This Is Us, Law, and Order: SVU, and more to help you crack your story

Create your binge-worthy TV series with Save the Cat! Writes for TV 

We talked some more about his own indie film hustle journey–working overtime to get a headstart in the industry, we also talked about his networking technique that keeps him booked and busy. 

I could talk another hour more with Jamie. He is so candid about his process and the drive behind it.

Enjoy this conversation with Jamie Nash.



Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:11
I like to welcome to show Jamie Nash, man. How you doing, Jamie?

Jamie Nash 0:14
I'm doing great.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thanks for having thanks for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it.

Jamie Nash 0:19
Thank you for having me. I'm a big fan.

Alex Ferrari 0:21
Oh, thanks, man. Thanks. We're here to talk about your new book, save the cat writes for TV, and I am a huge save the cat fan. I've had multiple different authors who have written different saved the cat books on as well because I, you know, a lot of people, some people like, Oh, it's a formula and it doesn't, you know, it's like, oh, it's taking the creativity out of it. And you know what, for some people that might be the truth, but other people, it's not. So I always like to present every kind of system way structure that you can because you just never know what writers gonna connect with what person I remember when I saved the Redford save the cat for the first time. I was just completely blown away. And I was just like, I was young, early in my screenwriting career. And there's a reason why it's still one of the best selling, if not the best selling,

Jamie Nash 1:12
this is the best selling by the way. Hi, my book can't even knock it off. Its perks. So you know, it's We're number two, a lot of time staring right at it. And I'm like, Can we pass it for one day?

Alex Ferrari 1:22
And it's how old now? How

Jamie Nash 1:23
long has it been around? On 2007?

Alex Ferrari 1:26
So it's been around for a couple years now. And it's still so there's obviously some sort of value there. Because there's been a lot of spirit writing books between 2007. Yeah. And it's still there. So how did you I was reading a little bit before our conversation. You You met Blake, back in the day?

Jamie Nash 1:46
Yeah. Yeah. So I'm in Maryland. And it you know, most of my career is spent doing indie horror movies, especially back in those days. And somewhere along the line, I was trying to network over the internet back in the, you know, the 2000 internet like 2003 2004 internet. And I remember I met him through a writing group. There was some kind of writing group, I don't work. I can't remember how they met him. But he was there. And he actually wanted me to write the script with him. He had seen that I had sold stuff. I was just starting my career. And he kind of came to me and said, You know, I like your sense of humor, you have a good handle on structure. And you had this idea for a script, he pitched it to me. And he was, even though his days were probably a few years before that, like the 90s were his heyday, you know, he sold, I think he had $2 million dollar scripts sales. Of course, he infamously wrote stopper, my mom will shoot. That's how he broke into Hollywood. So he hidden I'm not sure if he had sold anything in the last couple of years. But to make a long story short, he asked me to write a script with them. And I met him that way. And that was prior to save the cat. And I mentioned this in the book, he was using the save the cat terms on me. And I just thought they were like standard Hollywood terms. Like, he wasn't doing it in the way the book does it. He was just like, you know, we need an all is lost moment here. Or we need a in the debate section. He was using these terms. And I was like, Oh, this is just the way you know, maybe maybe he just got this jargon through, you know, talking to producers and stuff like that. But I so I almost organically processed that stuff, even before the book out just him talking through that kind of stuff. So that's how I met him.

Alex Ferrari 3:36
That must have been that must have been pretty cool. And Mmm, it's been awesome. Coming up. But so how did you get into the business?

Jamie Nash 3:44
Yeah, so I was a computer science major. That's how I got into business. Now. I was a computer science major. I always loved film. I was doing computer games at the time, but programming them nothing really that created. I always thought programming would lead me to the creative side. It never really did. It was a different kind of creativity. I was always like, yeah, and then one day, I'll make my adventure game and I'll put my stories in there, that never happened. So So I wrote on this side. And probably in the early 2000s I started to write screenplays. And the first one I I sold a script called altered with Eduardo Sanchez. It was our word is Sanchez, the you know your listeners will know The Blair Witch Project one of the Blair Witch Project directors and that was his first movie after Blair Witch. And universal picked it up. And then universal kind of buried it. In some ways. It was a straight to DVD. Still to this day, people find it now it came out. I think 2006 2007 ish. And people find it to this day and they're like, I've never heard of this movie. You know that it has a lot of fans that just pick it up and find it and and enjoy it. But that was my intro to the business. I made some good money. I kept Random it because I was like, you know, I'm not it's not enough money, it's not going to change my my programming ways. Um, but then after that, made some more movies got a lot of indie gigs I was really I was really this weird indie screenwriter I was doing. And honestly I think it was because I was cheap. I wasn't in the W ga yet. I wrote really fast. I was game for anything, I just love to write and make movies. And I, I was, you know, when I compare myself to what I do today, what it taught me because I did finally go full time. I went full time in 2008 when the market kind of crashed, and I got laid off from my city group gig. And at the time I was I was a computer consultant for Citigroup. Not that I was laid off, they were just like, we're not making any money. We're not going to hire any consultants back next year, you get paid too much. And at that point, I said I'm going full time. And a couple years after that, so it's been since 2008. I've been a full time screenwriter, and probably around two. Yeah, in 2011. I finally got in the Writers Guild. So and what was the point I was going to make was when I was an indie writer, I had to write like 10 screenplays a year just to make a little bit of money to survive. Like I had to write so many screenplays and do so many gigs. Because the you know, I didn't have all those guild protections of minimum salary, residuals, all that stuff. And then once I got in the Guild, my muscles went away that was just used to writing 10 screenplays a year so so I'm kind of a nut in that I write about five, usually like five to six scripts a year or something pilots, television shows, podcasts, or write novels. And probably since that time, I've been doing it a screenwriting full time. But now on the WETA

Alex Ferrari 6:56
that's awesome man. That's, that's your your. You're a unicorn. You mean someone? full time screenwriter, like that's

Jamie Nash 7:04
full time screenwriter, unicorn, and also I'm in Maryland, which makes it even weirder.

Alex Ferrari 7:09
Right? Exactly. And that's the thing that a lot of screenwriters listening think that the only way you can make a living is if you're Shane Black Aaron Sorkin or a Tarantino where you know you're getting million dollar paydays. But there are and I've had on the show many, just workmen, craftsmen, just people, screenwriters, who are just you know, cranking out work, you know, job per job, you know, and making a good living and supporting their family. But they're just working as opposed to like this one and done lottery ticket mentality, which so many screenwriters walk into the business with? Yeah,

Jamie Nash 7:45
I mean, you're the title of your show your podcast, that's, that was my life. It was indie film, hustle. I legitimately, I had to do 10 scripts a year, because I don't know that I did. 10 I'm using that number is more like five or something. It's still crazy. And to this day, I get anxiety if I don't produce that many in a year. It's basically like you say, the shame blacks of the world, not even the shame blacks, but the LA folks. They have a different game they're playing where they have lots of meetings. They're, they're networking every day, they live and breathe it. But for me, I'm constantly feeling the need to remind people it exists. And the way I do it, is by writing. So I'm constantly saying, Look, I'm here, I got a new thing. and meeting people like after it goes out when I meet people. And that's, that's my life.

Alex Ferrari 8:43
So your network. So your networking technique is to actually create content and create projects. Wow, what, what, what, what, what a concept is opposed to just doing one script that took you seven years to mate to write, and hoping that that's the one that's gonna break you.

Jamie Nash 9:00
Yeah, yeah, it's it's definitely, I'm not sure that everybody can pull it off. But it's the only way I've known to really pull it off. And then when you get one friend, that friend is where you get most of your work, to be honest. So yeah, Eduardo Sanchez is a good example. I did a lot of work with Nickelodeon. So the weird thing is, I'm a horror person and a kid person. Like they're the two opposite arenas. Yeah. So I've done tons of scripts with Nickelodeon. And I did tons of horror scripts. And once you find that person that really wants to champion you and likes your work and sees it, then they become the majority of your stuff, but I've sold over the years. I mean, it's crazy. All the different places. We're the scripted blumhouse at one point, which is obvious, but then I also had something that like discovery. You know, I had a pitch that I sold the discovery at one point. I've had stuff at Amazon Prime all over the place.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
Yeah. So it's awesome, man. That's awesome. So He sat down and wrote a book called save the cat writes for TV. And right now, arguably television instead I use a television I use streaming is, as it's all all encompassing television and streaming, it is probably the most lucrative and easy, I can't say easiest, but you have a better chance of making a living in the television streaming world than you do off of independent films. Only because it's, I mean, when you were coming up independent films, there was money to be made. Now it's it's a lot different world we live in now the money is in streaming. So that's why I wanted to have you on the show. Because I feel so many screenwriters who've been who've been, you know, just hacking away at the the independent film script, which is fine. And you could definitely keep doing that are starting to transition like, you know, where I think streaming and television, I might want to start trying to get into the writers room, I start trying to develop my own show and all that kind of stuff. So first question I have for you is what are a few questions a writer needs to ask themselves when developing a show?

Jamie Nash 11:06
Yeah, good? That's a great question. Um, so I have this kind of magic formula in the book, that it's the first section of the book, that by the way, the book will take you from A to Z. And I should define what z is. Super quick, is because like you said, you put it perfectly. The number of jobs in the WGA, television to film if you do the comparison, they do a report every year. And the last I saw, this isn't the exact numbers, but it's super close. It's ballpark, I should have looked up the exact numbers is I think, of 9000 jobs. 7000 plus are in television.

Alex Ferrari 11:51

Jamie Nash 11:52
Yeah. So it's, it's super skewed toward television. And it makes sense because they're writers rooms and all these other things,

Alex Ferrari 11:58
right? more jobs, just more job.

Jamie Nash 12:01
Tons of tons of streamers. Each show has, you know, five to 12 writers, they're in rooms, they get jobs. So, which is part of the reason why we did this book, why we did this race television book. So the thing my book really tries to push is the reason you write a television pilot. And it's really concerned with pilots. So that's what I said a dizzy. A, you start with nothing, m z and up a pilot. A when I say a pilot, a pilot story, a save the cat outline, you know, you'll have the outline ready to go, all you have to do is get in final draft and crank out the fun stuff. a TV show pitch, and a TV show concept. So you could pitch your show, or you could send the pilot in either one would work. And so when a writer is considering doing television, what my pitch to you is or to your listeners is you need a pilot, a pilot is the key thing you're going to need. Because really, you're not one goal is to sell the show. That is one goal. But if you want one of those TV writers jobs, if you want to get one of those rooms, right now, they're asking for original scripts. So you know, back in the day, and you know, when I was coming up, they would ask you for spec scripts, which were like an episode of friends, for example, you just write like Episode 203 of friends, you know, nowadays, nobody wants that. And I, you know, I pulled a lot of people just to make sure because I consider putting that section in the book. And I said went out to my, you know, showrunner friends, my friends that are on staff. And they say nobody writes those anymore. There's some fellowships that actually take them. So it's not true. They're unicorns that still ask for. There's like the one in 100 that say, we want to see your friend script, decide if you're going to come in to Raiders room. But most people are looking for pilots, some will take features and some will take plays, but 99% of them take pilots, like pilots is what you need. So the book is really focused on the fact Hey, you might want to get one of these TV jobs. Hey, you might you might try to write a pilot. So that said, that kind of backtrack, to write a good pilot to write a great pilot. You need a good show. So that was this is your question. So what are the things in a show that you really need? And from my experience, and then from research as well, I came up with the three big things. These are the three. A unique world is really important. There are some like stand up comics and stuff that their point of view is kind of the world you know, like Seinfeld, it's a show about nothing so to speak. Yeah, but his unique view of it. comedy is kind of the world. But for the most part, you're trying to find some kind of world that you know, that's authentic to you. Because again, these are writers samples that you're trying to get a job with. So your script needs to say something about you. So it has to be something you love. Yeah. You know, in the book, I give examples of things I love. I love pro wrestling. You know, I love street performing. I love computer programming, you know, these are things I love. And I could speak about I could talk about I love to research.

Alex Ferrari 15:31
So can we can we can we do a pilot that is a pro wrestler, who's also a street performer and codes on the side?

Jamie Nash 15:38
I've done it.

Alex Ferrari 15:41
I've got four of those pilots. I've got those four pilots.

Jamie Nash 15:44
Yeah, exactly. I've got the funny thing you say I here's the weird thing. I've done two of those, those worlds for pilots, but the programming one, which seems the most obvious and the most relatable, I haven't figured out our fun take on that. It's it's

Alex Ferrari 16:00
I mean, Silicon Valley's a great. It's not coding, per se, but it but it was so wonderfully done. I mean, silicon was wonderfully,

Jamie Nash 16:08
wonderfully. That's the thing between that and Halt and Catch fire. Yeah, I don't need to do. I'm a huge Halt and Catch fire person. Yeah. And I love Silicon Valley. So what am I going to add to that? I can't find the fresh perspective. One day, I'll find it. I'm so so world is the first part. And then when I was going to pitch, the first thing you learn in television, at every meeting, you'll pitch this great thing. And they'll tell you, they'll sit you down, they'll say, we really care about his character, character, character, character. It's all about character and television. That's who you want to invite onto your DVR every single week. It's all about character. And they always say to put character first. And I have trouble. I'm a plot first guy, I'm kind of a concept first guy, you know, I came up loving the shame black kind of stuff. You know, diehard is kind of my movie. So I'm a concept, first type person, but I really had to over the years, especially over the last, I don't know six years, I've really kind of reinvented myself to try to think character first almost or that try to try to really get at what pulls at my heartstrings and what engages my own personal story and emotions in the script. So characters, part two. And then the last one is, and this is another term I never heard I got the Hollywood The term was somebody would say what's the franchise? That would be the first question you'd get. And to me it was a really cheesy kind of question, like guy with a cigar would be Yeah, what's the franchise kid or something. But it was a term that was regularly used. And what it meant was story engine. What's the thing that if you put you know, you kind of sit there every week and you say, we need a story idea? What's the inspiration for it? What's the comp? Where does the conflict come from? Where are the goals where the heroes come from? And it's that franchise? That's the thing. So in my in the book, just to give an example for a franchise. I came up these and Blake Snyder came up with these things called john rose. In his in his first book, and genres were basically story patterns. There were recurring stories we'd see over time so he has like, buddy love might be buddy copper romance he had he had a golden fleece, which might be like a quest movie or it might be a sports movie for you know you're trying to win the trophy. You're trying to win something at monster in the house. That was my favorite. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 18:38
it was a fish fish out of water. I think there's something

Jamie Nash 18:42
fishy out there. I do think he has a true fish out of water. He has a full triumphing as many as one that he so they're ones that kind of become fish out of water, but I don't think he has one. But he has a whole bunch they're trying to remember the number exactly I think there's 10 there might be 12 I should know they're in my book too. But so there's a bunch of them and they were the they were the stories so I came up with something similar which is the franchises I kind of went through and identified all the types of franchise types to help you figure out your show. And just you could probably come up with these just like you came up with fish out of water like that's a recurring theme. You know, TV shows there's the procedural shows I call the blank of the week, there's my blank OF THE WEEK chose so it could be anything from X Files, you know, monster the week to CSI, which might be case of the week to house which might be patient of the week or something like that. So that's one type of franchise trapped together so they're your family shows your you know, your the office space shows. So you're in an office, you're trapped with these people around you that conflict and the reoccurring stories come from those people In the interplay and the social dynamics, and so I came up with a bunch of these much like key genres. And the way I suggest, so they're the three things I think you've come up with, honestly think you start with the world, like, what are the worlds you love? Then say, who are the characters that really compel you in those worlds and make a big list? You know, in, in Silicon Valley, you know, you have the CEO, you have the kind of, you have the guy who runs the incubator, you have, you have all these things, and you write those down and have all your characters. And then if you start applying to the franchise type, you know, is this a? Is this a trap together? Is this a? Is this a blank that we you know, and then you can kind of brainstorm the kind of show you're creating through those three main pillars that you're creating? So what

Alex Ferrari 20:49
are some what are the so we have a blank of the week, we have trapped together? Are there any other ones?

Jamie Nash 20:55
There are? So a lot of the modern serialized shows so blank the week they're kind of the old, you know, episodic there's, um, there's a dude with a series long problem or season long problem. So great, Breaking Bad, Breaking Bad, or somebody that like 24, or something like that. Right? Right. Um, there's, um, there's one called man or woman with a plan. So it's somebody almost like, like the show revenge. Remember the show revenge, or something where somebody is like, they have a plan, and they're going to, they're going to enact his buddy love. So some of these are similar to the genres because they tell stories over time.

Alex Ferrari 21:38
And this is true, this does this trance, this go from comedy, to drama to action? lewdly. Absolutely.

Jamie Nash 21:44
So much like the genres, the genres, the Blake Snyder genres, which are very third, like cousins to these franchise types. A monster in the house, just as an example. So monster in the house is usually like a person trapped in a scenario with some monster. But something like what about Bob or cable guy? They're not horror movies, but they're still patterns that are similar to fatal attraction or something? Absolutely. So. Yeah, so one of my, one of the examples I give in the book is, is is dude or dudette, with a series long profit problem, or season long problem is the good place, and that's a comedy, but it could also be homeland, you know, or something like that. So, it they definitely cross genres. They're really just speaking to where you're going to find the conflict. Week, the week, you know, and they help you kind of brainstorm what your show is, but they also help you brainstorm what your pilot will be. And they also help you brainstorm what the season might look

Alex Ferrari 22:49
like. Gotcha. And, and obviously, select the procedural like, you know, blank of the week that is more network television, kind of world. That's not as much to streamers. Of course, there's always

Jamie Nash 23:02
exceptions. The one place you might see it in the streamers is animation. When you get the animation, some of those are like like Rick and Morty or something like that. They can be serialized, for sure. I mean, Rick and Morty isn't a streamer, but they have a big mouth or so you know, some shows like that. Maybe a

Alex Ferrari 23:22
little South Park, but that's more that's Comedy Central.

Jamie Nash 23:26
Show parks a good example. Again, it's it's network, but it's kind of streaming too. Right. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 23:31
When I say network, it's the four big ones. That's that's, that's what I'm thinking is NBC ABC, or

Jamie Nash 23:38
you know, something like that? They're definitely those procedurals there's television like Hawaii Five, oh, you know, things like that. They're definitely in the blank OF THE WEEK category, or even the trap together category. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 23:51
And that's one thing I've not really I've never seen a Hawaii Five o or, or that or, or CSI in the streaming world. It doesn't. It doesn't really exist originals, obviously, after the fact but never originals because I've because of the pandemic have been consuming quite quite a good amount of television. And we just it just sitting there just absorb. Like I just finally went back to Handmaid's Tale. I hadn't. I hadn't finished it yet, because I got pissed off when they caught her again. I was like, I can't I can't, I can't take it. And that's how I was.

Jamie Nash 24:23
I got to season two. I love season one. Yeah, I was like, This is great. I was like, I can't, it's got to go forward somewhere. I can't think when

Alex Ferrari 24:31
they pulled it when they pulled her back out. I was like, I'm out. I can't. But then I'm like, okay, they've got three seasons. So they got I got basically the third season and then as of this recording, the fourth season starts I think you're right a

Jamie Nash 24:41
You and I are the exact same one. It's so funny.

Alex Ferrari 24:45
I took I literally pulled her out of the spoiler alert

Jamie Nash 24:50
was like my favorite show when it was on. I loved it. I was like this is great. And then season two, I'm like, I still love it. And then once it got to the end, I was like I don't know if I want to watch season three

Alex Ferrari 24:59
I can't. And just a perfect example Walking Dead like walking dead I was a huge

Jamie Nash 25:05
Walking Dead fan omiya thing.

Alex Ferrari 25:07
And once neguin showed up, right? Once Megan showed up that whole season was so abusive to the audience. I felt it just you can't beat the characters you love to a pulp and never give them a win. It was just kind of like you were just seeing your favorite characters never win and his neguin was this. He was a villain that was so it's so so on. The villain can never be on on unconquerable. If you if you create a villain that's unconquerable, then there's no hope. And that's what I felt in Walking Dead. And then I stopped watching. I hadn't seen it since that last season. Yeah, at the very end. It was something but yeah,

Jamie Nash 25:50
yeah, I was a comic book walking dead person. So I'd read all the comic book. Yeah. And the comic book is easier to digest. Because it's, it's not as much story. You know what I mean? Even though it takes place, there's just not as much of it. It's not as much. So neguin is great. I love neguin in the comic book is. You're absolutely right, though. He's like undefeatable, he's always two steps ahead. He always finds a way out. He's definitely a tricky character. I think it's kind of the loss syndrome as well. Their win loss gotten to those middle years. And it just didn't feel like they were allowed to move forward.

Alex Ferrari 26:25
They jumped the shark, they jumped, they jumped the shark. Like if we if we can go back to the old concept of jumping the shark. For anybody who doesn't know what jumped the shark actually means it's from an old episode of happy days when Fonzie literally jumped the shark in his motorcycle. And we all said, Okay, you've gone too far.

Jamie Nash 26:45
I think the season before it was a cliffhanger episode and season before he jumped like a bunch of barrels, right? It's no, it's fine. So in the next episode, they had the top next year they topped it. He was in he was in LA jump some sharks, they were doing the whole evil evil thing. It was just bizarre.

Alex Ferrari 27:02
And that's where, and that's where jumped the shark comes from. But yeah, that's it is really interesting in regards to television, because I mean, I've consumed obscene amounts of television in my lifetime. And now this last year, I mean, we just literally just go searching like, we just finished we just caught up with this is us and watched. All of this is us like and cried a lot. But it's so

Jamie Nash 27:25
the pilot is in my book. So it's

Alex Ferrari 27:29
such an amazingly written SHOT Show to be able to work, multiple timelines, the same characters at different ages. The the the plotting that's involved with that, yeah, it's it is on something I've really on a whole other level, I've just, there's never been a show like it.

Jamie Nash 27:50
The pilot is a great example of what people should be doing when they're pilots.

Alex Ferrari 27:55
Yes. Good.

Jamie Nash 27:56
Not to spoil it. But it's been out a while. And

Alex Ferrari 27:59
I look at it spoiler alert, if everyone doesn't want to know that just I'm sorry.

Jamie Nash 28:02
Yeah, this absolutely. So this is us. It does this thing where it's kind of a mystery, you don't realize how the characters are totally connected. So you're doing the math, the whole episode. And then in the very final like seconds of it, it shows you how they're all connected. And it does it's like magic bricks and blows your mind. So you could just watch the pilot episode of this as us turn it off and sort of be satisfied with the show. It's like a mini movie unto itself. It's really a great, a great episode. And it was up by the way, it started as a movie.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
It did it. Oh, that the scripts are does the movie which

Jamie Nash 28:40
we've never read it, but I know it did.

Alex Ferrari 28:42
But that's the thing. And that technique they use constantly throughout the series, you'll be introduced to brand new characters, no and weird time frames. You'd even know what time of what the history of historical time did

Jamie Nash 28:56
much like last month, like last month when they did it. Yeah, you're

Alex Ferrari 29:01
just like, what, what's going on? And then you just like these weird characters, and then at the end, just like, and then my wife and I will be sitting there going like, well, who are these people? How are they connected? Like, where? Where is this line going? When are they going to meet and you just like oh, and I don't want to ruin it. But I just saw the one with the the guy with the internet who helped start the internet and there was like this the whole the whole series you saw this family and going through it and there's one of the guys who actually did the internet and created FaceTime and I was just blown away. I was like, Oh, that's brilliant. It was so well. Well I mean one of the best written shows on television currently.

Jamie Nash 29:39
No and and like i said i that so my book also breaks down a bunch of pilots. That's one of them. I there's a there's a whole bunch in the book. I tried to give something for everybody. I have Rick and Morty silent

Alex Ferrari 29:53
about breaking bad.

Jamie Nash 29:55
I didn't do Breaking Bad but here's my The reason I didn't. I guess I did. Only I tried to only do first of all, a lot of people have done Breaking Bad, right? And I mentioned Breaking Bad in my character section. There's a whole big thing about it. But I tried to only do shows that weren't yet canceled. So we're not finished, you cancelled as a rough word. But I tried to do shows that we get another season next year. Just the strategic longevity of the book.

Alex Ferrari 30:24
So Right, exactly. You're not going back to like Sopranos.

Jamie Nash 30:27
Exactly. And then I think they announced like a week later, this is also a next year, but still I have one year before it will be

Alex Ferrari 30:34
it is gonna it is. This is news to me. They are ending it next year.

Jamie Nash 30:38
Breaking News. They're built my wife and I but theory that maybe one of these spin off characters will just become some new iteration of this as us like a new family or something like of course, they could absolutely spin that off and continued same model, different family, different stories.

Alex Ferrari 30:55
Oh, yeah, you could absolutely absolutely, absolutely do that. Now, one question, had you, you talked about a beat sheet. How do you actually use a beat sheet in creating a Intellivision cuz I know how to do it in film, but how do you do it in television?

Jamie Nash 31:10
Sure. So what I did in the TV, and honestly, my experience comes from the place Snyder beachy, I teach college students, I bought cheats and stuff, so I know it really well. And in recent years, a lot of my students come and say, Hey, I don't want to write a feature, I want to do a pilot, can I do it your class, and I've, I've allowed them to do it. And over the years, I've learned some tricks. I've learned how it works and what doesn't have a lot of people that use the savings account, BG help. First of all, describe what the save the cat bt does, I guess the save the cat beachy is kind of this template that it spells out, what should happen when in a movie is the most crass way of saying it. So just as an example of a cue to the first act, just to give you a quick example. You start with an opening image, that's like page one, the first thing and it's usually something Matic image that shows captures the dramatic work or how the world is before the story starts. Usually its book ended with a closing image on the end. And you'd be amazed in a film if you took opening and closing image of your films, to see how there's a certain poetry there, how there's a certain book endedness there. Um, so anyway, opening images first, then you usually get a setup. The setup is all the things you'd think it's like the characters homework and play your main character who your main character is, what their life is like before the story starts. And that's the setup. And then you get to the catalyst, which is this lightning bolt moment that comes in like, it's Peter Parker being bit by a spider is a meteorite crashing into the earth. It's some, you know, some often random coincidence, some crazy thing that starts a story, it's meeting the person, you'll fall in love with that a rom com It's whatever that thing is. And that's the catalyst and that happens on page 12. According to save the cat, the first book of a feature film, so and it goes on and on like that there's a midpoint. That's that's like, you know, at your 50% Mark, there's the all is lost, which happens about 75% and that's the worst thing that could happen. That's Obi Wan Kenobi getting killed or your mentor dying or you know that point where you go into this woe is me thing because some horrible and then the darkness, the soul and the finale and everything else. So the 15 beats of the say that there's 15 beats in the save the cat beachy. You can get his book and check those out during my book I completely describe save the cat you can skip over the original book.

Alex Ferrari 33:47
I'm sure the save the cat people will not be happy with that. But yes, no, I'm joking. No, there's a lot. There's a lot you're getting bonafide, you can do it either way. Either way, you can get a lot you can get.

Jamie Nash 33:59
I'm sure Amazon has a buy to for cheap price right now. No, absolutely. I had people calling me right now on the phone

Alex Ferrari 34:08
like I understand I just

Jamie Nash 34:10
I'm so that that's the beachy. It's just kind of this thing. It's kind of like a fill in the blank. And again, these are all the most crass ways of saying it. It's a kind of fill in the blank template that you can go through and say, once I have this done, I'll have an outline for a movie. If I if I fill out all these sections, I'll have an outline for movie. The problem is, and by the way, there's a save the cat writes a novel book, that's hugely popular, because those people are even when I say those people, I'm one of them. novel writers are even more resistant to somebody telling them you know, here's a template, then film people are and it's, it's hugely popular in the Novel World. And it's the exact same template By the way, because the template is really Just a template on how to tell a good story. And, and it's really an adaptation of things that came before it was shared Aristotle journey. Yeah. Yeah Sinfield, all those things. It's, it's very similar to all all of those, but it has its own nuances and its own way of speaking the language, its own language. It's a language. Sort of

Alex Ferrari 35:25
now with with opening, like an opening scene of a pilot or a film for that matter. I love one of the reasons i'd love. I mean, Breaking Bad, arguably, is probably one of the best written Shows of All Time. That pilot though it is, it is a fairly, it's a it's a masterpiece, it really has you give another 15 minutes. And it's it's it's one of the best independent films ever made. If you do it, the opening scene, What's your feeling? Because with the templates, that you're laying out the beat sheet, you're laying down, the opening of that scene, and I'm a big fan of this opening of that movie is the end. And I love doing that because the audience is like, wait a minute, we How did it do? You're asking questions while you're going through it. And it's very powerful as a storytelling technique. Is that work inside the beat sheet somewhere?

Jamie Nash 36:14
It does. So this is I that one and I'm trying to remember Breaking Bad because while I remember the beginning, like I get mixed up later, because it starts blending in with the other

Alex Ferrari 36:25
so was when he so when he came when he comes out, it's like him coming out in his underwear in the middle of the desert. Yeah, which video right, that whole thing. And then I think it's ends with him pointing the gun at the camera, and then we cut to, you know, a week or two later or earlier, something like that.

Jamie Nash 36:43
So I, the reason I asked I'm not I never remember the the end of it, because it blends with the whole season. But I remember at the beginning,

Alex Ferrari 36:52
so that So my understanding if I, if I remember correctly, because it didn't just yesterday, I think we catch up to that moment. And then we continue. So like, that's generally it never ends at that moment, and generally is like a place where you pick up and then you keep going. So it's kind of like a really nice engine.

Jamie Nash 37:08
I was gonna say in a purest sense than it is a perfect opening and closing image because we're bookending you know, your your opening and closing on the same kind of thing. It's just that kind of thing. Um, one thing I realized, when I watched a ton of television shows getting ready for this book, I found some things that a lot of shares did. And there's a thing I call the opening pitch. And it feels like the first two minutes that teaser scene of almost every show is almost like something you could show up to an executives office, and just show them that two minutes. Like say, look, this is our show. What do you think, you know, what questions do you have? I'm breaking bad does it in more that teaser sort of way. Like, here's the coolest thing. We're going to give you mysteries and stuff to think about, like how did this guy in his underwear in this in this car in the desert and drugs and all that stuff. So they do it that way. But something like the Mandalorian for example, it gives you this Mini Movie at the beginning where he it shows his tools and shows how he fights it shows that it gives you Star Wars Star Wars Star Wars. And you could show that, you know, imagine if they showed that to us on YouTube, just that first. You know, that first teaser section in that case, it's longer than two minutes. If they showed you that you'd be like I'm in. I'm in I'm in. And the opening pitch. A lot of them are in character driven shows like insecure, or even marvelous, Mrs. maison, which is one of my favorite shows. A lot of times you get the main character just talking like, like, here's who I am. I'm just gonna pitch you me. so insecure. That starts with her, pitching herself to a bunch of kids and like it pulls back and she's talking to kids in the school. And they're like what, you know, you're going too deep here. Marvelous, Mrs. nasal. She's at a wedding and she's giving her wedding speech. And she kind of pitches her heart like who she is. And you see why she's funny. And it's like a stand up routine. And you could almost just put that like, here's who she is, and to an executive on the desk and be like, that's, that's who she is. So this opening pitch thing is something I definitely saw in the teasers where you get that first two minutes to just kind of lean forward and say this is our show. We're going to show it to you. I'm Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty. The first two minutes of that is a random Rick and Morty adventure. It's almost like a James Bond thing sort of like he gets the kid gets woken up they get taken on a spaceship there's a bomb or something going on. It's it's Rick and Morty in two minutes. It's like an episode of Rick and Morty in two minutes. So you find that this happens a lot and pilots like they that first two minutes they use so perfectly and even in shows like network tours like blackish was another show I analyzed. blackish is it's like a montage, but it has the main character giving his point of view, like what what kind of the blackish thing means to him. And it's basically an overview of the whole ship. It's like, it's like a teaser trailer for the whole entire show. So anyway, that's what I noticed about the opening pitch. Um, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 40:20
So you also talk a little bit about the wonky laws of pilot physics. What is that?

Jamie Nash 40:27
Well, it in some ways, it was really, in some ways that's there. It's two parts. In some ways. It's my catch all for all these weird things like the opening pitch. Like it was another thing I noticed I called the width of change stated. So in in pilots usually don't have full character arcs. But there's usually a change in almost all pilots, that might happen Episode Two, three, because if you change the character in every episode, it would be weird by you know, the season, it would be like they keep changing. But most pilots change the character in some small way like to make a commitment. So you know, there's some spoilers here for I'll give you a couple quick spoilers, but the Mandalorian I think, most people,

Alex Ferrari 41:12
it's on them if they haven't seen it, I'm sorry.

Jamie Nash 41:16
Exactly. But at the end of that, you have this bounty hunter who lives by a code. And he's touching fingers with baby Yoda. You know, it's like there's some change in the world that this bounty hunter is now going to protect. It's his minor change, and usually happens around the last scene. But another shows like, like justified or something and an older show, Christian get the character literally asking a question was I justified at the end of the show, like in a shooting in the in shows like Barry, which is one of my favorites, and I cover in the book with a with a sheet with a beat sheet. At the end of that, somebody comes up to him and they say, you know, I'm an actor, and he goes, I'm an actor, too. He's gone from a hitman to an actor at the end of the show. And he states it, he actually says it. It's amazing how many shows, you'll see that when you watch at the end of the pilots, they say what the change is. It's they verbalize

Alex Ferrari 42:14
it. So they actually show the character. So for us as an example, you start off James Bond starts off in the pilot as a mild mannered, whatever, you know. And then at the end of the pilot, I am now I am now a special secret agent. And then the show takes off from there. Now this is his adventures as a secret agent. And of course, he does change hopefully, throughout the series, somewhat, depending on the show, obviously, because some of these procedural shows these characters never change.

Jamie Nash 42:49
It's Yeah, no, but you got it exactly. Right. So whatever his arc is in that first episode, which kicks off the show, and it's not always this is why it's wonky. But it's so happened so often that I wonder if a memo went out, because you'll see it so often. But I think what it really points to is when you're writing your own pilots, while a TV show doesn't change a character, you know, every episode, your pilot should your pilot should add that movement. And the reason I think that's the case, your pilot almost needs to be cathartic. By itself, it needs to almost standalone a little bit like you could just go back to watch that Mandalorian episode, I'll say, Oh, baby Yoda missing that. And you could watch it almost in a vacuum and never watched another thing again, it has a beginning middle end. There's a change in the character. You get the feeling it's a pitch for the show. You're like

Alex Ferrari 43:46
oh, there is there there could be continuing adventures is the thing. Absolutely. The story itself solid. And when he touches baby Yoda, arguably Mandalorian could just okay, he you could stop right there and go well, obviously, he just returned the baby Yoda to the proper people. And that's the end of the story. Or,

Jamie Nash 44:04
yeah, we that's why the width of change as opposed to a character arc. It's not total character arc. It's usually a question. And in in a movie, I think it's very equivalent in a movie to when the character commits to that first act break. And the first act break a lot of times, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars The whole time he's like, I can't go I gotta help with the blue milk farm or whatever he's doing.

Alex Ferrari 44:33
It's a it's a What is it? It's a moisture and moisture was a moisture food basic

Jamie Nash 44:39
blue milk farm. I think that would have been a lot.

Alex Ferrari 44:41
I actually like the blue milk farmers when

Jamie Nash 44:43
I reboot it. It's going to be a blue, blue cow. So by the time his parents are, you know, are his parents, his aunt and uncle are killed and realize their spoiler alert. Spoiler alert. There's in his home Burt, He kind of looks in He's like, he has that slight whiff of change. He's going on an adventure. Now, the only thing I'd say is a pilot. They almost say what the change is they almost physically, they almost verbalize it. That's, that's the amazing thing. But usually there's a slight change where they've gone from a moisture farmer to adventure by the end, and they make some commitment. And that'll be the rest of the series. That'll be the season you're

Alex Ferrari 45:29
watching. And Mandalorian did it so beautifully, because and they did it without words. They did it with an image. Yeah. And it was like this hard ass, just militant Samurai of of the universe, for a moment softened. When he saw and connected with this little creature, who we all just were like, our minds exploded when we saw baby Yoda. And you're just like, Oh, this characters changed forever, just because of that motion of him touching the finger. All of that is like I'm getting chills, dammit, damage on favor. But it's

Jamie Nash 46:06
it's true. By the way. Mandalorian pilot is also broken down in my book was one of the ones I chose. Smart. You had to backtrack to the thing you said Mandalorian has a hint of serialization or a screamer. It definitely has a mission of the week quality kind of a throwback to the 80s. Almost,

Alex Ferrari 46:24
it actually has like an 18 mesh vibe to it.

Jamie Nash 46:28
It has a serialized story running on the higher level. Sure, like it gets more serialized, like toward the later episodes in each season. But it definitely has like we got we got to help this person.

Alex Ferrari 46:40
Although it's literally like every episode like okay, we're gonna go break this guy out of jail. Okay, we're gonna go to this moon and we're gonna go do this. Or we got to go to the, to this, this, this base that we got to sneak into like, every week. It's something and it literally leads itself to the next episode. Like, it's so beautifully done. Like, what do we got to do now? Well, well actually doesn't lead to the next episode start so a lot of times he'll just be like fly flying off into space. And then the new episode, like pick them up from space. Oh, we're going to land on this planet. new adventure.

Jamie Nash 47:08
We need some fuel. We need some we need to blue milk.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
We need some lumic Oh, look at Seven Samurai. Okay, let's do Seven Samurai now on this planet and it's great. No, it's it's it's a wonderful show. I wanted to ask you something, though. With with television, the old school way of television where you had commercial breaks, there was a very specific style of writing that plot point breaks, or that had to hit because commercials. So it's generally like a five act. I

Jamie Nash 47:38
think it was a five act. It the funny generally vibe. It really depends on the network. You're on in the show. I it's it's funny, they're actually heavily heavily negotiated things. So the you know, like, if you're Vince Gilligan, you might be like, I only want four, there's no way I'm doing five, you know what I mean? And AMC is like, Walking Dead is 10 or whatever you want and dead as a time they just do it. They put commercials all over the place. And he could say, well,

Alex Ferrari 48:07
we don't have zombies dammit. So we're doing for.

Jamie Nash 48:10
That's right. That's right. And then and then something like mad men. I think the thing with that show was the showrunner said, I'm not writing them in, you figure it out. And they had to figure it out. They had to go in and put ads in. So they come kind of abruptly and Mad Men.

Alex Ferrari 48:25
But what but when writing, but when writing a pilot, let's say you because now Yeah, there's many more streamers than there are

Jamie Nash 48:34
network. But my advice to people and people take this the hard way. In some ways, I don't think they like hearing this necessarily. I don't think you have to write act outs at all in your pilots anymore. You can just totally forget about that for now. Once you're hired, or once they buy your script, then you worry about it. But nobody's judging your script on your where you put your act outs or even if you know what they are, they're purely judging it on story. And most I wouldn't even say most almost everybody I talked to said yeah, don't worry about the act outs. However, there are some people that like putting them in just because it's kind of like when people put smash cut in their feature, you know, it just feels something like smash CUT TO interior gym night, you know, and I think people like to put him in for that dramatic moment. Like, it's almost like what I say in my book, I always say right, you could write to them. And I feel like if you've replaced them with dun dun dun, you know, in your head, and that works for you then feel free to write to them because you really, they serve a valid. They serve as a valid inspiration to write to these big cliffhanger moments and have five of those in your script and stuff like that. Like if that inspires you to write page a page turner, then put them in or put them in in the Take them out in the end, if that inspires you, but you don't need them. And if they give you any anxiety at all, like, where should they go? Or should they be here there, then I'd say take them out, I've written for shows that have them. And it's funny when you get to production. There, that's when you get like the network version, like on our network, we do it this way. And they're very specific, like you, when you're running a pilot, the advice is, you can put them wherever you want. So Act One, it can be on page 12, it can be on page 10. It's your call 20. You make it up here, your network when you write a pilot. But once you get into a phase where AMC buys your pilot, they have certain network rules like it might be act, your act one act out most common between page 10 and 15. If it's on page 15, you have to give at least six pages before the next one or you know, they have certain rules that are unique network to network. I would advise not worrying any bit about that until they pay you to worry about it. Because you don't know if your shows can be on Netflix, or Amazon Prime where they don't have ads for Hulu, which has ads but sort of doesn't there, you know where

Alex Ferrari 51:15
it kind of does if you pay you don't it's it's the wild wild west like before. I mean, for decades, it was pretty much the three, three then four networks and television was just written that way. And that was just the way it was. And then all of a sudden, now it's literally 1000 different ways and 1000 different approaches and 1000 different things you can never can you imagine getting breaking down on the air? She's never would have happened never would have happened. You know, so it's like that would have never been able to get on anywhere else. Or madman, you know, like that. Yeah, that that doesn't seem like a good. Well, breaking Bad's arguably one of the worst pitches of history. And Vince Gilligan says I think it's a horrible, horrible, but I remember

Jamie Nash 51:59
I didn't watch Breaking Bad at first. I was like, it sounds like weeds. It's like weeds a little bit. I was like, I'm not gonna I love the weeds. But I was like I saw we I like her. I'm not sure that I like yeah,

Alex Ferrari 52:11
I actually I actually caught I caught it. And I and I came all the way up to the last five episodes. So the last five or six episodes I watched live, but we binged all the way up until then,

Jamie Nash 52:24
this is great way to season two. I picked up on it somewhere in season two. And it's just Yeah, it

Alex Ferrari 52:32
is. Yeah, it is what it is. Can you explain what a board is? And how do you use a board in the pilot? Is there a way to use the board in the pilot? Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Jamie Nash 52:43
So the board. This is what's kind of interesting about save the cats to see the cat is mostly known for this 15 point, beachy, right. But it introduced a lot of other cool concepts like write your logline before you write us up to you know, and things like that. The genres that we we mentioned briefly, but one of the big things that had from day one was this thing called the board and in a film, basically what the board is, it actually translates really well to television, because they use boards like crazy and television. A board is just an index, a cork board, it could be a digital board, it's whatever you want to make it but usually it's some kind of those aren't those it's those index cards that you buy pack, you get them at the grocery store. I think I buy one dollars 100 cards perfect for a movie or a TV show. So for $1 you can have your your movie by we save the cat as pre printed ones now they have like things to fill things and

Alex Ferrari 53:40
I've seen post it notes people use post it notes as well.

Jamie Nash 53:43
I use post it notes I'm gonna post it guys just they're more disposable. I I don't have a good board. So I just want to put pop it in your write your scenes down on it. So you know let's say we were doing Breaking Bad it might be like confessional scene, we might just jot down the basics of that confessional scene in the desert. Walt thinks he's about to die. That'll be postcard. Kak that up on the board, you know, second scene satis breakfast in the world. He turns 50 bacon, blah, blah, blah, whatever. We tack that up on the board. And basically we construct an entire show with these index cards. In a in a film. Blake's guidance was 40 cut. By the way this this part was revolutionary to me, even though I knew them. He told me this and I didn't know what he was talking about. So when we were doing that script, he said, Let's Okay, I think we're ready. I think we ever beachy. Let's do a 10 2010 and I was like, what's a 10 to 110 I just assumed all writers. He made this up. I mean, he made it up. Let's do a 10 2010 so what a 10 2010 was, was was 40 index cards. That's what he considered a feature film 10 were Act One 20 were act two, and then 10 were Act Three. So Act Two, as you see is twice as big as the other two, it really is four acts, that's the dirty secret of feature filmmaking. Act Two is to a, you know, act two is you get to a into Bay, and they get splitted. In twit. TV works the same way. So, you know, you'd cork all those 40 up 1010 2010 or 1010 1010. Four times. TV works the same way. But there's a lot less beats. And it just depends on my, the big thing I found in adapting save the cat. It adapts find radio pilot, it adapts great, I use it myself to write pilots. But what it doesn't adapt to. And what I've pulled away is the beat sheet is more like a to do list. And less like a This must happen at page 12. This much happened at page 30. Because what you find is a show like the Mandalorian, that opening pitch that cool scene in the beginning where it captures the person. And I think there's a monster that attacks him in the desert, he flies away and they do the carbon freezing and all that stuff. That's like 12 minutes long, it's 12 minutes. So if you were doing at 10 2010. And that was just your opening pitch, you you'd blow up, it's like sucking up so much juice of your timeline that you'd be in big trouble. But what I found in television is they spend time where they need to spend time, a lot of times in pilots, it's the setup, because they need to set up characters, they need to set up character, they need to set up worlds, they need to set up all this stuff. So they need all that time for the setup the first act, but then sometimes Mandalorian is a perfect example. The funding game section, which is the first part in in save the cat terms, playing games is the first part of that, too. It's usually the promise of the premise. So if you're seeing a movie, it's like trailer moments, it's like the monster went wild, or the people are on an adventure or something like that. But in the Mandalorian because they they do all that cool stuff in the beginning. It's really small, like fun and games, like he ends up there, he has to tame the beast that that creature I think, to ride, right. And, and him and the dog not go off on the adventure. And that's kind of all they do for fun and games is really small and mid twist and stuff like that happened afterwards. So they Intellivision, you, as a writer have to pick and choose what gets the space, all the beats get hit. But they don't necessarily get all the space like in a regular feature, where you say, you know, it's very rigid and a feature, it's like 10 for the first act 20 for the second act, and for the fourth in a in a save the cat television show. It could be it could be like I got five for the for the setup. I have three Brack two, I have three for act to be and then I have two for the finale or something you might do some weird combination. And I give a lot of guidance for that. It's it's sort of where it's sort of where crew television writing comes into play. Because television writers, often in writers rooms if you google writers rooms and you look up the Breaking Bad writers rooms, what you'll see is these boards, you'll see note cards and boards. They live and breathe all note cards and boards even more than feature writers do. It's really how most of them break story.

Alex Ferrari 58:33
Now, do you need to show Bible.

Jamie Nash 58:37
You don't need a show Bible. You don't need a show Bible. I do have a section where I tell you how to write a sort of a Bible light, which is a pitch document. That's what most people have. Most people have the one two punch of their pilot and some kind of five to 10 page pitch document that, you know, it sets up what season one will look like in a very high level, like a couple pages at most. It sets up who all the characters are. It tells what your personal connection is to the story. And that's the pitch document. But the truth of pitching television pitching television is usually done face to face. It's very rarely done like submit your pitch document to us. I have you do that for preparation, but also to prepare in case your call like somebody reads your pilot, and it's time they're like, Hey, we're bringing in you know, come on, you're ready to go. If you have if you do the pitch document I described in the book which was given to me over many years from managers studio exact solid, I'm kind of giving you the one they gave me. You'll be ready to pitch.

Alex Ferrari 59:48
Nice. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all my guests. What are three pilots everyone should read?

Jamie Nash 59:56
Three pilots everyone should read. This should be in here. Let's, um, rock solid ready. I, the truth is I'm trying to be original breaking Bad's pretty darn good. I just can't get away from it. Right?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:10
I mean, if it I mean, it's like Chinatown is Chinatown. I mean, you're gonna have

Jamie Nash 1:00:13
to turn it down.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:14
I mean, godfathers Godfather, I mean, you gotta read it.

Jamie Nash 1:00:17
Exactly, exactly. Um, the other one that comes to mind. And it's not my book, because it's an older one is the shield. I think the shield is a great pilot. It has a great ending, that throws you into the next week. It gives you everything about those characters. But it also gives you a beginning middle end story. So it feels kind of procedural. But then it also feels like it also feels like it's got a continuing story, you want to watch the next episode, you want to get to the next episode. And I'll take one for my book. One of the ones I really liked for my book was berries pilot, it just fits really well if it does a really efficient job of being exactly what it is telling us surprising big beginning middle end story and setting up next week, all the while being the Matic character driven. So I'm a big fan of the berry one. I can't remember if I read the berry one I think I did. I think it's out there. I think you can get it because i think i

Alex Ferrari 1:01:15
think i think you don't get it as well. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Jamie Nash 1:01:24
I honestly I mean, this is no joke. If you can, if you can swing it television is the way. Honestly, that's why I wrote this book, because my students are going to television, I've been going to television for the last few years. Think television, think about these pilots, try to get yourself a good pilot. The other advice that I always give is you kind of have to prepare, yep, to make yourself better as much as you have to make your work better. Because it's a grind. Like we went over my screen in the beginning of this. If I told you, it's going to take you seven, eight years, before you get in the W GA, you got to be ready for that, you know, you got to be ready. And the way I got ready for it was I learned how to write five scripts and or six scripts a year 10 scripts a year. But I also had to like, understand failure and understand patience and understand all that stuff. So I'm a big fan of like, figure out how you're going to endure the long journey, as opposed to just find a way through the door. Like set yourself up so that you can be persistent. So you can be persistent over a 20 year period. And not like a wild person over a one month or one year period. You know, set yourself up for the long term, is what I'm saying?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
And what's the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Jamie Nash 1:02:58
Wow, that's a tough one. Um, because, you know, the lesson that took me the longest to learn in the film business is probably something I'm still needing to learn. That's, that's, that's the hard part about that question.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:14
Yeah, I get I get that answer quite a bit. And like, I'm still learning it I like but there's always something for me, it's patience. It's always been patience for me. Like, it's gonna take, it's gonna take twice as long if not longer than you ever expected to be.

Jamie Nash 1:03:26
I sadly I've learned patience. Not that it makes me happy. But I've learned that honestly. And honestly, it feels like I've just been ground down to the numbness of patients, you know what I mean? It's like, it's like, I'm so numb.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
You have no choice in the matter. It's the it's like, it's an acceptance of the inevitable. It's, that's all it is. When you're like I, I'm a patient person. No, you've just accepted the realities of the world. It's, and in our business, my God, nothing moves fast.

Jamie Nash 1:03:54
Nothing, nothing moves fast. I in sometimes that slow move. Like right now I have into three projects out there. One is getting notes at a super slow pace. The other is trying to attach a director at a molasses like pace because they're going to big directors and the others trying to attach an actor at them a lot. So when I say attach an actor, it's like a situation where you send a script out that goes to the agent agent takes a month to get back. Then they say yes or no, they usually say yes. And then it takes two months for the actor and you're waiting all that time to go to the next doctor. So it's like the slow slog.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
When I'm doing when I'm doing projects now I think of it as like it's a three years, three to four year project. Like I'm just I walk in knowing that if it's gonna be a three, like, Oh, yeah, in three or four years is going to get where I needed to be. But

Jamie Nash 1:04:51
I this isn't really one that I'd say to my lesson in regards to that. Like how I've learned to deal with that. It's not a lesson. It's a weird lesson because I, I don't want to put pressure on people to do it this way. I've learned that the only way I can stomach that the only way I can add patience is by spinning lots and lots of plates. That's why Yeah, that's why I'm doing that's what I'm doing save the cat rates for TV. While I'm writing a pilot, while I'm pitching a TV show while I'm doing while I'm reading a novel. If I don't have 10 plates spinning at a time, in some way, I mean, one of them could be an old script that's out there that's spinning, you know what I mean? It could be like a five year old script that I've kind of given rebirth through and sent to somebody. But if I don't have 10 things out there, I start getting anxiety. And that's part of what I'm saying for the long haul. Like, think about the stuff you're doing now may not pay off for like seven years, I've had a bunch of scripts that didn't sell for like six or like, I had managers that are people that would say, I don't think I don't think this one's very good. And then it's sold like seven years later. And it's not that they were wrong. It was just some it wasn't It's time. Yeah, the market changed. So get those things going. Think about them long term. But the only way I find to deal with failure, not failure, but rejection. And in the slow slog is that so many things, that today I'm talking to you, and I'm talking about safely cap rates for TV. I'm not thinking about all the rejections that are probably piling up in my email right now. I'll think about those once we hang up. But I have like 50 things going on. But right now I can only focus on this thing. So it's a great way. The best way to think you know, stem off that rejection, to stem off that that impatience is to start something else to keep moving to keep spinning plates. So it's a juggler, by the way. So plate spinning is great, great,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:55
great advice. I do the same thing I have. So actually have too many plates spinning to the point where it gets a little out of hand. And people are like, how are you doing that? I'm like, I'm just built to do that. I have 1000 things 1000 times and they're like, how many how do you put out that

Jamie Nash 1:07:10
circle? It can be weird because you probably couldn't stop it now. That's you

Alex Ferrari 1:07:18
know, like when I people were like, how do you put out for like three to four podcasts fresh every week with four shows or something like that five shows? It's like I'm like, I mean, if it was just one I'd be bored. Like I could do what I could do one episode a week in my sleep. Five is challenging. Are you telling

Jamie Nash 1:07:39
me I'd have to sit with my own thoughts

Alex Ferrari 1:07:41
for a while? No, I can't have a no, no, no, stop that. That's not possible. And very last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Jamie Nash 1:07:50
Yeah, this one. It's so funny. I keep changing this one for some reason. On my movies, by the way, are ones I've realized are ones I've seen in theater as a kid. Like they're my favorites, right enough. And unfortunately, I'm heavily in the Spielberg Lucas stare enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:07

Jamie Nash 1:08:07
I was in that, right. So I apologize for being lame as I'm about to be Raiders of the Lost Ark is my number one favorite. And now I start switching. These are the ones I start switching back and forth. Back to the Future. I'll put it number two. I love back to the theater. I like the mix of genres and the comedy. And then the third one is the one sometimes it's Robocop sometimes it's evil that too sometimes it's there's all these weird ones I mix back and forth. I'm trying to remember what I said the other day, sometimes it's Star Wars but first Star Wars. We don't call it a new hope in this house.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:42
Obviously, it's just it's just the star. Yes. Yes.

Jamie Nash 1:08:45
So it's it's and sometimes it's aliens. And I mix and match all those I saw him on the theater all good. I can't. It's It's strange, because even Back to the Future sometimes slides back to three and something else like et is another one. I mean, there's so many Joel's. But today I'm going to go with I'll just go with Star Wars because that'll make sense. Fair enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:08
Fair enough. I mean, you've had a Mandalorian I mean, you don't have to go too far with me. Now where can people find out more about you and where can they buy the book?

Jamie Nash 1:09:18
Oh, sure. Yeah, the probably the best place to see me is on Twitter. I'm at Jamie underscore Nash. I respond there. I do a lot of goofy messages, signup, follow me a lot of save the cat kind of stuff to a lot of writer stuff. So if you're in your writing stuff, I am definitely involved in the writer writing community on Twitter. So please follow me I'd love to have any interaction. And you can buy the book on Amazon that's the usual go to place but you can buy anywhere that sells books. It's it's in the markets in a couple Barnes and Nobles. It's funny. I'm constantly tracking like when's it going to show up at my Barnes and Noble like it's in. It's in like four places. In Maryland, where I live, but it's not in the one that's right across the street from my house. Think about it, I want it there. So that you can buy it. You can buy it anywhere you buy books, and the audio book is about to drop this week, or, I don't know this week, they Amazon says 30 days and it takes forever takes 30 days runs out like this week or next week. So soon. We'll be on your blog, if you prefer that. Some people do.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:27
Jamie, thank you so much. This has been a very educational conversation, I really feel that you were channeling Blake, when you were writing this book, because a lot of the things that you're saying ring, so save the cat in the way that you're presenting the information in a very simple, easy to understand method, which is what saved the cat is so brilliant and what Blake was so brilliant at doing so congratulations on the new book, and hopefully it'll help a few writers out there. So thanks again my friend.

Jamie Nash 1:10:55
Yeah. Thank you

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BPS 120: The Essentials of Screenwriting with Richard Walter

Our guest today, is expert storytelling educator, author, and UCLA professor, Richard Walter— bestselling author of Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing.  He recently retired as Professor and Interim Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where, for more than forty years, he chaired the graduate program in screenwriting.

The amazing thing about Richard is he has been the instructor of some of the most amazing screenwriters in Hollywood history. A handful of them has been on the show, including Sacha Gervasi, Jim Uhls, the writer of Fight Club, and Paul Castro, just to name a few. 

He’s written scripts for major studios, television networks, and even wrote the earliest drafts of George Lucas’s American Graffiti. Talking to Richard in this conversation was essentially sitting front row at a masterclass of storytelling and screenwriting.

It was an absolute treat talking to Richard. Not only has his work been appreciated in the US but in other parts of the world, conducting lectures in London, Paris, Jerusalem, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, and Hong Kong.

He complains that L.A. has relentless good weather which he says, ‘Is not writing weather’, yet, in 1988, he released his first instructional book Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing (Plume). This was followed a decade later (2000) by his debut novel Escape from Film School, which tells the sprightly tale of a young man who makes it in Hollywood without ever leaving film school.

Richard is one of the few OG writers who have studied, and taught through the evolutive eras of screenplays and screenwriting in Hollywood. With his wealth of knowledge, he released his third and most recent book, Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing. In this one, he shares the secrets of writing and selling successful screenplays for aspiring screenwriters.

It contains highly coveted lessons and principles from Screenwriting with material from his companion text, The Whole Picture, and includes new advice on how to turn a raw idea into a great movie or TV script and sell it.

Besides his outstanding career, we chatted about his love for Spike Lee films, we talked about screenplay structuring and many more. It’s been an absolute treat talking with Richard.

Enjoy this epic conversation with Richard Walter.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:43
I'd like to welcome to the show Richard Walter, how you doing Richard?

Richard Walter 3:31
I'm doing well. And thank you I'm happy to be here.

Alex Ferrari 3:34
Thank you so much for being on the show. I mean, we've been trying to get this going for about a year now.

Richard Walter 3:39
My fault

Alex Ferrari 3:42
but I've always wanted to have you on the show because a lot of my former guests have been your students like Jim boules was your student I think Paul Castro as well and a bunch of I mean to me I mean the list goes on and on of your ex students

Richard Walter 3:58
That was my teaching assistant. And I also brought him in to teach from time to time after he had graduated.

Alex Ferrari 4:07
Yeah, exactly.

Richard Walter 4:08
I am I am blessed in crossing paths with with artists like that. I consider myself very, very fortunate.

Alex Ferrari 4:17
Yeah, exactly. So I've always heard about you through my other guests and then when I did research on you like I gotta get Richard on the show and we just one thing led to another my schedule your schedule technology, but we're here now and we are

Richard Walter 4:28
we're gonna get the students might you know, my dad rest. His soul was a musician and quite a successful musician, the bass player primarily in the classical repertoire, but also jazz and pop, and it was primarily a performing player. But he also was the bass department at Juilliard. The outstanding a world class music conservatory needs to say that if he was working with musicians have limited talent That'd be okay. You're still reaching, you know, you're still working with people who are trying to be creative, who are reaching and stretching and taking risks, you know, with their lives. And that would be an expansive even though they're not going to, you know, become successful professional musicians. Being part of supporting creativity in that way is an affirming expansive experience for the treating the structure. But more better. He is to say, if you're going to teach artists, you might as well teach the best scientists in the world. And that's what we have at Julliard, he would, he would tell me and that's what we had at UCLA when I was there. And I'm sure Still, we still do. And it is a blessing to, to work with writers of such skill, as the two names you just mentioned, have been guests on your own show full Castro and GMOs boy, by the way, made a film that was produced by another student was Lewis. He, you know what, but we we butt heads with these students. They compete with us, they challenge us and they keep us fresh. They keep us from getting into the kinds of ruts and grooves that you can get into in a freelance community, like the screenwriting community in Hollywood. So I am the lucky guy in that in that equation.

Alex Ferrari 6:16
Yeah. And you? I mean, you use the chair and obviously teach at UCLA is famed screenwriting program. When I when I've heard I was hearing about it, I think even from Coppola went to UCLA. So I mean, even back then, I mean, you see, there's obviously there's USC and UCLA and NYU but UCLA screenwriting, it was unpair. Yes.

Richard Walter 6:37
Yes. I am, myself a Trojan to I went to film school. at USC. In the 60s. George Lucas was my my classmate. We call that the Lucas era, but I'm told George calls it the Walter era. Just joking, just like to say we were the first class to move on from the academic community to own Hollywood except for George, who owns Marin County.

Alex Ferrari 7:07
Pretty much and I've been there I've been to Marion County, he

Richard Walter 7:10
it's funny his the ranch is on Lucas Valley Road, but that was Lucas Valley Road 100 years earlier. You can't make this stuff.

Alex Ferrari 7:19
There. Yeah. When they were looking for it when they're looking for property from what I saw. They were like, did like which ones should we pick? And George like? Well, I think we should pick the one on Lucas value.

Richard Walter 7:31
In any event, yes, there are, I think three major film schools and it's UCLA USC and NYU. People that a if I will argue with me, I think asi is a great institution. Some people say Columbia, you know. But yes. In screenwriting, UCLA was number one, not according to me itself suffering of me to say that, sure. But you know, the New York Times the LA Times The Times of London, and those are just the times is also the Wall Street Journal. They they identified the UCLA pro writing program as as outstanding. And I like to tell the writers there that we the faculty, whenever we would meet them in the fall, the new class and have orientation, I would always tell them that, you know, that the faculty sitting on one side of that, this table, and then the room was filled with the new students. And I would say we sitting here and we faculty at this, on this Saturday, but we are the second most important people in the room. The most important people in the room are the writers, we can't be better than our writers we intend on Oh, we rely on them. Not just predominantly, or largely, or to some extent, completely and totally 100% to make and sustain our reputation. So the first challenge in a screenwriting program is getting the writer if you you know, we can we can supply all sorts of things, but you got to bring your own talent.

Alex Ferrari 9:01
And that's one thing that I always I always tell people is like talent is is great. But it's not enough. It's never enough. Because there's a lot I've known a lot I'm sure you've met a lot of talented writers out there. I've known a lot of talented people, but talent without hustle talent without work ethic. It's useless.

Richard Walter 9:20
Just like I said about the student speed. Faculty being the second most important people in the room talent is the second most important quality that you have to have if you're going to if you're going to succeed as a writer refreshing you got to have this discipline. And what is discipline? I'm not sure what discipline is but here's the measure of discipline I'm you know, my 13th on a Casio this guy they they jumped in. They stole this guy's half million dollar watching from a restaurant in the Beverly Hills. I don't think anybody's my Amazon delivered by Amazon for 13 bucks. Yeah, but the point is, it's how much time will you give to this How much time would you get to this script? How much time will you give to this career? People don't quit. You know, people don't fail in Hollywood, they sort of just just drift away. It's a question of staying in the game, I recommend everybody that you'd be as lucky as you can. And that seems you're laughing and it is kind of a joke, but it's only a kind of a joke, because the truth is, you can affect your luck. And how can you do that by staying at the table? You know, if you're around the table at poker, everybody gets the same cards over the night. Come on. It's how you play those cards, how attentive you are, how disciplined you are, to your strategies and wielding them and stuff like that. So it's really about putting in the time and I will tell you, I see more writers defeat themselves by hiring, you know, john wooden, very, maybe probably the most famous name associated with UCLA. used to say, be quick, but don't hurry.

Alex Ferrari 11:00
Yeah, that's a great quote. Oh, my be quick, but don't hurry. It's apt. It's absolutely true. And I mean, I've been, you know, I got to LA around 12 years ago, and I already had, you know, some experience and

Richard Walter 11:11
where did you come from

Alex Ferrari 11:12
Miami, Miami, so it was a smaller market. But I'd already made my bones I had been directing and, and doing post production, everything. So when I showed up, I showed up with a wealth of experience already. But the first year here, I learned more than the past five there, because of the caliber of people I was working with here. And I've been here now over 12 years. And it is it is something that you do like being here, you just get opportunities that you just wouldn't get elsewhere. Not in before and we can I don't want to get too deep into the weeds on this. But before you had to be here all the time. Like there was no other options. Really, if you weren't New York, you could be in New York, maybe but not really la was the place to be. Yeah, but But now, LA is you don't have to be here, you could maybe go Atlanta, you maybe could go to other areas of the of the US and also of the world. But LA is always going to be LA in one way, shape, or form. But you don't have to do it as much as it used to.

Richard Walter 12:11
You know, Los Angeles is the world's most creative community and all platforms and all formats and all media. I came to California, I'm a New Yorker, I'm a Queen's boy. I was living in upstate New York. And I was going to continue, I've gotten my master's, the summer of 66. And I had about six weeks to kill before going back to get my PhD. back east, and I'd never been west of Cleveland. So a little along with a buddy of mine, I got into my VW Beetle. And in three days we got to the coast. And I was planning to be here about three weeks but I I fell into film school at USC and I never, I never really looked back three years later, that was August of 69. Three years later, my wife and I, and all this I'm sorry, that was 66. Three years later, August of 69. My wife and I went on holiday we just motored we wanted to go up to the Redwood National Park. We were still relatively new to California and really dazzled by this dazzling state. And we went on Indeed, we went as far as the quad dunes that the Oregon California border. The first night we got to San Francisco and stayed overnight with a friend and from my friend's house I call this was a Saturday night. I called water merge who was a classmate of mine at the UFC and a huge, famous and winning sound man and the editor amateur. He's a famous editor with a very famous book on editing blink of an eye. He's also this is a little less known to the film people but he's also an amateur astrophysicist. And amateur in that context is not a pejorative, it means he's he's not formally trained, but he's known all around the world for theories that he has regarding orbits of, you know, planets around suns, for example. And I mean, this guy is just a giant. He lived at that time on I say, a houseboat with his wife just off the the shoreline at Sausalito in the Bay Area. Just the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. And the previous time that we'd been up to San Francisco we had a lot of friends there and we used to go up there a lot we'd had a big party on Walters boat. So I called him up that night. I said anything any action going on? He said nothing tonight on the boat but tomorrow's a few of us are getting together for brunch at a place called the Trident and eatery along the water in Sausalito. So we we invited us and we we joined them there so there was nine people my wife and I the other seven included an Oscar is a woman who would would win an Oscar for editing. Her name was Marcia Griffin along with a writer, he was not there but Richard Chu. And she won the Oscar for editing Star Wars. Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here, I believe it was. She was also her husband is also there, George Lucas.

Alex Ferrari 15:23
Right. It was Yeah, she also helps with Star Wars.

Richard Walter 15:25
Right sitting next to him. Caleb Deschanel, very famous cinematographer, but probably better known now for his very successful daughters who are actors. With with Caleb is the guy whose name is a little less known, less well known, but a wonderful fellow in a very successful producer David Lester. He produced most of Ron Shelton's movies, Bull doormen and so on. did a lot of line work wonderful guy. So there's Marcia Griffin, George Lucas, Kevin a Chanel. And David listed also Walter merchant, his wife, Aggie, also, john malleus. He's known as three years.

Alex Ferrari 16:11
what's what's it what's what's witness, Mr. Spielberg? Steve wasn't there. Steve Spielberg was

Richard Walter 16:16
six months later, I get a call from Jerry Lewis. I believe it or not, when I went to sc Jerry Lewis came on to teach a directing course. And I ended up being his teaching assistant. He called me six months after that meeting at the trade end, in Sausalito. The phone rings and it's Jerry Lewis, I still can't believe that ringing phone and it's Jerry Lewis calling me. And he said to me, he was he shooting a movie at Warner Brothers. And in December in January, this was actually about like, the October November was a few months after the Sausalito dinner and a few a couple of months before he shot the movie. And it was looking for dialogue director, somebody to work with the actors, run them through the lines and this and that he works with certain actors who are amateurs and he needs and he wondered if I could refer him to somebody if I knew anybody might be good for that. So of course, I said to mobile, what I mean, and and he said to me, of course, that's that's what I hoped you would, you would say. So suddenly, there I am, you know, heartland really brand new, not yet full out, even out of film school completely. And I'm the dialogue director on a major animators on a movie, you're talking about the things that happen to you when you're in LA. And when you actually mix with mixed with people I used to tell people, it's actually an advantage to be from out of town. And I even know writers who would mask their addresses. I know one writer who had who made it appear as if he was in living in Tennessee. He thought it was sexier and niftier to be somebody other than yet another writer from the San Fernando Valley, you know. And the truth is, unless you were actually working in TV, on a staff situation, you did not need to be, you did not need to be in town. Again, if you're in television, either on staff or even a freelancer in those days, you need to be available to pitch. And you could I knew a guy in love. Eric tarloff, who lived up in Berkeley and would come down you know, I mean, I used to, I lived in Queens, and I used to take the, what we call the BMT, the subway into Manhattan to go to high school, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. And nobody ever gave me a glass of tomato juice on the train, you know, like, on the plane. So it really didn't matter where where you are. And to no small extent today it doesn't either, except that the big thing in television now is really in the business is staffing Did you get staffed on a show, and stamps do meet regularly daily around the table and so on. So you do need to be in town? Yes, there are some productions like that going on in Atlanta and other Vancouver things. However, it's still pretty much centered here,

Alex Ferrari 19:12
right? And I always tell people that, you know, when you're starting out, if you can afford to get out here, it's probably best because you got to do some time out here. make those connections, make those relationships, establish yourself. And then then if you want to leave, but almost everybody as far as screenwriters and filmmakers, almost all of them except for maybe some of the famous New York guys like Spike Lee and, and Marty and I think even Oliver Stone was out here as well. But some of the day they are everyone spends time out here building those relationships, taking those meetings until they established themselves, but is definitely something that young riders should take a look at.

Richard Walter 19:50
Yeah, I mean, I expected to be here for three weeks and here it is. I'm gonna give it the salary so I'm gonna give it another 54 years and it's still hasn't worked out for me back then. The truth is, I grew up in New York, everybody hated New York, it was a very much, much criticized place. And New Yorkers never defend New York, you know, to live there, that's your problem.

Alex Ferrari 20:18
I was reading. I was raised in New York.

Richard Walter 20:20
Yeah. Somebody, you know, tells a story to a Londoner that maybe they're there. Something happened to them that was was untoward. And I say, Oh, so sorry about that. That's most unusual, you know. Sorry. Yeah. But if you if, if it were in New York, and they say, yeah, that's not you know, what they've done on my monitor, they threw her on the train and nobody's trying to convince you. Nobody's trying to recruit you to move there. I stayed in LA because it's the greatest place on the planet. I'm right now. I'm looking at the snow capped mountains across the valley. Culturally, artistically, creatively, there's not a more more fertile ground for that anywhere on the on the on the planet. It's a hugely diverse communities are shifting I grew up in and, and the only thing I don't like about LA is the relentless good weather. It's not writing weather. You know, this is why the Irish, right so well, I believe, we never we never every once in a while we were at UCLA, we would admit an Irish writer, somebody applied from Ireland. I worked with an Irish writer who wasn't the genius. And I'm sure it's because of the rain, you know,

Alex Ferrari 21:40
there it is. There it is. Now, so speaking of, you know, young writers, you obviously worked with a ton of young writers in your program. What are some of the biggest mistakes you constantly saw young writers or writers who are just starting out make

Richard Walter 21:54
young writers make the same kinds of mistakes that old writers make? I want to say something about young writers. So we are the the program that I taught was a for the most part was a master Fine Arts, a graduate program. So most of the writers were a little older, and then we actually tilted I had a pro age bias. I like to bring in older rather than younger writers, people who had experiences that are worth writing about other than the funniest prank they ever played on the Resident Advisor in the dormitory. So yes, it's true. I lectured to undergraduates. But it was not a typical class. It was generally people were more among undergraduates at a at a college. But people were generally more mature. The single biggest mistake writers make including this writer who's talking to you is we write too much, too much language, too much description, too much dialogue, too many pages, the scripts are too long. I like to you know, I'm I'm a retired college professor, I was over 40 years doing that, and I kind of have an occupational hazard. If we could call it that. I can't help myself. I sometimes just stop people in the street and give them a pop quiz. So here's one for you and anybody who's watching us, don't worry, it's just mobile choice three answers. How long should a movie be? Should it be a too long be too short? See just exactly the right length? The answer is be too short. If you're on a vacation, and you're ready to go home, then you were there too long. You should be reluctant to go you know, last summer there was a racial reckoning and a lot of protests all across the nation. A lot of people were carrying signs that said enough. exclamation point. Did they mean enough? No, they meant too much. You know, somebody says Enough already. They mean they don't mean enough they mean they mean too much. Right? So if you're if your film is ready to end then it's it's too late. I'll also say this and I think this is sort of original with me the the three act structure it's it's our song never called structure just got the beginnings middles in and and and that applies not just to the beginning, you know, is the beginning is the part before which you need nothing. And the end is the point after which you need nothing. When I tell that to audiences, and the classes I usually take a pause then because I wait for somebody to say what yours is that you just told me that the big there's nothing before the beginning of something after the end. I have a dog that knows that. And yet I see movies, right? That stopped before the big let's go on after the after the end. I am a spike lee fan. My favorite movie my spike is actually x i think it's it's the the Malcolm biopic. Then A Washington I think underappreciated what a terrific actor he is a lesser actor would have been chewing the scenery but that's, that's not the way Malcolm was. But any event, one of the spikes really, really good early films. I think the one that made his reputation is do the right thing and do the right thing at the end it ends you know, Danny Aiello is the pizza owner and spike explain mukhi who works in the shop, it's one of the few establishments in the neighborhood that had offered a job to anybody and the brothers industry to that they're resurrecting that, you know, they're they're, they're, they're in an interaction, they're, they're writing they're losing they're they're burning. And spike mukhi is trying to figure out what to do and he finally decides to join the should he protect the pizza are, you know, guy, his boss and independent entrepreneur trying to scratch out a living there? He doesn't seem like a really evil die. Why burn down his story, you know, on the other hand, it shouldn't be with the brothers and and joining the movement and so on. And he did and he chooses the latter. Spike says he wasn't endorsing violence, he was just asking the audience to, you know, decide for itself what's the right thing, I'll give him that. But it's clearly the end of the movie and it doesn't need it fades out, you know, he's he throws the the trashcan, trashcan through the plate glass window, and it fades out. Now you can expect the credits to rolling and now it fades back in and this spike. And then a yellow, the pizza owner, the store owner, side by side and and they're having a discussion. And there's a croal from from Dr. King about non violence. And then there's a crawl from Malcolm about violence. And I'm waiting for a crane to lower Ted Koppel or

I don't know if that couple of names that they pick anymore. But he was a he was a like a news anchor who would moderate and facilitate discussions. And so I mean, this is going on and on after the after the point before which you you need nothing. I'm arguing that not only to home movies have places before which you need nothing. And places after which you need nothing but so also the new parts of movies for example scenes, even parts of parts like lines of dialogue. I remember, I was talking before about the Meili, as I mentioned my old classmates to classmates, George Lucas, chameleons, john, as he became very successful. Went to direct I think it was his first movie. And it was the first movie that he's gonna direct he had written some very successful movies. We wanted to direct and so he was directing Dylan ger and kill injure starring Warren Oates. rest his soul Warren gone now decades, not only a very good actor, but a really, really nice man. miss him every day. So john put together the rough cut, I wasn't even a rough cut was like an assemblage of the movie. And he invited a bunch of us in former classmates, half a dozen, maybe eight people, including George. And I remember to, you know, to look at the film and to comment on him on it and give them advice. And remember George saying, john, you don't need to show the cop pulling up. Turning off the you know, hand turning off the ignition, getting out walking across noggin, you can jump around, you can move around in ways that that maybe in the earlier days, you could not audiences, the more savvy and now they're they tip HIPAA to the to the literate, they're more literate, or cinema literate, or they hate to use the word cinema. Let's call it movie literate. And likewise, that applies even to lines of dialogue, you know, any line of dialogue that starts with, with, you know, or I've been thinking or I think, or it seems to me, that's before the beginning. Or at the end of a line, your main character might say, Monica, and I really mean that, you know, that people say to me, and I'm always saying no, no, that's after the and that is after the point after which you need nothing, by the way that test for that is very easy. You just imagine it's not fair does it? If it still makes sense, you didn't need it? If it all goes to hell than then you need it. And it's just so easy to know what to do. It's hard to do it. Because of the reason we said earlier takes a bunch of a bunch of time to do that. So once again, people will say to me, when I'm telling I'm telling you know, you got an urge you got vocalized pauses, um, or, I mean, or I'm thinking all of those kinds of things. I'm like that I you know, the way people people talk to this played on the language the I'm like, yeah, so I'm like, and he's like, and I'm like, and he's like, so somebody will say, I'll tell people No, no, no, no. You know, get rid of And you can guess what they said to me, they say, but that's the way people really talk.

Alex Ferrari 30:07
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Richard Walter 30:16
Well, is it the way people really talk? Absolutely. Yes, it is. So what's wrong with that? Well, two things are wrong with that. The second thing first. The second thing that's wrong with that is you don't need to go to the movies to hear the way people really talk. You just go out

Alex Ferrari 30:31
on the street. No One No One talks like Tarantino's characters. No, but

Richard Walter 30:36
I mentioned Jerry Lewis, you know, if you say, Hey, hi, how you doing? You know, Mazel. Oh, pretty good. You know, I am now taking walks. We've been in lockdown for a year, I can't tell you enough for a retired professor. The question is, How does he know the difference? You know, the, you know, for a writer, it's, it's a terrific excuse not to go swimming. I'm a swimmer, not to go to physical therapy. I go to physical therapy. I have arthritic issues. I'm just kind of kind of liking that actually actually liking the isolation and, and, and so on. But I mentioned Jerry Lewis, if you asked, when you when I take walks around the neighborhood, and I see. Hey, hi, how are you? Nice to see you night. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Hi, you know, kind of masked and distance and everybody kind of greeting each other. If you say that to Jerry Lewis, of you, Hey, how you doing? He said, Well, I have a rash on my crotch. The truth is that you do not need to go to the field of the pay that for that second of all, but first of all, the way people really speak violates the single most fundamental rule in all of it's the only rule you ever really had at UCLA. You can do anything you want. As long as you don't violate this rule. And I can say the rule in three words, right? Here it is, don't be boring. The way people release because boring. Hey, how you doing? Oh, not good. Boy, you believe that it's really clouded and thank God it has been so dry here. Now we've had a number of drop lab like yakka kid to teach every single line of dialogue that any character speaks in Alliant has to in a screenplay has to move the story forward. It's just as simple as that, again, very easy to understand. The question is why does it really do this? And and the answer is they just will not give it the time. Somebody said to me the other day, I gave the agent. I gave it to the agent two weeks ago in under two weeks to blink of an eye. Now. Somebody said to me the other day, this is my fourth three, right? Well, one of the most you mentioned the gym owners you mentioned, Paul Castro, I certainly rejoice in in being able to brag about about having worked with a lot of really, really famous writers. Now, of course, I'm not bragging, I'm bringing them out, bragging about them. One of the most successful writers I've ever worked with is David cap. Oh, yeah. He EP EP, he's so famous now that people pronounce his name correctly. It's not cope. It's a cap. And he says this, he's written several, at least three pictures to Stephen, maybe four. He wrote at least two of the Jurassic Park's he wrote War of the Worlds. And and I mean, it's just the gigantically successful writers also very good director. And David says, The secret of his success is 17, the number 17. And what does it mean by that? I mean, that's the number of drafts that he goes through. before he's really, really, really ready. So once again, you want to succeed is right, he got understand two things, essentially. One is that and a lot of writers don't get this a screenplay is only two kinds of information. It's an elaborate list of only two, only two kinds of information. Anybody want to know what they are, they aren't what you see and what you hear. From the point of view of the right it's what the actors do and what they say. From the point of view the right I mean, there's a lot of sound in a movie, but from the point of view, the writer it's almost all dialogue. I can't tell you how many times I see descriptions with somebody remember something describes how they feel what their mood is interior internal mental processes and what what does that look like? Your hair we realize is that the gun is that when I'm sitting in a movie theater, looking at a screen, the job of the writer is to replicate for the reader of that script, the experience that will be had by somebody sitting in a movie theater watching it unfold on the screen. So You can tell me the reader that Joe realizes that the gun is in the nightstand. You know, at the motel when I'm trying to imagine somebody sitting in a movie theater looking at the screen, how are they getting that? So that's the first thing you got to recognize. It's just sight and sound. By the way, in final draft, the Rolls Royce, of

screenwriting software is creating a Richard Walter template, you know, you can get different templates if you want to write for the script for the Simpsons, you can go to the template list and menu and hit Simpsons it'll come up or like, the Simpsons office likes it, you know, what they want from me. And among other things it's going to have is in descriptions, wide margin, if, if there's a word like realizes, thinks, remembers, feels any internal mental process like that, it's going to be highlighted, do you really want to? Do you really want to sell That's amazing.

So the trick is, again, first of all, only sight, the sound, what we see and what we hear and don't say we see. Because if it's in the wide margin, we see, right? That means we see you don't have to say what what you don't have to say, you don't have to repeat yourself. You don't have to repeat yourself. You don't have to repeat. If I say that three times, and yet I see I see repetition and the script to go on. But much worse than that. So that's the first thing sight, sound. And next thing I've already said palpably, measurably whatever half happens has to move that story forward. And that's it. If you'll do that, it doesn't matter what the scripts about doesn't feel close genre. Doesn't matter what happens. It Matter of fact, you can even have nothing happen. And if it's integrated, that is safe, it moves the story forward. Even nothing happening. Will will attract an audience and work effectively in a screenplay. Now how can that possibly be that nothing I will give you an example from from a writer that I worked with years ago, he's only won two Oscars for Best Screenplay. I'm talking about Alexander Payne. My favorite picture by Alexander is about Schmidt. I think it's jack Nicholson's best work in his entire career. And the very opening of that picture, it's Omaha office building, we're in an insurance office. And there's jack nicholson playing Schmidt and he's sitting at the desk. And he sitting Stockstill is not doing a thing. And he's all alone in there. And he's saying nothing to anybody on the phone or in person, there's nobody there. He's just sitting there. And we have a little bit of time, in which apparently nothing's happening. I mean, if nothing happens for three, four or five seconds, that's a long time. And it's longer than that. But during that time, we'll get in a look at the office. And we see that all the graphics are off the walls, we see that all the shelves are clear, we see that the desk is absolutely bare, we seen in the corner of the office, stacked up very neatly cartons, packages, boxes, that obviously contain all the stuff that used to be on the shelves and used to be on the walls and so on. Clearly, just looking at this, we see that this man is retiring. There's no motion in the same except for one thing, there's a round clock with a sweep, second hand, and that second hand is ticking off two seconds, and is about 25 seconds to go until it hits five o'clock. It's just 25 seconds before five o'clock, and he just sits there. And then when it hits five o'clock, he just gets up and walks out of the room. And that's the whole scene. So it's kind of a scene in which nothing happens. But Wow, how much information do you get in that scene with supposedly nothing happened? Right? You realize this is a sales. This is a an insurance guy. This guy is his last day he's retiring. Maybe he's a stickler for detail. Nobody would have cared if he left three minutes earlier. Matter of fact, that's his last day. He probably could have left before lunch, you know. So did he stay there because he's methodical and punctual. Or did he stay there because he he's been waiting to retire but now he's actually afraid he and I don't know too many people who, whose life's dream is to become an insurance salesman. So maybe this wasn't his dream. And he's always been hoping once he's done with this, he could get creative and write a novel or a poem or become a painter or something creative. His excuse for not doing that was he had the job now suddenly, he he's about to not have the job and really have to take responsibility for not being creative and being creative as he may be. It's a really great character issue. And that, that we're not sure about that that leaves the audience wonder about that his testimony not to the weakness, but the strength of the writer, Alexander Payne and that scene. So you can see how with absolutely nothing happening. The story is driven forward. And well, you can do whatever you like, all the rules are off if it's integrated if it moves the story.

Alex Ferrari 40:27
Now, let me ask you, when I always love asking this question is, would you recommend starting with character, or with plot? Because I know a lot of there's there's two different camps here. So we'd love to hear your point of view.

Richard Walter 40:38
People ask me all the time, what do you think is more important character replied? And I answered them with a question. What do you think is more what's more important to you that people say, Richie, what's more important your character or plot? And I'll say, what's more important to you, your heart or your lungs? You can't talk about character and plot as if they're separate things. The richest character in all of English language, arguably, world dramatic literature is Hamlet, arguably, I mean, you know, certainly he's way up that they were volun libraries full of volumes, analyzing junk, us his character, and, you know, in detail, just that one aspect of the play his character, Is he mad? Or does he feign Madison, this and that the other thing? Do you remember? Have you read the play? Do you remember the description the playwrights description of of Hamlet? It's three words Prince of Denmark, there's nothing about melancholy. So who is this guy? And the answer is he is what he does. And what he says just like you, just like me, like everybody who's who's who's listening. It is. There's, there's a wonderful book, very underappreciated very little known by a writer named Millard, Calvin. called claps and characters. And by the way, it's plots. First, Aristotle also puts plot story in front of character, I, like, I think it's a mistake to to put them in sequence at all, I think they all operate together. And, and, you know, when, for example, when, when I was going to say about Miller's book, this is one of the wisest things I've ever heard. It really tells you all about dramatic writing, but also about life. And here it is, again, not original with me. It is action that defines character. and not the other way around gonna say it again. Action defines character, not the other way around. What does this mean? In practical terms for a writer, it means you should not figure out in advance who your characters are, and what kinds of people they are, you know, I attend lots of over my career, I've been to gazillions of writing festivals, and every once in a while they have biography workshops, character biography, workshops, where you can just outside of the context of a story, you can invent characters, and list them and so on that presumably you will use someday in a in a screenplay. Now. I tried to be polite, and courteous, just generally in my life. And when I hear about stuff at conferences like that, I'll say to people Oh, that is SAS, SAS. Sounds interesting. But in fact, I think it's a bunch of bullshit. I don't think you can invite you can invent characters are meaningless invite characters outside of the context of story and story being what they do and what they say. In other words, what I'm saying is, don't figure out your characters. Watch what they do, they will tell you who they are. Just like you know who you are, based on what you've done what you've said,

Alex Ferrari 43:55
right? So So let's say perfect example, if someone's writing a description of me, I'm the hero of this play, or this this screenplay that we're writing, right? And it goes, Alex, where's a hustle hat? His mid 40s ruggedly handsome, obviously

Richard Walter 44:17
much better looking than this Congress shows, but not nearly as good looking. As you

Alex Ferrari 44:21
say. I appreciate that, sir. Nope. So basically, I've seen and I've done this myself in my writing is I will see this long description of like, and he has this and has done and has this and you could and I think I personally feel and I love to hear you think i think that's a waste. I think what what you just said about Hamlet was so perfect. Because if Hamlet in the next IV goes Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, if in the next moment, he kicks a dog out of you know who he is in a minute, without saying he is going to he hates animals. He's a mean got no, no, he kicks the dog. And that

Richard Walter 44:57
does that. Right? Yeah. Exactly right the I've you heard me say, and I've said it throughout my career. The big I just said at moments ago, the biggest mistake we make, as writers, including this writer is talking to you is we write too much. The most common place I see that is in character descriptions, I've read character descriptions of what kind of a candy bar she would eat. If she ate a candy bar. Though she doesn't need a candy bar in this in this film, what kind of a tree she would base, a willow. There are only two bits of information that you want to establish only to when you present the character. And remember, we're trying to replicate in that screenplays experience that will be had by the viewer in the audience, okay of the film unfolding, not somebody reading the script, but watching the film on the screen. The only thing is we want to know about the character in the description is our gender, and age. That's it. And by the way, that's a good reason to use gender specific names, not to use androgynous names. Chris Robin, so on again, unless it's integrated, integration, moving the story forward will tell you what you need and what you don't need. For example, there is a famous character, Pat.

Alex Ferrari 46:26
Yeah. And Ron is

Richard Walter 46:29
created by Julia Sweeney on SNL. And she does a bit called it's patently made it into a feature movie, it's packs, well imagine that they said it's Patrick. Or it's Patricia would ruin the whole thing. We needed the Dr. Yunus name there, because the whole point is progeny. Now, imagine, you know, I have a friend who is a woman but used to be a man. She is a trans. And I mean that the whole hog she she has had what they call gender reassignment surgery. Now, if you met her, you wouldn't know that. I know that because she's an old friend of mine. But if you were presenting her new movie, you should give her a feat she's going to present as a woman in the movie, you got to give her a woman's name a name, that's clearly a feminine name. If if it'll be clear enough on the screen, oh, that's a pretty young woman, which is what you would think of this woman if you met her in the street, or you saw her on the screen. But on the in real life, and on the screen, you can see all that to a woman but from the name on the page. You can't tell them unless it's a gender specific name.

Alex Ferrari 47:44
So specifically in that, in that case, I think a mistake a writer would make is like, this trans woman, Pat, is that would be the description, which was an absolute mistake. Because

Richard Walter 47:56
absolutely, it would be like telling the punchline to a joke.

Alex Ferrari 47:59
Right? Exactly. So as you're as you're reading the screenplay, as you're reading the screenplay, if you're if you're watching it on the movie, if you just use that analogy, which is so perfect. If you're looking on the movie, unless someone says something or a specific if that's presented as a woman that characters presented as a woman, it's a woman. And as long as it looks like it's fine. If you look, there's a reveal later. I mean, the crying game obviously is that great reveal, but the whole movies you know, that's kind of part of the game. But what but

Richard Walter 48:24
but there's there's an actual movie, it's good example you might have seen, it was pretty well known it must be 25 years ago, the crying game. Yeah, that's what I just said, in which this one character appears to be female. A very important very central character in the narrative. But midway through the movie suddenly, and it's a major turning point in movie it is revealed that this is actually biologically a man. Imagine if at the beginning when you introduce her as a woman, you put power and suddenly By the way, she's really a man, we'll find out later she's a man. Well, that's like opening upon a joke by telling the punch line, right? Telling telling the joke. Once again, you want to reveal the you want to reveal information in the same way the audience is going to get it. And that is limiting. It limits you to the to the ever present numbing, present tense, you can't say what happened, what will happen and you can say that in a novel, and you can't say what anybody's thinking or how they're feeling. But you as you can in a novel you've got to stick to just sight and and sound and you have to reveal the information to the reader at the same time as it will be revealed to the viewer sitting in the audience watching the movie on the screen.

Alex Ferrari 49:40
So when and that's so that's so great. And I've never really thought about it the way you've presented it which is like it's it's literally the screenplay is the representation of what you're going to see on the screen, which is on the face level. Everyone knows that. But yet like you said, not everyone does that. So when you the other problem I see a lot of times and I I was when I first sent my screenplays to get coverage years ago, I would get this note back on the nose dialogue, oh my god knows unlost dialogue and just kind of like I think we've been talking about kind of like on the nose descriptions, which is also, you know, rampid in it.

Richard Walter 50:17
The trick is to get the mind working, you know, not just video games and computer games are interactive, all art is interactive. And the idea is to engage like gears, engage, you move this and it moves that. And the way you do that is not by putting out a lot of information, but by withholding a lot of information. The, you know, all all I remember, years and years ago, well, it was it was around 1999 with the new millennium coming upon us. The I was asked, it must have been a slow news day, because because the the press came to me and they asked me, you know, I have a fancy title and I'm good with sound bites. So I would on slow days, news days, I would get asked things. And I was asked what is the reporter called me up and said, the new millennium is coming. The decade is almost over what was the best picture of the nine days. So for a moment, I thought to myself, gee, let's see, what did I like? I'm not a buff. I don't see all the movies. But what did I seen in the 90s? That was really, really good. And I couldn't think what was movie and was this tonight? And suddenly it dawned on me I had actually one of the single greatest insights that I've ever had in my life, in the midst of struggling to figure out what movies when the 90s what was best movie in the 90s it occurred to me that in this entire universe. And they tell us that there are infinite number of parallel such universes. And it is so gigantic. In fact, since we started talking, it's already like 3 trillion times larger than you know, than a 20 minutes ago. There is not one thing in all of that vastness. There is not one item that is less important than what I think is the biggest movie in the nine days. That doesn't matter what I say I should stuff work into i don't i guess blurted out, terminated to. Now why did I just terminated due for a couple of reasons. For one thing there, I'm a college professor. I'm a film professor. I'm a full tenured professor, you know, they expect me to say there's some garion tone poem. They don't expect me to choose a big Hollywood franchise the second chapter. So I'm trying to be a little outrageous. And so should you if you're writing a screenplay, I'm trying to be provocative. I'm trying to be interesting. If anybody said to me, oh, you're just trying to get attention, I would say, found me out, you know, I mean, that's what every screenwriters is, is trying to do. But there's another reason that I chose terminated to. It's a really, really good movie.

Alex Ferrari 53:06
It's a good script to I mean, camera

Richard Walter 53:07
cameras. Well, the cameras movie if it's not a good script, it can be a good script than a bad movie. Yeah, but it can't be a good script, a bad script and a good movie. More about that maybe a little later on. But if you remember, Terminator appears, you know, he comes out of the sky. And if you've seen the movie, he just lands up naked on the lawn, in this, you know, in the boonies out somewhere in a very rural area along a highway where there's a biker bar a lot of choppers parked out in front and he wanders in stark naked looking around and they're all looking at him I'm looking at it's crowded, it's shoulder to shoulder with with with tough guys. The kinds of people that go to biker bars. And he's kind of gauge and you can see from his point of view, is he measuring people and now he sees one guy who fits him who's exactly his size and Arnold's a big guy. So this is a big guy, and it's a guy shooting pool. And he steps up to that guy. And he says to the, he says to the guy, give me your clothes and your motorcycle. That's a pretty good Arnold.

Alex Ferrari 54:18
Those are fantastic. I was gonna say.

Richard Walter 54:22
What does the guy say? Now? I'll tell you what he doesn't say. He doesn't say Are you out of your mind? You naked Australia's you stumble in here and you think I'm gonna give you mine? He doesn't say any of that. Does anybody remember when he says I'll tell you what he says. I remember the line quite well. Again, Arnold. As terminate says to him, give me your clothes and your motorcycle. And what does he say? He says, Yes, I got to say please write. Much, much better. And by the way, on overreaching, he like gets ready to beat him with his full kill. He grabs his collar this lifts him up in the air. The way I could lift you know, this hat, you know, he weighs about that much to Arnold. And by the way, he has What does not happen after that. What does not happen after is that it's a fight, he grabs his clothes, he puts the clothes on, he goes out and takes him out now, he grabs me lifted off the ground. Suddenly, the very next frame, he's on the highway dressed in that guy's outfit, and he's shooting down the highway on the bike

Alex Ferrari 55:26
after after a slight fight scene after a slight fight scene. Yeah,

Richard Walter 55:29
really any fight at all? Yeah. And a lot of people will let you know, worse writers and worse directors, Jim Cameron would would have had a big fight, fight there. Something like you're out of your mind that's on the nose. You're not going to give you my clothes. But you forgot to say please is subtext. It really means something else doesn't that old jokes work that way. Here's a quick joke. Maybe you heard it. The doctor says to space, I've got bad news and worse news patient says, well give me the worst news first. He says, well, it's cancer. It's metastatic. It's everywhere. It's inoperable. You don't even have six weeks to live. That's it? Oh my god. What's the news? Not? Not quite as bad as that? Is we got Alzheimer's disease. So the guy says, Oh, my God. Well, at least I don't have cancer. why people are just getting it.

Alex Ferrari 56:28
It took me a second. It took me a second to get them. Yeah,

Richard Walter 56:30
I got to the point. Is that it?

There's nothing funny about cancer. I know people struggling with that. Why do we laugh at that? Because we're monsters and eat? No, it's because we're human beings. And when we feel stress from text, something that we heard, and then we figured out what it is Oh, I know. Now I know what it means. There's a release of that stress. And it comes out as as as laughter so so once again. It's all jokes work that way. Every single Joe here is is another Alzheimer's joke. A couple, elder elderly couple, they walk down the street, they encounter this other couple. Hey, we haven't seen you guys in a minute. What are you doing over here on this site? And then well, we just had lunch at this restaurant, we read a review. It's a new restaurant. And we read a review a time to go we wanted to try it out. And we did and it's really very good. It's Oh, well, we were gonna have lunch. Maybe we'll go there. What's the What's the name? What's the restaurant? What were the guy says, Oh, it's called the? This happens to me all the time. We were just there and I can't eat. He turns to his wife. He says, He says do you he says help me with this. He existed the guy who's asking them about the restaurant he says help me with this flower? Red thorns guys is Rose. He's it? Oh, yes, of course. Rose. That's what it is. And he turns to his wife. And he says rose. Do you remember that mister. Okay, once again, why the left, because you thought this and so. So that's what we want to go for. We don't want to be on the nose, we want to say what's underneath. And the best thing if possible, the most articulate thing that you can say is is nothing at all, I'm going to give you one more joke also about health, the two to 2x two examples of the difference between being old and being young. And maybe a large part of the group that watches this is too young to get this but difference between being old and being young. The first difference is when you're young, you go to the doctor, sometimes when you're old, you go to the doctors. I mean, I I am old enough now and I go to if I'm going to send an email to one of my doctors and on the on the email site, you know, the the health site that I belong to at UCLA. If I hit the little down arrow, if I say want to send the message to my doctor, then it'll say witch doctor and you hit the down arrow. The menu falls down with all the boxes that I have. I mean, it goes down through the bottom of the computer out onto the onto the desk. So there's the first one hitting them. But here's the second one again. difference between being young and being old. The first one I already told you here's the second one when you're oryza. When you're young, you go to the doctor when you're old, you go to the doctors, okay, also when you're young, you get sick and then you get better. See now people are waiting and they're waiting. See by not saying it. You've called them you've drawn

Alex Ferrari 59:47

Richard Walter 59:49
In business and in art, if you chase after people, they run away from you. Yeah. If you want them to come to you, you got to withdraw. I bet you've seen the Devil Wears The first image that magician that they call Meryl Streep, she won her third Oscar, best, best performance for that role. She plays a very powerful woman, really, really powerful, powerful woman. She never raises her voice.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:22
Never, never.

Richard Walter 1:00:24
She never talks louder than this that makes people lean forward. Good, engage, listen closely. If she's, that might seem powerful, but it's not nearly as powerful as going the opposite direction. So that's what I'm always telling writers, writers to do. Less description, less noise, the more you put out there, the less opportunity there is for the audience to engage.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:51
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now, what suggestions do you have for creating conflict within a scene?

Richard Walter 1:01:07
Well, I mean, it's funny, my my old teacher, the legendary long deceased or when are blacker, he want George he took millions he put a lot of people in a seat. He used to say, Where do you need conflict in a screenplay, one that every to answer in unison? And he also would say, before you answer, I want to tell you that it's a one word answer. Where do you need conflict? And scribbling? The answer was, everywhere. Everywhere. Everything could be a conflict. It doesn't have to be a, you know, world war three and everybody battling each other, although that's okay, too. But people should not be getting along. There should be dissonance and discomfort. And so I'm hearing about now people there's, there's, oh, there's a new institute that wants to make it possible wants to support film, filmmakers who want to make films that have positive social impact, and uplift. Well, if you want, if you want to have social positive social impact, and uplift, you are doomed. You can't you might have social impact, positive social impact, but not by trying to have it one of those violent series that I've ever seen. And it's also I think one of the greatest works of genius in all of Western civilization is breaking bad. I'm a big, huge fan of breaking. I don't I've never seen anything better than Breaking Bad. Have I ever seen anything as good as that? Yes, the sopranos, that godfather. But I've I've never seen anything including Shakespeare's plays in the great Greeks. I think it's one of the great Masterworks of dramatic literature Breaking Bad. Now, I am somebody that I don't want to get too political. But there has been a I think one of the greatest tragedy. One of the very greatest tragedy the last half century in America is the abandonment of support for public education. You know, when I came to UCLA, people don't know it's all paid for the the state but know that back then they paid for about 1/5 20% back then, and now they pay for about half it's about like 11 or 12 12%. Worse than that, though, is public school. K through 12. somebody my age, I went to public school in the 50s. The, you know, somebody, somebody like me. We had really, really good schools. And in fact, my wife and I were married 53 years, we 54 years and come come June. That's pretty typical. By the way, I have to say, for my generation, most of the people that I know, it's not all that unusual. I only mentioned it because we are college sweethearts. We went to the state. We went to a State University, we met in college, upstate New York, what is now called Binghamton University. Harper College is just the undergraduate wing of the Binghamton University. It's part of the state interest in New York campus. And it's virtually free when we went there. It was $400 a year. And and by the way, if you got a region scholarship, and both of us did, and most everybody that we knew did, it was pretty easy to get to read. And it was it was absolutely free. Wow, raking. What can that possibly have to do with Breaking Bad and by the way, it's nice in movie narratives to have something that doesn't seem to be connected to anything that suddenly gets connected. And I think in teaching, I tried to do that as well. So I've been talking about the abandoned in the public schools and talking about breaking bad. Well, undergirding the whole series of Breaking Bad is this question Why does in the United States of America in Albuquerque, New Mexico, does the high school chemistry teacher get 43 $1,000 a year and have to work at a carwash. And then when he gets a fatal diagnosis has to become a drug dealer, a drug manufacturer and drug dealer just to provide medical coverage for his for his for his, his family. So I think Gilligan and his writers, Vince Gilligan, I'm talking about the creator of Breaking Bad, is contributing very, very palpably, very measurably meaningfully, to a very important political issue. But he's not trying to rise. As soon as you try to do something, you will fail. I was thinking the other day about this, imagine you're standing at the edge of a big field, big grassy field acres and acres and you have a baseball. And you throw it from the edge of that field just as far as you possibly can.

You You're a younger, more fit guy, you probably throw a little further than I but I bet we could both throw it about a block, let's say, half the woodlands magine Atlanta bounces a few times. It's some fencing and it rolls and finally stops. Now you walk up to that. And before you pick it up with a big fat piece of yellow chalk, let's say you draw a circle around it right? And now you pick up the ball and what's there there's a circle indicating exactly where it landed. Right? Okay, now you go back to where you threw it previously. And throw it again and make it land exactly there. Exactly. There. You'll never do what you do 10 dozen times. It's, it's going to come close. Right? But it's not likely ever to get right to that spot. Why? Why not? You just did that without even trying you were able to do that. And now you can't do it at all? Well, that's the answer. You were trying. As long as you're trying you will never you'll never succeed at it. And too many writers trying too hard. They they have. They have not? Yeah, I was gonna say they lost the ability. But I don't think it's an ability that you have, that you lose. It's an ability that you have to acquire and have to find the ability to stay open to the surprises to be a little confused about what's happening in in, in your screenplay. Yeah, not to nail everything down. But to live with that dissonance and with that, without knowing

Alex Ferrari 1:07:22
it. So it's so funny, because I mean, after now 450 probably like between all my podcasts like 500 or 600 interviews, I've done it over the course of the last five, six years. I've talked to so many amazing people. I've noticed that, you know, you hear these mythical stories of like, let's say, you know, when Shane Black was selling a house was selling those scripts in the in the glory

Richard Walter 1:07:44
days de la UCLA, but keep going.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:46
Yes, exactly. So all these kind of, you know, mythical Tarantino, all these kind of guys, who are these mythical kind of screenwriters. When they weren't like When, when, when quitting wrote to romance, he didn't know it was going to be sold to Tony Scott, and then turned into the movie. And when he wrote Reservoir Dogs, he didn't know it was going to be what it was, he wasn't trying for that he was going to shoot a small independent film for 50 or 60. Grand, and get it done. It just so happened, and run my own career. In in my own thing, I've tried to chase that thing, like I want to this is gonna do this for me, and you start going and never, ever works out that way. Because there's because life doesn't work that way. And you have to be open to the, to the things like when I started this podcast, the screenwriting podcast specifically, I just just kind of threw it out there. And I wasn't expecting much from it. And then slowly, but surely have built up steam. And then all of a sudden, people like yourself, and all these other amazing guest started showing up. And I'm like, but I didn't plan on it. Like, you know, my goal is to get when I started, my very first step is to get Richard on the show. Like, no, it just kind of happened. And it kind of flows that way. And you have to be open to that. And when you're writing, I agree with you 110% if you're writing with an outcome and in in mind, you're more likely going to fail. Is that a fair statement?

Richard Walter 1:09:09
Yes, I will tell you the the I've had really three phases in my development as a writer relative to the story. And I do think story is what it's all about. Story encompasses everything else story, his character story, his mood setting, all of those things, you know, come come out of this, this thing that we that we call story. I am a trained actor. And I'm a very experienced public speaker. Not only have I lectured 1000s of times on Khan campus and off campus, but I also had 15 minutes of fame. It was really 15 years I was constantly on all of these talk shows. The O'Reilly Factor I was like the the unofficial house lib for Fox News. But I was also I must have done two dozen visits with chris matthews at MSNBC Sure, you know, commenting on on various kinds And I, the reason I mentioned that is I can say things very convincingly, even if I don't believe them. And I'm going to say something now very much along the lines of what you just said that I do not believe what I'm about to say is a hoax. It's a lie, I don't believe and I've just told you that. But people watching this, I'm gonna say until convincingly so persuasively, it makes such sense, they're going to believe that it's true and that I believe it even though I've just told you that I don't believe it. And here it is, if you want to succeed in a competitive enterprise, and there's nothing more competitive, I mean, what's more competitive than than screenwriting My God Jesus, you know, where where, where trafficking in our own imagination with selling our daydreams for money, welcome, be no better, better fun than that, you know, we get we get paid for, for what other people get scolded for, you know, which is, is daydreaming. If you're going to succeed in something like that, you have to focus. You can't be given over to distractions, you got to have a laser like focus towards that make great sense. But remember, I told you, it's bullshit. The fact of the matter is that your best bet is tumbling, stupidly and blindly along and bumping into things, from time to time making stuff available to things that you love, and you hang on to and you grab onto and you hold on onto that thing, things that surprise you or things that you didn't anticipate in your life narrative. Remember, I came out here I was going to go back that eventually I thought maybe I'll be a lawyer or something like that. I just let circumstances unfold. And what I've discovered again, is it with resin that's the life narrative in your story narrative. Likewise, it I used to think it was about there's a line of time you know, about an hour and 40 minutes most movies are too long. The narcissism of directors they just won't get off the stage. Look at me look at me. It's supposed to be invisible. It's supposed to everybody knows it's a movie is supposed to hide that fact from the non announcement, not proclaim it to them. Don't get me started now on what I call amateur chic. The new kind of directing with everything handheld and 360s directors calling attention to them selves rather than then then trying to hide the the goals will limit you they they will you know, man.

Again, the the story. I used to think there's the 100 minutes, and you have to put things in there then I thought the next phase was no, no, no, no, no the things that they are. It's about taking things away. I kind of think of I like to talk about Michelangelo, sculpting the famous statue of David that Stan, Florence, right. He says that there was this big block of marble that his workmen brought down from his favorite quarry in Carrara. And he looked at this big hunk of stone and he could see inside it, the David and all he did to create the David was to take away those parts that were in David, of course, knowing how to do that. How to and which parts to take away is the difference between rank amateur and genius, but it is a taking away process. Art is and story creation is and I have crossed paths with with you know I have a lot of experience myself as a writer that's taught me a lot. The Wall Street Journal calls me and I've memorized this now a writer have substantial professional experience throughout the media. There's no kind of literary laundry that I haven't taken in but my experience as a writer is leveraged by the 1000s of writers that I've worked with on campus and off campus as a screenplay analyst. And as a professor teaching this subject, and I've never met one writer, not one writer, I promise you there's not one writer watching this podcast, who has not had the experience of hearing a character say something apparently on her own, you know, as if he invented it by herself doing something that you never that the writer never expected. The story taking a twist or a turn that you didn't expect somebody else becoming the protagonist. The major mistake writers can make is to try to drag back to an earlier notion that they had rather than than allow those kinds of things to happen. You know, I like to tell a story about common Hagen's. He was a UCLA student before my time. Now DC stressed his cell and I think Australian, but he his first picture was Harold and Maude. went on to become a director and a writer director. He did wonderful films. big Hollywood films. Silver Streak, foul play. A these are really really wonderful, wonderful films. Collin told me 1000s of years ago when he when he was a student at UCLA that he hoped to win first prize in the golden competition. First prize was 40 $500. How they came up with that, I don't know. But that was enough money at that time to live pretty comfortably a student on his own for a year in LA and he would just be able to write that was his goal. When the goldwin not have any day job. no distractions just sit down and write, but he didn't win first prize, he only won second prize. And second prize was 20 $500. So he knew he needed a day job. And so he, he took the perfect actors or writers day job, not a cab driver, not a waiter, but he went to work for a swimming pool cleaning company. And the very first home he comes to the clean is in the flats of Beverly Hills, very wealthy area where a lot of movie people live. And he's vacuuming the pool behind the house. And a man comes out with a screenplay and sits down under an umbrella. Again, like a beach umbrella in the shade to read this screenplay. And it's clearly the guy who owns this house. And so common gets to talking to him and tells him that he's himself a writer and and he's written a script to get this guy to agree to read his screenplay. And sure enough, he ends up producing Harold and Maude and it launches. Comments career, and common says to me imagine if my dream had come true if I'd met my goal, which is if I'd won the Golden prize, first prize as I plan I'd be cleaning fucking swimming pools today, you say? So you got to give over to the circumstances and happenstance. every writer I have written in screen. My screenwriting books is playing God I call screenwriting the god game just as God created the universe. So also does the writer create the universe of her screenplay? You want it to rain it rains, you want it to be sunshiny sunshine, you want to kill somebody, and who has never wanted to kill somebody, you can do that in a in a in a movie and then if you feel remorseful about it, you know you can actually bring them back to life.

So So once again, it's it's a it's a question of surrendering authority, not seizing it, but but surrendering it. And and once again, staying open to the surprise is the very first script I ever wrote, was in a class at or in Irwin, our blackness Professor blackness course at UCLA at USC all those years ago in the in the 60s. And when I got finished with that draft, I realized the first draft, I realized that I had the wrong protagonist, that it wasn't really this guy's story. It's that guy's story. And that might seem like what a waste that was I, you know, writing that draft, but it wasn't a waste, I needed to do that, to see whose story it was. And then when I knew that I had to throw away some but not all of what I had written. Much of it was still exploitable usable inside the context with the with the other protagonists. But the point is, is that it is an evolving and mysterious process. And I see writers constantly outsmarting themselves. Just just, you know, it's not smart. It's dumb. I met my I'd mentioned earlier my dad, he had a very, very was a bass player. Stand up acoustic he was very, very successful in 15 years or 20 years in his early career at NBC on the arcturion Toscanini. And then 40 years the New York City Ballet, there's nobody that he didn't play with a record with him of any note note as the appropriate word in the last, you know, the mid the half century it's. And he made a very, very good living now what think about what he was doing, what was he actually doing? He was dragging horsehair. That's what the bow is made out of. It's a horse across sheep. Got sheep, the end trails of sheep. That's what they make bass strings out of. He was dragging horsehair across, across sheep got. Why are you doing that? Well, because it makes a sound. Well, I can believe in it just sound is it is yeah, it makes a sound that's so beautiful. that people will actually stand in the in line in the snow or in the heat to pay $100 or $300. You know, for the privilege of going into chamber to hear the noise that somebody makes. I mean, it sounds pretty crazy. But it's not any crazier than writing for the screen. I mean, When somebody comes up to you a stranger comes up to you and says, excuse me, excuse me, I writer. I had a dream. Last night, I have to tell you, I had this dream, I must tell you this dream come May I tell you this dream that I had. And let's say you're such a generous person, and so loving and so kind that you decide. All right, tell me, tell me your dream. Imagine if that person said to you, thank you very much. I'll tell you the dream. But first, there are two issues we have to address. One is, you have to be prepared to spend 100 it's gonna take me 100 minutes an hour and 40 minutes to tell you this dream. Whoa, wait a minute, I wasn't doing that. And what's the other requirement? The other requirement is I need $15 right now, or whatever else it got whatever the price is at a movie theater. Right? Let us figure that crank up the lithium on this guy's drip. He's mad, you know, I'm gonna stand here for an hour and 40 minutes and pay him for the privilege of and yet that that is just insanity. And yet it's what every writer is asking the audience to do asking scores 10s. In this world, hundreds of millions. I'll bet you a billion people on the planet have had some exposure to some aspect of the Star

Alex Ferrari 1:21:27
Wars more than that more than one and easily,

Richard Walter 1:21:31
you know, so it's, it's pretty crazy. I have a quick quick story about that, that's been on my mind lately, because I recently ran into the writer in the early 80s, long time ago now. The big item in in Hollywood was Beverly Hills Cop was very successful picture very good picture. And everyone is looking for Beverly Hills Cop now with my class, the main class at UCLA, I used to lecture to hundreds of students from time to time, one hour a week. But the main class that I taught every single quarter that I was there, we have 310 week quarters, instead of the more traditional two semesters, every academic so three times a year, I would have a 10 week seminar with eight writers around the table. And at the first class, everybody would come much more than eight would come over, you're trying to figure out who's gonna be in the class and everybody, I might get 35 people showing up. But everybody would quickly pitch. The basic notion about what the script they wanted to write. This was a feature length screenplay writing class. And the there were no assigned readings, no tests, just one paper and it was a professional quality feature length screenplay. So what's the script going to bake? And before we got started, I remember telling everybody that right now what everybody's looking for is a cop action. cop buddy action melodramas, like Beverly Hills Cop. That's what the agents looking for. That's what everybody's writing goes across town. That's what produces a seeking. Therefore, don't do that. It'll be one of 600 such scripts. I said, that's the smart thing to do is to do that. Don't do the smart thing. Do the stupid thing. Nobody I mentioned. Nobody is buying westerns that hasn't been a winner. Right? A Western. It'll be the only Western that's out there. So a student in the class did he wrote a Western, I could walk you through and I can't remember the names of my grandchildren. I can't remember where I parked my car. But I can walk you through this script that this writer wrote almost 40 years ago. That's how good it was. And it was a funny Western. Now I've mentioned to you that I went to film school with really famous people. I also mentioned to you that I went to before that I went to school in Binghamton, New York. My roommate in Binghamton. My roommate at Harper College is Andrew Bergman. And he lives in New York. I live here but we've maintained we're still very very close buddies. Andy Bergman is a very well known writer, director producer he really was was the force that originated Blazing Saddles. He has story by credit plus a shared written by with Mel Brooks and three other writers. One of them by the way, is Richard Pryor.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:24
Yeah, it was about to be in that

Richard Walter 1:24:26
Andy wrote and directed dumb. Penguin in Vegas, the freshmen he wrote a lot of movies that he didn't directly directs movies that he didn't write anyway, his claim to fame originally was Blazing Saddles. He formed his own production company. So when I read this script, I'm still very close with with Andy I, he's in New York. I'm here but we see each other a lot. He comes out here a lot. We talk to each other. I go, I live in New York, a lot of a lot of family. There are a lot of business there. My representation is there. My publishers are there. I said to me The you, you like funny westerns, you have a production company I got a funny Wester said he read this writer script. And he loved it. So he and his producing partner acquired it now they only spent a very little bit of money, just to option it for like a month. Some writers don't understand that. If you're going to our opinion, if you're the shorter the option, the better for you. You've given away less, there's more pressure on the producer to to produce. I heard two people, two writers at farmer's market at a breakfast one was saying that his option was three months. That is only my options a year, you know, like he was pleased that his optimism was a year. That's like an old joke. There's a contest. And first prize is a week in Philadelphia. And second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia. In any event, during that months, this guy was shown around Hollywood, and at the end of the month, nobody bought the script. So the script 100% of the rights returned to the writer. And he also kept killing option money. trivial, relatively trivial as it as it was. So all by itself, not such a bad deal. But it wasn't all by itself in that month, he'd gone. He'd been shown around under the best circumstances in Hollywood, not by himself, they wouldn't have read them. Not by his agent, he didn't have an agent. But even if you have an agent is not as good as being shown around by a producer with a track record of making hit movies once make your movie. So he was read not by underlings, but by the heads of all of the studios. Now, there's nothing wrong with being read by underlings. I actually think sometimes you're better off being read by underlings. They have to finish the script, and they have to write a report on it. Also, I think sometimes you're better off with somebody who's trying to make her career. As you're trying to make your career you may become allies in that way. But there's also nothing wrong with being read by all of the presidents of the studios. So he went from being completely unknown to being very well known. And if that's all that came out of it, not so bad, but it's still not all that came out of it. Imagine you're at one company, it was Fox. They said we don't want to make this movie. But we love this voice. And we think that this guy might be right we have a problem script, we have not been able to get an A list Hollywood writer to get a handle on we want to give this guy a shot at it if he's willing. And so they hired him to do a rewrite. And since it was his first job ever, and it was just rewriting somebody else's whole script. All they paid him for that was $10,000 a week. Wow. They said it would take eight weeks. So when 10 weeks do the math. It's still not really got out I would imagine you're an unrepresented writer. And a major student wants to make a deal with you for 10k a week to do a rewrite assignment agents and and lead managers will line up at your door with you for the privilege of representing how many writers are watching this over the phone and Asia here are agents trying to find this guy as a result of of this stupid script. And he wrote that script that nobody would be interested in, in a Western. So he got you know, he's able to pick and choose his management. He chose major representation and he's had a career now for decades after

Alex Ferrari 1:28:25
who but who is this? Who is this

Richard Walter 1:28:27
Jim strain? Oh, the script is called actually, paradise Gulch. It is hilarious and meaningful. Jim the most recent last year, he had a series on the that was streaming involving. He wrote all I think he wrote four out of six episodes of a limited series involving Dolly Parton. A very, very busy writer. I've also I'm no longer at UCLA now. Three full years gone from Westwood, but I did hire Jim over the years to come in and, and teach. But you see how a script that didn't sell. Nevertheless,

Alex Ferrari 1:29:09
open doors,

Richard Walter 1:29:10
open doors and launch a career my own first script which I wrote in or when our blockers class in the mid to late 60s, I never sold that script, but I got major representation. As a result of that. I got on staff, they still had staffs at Universal, I got assignments, on the strength of that script, at Warner Brothers and elsewhere. So you get once again, as an example of what I was talking about earlier, focusing too narrowly don't focus on the sale of the script. Just tell a good story and think career wise, think long term wise and just sorta get out of your own way and see what happens. Now,

Alex Ferrari 1:29:49
I wish we could keep talking for another three hours, I'm sure so I'm gonna I'm gonna ask you a few questions kind of rapid fire questions that I asked all of my guests. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Richard Walter 1:30:13
Wow. Well, you know again I like to say you should see the movies rather than read the screenplays when you read the screenplays, you're often looking at shooting scripts that have angles and that they're not appropriate. Certainly, Kane Citizen Kane, you know, there's nothing more boring than a college professor, a film Professor telling you that the greatest movie ever made was his skin. But I really do sincerely believe that. Wow, what a what a? What a terrific question. That is. I think one of my favorite movies is Midnight Cowboy. Must be about 30 years old ready. Walt Walter? Oh, I'm trying to met him. I'm blanking on the name of the of the writer of it. I have a book by him someone nearby. But that is a I think that's a brilliant, brilliant script. And a good example of of having people who are different from you, nonetheless, that you're able to identify with, and I'm going to go to two when I said earlier, I think you should read the Old 65 hours of Breaking Bad, you wouldn't do bad to read The Sopranos. Once again, the beauty of the sopranos I here I am, you know, college or university professor and here's, here's Tony Soprano, Jersey mom, boss. There are no more people on the planet, more different from one another than then then Tony and me. But when I look at Tony Soprano, I see me I see a guy who has issues with his adolescent children who has conflict with his bride. one thing or another, who is upset with his mother about someone whose mother was upset with him. So it's not about this connection, but connection. You want to be able to see these people and identify with them feel what they feel, even though they are so very different from you. So I hope I'm allowed to put streamers and cable in In short,

Alex Ferrari 1:32:27
absolutely, absolutely.

Richard Walter 1:32:29
Now, I will also say I think that camrys adaptation of old Charlie Webb's the graduate, no scratch is a fantastic, fantastic script. What a world what a well written script that is

Alex Ferrari 1:32:44
now What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break in the business today?

Richard Walter 1:32:50
Right, right, right. It's, you know, I haven't I tell a story about I and I've written about it are prisoner prisoners write to me prisoners who are writers and one person wrote to me really, he didn't send me a script, but he asked for permission to send the script. And by the way, that's, that's the way to do it is to write a good query letter. When I see writers tell me that they wrote a query letter and nobody's responding and I read the letter, it's allows it's an invariably a lousy letter. The the thing you should do is, is the one thing that only you can do, directors can't do it. Actors can't do it cutters, costumers, hairdressers, lawyers, producers agents, they can do this on is to write this particular president wrote to me and he said I I've written four screenplays right away. I love this guy. He's not he hasn't written one screenplay. And he just wants to send it off. Written for screenplays. Remember, when the screenplay doesn't sell, as we said before, all kinds of gave examples of all kinds of, of rewards that can accrue besides the sale of the, of the of the script. Every screenwriter is an independent entrepreneur, a businessman or businesswoman, and every business has something called inventory, and that you create your own inventory and it may sell way down the line. You know, Muslim peoples wrote, he won the Oscar for clints pictures, also best picture of the year Unforgiven. That script sat around for 20 years. The I've had material board and my last novel was actually a I also an author of fiction and nonfiction last novel that I wrote. I started as a screenplay at least 30 years ago, and it came out like 20 years later as a novel. I used it at old As an outline and elaborate outline for a novel, and I was able to sell it as a novel and get it published as a novel, it became a Times Bestseller just for one week and only like number 13. But you know, I'll take it, I'll take it earned out, it's advance in its first printing. And that's unusual that and that something like 94 or five or 6% of published books do not earn out their advance this one did it on the first printing. Again, though yours then once it was a novel, suddenly there was interest in it as a ditto on another novel that I wrote, I wrote it as a an elaborate outline, really an elaborate treatment. Somebody once said, Dorothy Parker said Hollywood is the one place on earth where you could die of encouragement.

Alex Ferrari 1:35:48
It's so true.

Richard Walter 1:35:48
It's so many encouraged me on this script when I never got was a nickel for and eventually I used it as an outline for a novel. And that was extremely naive novels are even harder to sell than than screenplays. Believe it or not. But I did sell it. And the answer there, by the way, is that naive Tay? Is your friend be naive be stupid. The that novel, then suddenly, because it was a novel and it had been published had been authenticated, approved by a major New York publishing conglomerate. Suddenly it was legitimate in Hollywood immediately the rights sold to a studio that had previously it turned down pass on the script. So you get just you just don't know the owner. You know? I am even though I'm retired now. The region's still require that every day I am since I'm a former conference, I must quote Socrates every day once a day. Thanks for laughing. Here's my quote. But today, I think it's the smartest thing anybody ever said. And here's something he said the only thing you know for sure. Is that you don't know anything for sure. Let me tell you one last quick story. I am now in the lockdown. I can't do it. But I am a fanatical obsessive compulsive swimmer. at UCLA I swam and over my 40 years in the sunset Canyon recreation center pool. Literally people say literally when they mean figuratively but I mean, in the traditional sense, I swim 12 or 13 to 14,000 miles in that pool every day. 1600 700 meters in that pool in 1984 a 1984. The Olympics were here in Los Angeles. And then in 1988, they were in Korea, they were in Seoul. And that year 88. The women's swim team coach, the American women's swim team coach brought all the women from across the country wherever they were, and guess where they were where you'd think Florida, Texas, California, that's where the swimmers are. Apparently, he brought the women all to UCLA six weeks before the game they would try. They would train in Los Angeles for two weeks, then Honolulu for two weeks. Then two weeks before the games they would they would be in Seoul and they would be working out there The idea being that there should be no jet lag and on a sport like swimming of just a few hundredths of a second makes the difference between metal and nothing. And so for two weeks I was at we had set aside several lanes for the Olympians. And I was swimming alongside some real champions including a woman from Cerritos. I'm kind of pointing to the east of here, a Janet Evans champion swimmer and if you watch Janet Evans, swim, you see it's very splashy. It's very inelegant. She doesn't have long, graceful strokes. It doesn't look very efficient. She only does one thing right and can you guess what that is? She goes fast. She did the water just Boyle's around her. And I overheard a there was a lot of press coming up because there were these athletic stars. And I overheard a coach, the coach giving a an interview to a reporter. And their brother was asking him, why don't you work with Dan Evans on his stroke? It's so sloppy. It's so splashing, it's only fishing. And the coach said something that I think is great advice for coaches, giving advice to swimmers but also parents giving advice to children and arts educators like me giving advice to artists. And here's what he said to the reporter Why don't you work against the question, why don't you help her with a stroke, improve a stroke and he said, you know, half being a coach, he said, half the job is showing the way and the other half is getting out of the way. And I think too many writers get in our own way. I have a little code if you read my book, essentials of screenwriting the middle section. The big section is called notes on notes. And it has evolved over the years for my doing script analysis. I Do a lot of script doctoring off campus working with writers who want notes on the script. Some of them are actually you know writers with deals at studios who are saying hey Richie asked me the hard questions before the producer asks them they can pay me a nice fee they get no you know, half a million dollars or more. And sometimes producers themselves will come to me and say listen, she owes us another draft help us help us. Or give us your your notes. And, and so on. And out of that process. As I read scripts, I make notes in the margins there has evolved a whole litany a whole catalogue of advice that I give a gift to writers and one of them is gu Yao, Gao y o wl right next to somebodies speech line of dialogue that they've written.

And it stands for get out of your own way. Goo Yeah, I'll see in the middle of a speech a beautiful, beautiful line. But it's it's masked. By overriding there's something that comes before it that isn't necessary, there's something that comes after it that isn't, isn't necessary. The trick is, once again, to you can succeed at this, if you will really do three things. One is only sight and sound. Only sight and sound stick to sight and sound, look at your page and imagine what what a viewer in the audience is seeing. And if you can't see that, then then it needs attention. It's it's something else. The next thing is, as I already said, it's got every single site and everything has to move the story forward. It's so easy to know if it does that or doesn't do that by just eliminating it and imagine that it's that it's not there. If it still plays then you didn't need it. Remember, integrate all rules are off of its integration. Forgive me because I'm going to tell you one last quick joke, a guy goes into a library. I said before I tell you this, one of the things that I'm really against is parents ethical directions. I've seen scripts with without one line that didn't have with that did not have one single line without I've seen scripts, if you took out the parenthetical directions, you'd lose eight, even 12 pages just banter the directions. So I'm against that, you know, Shakespeare never had melancholy Hamlet melancholy. Nevertheless, here's a joke. A guy walks into the library, and he steps over the desk to the library and I have a hamburger with Coke, and an order of fries. So the librarian systems. This is the library. He says, oh, okay, you understand? Now why do I tell you that joke? Because if that were dialogue, in a screenplay, you'd have to have the parent phenocal whispers or whispering? If you didn't, if you took that out, I have a hammer always is this lower than the line again, it doesn't make any you need the whispering at all goes to hell without that. But that's exceptional. And if you if you confuse the exception for the rule, you're gonna follow on your on your face every time. So less is more you have to say less. We've been trained to write too much. We have to go against that. I once said to Syd field, I miss him every day was good pal of mine. maturing is instead agreed with deep blink. He's I said maturing as a writer means not merely learning to throw stuff away, but learning to love to throw stuff away.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:37
Yeah. And it's not it's not easy. For sure. No. Now where can people find your book and find out more about you?

Richard Walter 1:43:44
God bless as somebody was saying the other day. Is Amazon a wonderful or a dreadful thing? And the answer is yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:52
Agreed. Agreed. 100%

Richard Walter 1:43:55
And you can find it on Amazon. You could also go to my my website. Richard Walter, there's no s at the end of my name Richard walker.com. Which will give you filiana about my my my webinars I do a I have been offering I've offered about a half a dozen times. Since I've retired a six week limited enrollment. interactive online webinar. This goes back to before the pandemic. anybody anywhere in the world can and people all around the world. Some people you know, like in Sydney, Australia, Iran at a three in the morning or whatever it is. It's six weeks, one day a week, 90 minute session that we do. We review writers pages who are participating in Islam and enrollment. I do need to tell you that as soon as we announced it, it sells out. anybody who is interested in taking that should go to my website. And then you'll think you'll be able to communicate with my manager Kathy Berardi to be put on the list of people be notified the next time you offer it so you get a chance to enroll it if if you want To my book is essential to screenwriting, the my current screenwriting book, I just got a royalty check from the American publisher for it. Why do I tell you that because I also got a royalty check from the the Beijing publisher of of its Mandarin translation and listen to me carefully now the the Chinese payment was 55 zero 50 times larger than the American royalty. I mean I'm apparently I'm a big hit, you can't walk you can't walk the streets

Alex Ferrari 1:45:33
you can't walk the streets in Beijing.

Richard Walter 1:45:38
I have enjoyed not recently been I when I was in China toward China in 87. With a group of scholars, they treat us like rock stars and I had a ball there and I was back about 10 years ago. Writers came from all over the People's Republic to hear me for a week and she on the ancient central central capital. But it what's interesting to me and I have traveled all around the world and you know, done a lot of international events including IT consulting with, with audience with with with National Film Development Corporation officials, and they all want to know that they are asked me the same quick question. films made outside the United States, only one in 10 is ever shown outside the country have its origin. But all all American films are shown outside the country there are some are only shown outside the country that aren't because it can't even get a domestic distribution deal here. And I think they want to know how they can get that for their own films. And I think it has to do with with diversity even even before casting was diverse. And it needs to be still more diverse. There is something in the American psyche that is biological, I think there's something about narrative. I really believe that Aristotle's model of the narrative what is the story a story is a real, really well constructed story is a model an idealized romanticized model of a human life childhood which is short, big, middle, and ideally a very, very quick ending. Raise your hand if you're looking forward to being on recessive taters and Ivy's, you know, for 30 for let's say, four or five, six years, at the end of your life, most people know she passed away peacefully in his sleep. And so and by the way, that's also a good a good reason to realize that every screenplay is a is a self portrait. Yeah, it's a model of a human life whose life the person who's writing it regardless of whatever else, it's about. And that's why you know, there's a guy, a very popular screenwriting educator over the years, not a university guy, and you know, self appointed one of the self appointed gurus, very popular. And one thing he says and both, by the way, most of all gurus I mentioned Syd field, we pretty much we get we agree about much more than we, you know, then we disagree. We agree it's about it's really about story. But this guy, and I have one disagreement, he says, Whatever you do, don't write your own personal little story.

Alex Ferrari 1:48:25
Yeah, I know. I know, I know who you're talking about.

Richard Walter 1:48:28
He says you should be if you're a professional, you should be treating yourself as you want other people to treat you like a professional. You got to treat yourself as a professional professional gauges. what's hot now, by the way, everything I'm saying now is a lie. I disagree with everything. I'm saying that but aren't I saying it persuasively, very much. You got a gauge? Do you know what the groceries were last weekend and so on, and one of them and stay apprised of the trades? And in fact, there's one very popular book that says you should actually stop people in the street and asked them about an idea that you have before you get started. The city, especially young people should ask young people then the main audience, you will you be interested in? Can you imagine somebody's being interested in something that the writer herself isn't even interested in? You know? Can you imagine somebody comes up to you and says, I have an idea for school? You know, can I tell you what I want? I just want to tell you the idea. It's about a high school chemistry teacher who gets cancer. And he, so he goes into the math trade. I mean, that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard. That's gonna be 63 hours of genius. If you get a crit What about if somebody came up to you and said, I have an idea for a movie. This guy stutters but he has to give a speech. So he hires a speech therapist and he gives the speech

Alex Ferrari 1:49:58
Oscar winner

Richard Walter 1:50:00
What if the guy said oh, well, I'm sorry that you don't like it, but I think it's actually going to win the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Best Picture. You'd figure this is a lunatic who needs to be 911911. And yet of course, that is an Oscar winning that is the Oscar winning movie The The King's Speech, The King's Speech. So so all you can run, I'm saying quite the contrary. I'm saying it's not okay to write your own personal so I'm saying that's the only story you should ever you should ever be able to able to write. I told you that I went to school with George Lucas. Francis Francis Ford Coppola when he formed his company, American zoetrope, he took George under his wing, he kind of mentored George. George's father was an executive at Xerox and Francis, who was not above looking for a bargain, asked George when he formed zoetrope, can you talk to your dad maybe about getting the photocopy services, you know, discounted rates for the photocopying? And George said to him? No, I can't do that. I don't get along with my father. We're kind of a strange he thinks I'm wasting my life in this business. He's hoping for me to get over this and get into something where I could make a living, you know, and I can't ask him for any we don't get along with well, who is the antagonist in Star Wars. It's a guy named Vader VAD er, VA t e. r. viatera. In German means father, Darth Vader, dark. Father, Luke, I'm your father. I'm here to tell you that Star Wars is a very keenly deeply personal movie. And you don't have a chance as a writer. If you're trying to figure out what other people will respond to, you have to write about what you care about. And just like the writers, David Chase, and his writers who created the sopranos, you have to do it in such a way that even though it's very different universe, very different people, it's still humans. I tell you again, I really believe that biology that that narrative is a biological enterprise, we need it. In our lives. It has been pointed out you know, a woman put that up lift before I was another saying beware of uplift. I mean, have you ever seen Matt Beth visit uplifting? Hamlet ends with nine corpses on the stage. Some of them have been run through on swords. Some of them have been poisoned. Gone with the Wind, very, very dark, unhappy ending, the Godfather terrible, you know, hardly, hardly uplifting. You do not need to worry about uplifting. I will tell you that I once lectured to I'm not a Christian and not a non evangelical Christian. I lectured to a convention of evangelical Christians 500 pastors from all across the country in Chicago about six or eight years ago, gathered in Chicago for the weekend, I will tell you also that I never experience more love. More referring group. They were just wonderful at the best time with these breaches. And I was telling them, then if you want people why was Isaiah well, because they were exploring the the narrative in Scripture. You know, if you look at the Old Testament, matter of fact, if you look at the New Testament, or if you look at the Muslim Bible, the Quran, there's advice, there's kind of commentary there principal, mainly its stories. And by the way, they are not polite, reassuring, comfortable stories. You know, the very, I still remember being in a boring event at a religious institution, alongside my son, and we were both looking at in front of us, you know, in the, in the back of the pews in front of us, were Bibles. And so we were looking at, at Genesis and the story of lat, the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, and here's the story, but this old man whose daughters get them drunk, each of his daughters get getting drunk, so that they can have sex with them and conceive a child with and that's not some tabloid. That's homeys graph chart. In any event, again, I told the preachers, that if they want to keep people in the church

after Sunday morning after they leave the church, and it's to say if you want them to be hefting, and considering their sermon all day, and once it's a really good sermon, what about the rest of the week thinking about what pastor Jones said, that was kind of provocative, I went on one hand If you want them to do that, and rather than just forget about it, you don't have to make them feel good. You just have to make them feel good out screenwriters. Imagine you're walking past a screen a movie theater. Suddenly the doors open. The movie is just broken. It's ended and the people all stream out there Oh, really crying. You'd say to yourself, gee, that was a sad movie. I mean, I made them feel so I don't want to see that. What the hell and I'm gonna, I'm gonna get right in line right then and there. I'm gonna stand up my date to see that movie. Right? If people feel that strongly imagine you walking down the street. And you run into somebody who's like, wobbling and short of breath. And you think they might fall down and you're so generous. A citizen that you say, Hey, yo, can you take them and you guide them to let's say, there's a bus stop. benches there. You're sitting on the bench, and the person is trying to catch his breath. And you say, should I call 911? And the person says, No, no, no. I'm okay. I'm recovering. Thanks so much. What a generous person you are. Well, what what matters is no, Nothing's the matter. I just saw this movie, I just came out of this movie. I mean, it was just the most upsetting the most frightening part of my life, well, you certainly wouldn't want to see that what the hell you and you immediately want to see that movie,

Alex Ferrari 1:56:31
right? So it's not always about

Richard Walter 1:56:32
the movies. It's a safe place to experience these lethal aspects of our nature so that when we experience them in real life, then inevitably we will nobody gets out of here alive. And before we die, we will have to face the loss of other loved ones. If you've been through that experience, emotionally in a movie theater, and you survived it, it helps you survive it in real life. That's why film is not just just an add on, you know, it's really an essential part of our emotional and spiritual diet. If we don't get art, in particular narrative art. We will become in our spirits and our souls will become distended and misshapen in the same way that bodies do when they are under nourish. So you know, in terms of protein, and and, you know, vitamins and minerals. What I'm saying is that what we are doing is important if you're a screenwriter, you are doing something that is very, very important. One last thought and it's about cubby broccoli, he used to produce the the James Bond pictures. Yeah. And every time the new bond picture came out, I always thought I sort of gave up on the bond picture some years ago, but I really did like the Sean Connery ones, which they call them cubby broccoli, I'm roughly produced every time a new picture would come out. I know barbecue committee would give a press conference. And he would always say, I we know what we're doing here. We're just trying to entertain the people. We're not doing my best. We just want to provide some entertainment. I was wanting to ask them I always was waiting for a reporter to ask them. Have you ever seen that Beth? How entertaining it is. It's got witches and riddles and special effects. You know, the blood on the hands? Is this a dagger I see before me. You know he hallucinates. It is a very entertaining enterprise. It's not one or the other. Right? these things all exists. together. They have no meaning. separately. I have a friend of mine who's a member of a writing team, very successful TV team. I was in touch with the other day and he said he was talking to some somebody who wants to become a writer. And he said that he's part of a team. He works with a partner. And he said, Oh, that's interesting. How does it work? You do the characters and he does the story? I mean, can you? No,

Alex Ferrari 1:59:23
no, no.

Richard Walter 1:59:24
That way I mean, it can't be done that way. It can only be done as a unit. Integrated, it's always sloppy and unorganized. It's never perfect. the truest thing setting I've ever heard said in my life was by the Rolling Stones and here it is can't get know. Exactly. Act and stop trying to be satisfied. I met James Epstein. He wrote he's now deceased, but he lived in his 90s. He wrote among other pictures, Casablanca and I said to all Mr. Gibson Wow. Well, I was thrilled to meet you all I or any of my film phony pals. All we hoped for is once in our lives. We should, as you did with Casablanca, peps, something that's timeless and eternal that will affect the hearts and minds of people. Now one of the great if I could tell you that Julius said the whole kind of you to say that Thank you, but he's a writer. That's not what he said. What he said. By the way he lived here for he came up from New York and when he was 20, he lived here for 70 something years maybe never lost that Brooklyn option. Yeah. Casablanca master plan do they fuck that up? You know, the same way Claude Rains education can hear his barking and griping about his movie what movie Casablanca and all I could think of myself as well. I wish somebody would, would ruin my movie

Alex Ferrari 2:00:50
like that like that like that. Right?

Richard Walter 2:00:52
Well, once again, you got to stop being perfect. Just just be a human being. You know what makes it God is perfect. We are imperfect. What makes us perfect if if anything, is our imperfection, we are perfectly imperfect. And our works don't need to be perfect either. I'm promising you will succeed. If you can make a movie that makes people feel some strong passion about anything, scare them, provoke them. You do not mean to make you comfortable. Indeed, the last thing you want is for them to be comfortable. Make them sorrowful frighten them, outrage them offend them.

Alex Ferrari 2:01:40
make them laugh and anything yeah,

Richard Walter 2:01:42
they will. That's what they're there in entitled to write. That is the job of the writer and the way to do that is by telling a good story. Telling a good story that way see there are guys out there who make movies that have terrific little moments. Forgive me I think the Coen brothers are like this somewhat over appreciated they can have like wacky crazy thing that happens and it is kind of fun. And I envision this and that but much harder than that is having a spine the through line where everything relates to every everything else parting shot, I was breaking and Breaking Bad. Does anybody remember? Do you remember you've seen seen Breaking Bad? Sure. Remember the whites opening line? The first line of dialogue spoken by Walter White and my first line of dialogue spoken by anybody in the series? Okay, remember he's it opens with

Alex Ferrari 2:02:48
the gun. Well,

Richard Walter 2:02:49
he he's racing through the desert in the RV. That is you know, you see a guy you don't know what's going on. He's he's naked except for his underpants. He's wearing a gas mask. Amazing pigments sitting next in the same way. Right? They drive on the back. We don't know what the heck is going on in the back of the vehicle. You can see two guys unconscious on the floor. You know, what is this? Well wondering where this? That's good. We're curious. We want to know, when finally we catch up with him later in the the episode. That's that pilot episode. We see him in his classroom, his chemistry classroom. And he speaks his first line. And what is his first line? He says, chemistry is transformation. Oh, you could think about how chemistry changes things. But what can you think of something else? That's transformation. Breaking Bad is transforming. It's the transformation of this guy walk away the humble chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, him to Heidegger Heidegger whatever they call him. Hi.

Alex Ferrari 2:03:51

Richard Walter 2:03:53
international drug law. You see how everything has to fit to gather.

Alex Ferrari 2:03:59
What's the trick? Walter, we again, we could talk for another four hours. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. It is it is it is just sitting there. Like it's like being in a master level. class. So thank you so much for being on the show, my friend.

Richard Walter 2:04:16
My pleasure. Thanks for having me. You know where to reach me when you need man. Good luck to all the writers.

Alex Ferrari 2:04:21
I want to thank Richard so much for coming on the show and dropping his knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so so much, Richard. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to get his amazing book essentials of screenwriting. Head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash one to zero. And if you haven't already, head over to screenwriting podcast comm subscribe, and leave a good review for the show. It really helps us out a lot. Thank you again so much for listening guys. As always, keep on writing, no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

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BPS 119: Screenwriting Inside the Studio System – Marvel to Spielberg with Joe Cornish

Have you ever  wondered what it is like screenwriting inside the Marvel and Studio machine? Wonder no further, today we have screenwriter and director Joe Cornish. Joe was one of the writer’s on Marvel’s Ant-ManThe English comedian and filmmaker burst onto the scene in 2011 with his very successful film directorial debut, Attack The Block, starring John Boyega, who played Moses, a low-level crook, teenage gang leader, an orphan looking for respect around the block. The British sci-fi comedy horror film centers on a teenage street gang who have to defend themselves and their block from predatory alien invaders on Guy Fawkes Night. 

Cornish and his comedy partner, Adam Buxton form the successful duo, Adam & Joe an ironic pop culture sketch show which gained a lot of success in the UK alongside Cornish’s long-term work in the UK TV entertainment industry. 

In 2011 he joined iconic directors, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg as a writer for the screenplay and story for the 3D animated action-adventure film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn — co-written alongside Edgar Wright and Steven Moffat.

Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor.

This $135 million budget film grossed $374 million at the box office and received a plethora of nominations including Oscars for Best Original Score, a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film, two BAFTA nominations for Best Animated Film and Best Special Visual Effects.

Cornish co-wrote the screenplay for the Marvel Comic character, Ant-Man, along with Wright, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd in 2015. 

Rudd, starring as Ant-Man is armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.  Similar to most Marvel Studio movies, the film carried a big budget of $169.3 million and grossed $519.3 million.

His latest film, The Kid Who Would Be King (2019), which was written undirected by Cornish, joins a band of kids who embarks on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.

Joe honestly, was extremely forthcoming and transparent about a lot of things; like what really happened behind the scenes on Ant-Man and what it’s like to write inside the Marvel machine, working with filmmaking legends like Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. And we also discuss his craft, how he approaches screenwriting and directing, and much more.

Enjoy this conversation with Joe Cornish.

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Alex Ferrari 3:39
I like to welcome to the show, Joe Cornish man. How you doing, Joe?

Joe Cornish 3:43
I'm good. Alex, good to be here. Good to see.

Alex Ferrari 3:46
Thank you so much for coming on the show my friend. I really truly appreciate it. You are across the pond, as they say, right now.

Joe Cornish 3:53
Yeah. On the other side of the pond beyond a couple of ducks, and the water feature. And some lily pads. And yeah, it's nice here. We're having a picnic by the pond. But we're allowed out. So that's, that's good.

Alex Ferrari 4:09
It's all good. So um, so how did you start your you're fairly remarkable career. I know you don't, I don't want to make you blush. But you've had a pretty great career. And I just wanted to know, how did you get started? What's your origin story in this business?

Joe Cornish 4:26
But my origin story is weird because I started out when I started out as like a runner in film companies in London. So I went to film school then I was a runner, and then a friend. Like there's a long version and a short version. I'll do the short version. So I started out in TV in British TV comedy in the mid 90s with a TV show called The Adam and Joe Show. I'm the joke from Adam and Joe. And that was a late night comedy show. That was kind of homemade TV was like comedy skits and songs and sketch. Here's an animation. And then that's how I met Edgar Wright because he had a show on on to British TV called spaced. While the Adam and Joe show was on, we were on the same channel. So we became friends. And so Edgar I'd always wanted to make movies. So Edgar. Edgar invited me to write and man with him. And he invited me to write Tintin with him. And then at the same time, I'd been, you know, reading and learning about screenwriting since I was a kid. And so I ended up writing and directing a film called attack the block. Tanya, about 10 years ago. Yeah. And then I made another movie called The kid who would be king a couple of years ago. Yeah, so that's, I've had a wait. And then I did a bunch of radio as well. I had a radio show on the BBC. So I've done all sorts of different stuff. Over my very, very long and very important career.

Alex Ferrari 5:59
Obviously, sir, obviously. Now. I see on your on your IMDb I see a lot of special effects. And you know on like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and a lot of those projects with Edgar, what did you do you want those projects, because you don't have a specific credit whenever say special things. It could be as much as helping them write the screenplay, or it could just be I was there for the day.

Joe Cornish 6:21
Well, it's kind of I was there for the day, like I was. I was a zombie and Shaun of the Dead so I get hit, I get gunned down. When the military arrive and that big truck drives towards the camera. I'm one of the guys that gets gunned down. So I was there for a day in Hot Fuzz as well. I'm one of the CSI people with Cate Blanchett at the very beginning of that movie. And and then I just hung out a lot with that guy. So I ended up doing some behind the scenes stuff. On Shawn and I and I did some behind the scenes stuff with the UAE the US press tour of Hot Fuzz, there are some videos of me and Nick Frost flushing cakes down the toilet of American hotels on YouTube. So that was that was I was just a friend of Erica and egg is a very collaborative, a friend you know he he always shares drafts and gets notes and and because we were working on Outman all through that period. That's why he's kind enough to give me thanks. Fair enough. Now,

Alex Ferrari 7:30
according to your filmography, you also were a PA on a film called Blue juice. Yes, back in the day. And I always love asking these questions when you're first starting out. What was the biggest lesson you learned? working on that set? As a PA because I know when I was a PA on my first set, I learned it was like so much stuff was coming at me. I was learning lessons like by the minute of what not to do specifically, where not to stand who not to talk to things like that. What did you pick up?

Joe Cornish 8:02
I wish I'd been on the set. I was in the office. I was there to photocopying I was making tea. I was like I was just doing dog's body stuff. And I was never really unset I went to pick up some rushes I flew to the Canary Islands to pick up some rushes one time, bought a couple of cans of film with me on the plane. What did I learn? I don't know. It just made me really really hungry because I felt so close to what I wanted to do but 1000 miles away coat holding in my hands all the faxes from the studio buses and that was a Miramax movie a very like an early 90s Miramax movie, so you can see it all happening. And it just made me like ravenous to do it myself. And also secretly. I was like, I could do it better than this.

Alex Ferrari 9:01
said every pa ever.

Joe Cornish 9:03
Yeah. Terrible. Like it for my films. Like I'm now imagining what's going on in the minds of everybody else on the set. This is a load of old shit. I could do much better than this. Yes. So the other thing I learned was not to lie. Like one time, I told one of the producers that I could assemble the trims. And I basically I'd learn how to do it at film school, but I forgot this was back when trims were physical. And, you know, lace them up and stuff. So I was put in an editing room with a bunch of cans, and the mag that this the magnetic soundtrack, and I had to sync them all up. I didn't know what I was doing. And I had a massive anxiety attack and I had to call up the producer and said I'm sorry, I do not know how to do this. So that was a good lesson.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
That was that's a fantastic lesson.

Joe Cornish 10:00
You've got to have a bit of chutzpah, right? You've got to beat yourself up, and you've got to be confident. But there are limits. When it comes to actually telling people you can do things that you actually can't do. That's not a good line to, to cross.

Alex Ferrari 10:15
No, absolutely. And I remember my first my first pa job was on on a Fox TV show, and I had the exact same experience that you did, which is like, You're, you're there. I was in the office PA. So I had all I was seeing the producers and all that kind of stuff coming in. And you're just like, so close. Yeah. And I could do it better, obviously.

Joe Cornish 10:34
But it's really useful experience extremely,

Alex Ferrari 10:37

Joe Cornish 10:38
variance. But then you also realize that, that you don't necessarily have to climb the ladder that way. And actually, what's more important is to be creating stuff. Because you can, I guess, I mean, there's a traditional old school route of becoming a first ad and, but also there are people that especially in this day and age with technology, so accessible, there are people that just make brilliant stuff. And then you can jump the queue right? You get, right, something brilliant, or make something brilliant. You get maybe to have a go at all the toys without going through the process of graduating, you know?

Alex Ferrari 11:19
Yeah, I mean, I remember when I was when I was a PA and I started going start investigate that route. And like I went to the DGA is like, Okay, so, oh, you need, you know, 1000 hours as a PA or whatever that number was before you can get in the Union. And then you start working as a third assistant director, and I'm like, and they're like, maybe in 10 years, you'll you'll get a first ad job. And I'm like, this, this doesn't, this doesn't make sense. For me. I can't I can't I can't do this. But But there, I agree with you. And that was also the time when the technology was not as cheap as the mid 90s. So it was still it was still film. Yeah,

Joe Cornish 12:03
yeah. But now I think you know, if you if you create something that gets people's attention, there's lots more ways in I think.

Alex Ferrari 12:11
Absolutely, absolutely. Which brings me to your next my next question, which is Attack of the block. How did you come up with this amazing idea, because you were the writer, and the director of this film. And I remember when it came out, it was kind of like, it was like a mini atom bomb going off. People were like talking about and it was like, you know, this year's district nine and all this kind of stuff. How did you come up with that idea? It was brilliant.

Joe Cornish 12:37
Oh, that's kind of you to say. It was based on a bit of personal experience.

Alex Ferrari 12:43
Aliens, aliens attacked you.

Joe Cornish 12:45
invasion happened to me? From my imagination? I guess. So. So the story is that I was carjacked outside my house by a gang of kids who look very much like the kids in the movie. And it Nothing like that ever happened to me before. I think they were local neighborhood kids. And it felt very, very cinematic. They look really cool. Like ninjas. They were the other interesting thing was they were clearly scared, as scared as I was. And it felt like a piece of role playing theater. It felt like any other time of any other day, they could have been playing football in the park, you know, I could have been walking through the park. But for this moment, they were playing that role of being the aggressors, I was playing the role of being the victim. And it just made me think about, okay, what would happen if a meteor came down? And an alien came out? How would my relationship with them change? How would all How would this skill set that they were using for street robbery? How would that switch up and become a skill set? That would it would actually be a potentially positive set of attributes? So yeah, so I thought that was interesting. And then I was kind of fixated on the character of the of the kid, the leader, and what would what would cause basically a child to find themselves in a position where they were doing that, you know, on the street, so it was a combat plus is a long answer, but my favorite movies are combinations of social realism and fantasy. So I felt that it was a it could be my version of the kind of film that I really liked.

Alex Ferrari 14:34
Yeah, and when it came out, I mean it it garnered you a tremendous amount of attention. I'm assuming you became the the the it the it girl you were that you were the the beautiful girl that everybody wanted to dance with. At that at that point, when that came out, how was it What was it like and were you still in England when you were in London when that was still going on it? Did you? Did you come over to the States during that time? Did you do the water bottle tour here in LA

Joe Cornish 15:01
Well, weirdly, I've been, you know, I'm no stranger to LA like I've been visiting since I was a kid. And then I'd actually written, started the process of writing and man, and finished the process of writing Tintin. Before attack, the block came out. So I've worked with Marvel, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, before, attack the blog. You know, kind of incredible, ridiculous, but that is what happened. So it was all a bit bit back to front. And yeah, it was weird. Like, I really didn't know what the reaction to the film would be. And it was kind of what's the right word? befuddling level of response, because it was like, I'd been waiting for doors to open my whole life. And then it felt as if every door opened at once. And that was, in a way kind of paralyzing. Right? Because you don't know which one to go through. And suddenly, all of the shit that you've read, one of your anxieties, paranoia, suspicions, every story about how indie directors, you know, get crushed by big movies, every story about you know, Hollywood, you know, superficial reality or being seduced, and then you know, all those things are suddenly real. As for someone like you or me, who's sort of lived in the dream world, and read magazines, and interviews with our favorite directors, and behind the scenes, books, and making up books, to find yourself with this myriad of opportunities, should you direct your own things. Should you director big franchise, should you write a franchise? So basically, I I met everybody and took refuge without go writing and man. I simultaneously wrote a screenplay for Kennedy Marshall based on a book called Snow Crash. So I basically just stepped away. Really? Yeah, you've got to remember I was 40. I'm 50, early 50s now, and I'd had a career in TV and I'd had a career in radio. Like, I'd been like a minor TV personality in the UK. So I think if I was 20, something, it probably would have been different. I probably would have been ravenous and would have just taken something by the throat. But I was quite cautious. And really, I felt like, well, I don't need to churn out a film every two years. I don't need to make, you know, Godzilla versus Obi Wan Kenobi, or whatever is,

Alex Ferrari 17:48
by the way, I want to see that movie. I want to see that movie. Okay, I'm

Joe Cornish 17:52
working on it. I don't know I To be honest, I'm still conflicted about it, it felt it felt very difficult to navigate. So my reaction was, was to go to ground kind of thing and just just go back into working into writing with with Edgar, and screenwriting is quite a safe place to be you can make good money. Um, you know? Yeah, so I did that for a while,

Alex Ferrari 18:16
but you weren't but you were offered. You know, you offer big studio jobs. You I'm sure you were offering, you know, tentpole films, because that's the way that's the way the Tom works. You got to hit like Attack of the block. All of a sudden, they just give you here's $100 million. And you're like, well, we'll, I was talking, I've talked to so many directors on the show, who've had that, that moment that they had that the indie hit, and then all the doors open. And they just figured out a couple of them went down the road and got destroyed. It literally destroyed and others were like, you know what? We're not ready. We're too young. We've done. We've done four music videos, and one $2 million movie we're not going to take on Batman, like, like, literally. But it's really fascinating to hear. Well, first of all, the key element in that story is that you were 40. And there's a big difference between 40 and 20. And only only the gray hairs that are on my chin. And I'm assuming somewhere on underneath your beautifully shaven face or is is the is that experience that like when you get hit with that kind of opportunity? I mean, I would have been destroyed 2025 Can you imagine? You would have probably been you're just not ready. You're just not ready for that kind of success or opportunity. Even sometimes. Yeah,

Joe Cornish 19:37
but some some people are good at it. You know, some people are. And I'm really, you know, I'd experienced the production of a big, you know, motion capture movie on Tintin. So I understood what happens to screenplays what happens to what the process is and what the machine machinery is. And then I thought, well, well look I'm in for I'm co writing a big Marvel movie by already. And man, you know, with a with a director who's who's a genius and is a good friend of mine. So let's just sit here and observe what, what happens for processes and, and you know, maybe just because of what happened on that man that made me think okay, well is this is this the right way to go and you know, there were there were peers of mine who are friends of mine who had hits around the time of attack the block who who did go and make blockbusters and you know, all we all know each other directors all talk they don't share it, but they, you can, you know, you can call up a friend who's and say, Well what actually happened and no one rightly because it's, they have respect for the industry and the process and the producers and there's massive amounts of money involved and huge creative risk. So it's not, it's not like, it's not really artists making art, you know, on that level. But at the same time, some of the stories you hear are give you pause. And you think, well actually, I'd rather make fewer films, but they those films be exactly what I want them to be, you know, be a small part of the big franchise, you know,

Alex Ferrari 21:33
so, so since you've brought up Batman a couple times, let's jump into Ant Man. You know, I've always wanted to ask somebody who's been inside the machine. You know, what's it like? Because I mean, we've spoken on the show too many directors who've been in, you know, 200 million plus dollar films, and you know, big, you know, blockbusters and things like that, but I've never spoken to anyone who's been said, the Marvel machine. And I know, a Batman has a lurid history, like it is definitely a, you know, there was some issues. Obviously, Edgar left the project for creative differences and things like that. What can you tell us about what's it like without, you know, throwing anybody under the bus, obviously, what's it like working on not just a Marvel movie, but on a franchise like that? Because you're, you're you're playing in some it's like working in Star Wars, like you're, you're walking into an established universe. And arguably one of the more ridiculous characters in the Marvel Universe who I love, by the way, I mean, and that's what I love about the script, too, in the movies, like, they call it out to themselves like Ant Man, that's ridiculous name. But when they make when you guys made Batman work, when I saw it, finally in the theater, I was like, Well, okay, then they made it work. So what was it like? What was it like being in that machine?

Joe Cornish 22:50
Well, I'd have to say like, the, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't what it is now, then. So we started working on that movie in I think I've got that. I dug some stuff out here. So this is a treatment from 2002. For Alabama. Okay. The very first treatment that agar and I wrote. And so we've been working on it since 2002. So attack the block was 2011. Was it came out in 2015. This is on and off, we both made lots of other movies in the interim. But you got to remember back in 2002, like what were the Marvel movies in 2002, like, even

Alex Ferrari 23:41
Iron Man, Iron Man had already come out but they were still fled. Well, you know,

Joe Cornish 23:45
what one of the first meetings we had, we went to Edgar and I went to Lucasfilm in Marin County, and we went and met Jon Favreau and sat watching the final assemble of the first Iron Man. And Jon Favreau had read our draft and he gave notes and Agha gave him some notes on Iron Man, but that was really the first you know, Marvel was still handing it big characters to alter directors in order to fuse that alter perspective with comic they would they were finding the formula, right? So really, the story of us and our man is the story of a studio that changed its agenda. And really, really no longer had the, you know, headroom for a writer director like echo who, who needs to have written every element of his movies. That just wasn't what they would do it by the time we came to make the movie that wasn't what they were doing anymore. And that's why the final movie has elements of the MCU that were not in our draft. So that's just a story of the history. of the evolution of the marketplace. And, you know, the story of, of Kevin finding out what worked, you know. So it's not as dramatic or maybe, you know, as sort of, you know, thrilling as you might think it's just a question of, of times times changing and what Marvel wanted changing and what Edgar wanted not really fitting in. So in the end, it was, you know, a pretty gentlemanly Parting of the Ways. Yeah, and

Alex Ferrari 25:35
but there was a Is there a decent amount of what you and I go wrote is still left in the script. Because I mean, you can you can smell it. You could smell it. It's there. It's not Shaun of the Dead, but you can definitely smell the the energy of you guys without question.

Joe Cornish 25:53
Yeah, there's a there's a bunch of stuff. You know, there's a bunch of stuff that I think people think is a good that isn't there's Peyton Reed. digressions during Louis's speeches that were quite stylistically similar to some of his stuff actually, are weren't in our draft. But yeah, there's a bunch of stuff. I mean, as you know, a lot of the design and previous of action sequences happens while you're writing happens very early. So often, that stuff is pretty much nailed down before other writers came in. So yeah, there's some dialogue, there's a bunch of dialogue a bunch of action sequences. Yeah, I wouldn't want to put a percentage on it. But there's a stuff there.

Alex Ferrari 26:31
So it's so when I've heard this from other directors that when you're working inside inside the MCU, and the machine is like, the the action stuff is kind of just directed and prevented out? Like almost by itself, not like this, this is the screenplay, the lead on that or is someone else to lead on that as far as just building out the action sequences? Because I've heard mixed things from different directors?

Joe Cornish 26:58
Well, I can only speak about my experience in an ad man, it was all it was all on the page. Okay. But on Tintin when we came onto Tintin, and a lot of the action sequences were were previous already, but they can be tweaked. You know? I mean, it's an interesting thing, isn't it? Like Pixar, who, you know, when they have a slam dunk, there's a sort of level of perfection, every element of a good Pixar film, yes. And that, that's because they can test run them. They're working in animation, so they can do rough versions, and they can make the film 1000 times before they release it. And now the movies are so visually visual effects driven, they could they can, they're almost doing the same thing where the movie is made in a previous form, and tested before it shot. So it makes a lot of economic and creative sense. To draw, you know, it's like people used to do with animatics, back in the day, right? storyboard versions and simple animatic. Like, the more you can test something before you shovel money into

Alex Ferrari 28:03
actually hundreds, hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, of course.

Joe Cornish 28:07
So I don't see it as like this negative thing necessarily. It's just when movies cost that much to make, you got to have proof of concept. In a low cost way as much as you possibly can.

Alex Ferrari 28:21
Yeah, I mean, finishers, finishers, you know, famous for pre visiting, every frame every cut prior to ever shooting the very Hitchcock very Hitchcockian in that way.

Joe Cornish 28:32
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. But then, like there's stuff in attack the block action sequences that I storyboarded to the nth degree, and I scouted locations before I wrote, so I wrote to particular locations, but then there are scenes, dialogue scenes, dramatic scenes, where I deliberately didn't do that. And I just covered it with handheld cameras. So it depends. And I think often Marvel movies split split up like that, or those big action movies like the action sequences will be done in a more collective fashion. And then the director will come in and deal with the dramatic moments, you know, I don't know but you know, we we left and men before it started shooting. So my experience in terms of the actual production process is

Alex Ferrari 29:17
zero. Got it. So that's just from from that point, from that point on

Joe Cornish 29:22

Alex Ferrari 29:24
Now, let me ask you, when you start, when you write and you beginning to write a story, or script, do you start with character or you start with plot.

Joe Cornish 29:33
I start with the concept. And personally, is it an idea that people can wrap their heads around in a simple way, and then I usually start with I just usually start with cool stuff that I would like to see a series of moments, a sequence an image and build out from there. But yeah, you have to start thinking about character pretty quickly. It depends on the idea. There's something I'm writing at the moment that the character came late. And they wrote a couple of drafts. And then my brilliant script editor said, Look, you got to dig into the lead character, because this is just about moments. So we get a bunch of work and, and there's other stuff that where the character offers itself more, more clearly. But yeah, I don't know. I think that I start with moments.

Alex Ferrari 30:36
So it's kind of like aliens attacking a bunch of street kids.

Joe Cornish 30:40
Yeah, exactly. That moment, that kind of, you know, moment that felt like from it was from a Western, the confrontation on the street feels like aliens climbing up the outside of a tower block. The notion of like putting, finding sci fi in an urban environment, all that kind of stuff. I like to sketch you know, draw images, draw a frame. I like to I like to think of a poster. It never turns out to be the same poster. I'd like to draw a little poster image and just seeing if I've got

Alex Ferrari 31:21
an original sketch

Joe Cornish 31:23
for attack the block I made. This is the attack the block, that's what I made.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
That's a really great sketch. That's a great image reference.

Joe Cornish 31:30
So I do a little pretend poster for myself. Because the night You know, I don't know about your earnings. I'm an 80s. Kid. So I grew our sweat. Post movies were hyped and you just had the Ghostbusters logo or the Batman logo. You didn't know what it was like. I grew up in that period where movies were so marketing lead. And it was a single that came out in the charts with little clips from the movie and the video. Oh, my God,

Alex Ferrari 31:55
those days

Joe Cornish 31:56
over movie in two or three lines, and everything was original. So you had no idea what the fuck it was, you know, it wasn't nothing. It was a franchise. So it's like what Ghostbusters. Ghosts busting or that's Bill Murray. This sounds really good. It sounds it sounds good. That logo is brilliant. I need to learn to sketch the logo should slide by the soundtrack album. I bought the soundtrack album. I said by the time the movie actually came out.

Alex Ferrari 32:21
Oh my god. But but so I'll go back cuz Yeah, you and I are of similar vintage. Similar vintages. I remember when Ghostbusters came out and I did everything you said. I watched it. I'm not exaggerating. I think the record was 23 times in the theater or something like that. I mean, I loved Ghostbusters. It was at a really specific time in my life. I think I was I don't know what grade it was or how old I was. But it was a specific time. I just loved it. I wore out my tape like wore out the tape. But did you ever call the 800 number that's in them?

Joe Cornish 32:59
No, I was in London. I wouldn't. I told him

Alex Ferrari 33:03
so I actually called it it's a fake number. I didn't it was a 555 number but I didn't know but that's how insane I'm like, Can I call the Ghostbusters? I mean let's let's call the Ghostbusters. It was a different it was such a different time. I mean do you remember 89 was such an amazing year for films where lethal weapon to Batman I mean you couldn't walk anywhere anywhere in the world and not see the bat logo like it was it was such an event you know can you tell like what did it feel like for you growing up around that time ticket just kind of tell people who are listening because now everything's an event and there's hundreds of millions of dollars at marketing and and there's the internet and all that stuff but before in 89 man there was that logo that's and then maybe a glimpse of a news and entertainment tonight are an access hollywood like behind the scenes said interviewer something was just nothing. What did you What was it like for you growing up around that time?

Joe Cornish 34:03
What was really exciting I don't know is defined my whole life because they here I am doing what and yours as well. Here we are doing what we're doing because it feels so it just was incredible. I don't know it's hard to put into words like with Batman specific. The other thing you have to remember is there was a six month gap between movies coming out in America and in the UK. That's right. So So friends of mine would go on holiday to the states and they'd see these movies, and they come back and they tell me about them as if they've been to another planet or some mythical country. And then that you had you were like, desperate for this to to wait another six months. So you'd buy the novelization. You buy the pet the photo novel comic book. Yeah. And you'd scour the radio they'd be they'd be like features on TV about the new HitFilm in America. And they'd have like 30 seconds of it that you'd scour I mean for a kid Going to school, those imaginative worlds have that scale with that much hype. just completely all consuming, right? Especially, there was sort of something entrepreneurial about 80s movies, they, they wanted you to be in them. They wanted you to be a Ghostbuster or be Luke's go. Like they really invited them into invited you into their worlds like as a kind of playground. Yeah. Is it different now? I'm not sure that it is. I think modern kids maybe have the same excitement, same level of sense. sensation is definitely more of an industry right.

Alex Ferrari 35:38
But they have act but they have access though. They have access to it like we were Scott like he was like scouring anything, any image, any thing, any poster, whatever, to now you just like it's all out there. It's like it's all set up six months ahead.

Joe Cornish 35:53
There were loads of movie magazines. You could read all Oh, yeah. Every one or two little TV shows. There was still ways you could get your little hit. But no, right. There were fewer of them. Yeah, so it felt more momentous. And there weren't action figures. For every movie. It was very select only the ones that hit big. Yes. So it did feel like there were these momentous moments every year or two, that dwarfed everything else around them. Whether it was like the first Superman movie, or Ghostbusters or Raiders. Or, you know, or Batman, like Batman, for me was actually a disappointment.

Alex Ferrari 36:34
Really? First Batman

Joe Cornish 36:36
really I think I'm a little unique.

Alex Ferrari 36:38
But you but you also built it up probably so much in your head that it could never

Unknown Speaker 36:42
it could never live up to it. It was shot in the UK. So photos in the tabloids helicopter spy photos of the set and of the Gotham City set that were published in the tabloids. But what disappointed me when I sat down to see Batman in Leicester Square in whenever it was, was the the curtains opening and it being 16 by nine. And I was shit. I wanted it to go 235. Yeah. And and I was immediately a little disappointed that it was 16 by nine. And then it just was too. It was too campy for me. I don't know, it didn't what I was becoming a little cynical. You know, I was an older teenager. My inner critic was starting to evolve. I wasn't just like, shoveling junk food down my throat. By that point. I was like, I'm not sure I believe jack nicholson, that Prince song isn't one of his better songs. And

Alex Ferrari 37:39
oh, the pretension of being a teenager.

Joe Cornish 37:43
So I'm sorry, I like this. I like like the first half of the second one I think is fantastic. I actually think is the one of the best bits in like the opening 45 minutes.

Alex Ferrari 37:55
And it's Tim unleashed. That was that was like I think the first time they gave Tim a lot of money and really kind of let him do whatever he basically he could do whatever you want. That's why that one's if you look at the both of them next to each other, you're just like, the kind of in the same universe one's a little bit weirder. What's the question? Which brings me Which brings me to my next question, and arguably your greatest role in the film industry. Resistance resistance trooper and last Jedi.

Joe Cornish 38:27
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 38:28
Your work there how it did not get an Oscar is beyond me.

Joe Cornish 38:32
I agree.

Alex Ferrari 38:34
So as you can see, I have a life sized Yoda in my background. So I am a Star Wars geek. The audience knows my affection for Star Wars. What was it? Like? How did that come about? I'm assuming you just like called up, called up Ryan and just say can I? Can I just be a stormtrooper?

Joe Cornish 38:54
No, Ryan and Ryan invited us Ryan is a is a is a good friend and a very good guy. And I met him through Edgar. And he invited Edgar and me and his brother Oscar to be in the movie. And he deliberately put me in a shot with john boyega because, you know, john Mayer's movie debut And sure, a lark and JJ saw him and attack the block and cast him in Star Wars because of that, and so Ryan wanted to put a little easter egg for people who would know that connection and put me behind john, so I met new shots. I'm one of the most louche resistance fighters there is I'm holding up my blaster in quite a sort of dandy ish manner. But it was crazy. You know, we went to Pinewood and it was actually the day the Brexit the result of the flat and it was credibly stormy there were massive thunderstorms and this lightning and thunder were booming above the, the big soundstage. So it was Yeah, it was weird and I grew and I sat with Kathy Kennedy and chatted about British politics and what it meant, what the Brexit vote men, and it felt like quite a dark day, weirdly. But it was very exciting. It's an honor to be in that movie. And you're right. Like, what would that film be without me?

Alex Ferrari 40:27
Obviously, I mean, obviously your I mean, your face alone gets at least 100 million overseas automatic by? Yeah, it's true. No, but you're in the inner geek in you. I mean, you must have been geeking out a bit. I mean, did you did you see Mark Hamill was Mark around. Did you like you had to? You had to

Joe Cornish 40:48
take that a bit. It was Oscar Isaac, john. Carrie Fisher was there that day? You know, one of the nice things was the two guys that operate BBA. puppeteers, that, that worked in British TV. And they and a lot of the stuff I did on my comedy show involve puppetry. So I ended up just talking to the BBA guys a lot about you know, the Adam and Joe show and they did a puppet on breakfast TV. So so you know, it's, it's, it's crazy, like being British and, and all these movies being made here. Like since I was a kid, the notion that Superman was shot here, The Empire Strikes Back was shot here and Raiders was shot here. Like that was an incredibly surreal fact for me to learn. Like, it feels so exotic and foreign. But yet, these still shits happening an hour and a half out and away from my house, you know? And it's the same when you go when on the set of the last Jedi, a lot of the crew. I knew a lot of the costume people I knew. So yeah, it was it was it was it was fantastic. Yeah, like, if you told the seven year old me that that was going to happen, my tiny head would have exploded.

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Exactly, exactly. Now, you also brought up Tintin a bunch? I mean, how, how does it work with not only Steven Spielberg, but also Peter Jackson? And what is that process of working in that machine? Like you were saying, that's a completely animated film. So that's a completely different way of working. Then your normal, just traditional live action. So what was two questions? What was it like working with Steven and Peter and being inside of that machine?

Joe Cornish 42:42
Well, I wouldn't have the first thing to say is I would not have been there without Edgar. So Steven Spielberg called up Baker to see whether he was interested in rewriting Steven Moffat's draft because Steven Moffat was leaving to become the showrunner on Doctor Who. And Edgar knew I knew Tintin. So he called me up, said Did I want to do it with him? I said, Yes, I do. Yes, Steven Denton, really?

Alex Ferrari 43:08
Yes, thank you, Edgar. Thank you.

Joe Cornish 43:11
So so I was just kind of incredibly sort of excited and honored to be there. Also a little bits get clinging on to Edgar's coattails in terms of running the authority to be there. And, and it was, it was, you know, a massive, massively educational and they were extremely gracious, really, to invite me as a good friend into right into the middle of that process. And it was fascinating. You know, I was on conference calls between the head of the studio and Peter Jackson and Stephen, sometimes I'm not sure they knew I was on the call. But it was just amazing to listen to how the business operates at that level. Just and what's impressive is how courteous and respectful and how there's not a sense of you know, even though these are you know, incredibly successful you know, like gods to you and me, they behave like with Yeah, with a level of humility and respect for the process and the money and the and then and then with amazing skill you know yeah, I there's no short answer to that. You know, there were there were amazing experiences every day like, like James Cameron walking on and trying out the the motion capture technology.

Alex Ferrari 44:47
This is Tom, this is a this is pre pre avatar, a post avatar.

Joe Cornish 44:52
Well, that's a good question. What year was avatar?

Alex Ferrari 44:55
I think that was Oh, nine.

Joe Cornish 44:59
Yeah, so

it's I was being concurrent.

Alex Ferrari 45:02
Okay, it was oh nine, I think was when it got released. But he had been working on it for a bit, I think it's oh nine, because it was around the time when I moved to LA. So it was like, oh nine, or 10, around that area. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Joe Cornish 45:23
Lots of directors, lots of famous directors came in to look at the technology and to see Steven operating with it. And you know, and he says in interviews, how it kind of made him feel like a kid again, because you could go, you can you can kind of operate in a way maybe you wouldn't, he wouldn't operate in a live action movie. By holding the thing. I forgot what it was cool. Yeah, so so it was Yeah, it was it was it was, I just hesitate to use cliched hyperbolic words like incredible and amazing, but it kind of was in a different respect. And in on all sorts of levels, like the seeing stars and meeting famous people getting to actually hand in script pages to Spielberg and him either liking it or not liking it. You know, yeah, it was.

Alex Ferrari 46:23
Well, let me ask, let me stop you there for a second. What is the note process from Stephen? Like, when you hand in pages and he likes it? I'm assuming he keeps moving forward. But if he doesn't like it, what is that process? You know, I've never I've never heard the story of getting notes from Stephen and working on those notes and getting back what what's that process like for him?

Joe Cornish 46:42
Well, I can only tell you what it was like for me, right? And sometimes they would be written notes. Sometimes there was a phone call. And sometimes I would go into amblin and sit at a big conference table, underneath the sledge from Citizen Kane in a glass case on the wall above me, with Steve sitting across the table, and I would hand the pages and he would we would sit in silence while he read them. And then he would tell me

Alex Ferrari 47:14
that must I mean, seriously, that must be terror. Like that must be just terrifying. You You're a screenwriter, you're handing pages to Steven Spielberg. And then you sit in the room while he reads it. That must be nerve wracking.

Joe Cornish 47:27
Yeah, but nothing's ever going to be good enough. It's so it's so like, so I just resigned myself to like, Okay, I'm going to leave today. Like, I'm going to be gone in a few minutes, because this is fucking Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson and I me every day was a gift. Right? Like the only story I can tell you that sort of succinct is is one time. I handed in some pages, and he and he liked a bunch of stuff. But there was other stuff he didn't like. And he's, he said, Joe, this has gone backwards. And I felt, I felt like really terrible. I'm like, Okay, well, and then we discussed it, and I felt terrible. But then the phone, his assistant came in and said, Steven, there's a call for you. And he went next door. And he was on the phone. And I heard him say to another writer, oh, this has gone backwards. So use the same line. And I won't name names, but then I realized it was quite a high powered writer. He'd said that too. So I felt better. He said that to him as well. Okay, so sure my work had gone much further backwards than the other guys.

Alex Ferrari 48:45
So we're good. So it's not something he just pulls out on. Like the really, really bad writers. He pulls it out for all writers is in the back of your mind. Probably have he got it to that I'm okay. Okay, good, good, I

Joe Cornish 48:56
feel better. The thing to say is about both of those filmmakers is how generous and normal and relaxed and friendly you know, very, very hard workers very businesslike. But they're like you and me if we were extremely, so good at what we did that we were humongously successful, they fucking love movies. And they get as seriously as you would, if you were able to do the thing you love at the highest possible level. But also there's a sense of joy and pleasure in in everything they're doing. You know. I love Tintin. You know, some people People often talk about the uncanny valley pneus of it, and that may or may not be true, but there's so much other amazing craft in that movie from the way he moves that he's unbound from physicality with the camera and his spill both camera placing per se is and blocking as well. Like no one else is excited to see a camera replacing and blocking without the limitations of dollies and create reality in physics is phenomenal, you know? And yeah, so yeah, it was. It was an amazing, incredible experience.

Alex Ferrari 50:19
If you shall be cliche, no and about and by the way, I've spoken to so many different and it's fascinating how many, you know, accomplished filmmakers Stephen has touched in one way, shape or form and I've had, and I've never heard one bad story, off air or on air about Steven, he's everything you just said. It's exactly what everybody else has all these other directors and writers that I've spoken to have said the same thing. He is so gracious, he's humble. He is, like you said, he's a guy he's got he's one of the gods in Mount Hollywood, he comes down from, you know, Mount Olympus, if you will, and comes down and talks and works with us mortals. Not us, you you mortals like yourself. And, and he could be a complete everything that you've heard about from big guys like that. But he's not. He's the complete opposite, which is, in a way makes me feel good.


Joe Cornish 51:22
I think it's done. It's generally the case, because I mean, I'm sure there are exceptions. But certainly all my experiences of being mean that they, you have to work hard, you're expected to work really hard. But people generally want to want to work with people who are not insane.

Alex Ferrari 51:44
Fair, fair enough. Now, you often write by yourself, but you also write with Edgar or other partners as well. What is your process when writing with a partner?

Joe Cornish 51:56
We take all our clothes off. We smear our bodies with butter.

Alex Ferrari 52:01
Is it peanut butter, almond butter, or just straight up butter? unsalted organic butter? Fantastic.

Joe Cornish 52:07
Then we get down to business.

Alex Ferrari 52:08
I need to I need the visual. Okay.

Joe Cornish 52:11
No, we, what do we do? Well, it depends who I'm writing with. Edgar. So Edgar was my first collaborative experience. And he made sort of the dead Hot Fuzz. Maybe Josh Sean's from the dead when we first started writing out, Matt. So he'd made a movie I had. So he was the guy, the boss. And he I was in a position where I was going to follow his lead. And so like, do you want to know actually how we actually go about writing? Is it one of those questions?

Alex Ferrari 52:50
Like actually, like, Yeah, I don't like what I mean, the butter was fairly, very visceral in my mind. And I get that's an image I can't actually get out of my head. So thank you for that. But or not? No, just like, I'm asking the question more for writers who are working with other writers. And just to kind of see what, you know, writing partnership looks like because a lot of people want to get into a writing partnership. And I know as well, as you do, you know, working with another creative. I've heard sometimes, you know, you bump heads, occasionally? Not all the time occasionally. So what is that process? Especially when you're working with you know, someone like an Edgar Edgar Wright? Who is, you know, so creative, and you're also so creative? How does that mix when you get together?

Joe Cornish 53:36
In my experience, what helps is to know, kind of who's in charge? Okay, so, so idea is it? whose vision Are you serving? So, so with admin, I wouldn't have been there without Edgar on 10th. And I wouldn't have been there without agar, but then I go left. So I've worked on it on my own for a while, but then you're serving the books and Stephen and Peter as much as you possibly can. And your job is to offer ideas. And you just then Have you ever for dialogue ideas for character ideas for setups, payoffs, connections, themes, to offer ideas, and to keep them coming. And to listen, and be sensitive to what the other person needs. And then to fill the blank space, you know, with as many ideas and then to be patient and tolerant and available. And you know, because it's writing tough, isn't it? It's like holding your breath and going in the water. It's, and there's so many things to distract you. And it's so much more fun just to go to the movies. I mean, the funny thing about movies is Of all art forms, the the experience of making them is, is so far from the experience of consuming them, it's. So when you concern them, you're completely passive. You're sitting in a comfy chair, you're shoving candy into your mouth, you're just criticizing them and then come on, like, do something wrong, like, please me. Making them especially writing them, you have to shut the whole world and focus on one thing, and be completely completely the other way. Right? spill everything out. Even writing a novel. The difference isn't that great, because reading is, you know, takes effort a

Alex Ferrari 55:47
little bit

Joe Cornish 55:48
takes effort. So what I'm trying to say is that is that to be patient with the other person is quite important. And to you know, sometimes be happy to work around their schedule if they're in charge. Yeah, and on the movie side, like so I I've written something with I'm working with a writer called Brian Duffield at the moment who wrote love and monsters and spontaneous and he's a really great guy. And, and, and it's my idea were working on and what's fantastic about him is he's to me, like I hope I was to Edgar. Just this incredibly, incredibly generous font of ideas. And you know, the bottom line is that just to have another brain somebody has to say stuff out loud to is so helpful. That's a very long answer to your question.

Alex Ferrari 56:44
Fair enough. Fair enough. No, that's a great answer. Your latest film The kid who would be king?

Joe Cornish 56:51

Alex Ferrari 56:51
that was a, you know, a fairly, very, fairly big it looked like a big budget. I'm not sure if it was or not. But there's a lot of visual effects in it and love the story. I love the way it came up. How did you how did that come to life? Because that's that was you you were the writer? And the director of that's it. I'm assuming you can put the story on that.

Joe Cornish 57:09
I did. Yeah. That was that was an idea I have when I was a kid Actually, I had when I was that 80s kid. So I was so obsessed with movies and designing the posters and thinking of the catchphrase and stuff. I just used to do them. As a kid. I used to make up movie titles and pretend to write scripts when I was like 14 1513 years old. That was an idea I had when I was when I was a kid. And really, it connects your question about what I did after attack the block. So after a while, I figured, okay, I've got the opportunity to make a bigger movie, why not make one of my dream projects, you know, come hell or high water? Instead of making someone else's dream project, you know, so? Yeah, but yeah, so that was an idea I had when I was a kid. But it took a while before that got made. I mean, that wasn't it was it did. Yeah. So we finished on our man in about 2014. And I started writing, I started making the kid will be king in 2016. So So yeah, so I took Yeah, so there were two years when I was trying to get another couple of movies off the ground that didn't that didn't make it. But yeah, and yeah, it was pretty big budget not as big as it looks. It looks twice as big as it was. But yeah,

Alex Ferrari 58:33
no and and do you have any tips on directing children because I've directed children and that's, that's, that's the journey.

Joe Cornish 58:42
Well, that my tip on directing children would be get as many takes as you can. And then work really hard in the Edit. And even if you get the most super performance from a child, you're likely to get little bits of good stuff in in lots of different takes interesting scripts. So So use the audio from one taken the picture from another take build the performance from lots of different takes know when to use a reaction rather than beyond them when they're talking. So so so for me, like a performance from a child is more likely to be elevated in the Edit. You can use all the same techniques on adults but but I've really had, you know, attack the block and the kid who would be king of both had kind of young actors in them. And it it just creates a fantastic atmosphere on the set. I don't know whether you agree but there's such as sense of opportunity and happiness going to work and it makes the adults on the crew, not curse and raise their game and behave really well.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:00
The grips, the grips, the grips are a little bit a little less.

Joe Cornish 1:00:03
Yeah, exactly. So I really enjoy it. But yeah, that would be my tip.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
Awesome. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I ask all of my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Hmm,

Joe Cornish 1:00:18
I would say read something by Walter Hill.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:22
Yeah surf guide. So

Joe Cornish 1:00:24
in terms of minimalism and knowing that you don't have to put everything down on the page, and that sometimes the punchiest description, you know, they're so readable and they're fast to read. So anything by Walter Hill, I would say Die Hard is a really good movie to study. Because Die Hard is a really good example of rewriting. And how often a necessity can be the mother of invention because Bruce was Willis was making moonlighting at the same time he was shooting that movie, so he wasn't available. So different writers came in and beefed up all the subplots, so that they had stuff to shoot and Bruce wasn't available and the way the guy all works and the way the FBI guy works, the way those three lines work, to support the main story is so incredible. And in fact, I, Simon Kimbo the producer gave me a copy of diehard that he had, that's actually annotated with all the different writers and drafts so you can see where, because he'd studied it and pulled it apart. And little stuff just like the fact that one of the one of the last writers to come in spotted that Reitmans character and Willis's character never met. And that was quite the 11th hour and created that incredible scene where they meet on the rooftop. So I think that's a really good example of how rewriting can really enhance a story. Did you want three?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:52
Yeah, a third one, if you have on the wall?

Joe Cornish 1:01:56
Hmm. Well, I must say, I go back to et quite a lot. Because I think if there's a movie, you know, inside out, and is a movie you saw as a child, like if there's a movie you saw as a child where you didn't understand the craft at all. And it had, it felt like you lived it when you were a child to look at it on paper, and realize that that thing that felt real actually came from these particular words on a page. So Melissa Matheson's draft of the you know, the original, you've always got to try and get the pre production draft because often there are drafts that are just crap transcripts of the finished movie versions that have all the shit that they didn't put in, you know, that didn't make the final cut. I think the other fantastic document to study is the that script meeting transcript of Raiders between Lucas Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
yeah, yeah.

Joe Cornish 1:02:54
I'd say that's a must. Just to see the amount of ideas and the way that creative people start formulating a story that says, Titans Raiders. You studied that right?

Alex Ferrari 1:03:07
Of course. Yeah, we posted it on the on the website because it's available out there. And I wanted everybody to read it because it's just the You're right, like you're talking about three masters, you know, at you know, so

Joe Cornish 1:03:18
they come up with they come up with ideas that aren't that good.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:21
It happened.

Joe Cornish 1:03:23
That's really liberating as well, you know, you you have to be in a space where there's where there's room to make mistakes, you know, and no one's judging you for saying something you know, that doesn't quite fit. So to see that masterpiece come from to see the meeting that masterpiece came from, you know, it's pretty it's pretty long lasting. This is incredible in it Lucas. You know the ideas Lucas comes up with a phenomenal and how those, like we were saying how you can write from moments how he has just nine or 10 really solid notions in his head for character beats a moment, a piece of costume. And then they're building out from those nuggets. And yeah, so that's four things for you.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:09
I think. And Lucas has done okay for himself. I think he's, he's, he's okay. That would like I would like to see some works. I would love to have seen like, I think Coppola said it that he goes, it's a shame that George got stuck with this whole Star Wars thing, because I would really like to see some more experimental stuff and hope I hope he I know I hear he's doing some experimental stuff that no one's seen. While

Joe Cornish 1:04:33
I was there was me and one other person in the theater in Los Angeles for Red Tails on that opening day. So I will see anything he makes, you know, and yeah, he's Yeah, he's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:47
Amazing. Amazing. Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Joe Cornish 1:04:54
Oh, well, I think my answer to that is is is Really just to make stuff next to what we were saying earlier about being a PA, and looking at the ladder, you have to climb and feeling it's impossible. And realizing that that that creativity is your way up. So you can like, particularly my generation, like so I made videos on the weekend with my best friend Adam Buxton, we would comedy skits and animation, and that got us our own TV show on on British TV. Around the same time, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were making animations out of cardboard cutouts. That turned into, you know, their incredible career, people that produced my TV show the Adam and Joe show where a company called World of wonder, and they managed a drag queen called RuPaul at the time, who was kind of underground and hadn't broken out and people thought was a bit freaky. And it felt very countercultural. 25 years later, is one of the most famous and successful people in the world. But these are, everyone's creating, they're creating and creating, they're making stuff. Sure they got other other jobs on the side, or, you know, but you're you're producing stuff, even if it was with little bits of cardboard paper, like Matt and Trey, or soft toys, as puppets that me and Adam were doing. When someone says what do you do, you can say, this is what I do. You can give them something, a script, a short film, just make sure. And sometimes even the lo fi stuff is more impressive. But the stuff without the production value, whether it's our puppet movies, or Matt and Trey with like the first thing I saw of theirs was called was this political dispirited spirits in

Alex Ferrari 1:06:56
the spirit of Christmas. That was that was the construction card baby.

Joe Cornish 1:06:59
I was going around bootleg VHS, I saw

Alex Ferrari 1:07:03
it in a comic book store had I walked into a comic book store and the guy's like, you want to see something cool. I'm like, Yeah, yes.

Joe Cornish 1:07:11
And it was cool. Because it was it was it looked kind of crappy, but it was still fucking funny God and the fact that it was crappiness shone a light on their talent more than it would have if it had had superduper production values. So don't sweat the production values. Or just show your show what you do show your rawness and that's what I'd say. Because that's the way to jump the jump the queue, and yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:38
amen. Brother, amen. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Joe Cornish 1:07:47
Let me think, what is the lesson that took me longest to man?

That's such a toughy. I don't know. I just think I'm, you know, like, it's, it's a cliche, but it's always true. I'm still learning everything. I don't know. I mean, to to Okay, hit to finish things.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:16

Joe Cornish 1:08:17
Finish it, finish it. Like that's the most important thing, regardless of the quality of what you finish as you perceive it. Finish it, finish the draw. Finish.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:28
finish the project. Don't let it just sit there. unfinished it rather be finished and bad. That unfinished and with potentially could have been a work of art.

Joe Cornish 1:08:38
Yes, finish it. That's what eka taught me.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:43
interested, I

Joe Cornish 1:08:43
had a problem. I had a million half written screenplays. And he taught confidence to push through to the end. He just say keep going, man. Keep going. Don't stop keep going, man. I'd be working on out man. He'd be off shooting. I tell him I had some ideas. I tell them I'm not sure about this. I'm not sure what he said. Just put it down. Just do it. Just do it. Just keep going. Keep going, man. That's great. Keep going. So there you go.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:08
That's awesome. And last question, in the toughest of all three of your favorite films of all time.

Joe Cornish 1:09:16
Okay, well. So it's a toughy I would say. I really love the Black Stallion.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:28
Yes. Look at that beautiful. That was a big that was a big movie in the in the early 80s. I remember when I was a kid when that came out. It was like it was everybody was talking about it. Like it was just like the biggest thing ever back then.

Joe Cornish 1:09:44
Yeah, it's a beautiful film. So I guess I guess to ask this question, I have to go back to like gut like non intellectual stone like, gut stuff that and then I would say Die Hard. Probably

Alex Ferrari 1:10:00
This Christmas movie of all time, right?

Joe Cornish 1:10:02
Yeah, arguably already, but it feels like that was the first movie I saw that made me think about writing and structure and craft. Because it's literally like, design for story structure turned into a building. Do you know what I mean? Like the actual physical art architecture of the movie. And the plot lines. And the positioning of the characters in the space is almost like someone drew a chart about how to build a story

Alex Ferrari 1:10:34
of the hero's journey, like as they're like, going up, and then they got to go back down

Joe Cornish 1:10:38
the model of how to run a story that will be

Alex Ferrari 1:10:42
like, I never thought of it that way. But you're absolutely sure I never I can't believe I've never thought of that. But literally, their positioning in the building where they are is kind of where the hero's journey is.

Joe Cornish 1:10:53
And I saw it in New York. I didn't know nobody when it first came out. Nobody knew like they were like Bruce Willis. And oh, apparently it's really good. It doesn't look good. No, but people say it's really good. And the only the only seats we could find were in a downtown cinema. We were we smoked a bunch of weed and so did everybody else in the cinema. People went insane. Oh, yeah. It was like, it's like that movie picks up your your puppeteering rod and just puppeteers you. And yeah, so that's a really good movie. And then what would I say? And then I'd have to, I'd have to throw in like a European movie cuz like something really like say, Have you heard of a movie called? of all is awful by Louis Mal?

Alex Ferrari 1:11:40
I have not.

Joe Cornish 1:11:43
Okay, well, it's a really good movie about a Jewish kid hiding out in a Catholic boarding school in the Second World War in France. And there's just something about a European movie where none of this screenwriting shit, none of this Hollywood industrial shit is part of it. It's the people aren't even speaking your language. Sometimes, especially in a world of massive franchises, that don't really connect with humanity. Often, those European movies can really just I find them really elevating and nourishing in a way that Hollywood movies are less and less I fear. Yeah. And that was when I saw as a kid and loved

Alex Ferrari 1:12:29
it and it stuck with you apparently still stuck with you. Yeah,

Joe Cornish 1:12:32

Alex Ferrari 1:12:33
Now, I want to thank you, Joe, for being on the show and and helping, hopefully helping some screenwriters and filmmakers out there, get to the next level of what they're trying to do. But I really do appreciate you being so raw and candid about about your journeys and misadventures in in Hollyweird. So thank you so much. Good to see you, Alex.

Joe Cornish 1:12:53
Thanks for having me on.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:55
I want to thank Joe so much for taking the time and dropping his knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today. Thank you so, so much, Joe. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 119. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com. subscribe and leave a good review for the show. It truly helps us out a lot. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.

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BPS 118: From Short Film Script to Spielberg with Sacha Gervasi

Being a podcaster now for over 600 episodes I’ve heard all sorts of stories on how people make it in the film business. From Sundance darlings to blind luck. Now today’s guest story is easily one of the most incredible and entertaining origin stories I’ve ever heard. We have on the show today award-winning director, producer, and screenwriter, Sacha Gervasi.

Sacha won the screenwriter lottery with his first-ever screenplay, which was a un-produceable short film script, caught the eye of the legendary Steven Spielberg. That script, My Dinner with Herve would eventually be expanded and released in 2018 by HBO. The film stars the incomparable, Peter Dinklage 

Unlike most writers/directors who go on to produce their debut films, Gervasi’s 1993 entry project wasn’t made until just three years ago. I promise you, Sacha spills every detail of the fascinating story of his encounter with Hervé Villechaize, the famous little person from shows like Fantasy Island and films like James Bond’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Hervé was arguably one of the most famous people in the world in the late ’70s and early 80’s. Sacha sat with Herve in a marathon interview, and the connection they forge during their brief, yet impactful meet.


After his life-changing encounter with the Fantasy Island star, which followed Hervé’s abrupt and unfortunate suicide, Sacha was determined to get his story told in its entirety and justifiably.  He ditched his mid-level journalism job in England and moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at UCLA after developing the script for My Dinner with Herve. 

While on the climb-up, Sacha wrote screenplays for The Big Tease (1999) and The Terminal (2004) which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Tom Hanks. The comedy-drama film grossed $219.4 million at the Box office with a $60 million budget and has become a holiday classic in the UK.

Tom Hanks played an Eastern European tourist who unexpectedly finds himself stranded in JFK airport, and must take up temporary residence there because he is denied entry into the United States and at the same time is unable to return to his native country because of a military coup.

In 2008, Sacha made his documentary directorial debut and executive produced Anvil! The Story of Anvil

The amazing documentary premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival about a heavy metal band that never gave up on their dreams of being a successful band. Anvil was established in 1978 and became one of the most influential yet commercially unsuccessful acts with thirteen albums. The documentary ranks at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

He also directed the 2012 film Hitchcock, a story about the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho (1969). It starred Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlet Johansson. 

I also interviewed Sacha and an old friend of his, Iron Maiden heavy metal band singer, Bruce Dickinson on my new podcast, Next Level Soul that you have to catch up with if you are down for more knowledge bombs and cool stories from Sacha. That episode comes out on Saturday. 

Here’s a bit on my new podcast Next Level Soul.

The Next Level Soul Podcast is a self-help & spirituality podcast that asks the big questions about living and thriving in the world today by having candid and inspiring conversations with thought leaders from every walk of life. The show covers inspirational, motivational, spiritual, health-oriented, yoga, meditation, wellness, and many more topics. New episodes of Next Level Soul air every Saturday anywhere you listen to podcasts. Let’s take your SOUL to the next level.

Sasha is such an interesting human being, I had such a ball talking with him.  We talk about the film business, his origin stories, his screenwriting craft, what he’s doing now, and so much more.

Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Sacha Gervasi.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 3:56
I like to welcome to the show Sacha Gervasi, man How you doing? Sasha?

Sasha Gervasi 5:03
I'm good man. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 5:04
I'm doing great man. I am I'm excited to talk to you, my friend. we've, we've talked a little bit off air already. And it's I wish we could record it.

Sasha Gervasi 5:14
Frankly, cannot put on this podcast,

Alex Ferrari 5:16
obviously and legal or legal reasons. So I knew just from those few interactions we had that this is going to be, this is going to be fun, without question. And you so I wanted to ask you when we before we start the whole thing, how did you get into this ridiculous business?

Sasha Gervasi 5:37
I got into Well, I was always fascinated with film. I went to a school in unequal Westminster and I started the film club at Westminster School in about 1980. And my what I would do is I would go with my housemaster of I called Tristan Jones Perry, who was literally a character Brideshead Revisited a brilliant mathematician, completely, Ill functioning socially, but really a wonderful man, we wouldn't he would accompany me to Soho where we would pick up 16 millimeter prints of films. And so I remember bringing to all my classmates, I was 15 or 16 at the time, movies, like don't look now and Easy Rider. And so I loved film at school, and, you know, kind of got into actually getting the 16 mil prints and putting them in the film club. So I think it was a very early dream, but I never thought I'd actually end up working film. Because I was for many years, you know, a really terrible musician. And I was struggling with my own mediocrity for quite a few years, even though I ended up in some bands, you know, actually did some stuff. But the reality was, I think the real dream was always film. And ultimately what happened was, I was in the music business, got out of the music business. And then I decided I was offered an opportunity to work for a very sort of famous British satirical magazine called punch. A fantastic guy. They're called Sean McCauley. I called him up, he was the features editor, and pitched him an idea over the phone, I got through to him and Secretary was out to lunch. And he gave me my first assignment. And so I started as a journalist, and I worked for work for punch, punch, punch magazine, and associated newspapers, Evening Standard Mail on Sunday, and I would do kind of profiles and interviews with what I thought to be interesting people. And remember, in one week in 1993, I think it was I interviewed Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols released

Alex Ferrari 7:25
in February, that must have been a hell of an that must have been a hell of an interview,

Sasha Gervasi 7:30
an Italian restaurant in Greek street in Soho, and he ended up throwing a chair at me, because he didn't like he was promoting his book, no black, no Irish, no dogs, which was a great book, but he didn't like the sound of my voice and thought I was a tosser and decided literally to throw some kind of, you know, Art Deco chair in my general direction, which of course made it but that same week, I interviewed, you know, Ted Heath, the former British Conservative Prime Minister, you know, and many, many people along the way, and I just would meet all these fascinating characters. And journalism, for me was just a, you know, an opportunity to try and make money writing, even though I wasn't really, you know, that wasn't really my end goal. But it was massively fun for me to fly around the world. And I remember my first foreign assignment, I was flown by associated newspapers to meet this young prodigy violinist called Sarah Chang and Florence, and I met her. She was 11. And this was brilliant musician who we had performed some exquisite. I think it was of all the I can't remember what she was doing at the time. But you know, she had an entourage her dad, her cousins, her mother's there was like, 40 adults in the room while I interviewed this 11 year old genius. Yes, I have these incredible kind of experiences just meeting very different types of people. And I think all of that ultimately, as you know, probably, if you know, a bit of the story is that, you know, one of the interviews that I was sent to do in the summer of 1993 was was to interview Herve vilchez, who, you know, had been the star of Fantasy Island, and 10, you know, 10 years after you've been fired by Aaron Spelling was in quite a bad condition. I was sort of sent to this interview, kind of as a joke. You know, while I was waiting for, frankly, something more important. So the Gore Vidal interviews appears in, in the film, and ultimately, that experience changed my life and led to screenwriting. I know that sounds very strange, but I was sent from London to LA to do a series of important show business interviews as if that really exists as a concept in reality, and have a village with the kind of throwaway joke piece, you know, and they said to me, you know, get 500 words with the midget, you know, where are they?

Alex Ferrari 9:37
So that's your, cuz I didn't know as a tester to write that's it. Yeah.

Sasha Gervasi 9:41
Yeah nicknack in the bond, film and write a seminal, kind of famous kind of cult figure in the 1970s and, frankly, the most famous little person that's successful that the person after that, that had been at all And you know, I went in there filled with judgment and cynicism and you know, fuck I've got to get through. This is the this is the dregs of celebrity I've been given like the, you know, the formerly famous dwarf from fancy Island, the

Alex Ferrari 9:45
one hit wonder the one hit wonder almost

Sasha Gervasi 10:14
Yeah. I was like, wow, this is really where my career is, you know, I'm interviewing tattoo, I wanted to shoot myself. Well, I won't say I knew I was gonna say something terrible. But anyway, so we, we went to meet at Liberty Chateau in West Hollywood, and I was with this photographer who was sent from the newspaper with me and his, his name was Sloane Pringle. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 10:38
you can't make this up. You can't make this up.

Sasha Gervasi 10:39
You can't make that up. Not a stage name slump. And, you know, Stein was like, Look, we've got to get to this other place. We have half an hour just get your interview. And so you know, I just went through what was your life class, the island, The Man with the Golden got the stories and I literally was packing my shit to go away. Right? To say, you know, thank you heavy. It's been wonderful, great stories about Fantasy Island. You know, it was all the ludicrous kind of showbizzy stuff we knew. And I was putting my stuff and I turned back and Herve had come off his chair and around the corner, and was holding a knife at my throat and I was like, I'm about to be shipped to death by tempted by tattoo is about to kill me. And I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And he wanted to get my attention. He was like, he literally said to me, You wrote the story before you got here. You prejudge me, you have no idea who I really am. You just see me as a joke, you know, on this show. And I'm just like a sort of Sunset Boulevard, kind of sad, past celebrity. And he was right. He was absolutely right. He wasn't really threatening me with my life. He just wanted to puncture kind of this bubble of judgment and cynicism and disinterest that I kind of clearly walked in with. And he said, if you want to hear the real story of my life, come meet me tomorrow night. So I was so shocked. I was like, you know, because my editors said, Look, 500 words, three paragraphs, you know, where are they now? They didn't really, but I there was something about him that was so fucking compelling. So human and a broken and, but also interesting, I mean, such a charismatic person, that I decided to meet him. And I ended up spending three days with him. And he told me his life story with such kind of emotional intensity and need. And you know, as as I'm sure any other journalists will tell you, when someone tells you the story of their lives, they become quite mad, because how often do you tell all the major emotional events of your life and badger let's take advantage of it, I actually found him so different to how I imagined him to be to me the whole thing was like a lesson about judgment and pre judgment. Because I really did just see him as being defined by his size, and being defined by these kind of quote unquote, you know, jokey roles. But at the end of the three days, I was so compelled, I went to see him at the universal Sheraton where he was staying. And I remember having this really weird feeling and it's actually recreated in the film my dinner with Herve and we shot the final scene of where the actual events have taken place in the same lobby of the universal Sheraton. 25 years after it happened, it was just a very weird thing to think pledge, recreate the scene with, you know, I'd have with her back in the same place. And, you know, I went up to his room, and he had all his band mail laid out, and it was just so sad, you know, it was like he said, they still write to me, and, you know, I just felt I felt they it man, I just, you know, I reconnected with them, I felt, here's this guy who's been basically totally destroyed by the cruel fate of, you know, his biology, and was totally rejected by his mother, and became famous. And of course, none of it really worked, you know, worked for a time, but you know, and then, of course, he lost his mind, blew up his career, and was just, but also underneath, it was really just a painter, you know, he really is really a very talented artists who have won prizes, and gone to, you know, some very famous art schools in Paris. And he was the youngest painter, for example, to be exhibited in the museum of Paris. And he was just an extraordinary character, I really connected with him at the end. And so I remember going back and he had all these photos of his life, and he says, you take these for your article in 2000 slides of his whole life, and I'm like, thinking to myself, my editors want like maybe one photo, and you know, like, what am I gonna do, but I felt like I had to take it. And we went down in the elevator together, and then he sort of tagged me on my sleeve, and he pulled me into very close to him, and he said, he had tears in his eyes, and he said, Tell them I regret nothing. And I just had this like, fear of like, what is going on this? I just knew something was going on. I didn't quite know what it was. But it was just so like, such a shiver up my spine. And I just had this connection with this weirdo that you would never think I would never Why would I connect with this guy? You know, it just we have something in common and yet we have everything in common. I just was newly sober. He was clearly struggling. During our three days together, he tried, you know, I told him that I was stopped drinking, and he was like constantly trying to get me to drink and take him to strip clubs. I mean, it was, he was like the devil and an angel. He was just like, the most interesting, charismatic and unusual person I think I've ever met in my life, probably to this day. And I ended up having this bond. And anyway, so I go home to London, and I've got basically 14 hours or 12 hours of these little micro micro cassettes that used to have, you know, you recorded. I remember listening back to this thing going, how the fuck am I going to put this in an article to take to my editors, like, I'm really interested to begin with, and then I come back with this anyway. So I got a call from Kathy self, who was his girlfriend who I'd met during the sort of three day interview. And Kathy called me at home, it was a Sunday, it was like 615, in the evening, Sunday, September, the fourth 1993. I'll never forget it, it was a really pleasant early afternoon, late afternoon, evening, and the phone rings, it's Kathy and Kathy says, have a committed suicide four and a half out. And I know we will have wanted to let you know that that happened. And just to let you know how they really connected with you, and is so happy that you have this interview. So I'm like listening back to these tapes now. And suddenly, I have a whole new perspective. And the perspective is, this guy knows that he's gonna kill himself. This, this is like some random, you know, English journalists, some young kid who knows nothing has been sent to interview me, I'm just gonna grab him. And I'm gonna give him the whole story about the family about everything. And it really like was like, you know, what do I do with this, I started crying when I listen to the interview again, because I understood that he was absolutely conscious of the fact that he was telling someone his story for the very last time, and he was clearly planning to do this, I decided to change my whole perspective on the article and come at it from a point of view of here, I was walking in this judgmental, cynical British journalist to knows nothing. And I was just completely captivated by this extraordinary character. And he opened his heart to me. And then, you know, six, five days after we see each other, he kills himself. And so the whole article was about so I do a 5000 word piece. And I take it into my editors, the paper, and they were like, this is great. But this is not what we asked for. We wanted you to go do a stupid, funny story. And I was like, but this is the truth. I mean, this is the story important. And luckily, I had already spoken to someone else who I thought would take the story. And they agreed, okay, we'll take the story, and plot it and publish it the way you wanted to do it. And I went to my newspaper, I said, You've got to give me front cover. And I need, you know, six pages, whatever it is lots of photos. Here they are, you know, the whole thing. And so I had this extraordinary thing where they basically said, No, we sent you out there, we own the story, you're going to rewrite it. And it was really tough, and I just couldn't really do it at a certain point. And in the end, someone else rewrote the story. It was, I think, four pages or two pages, somewhere in the middle of the magazine. And I really felt horrible, because I'd had credibly important personal experience completely out of the blue. With this person, I was essentially his suicide note. And here were these guys who would just didn't give a shit, they would just get it to me summed up everything about British journalism, and that and those newsrooms at the time. And the editor literally came out of the room and said, well, Giovanni's top two midgett, which means made a major commit suicide, where do we send him next, and everyone's laughing? And I'm like, Wait, hold on a second, like, this guy is a human being, and you guys are just your pigs, you know, and they're all bitter. And they're all just, you know, judgmental, and they're not, you know, none of them probably wanted to be writers or painters, or filmmakers, and none of them really were willing to take that risk. And so it's much easier to sit on the sidelines and judge than actually take a risk, you know, do something. And so I just got that was where the idea for the film was born. And so I'd never written a script before. And it leads into my very first script. Well, I wrote a short script, a 32 page screenplay. I've never written one before, called my dinner with her back. And I thought, This is great. It's a short about the most famous short man in the world. You know, what I didn't understand is that I'd written essentially, an unmistakable $2 million short film that once someone looked at it, they were like Paris in 1940, and Barbados. I was like,

anyway, um, became an interesting thing, because I wrote this script from the heart to feel like, I felt like the newspaper robbed me of the truth of that story. And so the script was my first attempt to tell the story from a technical point of view. And I, I ended up being read by Steven Spielberg. I mean, that script that I was, you know, got to speak But you

Alex Ferrari 20:01
made the 32 page $2 million short film about a dinner with her but unbreakable, unbreakable called my debt my eat my dinner with with aurvey about the most famous short man in the world, that script. How did that 32 page script that's

Sasha Gervasi 20:19
another story you see as as So, okay, here's the story. This is crazy story. So I had applied to UCLA film school and I was really on the fence about whether I wanted to go and I got for whatever it is, I got I applied to UCLA. So I was in LA doing all these interviews have a and the kids from Beverly Hills 90210, by the way, on the same trip that I interviewed her, but you know, when he pulled the knife on me, the interview was going to was the kids of Beverly Hills 902. That's how I also interview. So I'm like, Well, I'm sitting there listening to these imbeciles talking about this terrible show. And all I'm thinking is about tattoo shaming me. And what happened back then I'm like, I was so disinterested. 24 year old. Anyway, so. So, anyway, so I was I was basically I applied to UCLA because I was in LA so much. And I do I went back to the original dream, you know, I was, I was at school, and I started my Film Club, and I loved film. And, you know, I really wanted to see, you know, UCLA was a legendary school, you know, that so many fantastic filmmakers, and I was a huge I am a huge Paul Schrader fan. And Paul Schrader had been at UCLA, and he's just an extraordinary and USC seem to be like the, you know, really successful, rich kids and UCLA was the kind of, you know, messy disaster. It felt like Anyway, it was much cheaper. So I just applied to UCLA. And I got into UCLA. And so I was in LA. My mom said, Go to LA, I knew not a single person, not one person. And so my mom had an old friend called Ruthie Snyder, who she grew up with in Toronto. My mother came from Toronto, and then it moved to New York, whatever, and then to England. And she said, Look at my old school friend, you know, she hadn't seen her in like, 30 years. I was like, great. I walked up in LA. I have some woman I don't even know. Anyway, so she was very kindly introduced me to her daughter Fonda Fonda Snyder. And what happened was, I got invited she said Fonda was running a company called story opolis, which was a bookstore and in LA, opposite the IB restaurant, Robertson, and Paul Allen, that, you know, the Microsoft guy was funding this kind of children's bookstore. And so she said, I were doing a dinner. Do you want to come? I didn't know her at all. Anyway, so I go to this dinner. And I and I get there early. Because you know, I don't know anyone at all. I'm like, you know, I'm talking to the waiters.

Alex Ferrari 22:47
What year what year? Are we talking?

Sasha Gervasi 22:49
Like 93 to 92? three foot 494. Right. Something like that. Yeah. And anyway, so I'm in my suit, like, cuz I'm very English. I'll put on a suit or the card for me, whatever. So I go there. And I look at this, these long tables, and they're having a dinner to honor the incredible author Maurice Sendak, who did Where the Wild Things Are. So and I'm looking at this table, and I'm looking at David Geffen, Peter Guber, you know, but like the people coming to this dinner would like and so Fonda was like laughing because she thought I was going to some kind of, you know, like free festival

Alex Ferrari 23:26
mixer mixer.

Sasha Gervasi 23:28
What I was talking to so she thought was very funny. So anyway, so I see all these kind of luminaries, Oliver Stone was at the dinner, I think, and you know, unbelievable, so I'm nervous as hell. I'm no one. I have no idea. I'm smoking met read more Brits. Like, without stopping. I've smoked two packs. Anyway. So I go outside. And I'm watching all these Hollywood luminaries through the windows, if you know aware of where new line needs to be opposite the IV. The story of this was all glass and they had this kind of little area, Piazza area with benches. So I'm sitting on the Piazza benches watching through the windows is like Oliver Stone and David Geffen. And all these people arrived, going, what am I doing here? I was thinking about going anyway. So this tramp comes up to me, who was like wearing some sort of that kind of grungy Seattle look or whatever. And it was sort of a bit befuddled, and he sits down and he says, you know, do you have a cigarette? I was like, Sure. So I ended up chatting with him. And we started talking and smoking cigarettes, and he was very nice guy. And he said, you know, what are you doing? I said, Well, I'm English. I'm actually here. I think I'm going to go to film school. And, you know, and he says, really, what, what, what are your plans? I said, Well, you know, I'm going to become a screenwriter. You know, I'm going to be a screenwriter like that. And he looks at me and goes, hmm. And I literally remember thinking I looked at him, I thought maybe I can help this guy. Maybe I could just give him I don't know, some money for the bus or something. I don't mind how he seems nice. So anyway, so we're chatting. We're getting on incredibly well and talking about, you know, America versus England and the favorite TV shows and customers But I can't remember. But it was great conversation and we're big cigarette smokers. Anyway. So I'm watching the assembled mass through the windows, we both are on this very beautiful woman comes out and goes up to this tramp. I thought perhaps to give him money. I didn't really know. But she comes up to him. It turns out, it's her husband. And she is coming to this event. And by the way, he is coming to this event. And I'm like, okay, they're letting the homeless in his open community. I mean, we've got the luminaries, but we're also we're working with. So I, so I was basically just like, okay, so anyway, whatever. So she says, Who are you? And I said, Well, I'm Sasha, Razia come from London. I'm going to UCLA. I'm going to be a screenwriter. And Elizabeth says, Oh, really? That's what my husband does the tramp. And I'm like, Oh, okay. So So who are you? Oh, he's called Steve Zaillian.

Alex Ferrari 25:54
He's like, Oh, my God,

Sasha Gervasi 25:56
the Oscar the previous year for his screenplay for Schindler's List. So I could not speak.

Alex Ferrari 26:03
Oh, my

Sasha Gervasi 26:05
dad's one of the greatest

Alex Ferrari 26:07
living screenwriters

Sasha Gervasi 26:08
ever together right now, then. Doesn't matter. Unbelievable. And so anyway, we go into the dinner. I'm like, freaking out. Elizabeth finds it very funny. Cuz I'm like, you're steaming. Okay. You're Elizabeth Second. Okay, great. So then I find out but I'm seated like three seats away from him my card, you know, next to the head of new life, you know, sees me freaking out. And he finds it hilarious,

Alex Ferrari 26:37
because he's 16

Sasha Gervasi 26:39
as well. So that will like laughing at me anyway. So I couldn't speak after that, because I felt like I behaved like such a dickhead. Like there I am proclaiming, I'm a screenwriter. And there I am next to the academy award winning writer.

Alex Ferrari 26:52
So the equivalent of me of a kid going to Steven Spielberg, you know, one day I'm going to be a director. Right? Not knowing that that was Steven Spielberg.

Sasha Gervasi 27:00
I went into a massive shame spiral. And I remember just eating all the food and picking out on dessert I was trying to eat on my feelings. It was so I was so nervous. I felt terrible. I felt like an imposter. And I felt like I really made a fool of myself in front of essentially, I've never seen him but I'd read all his screenplays. I'd read searching for Bobby Fischer. I'd read his awakening script, you know, it was extraordinary. I, you know, there is so you know, serpentina and other scripts and bad manners, whatever these things. were, you know, he was just an extraordinary human Bob town to me with the guys, right? So I'm like, meeting him made a photo. Anyway, at the end of the dinner. He comes over to me and he said, here's my phone number. If you want to have a coffee, let's have a coffee or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 27:48
How many? How many days? Are you in LA at this point once you arrived?

Sasha Gervasi 27:54
like three weeks? in LA. I know my mother's friend from high school in Toronto. And I'm meeting literally, but so anyway. Now I had written that my dinner with her a script, right? But I didn't know what I was doing. But I had this script. So he said, Do you have anything, you know, that I could read?

And I said,

I have the script. And I told him the story of meeting have any found that story? Very interesting. Yeah. Anyway, so I ended up sending him the script to where to where to where he lived in Santa Monica. I sent him the script. And I didn't hear anything,

Alex Ferrari 28:31
as you know. Yeah.

Sasha Gervasi 28:33
And I was like, okay, I've met Mick Jagger. I've given him my demo tape. And I'm a loser. And I made a fool of myself. And I offer basically the given bus money home. I mean, it's just like, a full on disaster from start to finish. So I was in my little $100 a week apartment. I was living in West Hollywood. And the phone goes and this is like three months later. It seems alien. I'm so sorry for not getting back to you. I've been on a project that's finished. Now. I just happened to get to your script. And I think it's really good. Would you like to have coffee? I drive down theatrics and cinema. In fact, my friend Adam dropped me off because I didn't have a car because remember, I felt Well, for the first two, three years in LA. I did not have a car traveling by bus or walking, which was fine, right? So I'm going to I got dropped off at diederichs. I had a coffee with Steve. And he said, I think this is special. I think you're a writer. I think you're right to go to UCLA. And I think this is a very important and special piece of work. And I was just like, Jesus, I've never written anything. This is the first thing I wrote. And so in the end without getting into it, because there's lots more obviously to chat about. He gave that script to Steven Spielberg. And so I myself on the set of Amistad you know 10 feet away from Anthony Hopkins, you know, right on the on the set with Steve introduced because Steve was oh We're working on that I've rewritten the whole thing was to me to Steve, Steven Spielberg, and I just couldn't believe it. And he complimented me on the script and said, Would you like to watch and was could not have been that nicer. And ultimately, that ended up that led to me working with Steven on the terminal. So it was all through Steve's alien, like literally had I not had that chance meeting with Steve had Steve not been as cool and generous and so unpretentious and kind with me. He was just extraordinary with me extraordinary. Like, you know, in life when you get people who suddenly appear in a certain moment and their aim is alien was for me. He was absolutely an angel. I would not like everything that's happened since that moment, I would have absolutely no career without Steve and his belief in me and and at times when it was really, really tough. You know? Yeah. Anyway, so

Alex Ferrari 30:57
alright, so you basically had and I've talked about this a lot as because I mean, so many screenwriters listening tonight and filmmakers as well who are listening. You You, you look up to people, like you know, Steve Zaillian, and, and Spielberg and, and I, I consider them to be Gods on Mount Hollywood. They're literally like Greek gods in Mount Hollywood. And when one of them decides to come down with the peasants and touches you on the shoulders that you now shall be a screenwriter. You now shall be a director that literally happened to you. And, and he was, and he wasn't even. And the funny thing is, if I if I may go full Greek mythology on you, he was like, hidden. So he was in disguise. Oh, my

Sasha Gervasi 31:40
God, because I was totally myself. I had no I was I didn't, I was giving this guy cigarettes and possibly giving him money. And possibly any screenwriter, helping him when I discovered he, too, was a superhero.

Alex Ferrari 31:54
Oh, my God. No.

Sasha Gervasi 31:56
It was like magic. Because had I not look, I'm very like, had I known it was Steve's alien, I would have probably completely clammed up. And I am. And so therefore, it was a massive gift. It was like such a weird and wonderful thing. And, you know, he and his family and Elizabeth and Nick and Charlie would just have been fantastic.

Alex Ferrari 32:16
Well, yeah. So I have to ask you, because I mean, and I've spoken to other people on my show as well, they've had these kind of magical paths. Because this is a this is absolutely lottery ticket. This is magical. And so so many ways. Do you believe in it, there has to be some sort of fate in this because the chances of this happening? Do you believe there are other things that that kind of guide, because I do, I truly do. Like when doors are supposed to open for you, they opened for you in a magical way that you just can't understand, you know, how how I get how I have had the opportunities to talk to certain people on my show, like yourself, and like, what's happened to my show what's happened to my career, all these other different things, when something's supposed to happen? It happens in a way that you will never know. Like, if I would have told you this exact story, when you were flying over to LA to go to UCLA, you would have said, you're you're mad, you're mad, if I would have told you that tattoo was going to be the catalyst for your entire career, you would have said, That's right. You're insane. So what do you what do you What's your feelings on that?

Sasha Gervasi 33:24
Also, him threatening me with a knife?

Alex Ferrari 33:26
Obviously. I mean, that's, that's the given.

Sasha Gervasi 33:29
The whole thing I do, what how can you ignore that? I mean, there's obviously something going on. I'm not saying that goes on for everyone all the time. That doesn't go on me all the time. But I think there are certain critical moments in life when things happen when you meet someone. And I think it's all about being open. And recognizing it. Because, you know, a lot of times we don't recognize things. Yeah, so I got very lucky because, you know, without getting too much into my personal story, I didn't really, you know, a pretty bad time with drugs when I was younger, and I, you know, nearly was not here. And I think when I got out of that was able to figure out, like, actually, I don't really want to, I actually do want to be here. And here. When I sort of got clear of that. I just saw everything in a strange way as a huge blessing. Because it's like, you know, whenever things would be going badly, you know, I would say to myself, you know, for a dead man, you're not doing that badly. You know, I'm alive. I may and I definitely have that appreciation of life at a very basic level. I don't take stuff for granted. And so I think when you carry that energy, perhaps you invite sometimes positive perhaps the negative but in this case of very positive things. You know, I was recently kind of, you know, in recovery clean and sober when I came to LA like coming to LA was all about a completely new beginning. And I think when you've been through a tough time, and I'm sure many of your viewers have And listeners have been through their own version of that, you know, you know that there's something about getting through it where you just, you want to live. Yes. And that brings stuff to you. And I think that that may be that was an example of that. I don't really know. But I was just, you know, I think when I nearly pop, you know, when I nearly was not here. It's very humbling. Oh, I think that, you know, like, I think the problem is, I see a lot of Hollywood, you know, screenwriters sell their first script for a ton of money, and then it all goes to their head, you know, and, and I had that later, I actually have to say, I call myself all that, you know, because it does affect you, right? When people start telling you all this shit, and you have to really watch it. And I would say, as a writer, as a writer, particularly in Hollywood, you know, if you don't seek humility, it will find you.

Alex Ferrari 35:53
Amen, brother,

Sasha Gervasi 35:54
amen. You will be fired, you will be, you know, taken down and denigrated, and all that. And so, you know, and actually, Suzanne gave me a great good advice. He said, it's a roller coaster, when it when the corner get squeaky, squeeze on tight, just hold on, you know, and I think that, I've always done that there have been some terrible, terrible moments, as well as some extraordinary moments. And I think that, you know, it is about not being a wanker. Being You know, one thing when people like that, but I think what happens is, you get these moments of grace. And clearly, that was some kind of a miracle with Steve, you know, it's when the ego cuts in, and it starts taking credit for all that shit, you get into a lot of trouble. So you have to just count your blessings and go, thank you, rather than start making it about you. And that is something that, you know, we're all prone to at different times. But you've got to watch for that. And I've certainly, if I haven't been watching for it, I've learned the lesson the hard

Alex Ferrari 36:50
way. I mean, the ego is the I mean, listen, the ego is one of the the thing that we all fight every single day, and I believe in the in the film industry, more so than ever because, man it is, so it is so enticing.

Sasha Gervasi 37:07
Having an ego is kind of like, you know, that night in the Monty Python, we get knocked off, and then his leg does that flesh wound. It's like a quivering stump, you know, that's like, a screenwriter will come here,

Alex Ferrari 37:19
come here, I'll take you.

Sasha Gervasi 37:23
You know, it's just a waste of your energy, just better get real and take your breaks when you get them. And and pass it on. That's the key thing. Yes. If people come into your path, and you feel even if you can make it like a tiny difference, but you know, you don't delude yourself into thinking you could do what someone likes things only Steven Spielberg could do. But if you can actually help someone, even if it's reading a script, or listening or whatever, you know, do it, man, because you got given that times 10. And I think it's in a strange way, it's, it's your duty to do that. It's the pay forward. It's not you, you know. So that's, I just think if you're coming from basically a place of honesty and fairness and trying not to be a tosser, trying not to be and catching yourself when you are, then you know, you're going to be alright, you're going to go, you're going to survive the crazy times of the roller coaster, and the ups and downs and the rapids and the river. And there will be plenty, as I'm sure you know, most of your, you know, writers, no, it's just very, you know, and you can go from the hottest thing to the coldest and the hot, you know, and it's like, try not to pay attention to the temperature reading, focus on the process, and the long term plan, because, you know, today's hottest screenwriter is tomorrow's cold is like, I've got, I've got the best reviews and the very worst, you know, it's like you'll have all of it. Try not to get buy into it too much. I think just focus on Okay, I got to deliver this script, and I got to deliver this movie or whatever. Stay in what you do, you know, and don't worry about the other bullshit.

Alex Ferrari 38:46
And look at Herve, I mean, look, I mean, he was the hottest biggest thing in the 70s you couldn't, just couldn't, he was everywhere. I mean, he was, he was so hot, and look where he

Sasha Gervasi 38:59
was the lesson of the Hyundai story. And he went ahead and he got into it with Ricardo montalban. And he wanted to trailer as big and basically spelling fired him because he was completely out of, you know, out of control. And, you know, he was destroyed, he went from, you know, a TV star on an ABC show getting 30 or $40,000 a week in 1979 8081. to, you know, when I found him having to flush his toilet by taking water out of his swimming pool to flush the toilet because the water had been cut off. You know, it was really extreme. So yeah, here's an example to me, you know, and I also fell for him because there was clearly he realized that he kind of completely fucked himself, you know, and if you go you know, his ego was not his amigo as they say, you know,

Alex Ferrari 39:51
what, like, that blew everything off. So

Sasha Gervasi 39:53
anyway, yeah, there are so many examples of that you know, of just don't take the work seriously. They just don't take yourself too seriously.

Alex Ferrari 40:02
Now, so let me ask so you're working with Steve and Steve Steve's on on terminal. What is that? Like did Steve bring you in? I think he It almost sounds like he Donnie Brasco. Do. He's like he's a good fella. He can come in with me. So he kind of like vouched for you. You walked in and Steve's like, I want to work with you on the terminal is how did that? How did you first of all, how do you collaborate with it? Well, it

Sasha Gervasi 40:25
was waterparks really who I work with mostly waterparks. It was then running Mike's also brilliant producer, who we develop the script together. And then initially what happened was that Tom Hanks came into just thinking my first meeting with Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks said he would like to do the script. And then I went to meet him in his office in Santa Monica. And it was, it was unbelievable. It was hilarious.

Alex Ferrari 40:47
Well, what happened? What happened when you?

Sasha Gervasi 40:49
I can't remember I think I had I said, I've got to do something really? No to I'll come up with a joke. So I think I came into his office. And Walter Park said, and here's Tom Hanks. And I looked at Tom and I looked at Walter and I said, but you said Tom holes. And then he laughed his head off. And then we became friends.

Alex Ferrari 41:10
Oh, my God. Oh my God. That's a myth.

Sasha Gervasi 41:13
A notable entry. It was hilarious. So we ended up having a good time. And I ended up being hired. So anyway, so he came on to terminal he wanted to do it. And then originally, actually, Sam Mendez was gonna direct the film. And I met with Sam and Sam was like, don't change the word of the script. And then it sort of all went quiet. And it was really weird. I was on a research trip with Tom Hanks in Europe. And we were working on this other project, but unfortunately, never got made. It was called comrade rock star. It was a great project. And Tom was very into it at the time. And so we flew on on the DreamWorks jet, which was also another, of course,

Alex Ferrari 41:48
why wouldn't you?

Sasha Gervasi 41:50
I went, and we went to, we went to Berlin, to do search and meet various people to do with the Conrad rock star story. And we were staying at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. You know, this point. I didn't know what was happening with time. And I knew Tom was interested in it. I knew we were developing this other thing. And so Tom was on the catch me if you can, you know, press junket. And I remember I got a call. Tom's driver or whatever called and said, You know that there's a car downstairs, you know, go and have dinner with Tom, right. So I got into the car and I go into this restaurant in Berlin, which I think was called Vaughn or vow, I can't remember it was this big room with a like a gallery and like a main floor. And there was this table of like, 20 people. And there's an empty chair at the end, and there was waterparks, Leonardo DiCaprio, and suddenly, you know, Tom Hanks or whatever. And then there was a guy not facing me, just as I walked in. And Tom was with Steven. And Tom said, Hey, Sasha, yeah, Steven Sasha's here. And Steven Spielberg turned around to me, and he said, congratulations, we shoot November the fifth. And I was like,

what, what are we?

Alex Ferrari 43:02
What are we? What are we? What are we shooting

Sasha Gervasi 43:05
his moment where he said, I'm gonna drag the terminal. And I just was like, they were all again, that they were all laughing at me, because I was just like, so.

Alex Ferrari 43:13
I feel that I hear a theme here, that when I hear a theme here, Sasha, that when, when these giants when the gods when the gods get together, and they see the and they see that the commoners walking among us, they they like to poke fun at them, essentially, is what I hear

Sasha Gervasi 43:32
the same thing with sweetness of all right, oh, yeah. So in fact, when Tom Hanks told me he was going to attach himself to the script, he said, I was at his office, he said, will you drive me home? I said, Sure. I didn't really know. I thought maybe he couldn't afford Uber. I didn't really understand.

Alex Ferrari 43:48
Don't give them don't give him No, he don't give him changed for the bus like you were gonna do.

Sasha Gervasi 43:52
Steve gave some bus tickets designing and then I thought I'll help him with some vouchers. Anyway, so I'm driving. So this is a true story. So the mirror stories that I'm driving with Tommy's in the passenger seat, I'm driving by, you know, very excited, I've solved my first script. And I've Of course, got a Cadillac cuz I'm an idiot. He said, Why did you go from Britain? Why did you lease a Cadillac? And I said, because I'm from Britain, you know, and so anyway, I driving along and he says, I'm just gonna hold the steering wheel for just a minute. And I said, Sure, do you Okay, so he holds the wheel. And he turns to mean, he says, I'm going to start in Terminal. And I was like, because he knew I was gonna have a moment. And so we held the wheel. So Tom did that. And then we had the when Steven Spielberg told me, he was directing the film in Berlin. So it was quite, you know, you're outside. This is my second movie. So I've done a small hairdressing comedy called the big tease at Warner Brothers that no one saw which we made 4 million. And then, you know, suddenly I'm doing the Spielberg Hanks movie. Number two, right? So it's like complete madness.

Alex Ferrari 45:03
Oh my god. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. And I have to ask you that, because I told you off air, I absolutely adore the terminal. I adore it. I, my wife and I watch it every few years because everyone's, you know, between the story and the characters, and of course, Hanks his performance and and in Stephens direction. I mean, how did that story come together? Like it's based on a real story, right?

Sasha Gervasi 45:40
I called them Alfred, the Sarah, who lived for many years at a Paris airport shelter ago, he was an Iranian dissident. It was a true story, when it is done, who escaped escaped into, into France illegally, and came back to go to his home country, they discovered that he was he would probably be imprisoned or executed if he got on the plane back to Toronto. And so but at the same time, he did legally been in France, so they wouldn't let him back out. And they said, Just wait in the terminal a minute. So that was a whole story with, you know, a lot of political complexity. And it was about many things. And we decided, well, let's just take the scenario of a man stuck in the airport based on the true story. And let's do something slightly different. So that became, you know, Victor Navasky and crocosmia, and all of that stuff that was in the film. So does that mean, people love that movie? And it's sort of it's sort of, you know, what, some people love to initially not everyone, but over the years, it's become kind of has this own life. And in England, I started to realize it's become a christmas film on the BBC, like five years ago, like, either plays Christmas Eve or Christmas Day on BBC One. BBC, you know, it's sort of a bit of a tradition. Now, I didn't really realize that. But it's obviously great to be part of something like that. And, you know, it was an extraordinary experience having this film made by obviously, some of the greatest people, people had to study the film school, and then, you know, six months, I'm working with them. Yeah, no, it was without those guys. And Spielberg was just, he was extraordinary with me, incredibly generous. And it was hard. You know, when this is happening to you don't really understand what's happening in you, right? You don't handle it brilliantly. I didn't really, it was only like now years later that you really understand my God, Steven Spielberg decided to make your movie. Wow. You know, I kind of knew it at the time. But I really know now. And I really feel grateful to Steven and to Tom and to Walter and to Steve's alien for really creating that whole scenario. So I'm lucky.

Alex Ferrari 47:43
I mean, lucky. I mean, I can only imagine reading a textbook with Steven Spielberg in it. And then a few months later, or a year later working with him. I can't even I can't even comprehend that. Now, you You are not just a screenwriter, you're also a director. How did you make the jump from screenwriting to directing?

Sasha Gervasi 48:06
Well, I just decided that I was gonna direct something. I wanted to be a director always. And then I thought, you know, because what happened after terminal was that I got offered lots of kind of big studio comedy rewrites and stuff, right, you know, and I thought, I obviously had this incredible experience, but I didn't really want to be, you know, just doing big assignments all the time. I really wanted to see if I could be a filmmaker and to you know, have a go. So I realized no one was really going to give me a chance. And I realized that I'd have to, you know, think think it through on my own. I knew this band. And then tie a tie into what we what we talk about later with our mystery special guests. Yes, I, I knew this band when I was 15 called Danville, a Canadian heavy metal band. And I met them when I was 15 at the marquee club in London, in 1982. And I got into the dressing room and I ended up talking to them. They'd never been to London before they were my heroes. I said, Have you been here? They said no. I said, I'll give you a tour of London. I ended up taking Advil, you know the band behind metal on metal and, and, you know, strength of steel and hard and heavy. I ended up taking them on a tour of the Houses of Parliament, the Tate Gallery, and I took them back home to meet my mother. You can imagine my mother's how thrilled she was when she opens the door to find me with the four members of a 15 year old 5050 with posters on the wall of that band. She's completely she said, You've got 10 minutes, get them out of it. Anyway, so they will find me quite entertaining. And I found them I'd say they said look, what do you do next summer. I said, Well, I'm old school holiday. Do you want to come on the road with us? Rob Reiner, the drummer of amber was named Rob Reiner. Like as in the director of spinal tap. You couldn't again make that shit up. And Rob said, Would you like to be my drum tech on this tour? So I following summer, I lied to my mom. She was never letting me go on tour with them. But I told my dad, they were split up he lived in New York. I said I'm gonna spend this Somewhere my dad went to my dad and I said, I'm going on tour with this heavy metal band will you meet them to make Give me your blessing and my father, you know taught economics at Oxford. So you know that Andrew was not his core demographic band. And they met and he was you know, he gave them a talking to and said protect my son, but he gave me the go ahead to go on tour. We went on a tour of Canadian hockey arenas in the summer of 1984. And I learned how to play drums from the drummer of and or Brian and on that tour, and had you know, an incredible experience. I was just really young. Yeah, at I went on three tours, I think at three, four or five or four or five or six. I can't remember but I was a, you know, a drum rodeo is a roadie. So I met those guys, and I loved them. And I remember this young guy, this young Danish tennis prodigy, or prodigy or player called Lars Ulrich, who was around my age who was around at the time and anvil fan and Scott Ian, who later went on to be anthrax. And basically 20 years past, I lost touch with Advil. And then I realized that you know, all the bands that influenced you know, Metallica, anthrax, mega death or whatever, they don't become mega bands and and all that disappeared. I went online, I figured out and I figured out that they were playing like pub gigs in like Northern Ontario. It was still going after 30 years. And I was like, why are you still going? So I wrote to the lead singer, whose name is lips. And I said, Come to California lips flew out, he was wearing exactly the same scorpions t shirt he'd been wearing. Last time, I'd seen him in 1987. He was like, frozen in time. And he was going, my band's gonna make it man, it's gonna be great. We're gonna do it. And I was like, thinking to myself, he is completely mental, like, What is he talking about? It's over, right? But there was something so infectious. And actually, I took him to see Steve's alien mental that weekend when he was in LA. And I'm sitting there with Steve making coffee, and we're looking out as lips is talking to Steve's wife, Elizabeth. And he's saying, Who the hell is this guy? And I told him the whole story. And he said, there's a movie there. There's a movie about friendship and not giving up on your dream. And it's bittersweet, and you should direct it. And I said, wow. And I did. And it became and so it was and it was one of the enville

Alex Ferrari 52:13
the story of anthem.

Sasha Gervasi 52:16
And I just rolled the dice, no one was gonna pay for it. I financed it myself. And I within, I think, 12 weeks of that encounter with Steve, down on the beach with the lips. I was in northern Romania, shooting Advil on one of the worst tours that you've ever, ever seen the film. I mean, it was beyond a disaster. Oh, my God. And so that and that movie, then, you know, became my directorial debut, which then came into Sundance. And, you know, still to this day, actually, you know, people love that movie. Because it really is about not giving up. And it really is about, you know, doing something for the right reasons and passion, and you know, all of that stuff.

Alex Ferrari 52:55
absolutely remarkable. So that documentary, which has become a cult phenomenon. People love that movie. And you were telling me, like, everyone says, is your best work ever?

Sasha Gervasi 53:07
Well, people love that film. It's so well, it's also done from a place of total naivety innocence, and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just following a feeling. And I think the film captures that, the essence of it. And it just has travelled so far and wide. And it was like an amazing story, because he was this banner that the movie in one sense is essentially a portrait in failure. And yet, every band loves this film. And in fact, ACDC we're doing a stadium tour and invited Anvil to open for them. I remember standing on the side of the stage with Anvil, a giant stadium and 50,000 people are shouting, Advil, Advil, apple, and it was just like, you never know what's going to happen. You just never know. Like, we had no idea that any of that stuff, we had no idea that, you know, they went to the total rock awards, you know, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin came up and bill to thank them for inspiring him to keep doing what he's doing. And it's like, you know, it was just like, we were at the Bowery Hotel in New York. And, and, and lips is smoking a cigarette on the terrace of the bar, and he comes out, he said, this is really interesting guy, and another guy, and they really like the movie and I don't know who they are. Maybe you can go talk to them. For me. I'd like to know more about them anyway, so go out with lips. And it's Chris Martin of Coldplay and Jay Z. And they're talking about and they had no idea. They had no idea if anyone

Alex Ferrari 54:28
they live in this. They live in this black bubble.

Sasha Gervasi 54:31
Yeah, I mean, the premiere in Hollywood. We did the premiere at the Egyptian theater, Dustin Hoffman came to the premiere. And he's in tears after the movie coming up to lips and Rob and Rob is like, has no idea who he is. And then after about 10 minutes he he turns to me he goes, is that the guy from Pappy? Oh yes. I feel happy. Oh, was wonderful about this is they're just living their own magical world. But were it not for that there would have been no movie to make about, you know, and then I'll be turned into as inspired, you know, other bands and certainly a lot of other movies about bands. Emotional,

Alex Ferrari 55:12
amazing. Amazing. So then, okay, so from story from from Anvil, so I'd love the title and what the story is. Great title. So once that happens, that's a documentary. But then you're, then you're thrown into more narrative work. And one of the films you worked on was Hitchcock,

Sasha Gervasi 55:29
which, well, that's that, but it's all to do with Advil,

Alex Ferrari 55:33
right? Like, how did Advil, get you? Hitchcock?

Sasha Gervasi 55:37
So what happened was that Tom Pollack, who was another angel of mine who would run universal from 85, to 95, incredible guy, and he was partners with Ivan Reitman, and they had Montecito pictures, and they financed them they did, you know, and they, they were fantastic. You know, they, they just supported young filmmakers. I actually got my first fan letter with about Ando was from Tom Pollack, who saw the film and said, This makes the old guys think they can keep going, and I want to meet you. Anyway. So they had this assignment for Hitchcock. And I was like, Okay, I'm fast. I'm, you're obviously Hitchcock. I'm fascinated subject. I thought it was based on this thing that Hitchcock in the making of psycho. I thought the book was brilliant. And I was just like, so I thought, okay, I'll you know, my agent said, we'll just go in and meet Tom Pollock. He likes your movie and, and the, the meeting began with, it's lovely to meet you. We love and Bill, you're not going to get this job. But anyway, let's just meet we just wanted to meet you. Yeah. And I was just like, you know, when someone says, something's not gonna happen, you're just like, fuck it. Okay, whatever. So I just, I said, this has got to be about Alma and you know, the, the unknown force behind hitch and it's got to be fun and irreverent, and tongue in cheek, hopefully. And it's, you know, it's only a movie, you know, like, Don't take it too seriously. It's meant to be sort of droll in the way that Hitchcock was, so I pitched them this. Anyway, they were like, well, this is great. But you know, Anthony Hopkins, pretty major actor, you know, probably you're not going to get past him. Anyway. He was a massive and OFAC was an apple fan.

Alex Ferrari 57:18
Oh my god,

Sasha Gervasi 57:20
how it just goes to show like you're coming from a place and you're doing it for your own fucking reasons. Fuck everyone else. And somehow. So Tony was like, let's do the film. And then Helen was like, love it need a bit more of our so I did some work on the script. You know, it was john McLaughlin script, but I did do a little work on the Alma roll. And yeah, and then the movie came together and such like made the film. So you know, it was and then I got Scarlett Johansson. I did have this weird moment where I was in rehearsals with with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. And I was like, I can't believe I'm actually in. I can't believe that talking to me, let alone like, you know, listening to a potential suggestion. Anyway, it was. I learned so much. I mean, you could imagine like working with those people in Scala Johansen and Jeff Crone and laugh and the incredible Pam Martin who cut the fighter was cutting the movie and working with searchlight. I mean, it was an extraordinary learning experience.

Alex Ferrari 58:20
Yeah, I, you just says like, I can't believe I think if there's a biography about you ever, it's gonna be I can't believe I just can't believe this is happening. Because it's from everything you've told me. There's just been one amazing event to Atlanta. And I know look over the years. These are the highlights and I know there's been ups and downs throughout like anybody's life. But again, just like Herve just like Steve Zaillian and then and then you're like, you'll never gonna get past it. Anthony Hopkins, because I watch saw your documentary. I'm a huge and,

Sasha Gervasi 58:51
like, in it three times. Yeah. Like mean is like, what

Alex Ferrari 58:54
is the what are the chances that the legendary Anthony Hopkins would be a fan of a, basically a failed metal band from the 80s that you happen to make a documentary about? Because you have, by the way happened to be

Sasha Gervasi 59:11
the thing that people should take them all of this? No, the thing that people should take for this is the deep down inside. Anthony Hopkins feels like a failed metal band from the 80s. You know, we all you know, have like it's a human right. We all you know, we're always on ourselves, and we're most more critical of ourselves than perhaps anyone elses. And it's, you know, so it was just it was very truthful. You know, it was about flawed human beings who are trying their best who don't actually necessarily succeed. And I'd say, of all the people I've met, who, some of whom are massive successes, they don't necessarily think about things like that or feel that they often just carry the wounds of the failures with them. Structurally, it's just a weird thing that I've observed. I don't know if it's true, but I think that that Sometimes true. So, you know, some of the greatest successes feel like failures.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
Oh, no, I mean, I can get 1000 good reviews. But I'll focus on the one bad review. And it's just, it's, it's human nature. And it's so overwhelming because you're looking you've obviously been given literally 1000 reviews are fantastic. But there's that one guy or gal who just like, you know what? terminal? Yeah. But then there's 1000 other ones that are just like, right. Now,

Sasha Gervasi 1:00:29
there's a great English newspaper, but I can't forget it. It's a terrible review. They said something like, watching this film was like standing in a waterfall of vomit and treacle,

Alex Ferrari 1:00:42
oh, my God, what a visual.

Sasha Gervasi 1:00:46
And I just thought, you know, okay, but what I'm saying is, you remember, I just remember that, I don't remember anything else. Apart from that, like the worst kind of shave. You know, and I don't know, maybe that's just human nature.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:59
I was, I was talking to Troy Duffy, the the famous director from boondock, saints, that whole legendary documentary, ledgering documentary, as well. And he told me, he's like, there was this one review, I he goes, by the LA Times, I think it was so brilliantly written, that if you're going to get smashed by someone, at least, let it be a really good writer, because it was entertaining, it was

Sasha Gervasi 1:01:26
world class beating, you're gonna have to deal with that man, you're gonna have to deal with getting shipped in every part of your body by someone at some point, you're gonna have a knife sticking out of it. But you know, you've got to kind of also ignore it. It's like, you know, having been also having been a viewer, myself, and having been a journalist, I really do understand what's on the other side of that, you know, a lot of those people are blocked creatives, they're blocked filmmakers who aren't able to actually do it themselves for whatever reasons, either they don't have the talent or the courage or both, or whatever, or it just hasn't happened, you know, so, you know, so it's, they're kind of bitter, slightly, a, some of them and others are really constructive. And they use the criticism to try and say, actually, here's how you could have done a better job. And here's, you know, and you can actually learn from a great review, you learn a ton of shit. So it's important to be aware of them and look for the stuff that you can learn from, rather than taking any of it too seriously. Because when it gets like, nasty, you know, the person's got, like an axe to grind. Like, you know, people have a, they've got an agenda that's not really about, you know, like, sometimes you read a review of something, and you go, and you've seen the film, and you go, they obviously did not see the same film. The film they just had this is that this was, this is a review based on the what they wanted it to be, and what I was, you know, then go make your film. You don't I mean, but everyone's entitled to be creative in their own way. Anyway, so it's you, you can learn that for I think you can learn

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
Oh, no, absolutely. I mean, I mean, Roger,

Sasha Gervasi 1:02:55
although highly entertained by the, you know, standing in a waterfall of trouble and vomit, which is I mean,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:01
I mean, that's amazing. But like Roger Ebert literally got the Pulitzer for his criticism, his film criticism, and he's, he's one of those. And he loved filmmakers, he loved filmmakers. And I have a Roger Ebert story, I'll tell you off afterwards, that when he he was kind to a short film

Sasha Gervasi 1:03:16
of mine, for example, when we have when we had an NGO, right? No, we didn't know how anyone, if anyone was even gonna see it, let alone review it. And it was incredible. I got the New Yorker one week, and we had two and a half pages from Anthony lane. He's one of our greatest viewers. And he said, this is all about mortality and aging. And this is the ravages of time. And I was like, Oh, my God, you know, I will know. But what I'm saying is circumstance, people will get stuff from it that you didn't even intend, yeah, that you do something for a pure point of view for you, then you do something for an emotional point of view, or you want to tell a certain story. And if there's something pure about it, people will bring in their own interpretations which you had no idea, you know, yeah. So I feel lucky when that happens. And it has a couple of times, and I feel good about it and the other stuff we learn from

Alex Ferrari 1:04:06
Okay, I wanted to touch on something really quickly for you. Because you've I mean, you've obviously played you know, you've roamed in circles, with you know, legendary filmmakers, and you've worked with studios and you've worked inside the machine. Can you touch a little bit about the politics of working and navigating those waters? Because

Sasha Gervasi 1:04:24
I would say what I've what I've learned is very simple, is listen to everyone. executives, producers go crazy. If they feel they have not been heard. You know, I just think that when when you're in a development meeting, a writer or a director shuts an idea down without entertaining it, that person gets really mad. And look, to be fair, those people are considering giving you millions of dollars to go off and make your dream come true and tell your story. You know, the least you could do is at least listen to them. doesn't mean you have to take their suggestion, but at least be civil and at least Do that. And I see a lot of people get into problems where they're just like, oh, that guy's an idiot, you know, he's also writing you a check for $10 million, about listening to that part of it, you know, so, but there are certain techniques, when you do have someone in the creative mix who's absolutely stupid, you just keep that to yourself. First of all, don't say anything. And then you can do something called IOI, which is technique I use, have you heard of IOI? I have not. Okay. It's, it's a term called it's It stands for the illusion of inclusion, where what you do is you listen to that absolutely stupid idea. And you pretend to No, you got that, that's great. I'm gonna try that, you know, knowing that it's done. And you just let them feel that they've been considered and that their thoughts have been entertained. So that's, but just be nice to everyone. Even if it's like, this should take place on a skateboard on the moon, you know, just go. Okay, you know, let's, let's see what we can do with that, you know, so I just think it's best to be polite, and use the IOI technique, if in doubt, because, you know, there's nothing worse than a frustrated filmmaker who wants you to do something. And who is not a filmmaker, but who's an executive or producer, or, you know, someone who everyone just wants to be heard. So that's one thing I would do is listen to everyone. Even if disagree, just be politic. Just don't tell people that idiots people do not like to hear that. They're idiots.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:20
And by the way, and you might, and this is something I've seen throughout my, my, you know, being a student of the industry for the last 20 odd years, is that there might be a moment where you have the power and you are hot, and you have the power to crush somebody. Yeah, but that power generally doesn't hang forever. And there will be a moment where you go down. I mean, even Steven Spielberg, I mean, I remember 91 when Hulk came out, everyone's like, It's over. It's over. He's done. He's done. And hooked. By the way, still one of my favorite i'd love hook, but it didn't do well. And he's like, Oh, he's, he's washed up. He's not. And then Jurassic Park is Schindler's List, same year.

Sasha Gervasi 1:07:02
The same? Yeah. But you know, probably took that as like, well screw these guys. I'll show them you know, sometimes down. But really, it's like, anger is a powerful emotion. You could wrap it in the right way. You know, it's like, it's a very powerful thing. You know, I think when I direct an Advil, I was like, I got something to prove that I, you know, yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do it. Like, I'm just doing it right. And I think that so use it, like, whatever your cards are, even if they're shit, use the power of what they give you, even if it is disappointment, anger, frustration. People, listen, people write you off all the time, all the time. And they take delight in it. Nothing Hollywood than the sharpen Freud aspect, right? Luckily, I hang out with a group of filmmakers who are extremely supportive of one another. Like, for example, Alexander Payne, you know, whoever it is, you know, we, we read each other's scripts, we're supported, you know, we give each other notes and thoughts and stuff, I try and support all other filmmakers, you know, because it's so hard. Oh, my God. You know, sitting in judgment and kind of belittling people and trying to you know, it's just not, it's just not the way to live. Because if that's what you put out, that's obviously what you're going to get back. If you put out support genuine help and generosity, that's what comes back to you. Amen. Very, very simple. So it's really math, it's physics actually. Just, you know, be smart about it. And the people who are hot and take advantage and you know, put people down and, and, you know, act like they're hot shit, you know, guess what ain't gonna last. And then you will come a time when you want people when you're down to be supportive of you. And because you are such an asshole when you are hot, they won't do that. You've there's many careers where people were so unpleasant as they went up that when they got hit, no one wanted to help the Knights coming. You know, endless executive studio heads will make it No, just, you know, what is it that a wise man learns from his own mistakes? A genius learns from the mistakes of others, you know, just look around? Because if you just learn from what other people do, you know, you know, take that information they get.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:16
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests because I know I could talk to you for about another hour. And I might actually with our mystery guest and a little bit. But a few questions ask all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Sasha Gervasi 1:09:29
Well, for me, I would absolutely say that Chinatown. I would absolutely say that Steve's aliens. Shooting script of Schindler's List is extraordinary. There are so many The Godfather.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:45
Yeah, of course.

Sasha Gervasi 1:09:48
The Graduate script is incredible. Sunset Boulevard is incredible. You know, even I read recently again that the original Magnificent Seven script is You know, so those are the kinds of scripts that were an A useful technique. If you're blocked as a writer, which I've been many, many times, I nearly threw me out of UCLA at the end of the first year, because I didn't finish a script, I started three and finished. Now, a great thing is take a great script, like it's trying to town and begin typing it out, as in copying it out. So when I've had a blog, I'll take a Rob town script, or Robert Towne script, or a steep learning script, or a Scott Frank script, depending on you know, and I'll sit down, I'll begin typing it out, you unblock maybe because when you've like, got nine pages into Chinatown, it's that something just by the proximity, the engagement with the energy of that kind of intellect and ferocious kind of justice, it just somehow could just push your block. So it's a technique I just discovered by accident, because I was so frustrated. And I actually started writing Schindler's List, if you actually go and copy a script out in is great for unblocking.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:58
That's what I what I thought when I when I'm writing, one of the things I found as well as like, when I get blocked in something, I'll actually just go back to the beginning, and just start reading. And just that process of going, it's kind of like getting the it's kind of getting the momentum going. So as you're reading, then it just kind of and then you.

Sasha Gervasi 1:11:16
But then there's a potential trap there, Alex, which is you can also have people who spend 10 years polishing the first 30 pages, it's important to write a compiler is less than you've got to write a complete bad script, but just get the end, even if it's total shit, because it's much harder to go from nothing to something than from something to something better. So just get to the end, even if it's trash. Another trick people use is right, the end seen first. So you kind of know, okay, but I'm getting there, you know, so you don't have this big, you know, wild, sort of massive unknown ahead of you, you know, you're going to end on this scene, which you've already written. So I would say that, I agree with you, the layering, and the going back and forth is important. But I also know people who can get stuck in the pattern of writing 30 to 50 pages, and then overnight, just write the rest,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:11
I go back to I go back to like that scene or a couple scenes back, I try not to go back all the way to the beginning. Because if I go where the beginning, I get caught. And you're right, it's it's like this kind of Whirlpool.

Sasha Gervasi 1:12:22
Exactly. That gets you. If you're if you're a good writer, or you think you're a good writer, you know, that you get, you have to work yourself into a place where you're basically taking notes, and you're basically getting something, it's not about you creating it, it's about you allowing it, it's doing the kind of grunt work so that you can kind of deserve actually to get to get what it is you have to sort of earn it through hard work, if that makes

Alex Ferrari 1:12:47
sense. So yeah, so and I think this is, I believe this completely is when I'm writing, I honestly, sometimes I don't even know who's writing like, I'll just I'll be it's almost channeling, if you will, like something is just like they're talking and it's talking by themselves. And I'm like, Okay, I'm just here to write this stuff out. Do you as you as a writer, do you feel that as well,

Sasha Gervasi 1:13:06
I think in the best cases, when I remember when I was really writing the draft of the terminal that Spielberg said that he wanted to do, I remember being in a zone for the first time where it was just like I was irrelevant. I was just in the stream, just kind of servicing whatever the story was that wanted to come through, and it is blissful. But guess you're just able to not you're not responsible for it, you're not the source of it. But you're doing the work, you're earning your place by kind of like servicing, you know, your creativity. And it's a it's a freeing feeling. And actually, when you're starting to write, it's a lot of work, and it's horrible, and you get headaches, and you want to distract yourself with any number of things. But if you just push through, then you reach that time where it's just like, okay, the thing basically is working on its own now. And you just allow it to kind of pull you where it wants to go, rather than you determining everything. I think that's the difference. You'd go from cerebral to kind of creativity being the spirit that pulls you through the thing and gets gets it done. You know, I did not do the best work I've done. Like it comes from somewhere. Hopefully there's some source out there. And I think people who take credit and think that they're geniuses, you know, I don't know, I just I would say that if they're being honest, they know that, you know, they're merely the facilitator. I think I don't think they're the facilitator then the probably have a crash at some point.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:34
Absolutely. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Sasha Gervasi 1:14:38
Write a fucking good script. I mean, it's as simple as that.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:42
You put that on a T shirts or

Sasha Gervasi 1:14:43
put that on a T shirt? No, it's not like having part you know, going to the right parties and meeting people. There's a certain amount of bullshit that you can do and have the right agent But at a certain point, your script will find its home. If you just focus on the work, just focus on the work, not the bullshit or the trades. Or you know what your task

Alex Ferrari 1:15:01
was not.

Sasha Gervasi 1:15:03
And don't jump on a bandwagon? And don't, you know, just do try and be you. You know. So I do think the screenwriting courses I find UCLA massively helpful, you know, the full time program, but there's also the professional program is fantastic. There are some great teachers in it, you know, go and meet other writers, man, find your group of people, you know, that you respect and trust, work together, support each other, read each other's material, you know, engage, but focus on the material, because the material will get the actors, the actors will get the film made, you know, because actors want a great role. So if you're writing, you know, strong roles, you know, you can focus on getting good at that it will fall into place. That's my feeling.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:43
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry our life,

Sasha Gervasi 1:15:52
I obviously I'm still learning it. Just to be really grateful for every thing that tap is happening right now. Like right now, because that's really all we've got, you know, I've got like, right now, I'm really enjoying this chat with you. Right? Thank you. You know, but because as we're doing this, I never really obviously do stuff like this very often, when I'm promoting a film, I do an interview, I never really do an in depth chat or anything like this. So for me, as you're asking me these questions, I'm like, remembering all the fighting, that I had to all the fighting I had to do to get all of these films made, to get them seen to get anyone to be bothered. And it just reminds me that like, you know, I just feel lucky and grateful for that. So what I'm saying is right now I'm in that because you're replaying to me all this stuff, and I don't think about this stuff. So I think staying present focusing on the work, I would, I would say, you know, be genuine, be genuine in your dealings with people be genuine in the emotion you're trying to put on the page. You know, if it's being funny, be genuinely funny, like, do stuff for you, not because you think other people are gonna like it. Yeah. most authentic to your voice. Like Anvil is a movie that like literally no other person could have made apart from me. My dinner with Kobe is a movie that literally no other person could have made apart from me. What are those stories that are so singular to you and your existence in your experience, and what you want to say in the world, that you alone must do them. And I think if you're coming from that place, you know, you can just get through a lot of bullshit. You know, life is short, man, we're not here for that long. For long, man, you know, so you might as well go for it and, and Don't bullshit around. And also procrastination. I think that's a lesson I could still learn. I still procrastinate. I still, you know, go well, I maybe I'll watch that daytime TV show. It's really fascinating. I really want to learn about haymaking in Flanders in 1765 it's fascinating. It's just I'm trying, I don't want to face the pain. But I am a shit writer who must earn my place at the table every time to become a slightly better writer. You write a really good, you feel good about it, you go back to the beginning page ones blank, your total shit again, all that experience is gone. You've got to climb another mountain, and it's just as fucking hard. That's my experience. So don't procrastinate still working on it. But I would say I probably wasted two full years of watching bad daytime soap operas, televisions, game shows and useless historical programs.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:28
And this is pre This is pre Netflix pre populates. Now what is what did you learn from your biggest failure?

Sasha Gervasi 1:18:41
Only work at studios where you like the studio head word namely that is you learn you know in the immortal words of yes keyboard is Rick Wakeman, who played keyboards for years. He said success is buried in the garden of failure. And so that's important by the way you know we have our special guests

Alex Ferrari 1:19:04
Yes, we're gonna we're gonna be there in one second Give me one second and we're gonna bring him in and

Sasha Gervasi 1:19:13
then I feel it and I

Alex Ferrari 1:19:14
know I can I can feel the energy as well we're gonna bring him in in a minute because I just want to finish right off and last question sir. Three of your favorite films of all time.

Sasha Gervasi 1:19:24
Oh my god with nail and I with nail and I have you had with now my Bruce Robinson genius film? Yes. As

Alex Ferrari 1:19:30
long as was that 80s

Sasha Gervasi 1:19:32
Yeah, yes, that's gonna pay for the killing fields. Yes. With the with Leyland I terribly uncommercial film one of the most brilliant films of all time, Richard II grant, Bruce wrote and directed the film. If I were to pitch that film, no one would buy it to unemployed actors go away to Wales for the weekend. That is the plot of Withnail and I can do it is absolutely fucking brilliant, sweet smell of success one of the best scripts ever. But I guess the Tony curve Is Clifford Odette's and it's late. James Wong How is the camera man it is. Kendrick directed it. Brilliant. So I'd say that also Chinatown I have to go with Chinatown again. This is a nice sweet smell of success Chinatown. And also Christmas American movie I love

Alex Ferrari 1:20:19
Oh my god so good

Sasha Gervasi 1:20:20
cause spinal tap. Yes, but I will say Bertolucci's underrated masterpiece, the last emperor won the Best Academy at seven o'clock. If you go back and look at that film, it's unbelievable. I have a 35 millimeter print of it. So those are some of my films. I love the Bond movies obviously not the Pierce Brosnan period. A little bit limited. But yeah, so stuff like that. Any jack tatty is fantastic. And all that jack tatty stuff made its way into the original script of terminal. So yeah, those are films British films. I also love the long Good Friday with Bob hoskin. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:20:57
Yeah. Yeah.

Sasha Gervasi 1:20:59
Fantastic British film.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:01
Sasha, we could, I know, we can keep talking for hours about your insight, you're easily one of the most interesting screenwriters I've ever had in the show. Your adventures are mythical almost in its way so much drug fueled. I mean, I mean, this is Hollywood.

Sasha Gervasi 1:21:18
I like the sound of

Alex Ferrari 1:21:20
Exactly, but I appreciate your time. And thank you so much for for coming on the show

Sasha Gervasi 1:21:25
Project snacks.

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BPS 117: How to Be a Screenwriter in Hollywood with Marshall Herskovitz

Our guest today is producer, director and screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz. Many of his production projects have been in partnership with his long-time filmmaking collaborator, Edward Zwick whose films, he’s produced and written half of. Their decades-long filmmaking partnership was launched as co-creators of the 1987 TV show, ThirtySomething. 

Now, Marshall had already written for the TV show, Family, in 1976. So his understanding of TV was pivotal in the success of ThirtySomething.

Other projects he’s credited for executive producing or creating include Traffic (2000), The Last Samurai (2003), Nashville (TV show 2016), Blood Diamond, and Women Walks Ahead(2017), starring the incomparable, Jessica Chastain.

Marshall show, ThirtySomething, which only ran for four-season was quite successful. Co-created with Zwick, the follows the stories and journeys of seven thirtysomethings living in Philadelphia who struggle with everyday adult angst.

The show’s success earned over a dozen Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and personal honors for Marshall from the Writers Guild and a Directors Guild.

Herskovitz’s filmography is pretty adventurous. We discussed as many as we could in this interview and he was totally down for the ride. But if we are to highlight some must-mentions, Traffic will get the spot. Herskovitz co-produced Traffic in 2000 alongside esteem producer, Laura Bickford and directed by Zwick.

The film holds a constant 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won numerous Oscars BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globes awards in 2001. It followed through grossing a total of $207.5 million on its $46 million budget

The President appoints a conservative judge to spearhead America’s escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a crack addict. Two DEA agents protect an informant. A jailed drug baron’s wife attempts to carry on the family business.

Another classic of his is the 1999 TV show, Once and Again. A divorced father and a soon-to-be-divorced mother meet and begin a romantic courtship which is always complicated by their respective children and their own life problems.

Marshall dropped all sorts of knowledge bombs on the tribe this week. You have to listen to the episode to hear all those extra deets he shared with us about the attempts at rebooting ThirtySomething and many more.

Enjoy this conversation with Marshall Herskovitz.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:05
I like to welcome to the show, Marshall herskovits How you doing Marshall?

Marshall Herskovitz 0:10
I am. Well, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:12
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for doing the show. I'm a fan of of many of your films, including the films that you've just written and produced, but directed as well. And we'll get into that in the future. But I, I heard nothing but good things from you from Ed, who was on the show as well. Edward Zwick, and, and I said, Well, I kind of get Marshall on the show, too. I can't just talk to Ed, I want to talk to Marshall as well. It's so thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it.

Marshall Herskovitz 0:40
Well, I'm happy to do it. And just know if I say anything that Ed said. Yes. stole it from me.

Alex Ferrari 0:47
Fair. Fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, give me one second. Hold on a second. technology's acting up. So give me one second. You're

Marshall Herskovitz 1:00
just like your room there.

Alex Ferrari 1:03
Thank you. I worked hard on it. I give my wife the excuse that it's for business. That's how, and I always tell. I always tell people that the Yoda was a is a pre pre wife purchase is definitely a pre wife purchase. To say the least because it's a hard it's I have kids now. And it would be it'd be it. I can't have that conversation. I know the kids need money for school, but I need a life size Yoda. I get it. Alright, so. So before we get started, Marshall, how did you get into business?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:50
Well, you know, it's funny. I went to Brandeis back in the early 70s, which dates me severely. And I majored in English. In fact, I majored in Old English, I was very interested in medieval England. I was a Tolkien freak, and just loved sort of Beowulf and that whole kind of, you know, early medieval, epic poetry sort of thing. And at the same time, at that moment, for some reason, I can't explain. There was a huge interest in old movies. Like when I was living in Boston, there were two different revival movie theaters in Cambridge. And then on campus, one night a week, there was an old movie shown. So basically, I was watching three old movies a week. And when I look back on it, I realized that the real education I got in college was in movies. I just didn't know it at the time. And I fell in love with movies, I fell in love with classic movies. And by the time I was a senior in college, I wanted to be a filmmaker. And, and the odd thing is, all I wanted to do was make medieval epics. That's that was my goal, go to Hollywood and make medieval epics. And here I am, 40 years later, and I haven't made one. But, you know, there's still hope, at any rate, that is what propelled me into the film business. I graduated, I made a short film, which was not a medieval epic, it was a very intimate, you know, drama. And I, I came out to Hollywood, thinking that that would be my ticket to fame and success. And I literally could not get one person to even look at it. It was that was the most disheartening. And in those days, all you had was the Yellow Pages, I went through the Yellow Pages for all production companies, and called every single one in Los Angeles, and no one would look at it. So after about six months of floundering, I heard about this amazing film school called American Film Institute. And I thought, well, maybe I should do that instead. And so that's, that's where I went. That's where I met ad on the first day. And, and really, that gave me my start, really, and you guys just just, you know, school, school chumps who got together and then and just

Alex Ferrari 4:05
stuck together for the last 40 years working on projects together. That's amazing. That's

Marshall Herskovitz 4:09
right. That's right. We're the longest living partnership in Hollywood right now.

Alex Ferrari 4:13
Really? That's actually saying a lot actually.

Marshall Herskovitz 4:16
Yeah, actually is no, I told me I'm very proud of and, and I know he is, too, and we have worked independently all along, but nevertheless, our preferences to do things together.

Alex Ferrari 4:29
Yeah, absolutely. I, I had a similar education when I but I didn't, I had a video store. I worked at a video store for a while. So I did the same thing. I'd watched three movies a night, you know, high school, so there's nothing else to do homework. So I would just, I would just take home movies and just watch and watch and I got such an education. And that was before I even wanted to become a director at the end. I was like, I guess I guess I kind of want to be a director kind of similar to you. So you wanted to make Excalibur but never did

Marshall Herskovitz 4:55
is what you say that's correct. Yes, yes,

Alex Ferrari 4:58
but there's still hope. There's Till hope,

Marshall Herskovitz 5:00
I finally after 30 years got to write a screenplay of the story of 1066, the Norman Conquest of England, which was something I had desperately wanted to do. And, you know, I still have hope that we'll make that as a movie. But you know, it's not exactly a moment now in the history of the film business when you can make big films like that. So

Alex Ferrari 5:21
we'll see. I mean, you put a cape on the main character, I think you have a better shot.

Marshall Herskovitz 5:28
I know that's the world, you know, with superpowers could these various people have? It's?

Alex Ferrari 5:33
No, is that is that is that a serious conversation that someone actually have a conversation with you about that?

Marshall Herskovitz 5:39
Not about that, but about something as ridiculous. Something I don't even want to go into. It just, it was a thing about Vietnam. And someone suggested that maybe if they had different superpowers, people might be more willing to look at a story about the Vietnam War. upsetting

Alex Ferrari 6:01
It was kind of it's kind of like when when they went in and pitched James Cameron Titanic to, you know, Jack's back like that a certain point, you just got to go. It's enough. It's enough. Now I have I have to ask, I was looking through your filmography. And I have to ask, what was it like work writing for chips. I mean, I'm a 70s. Kid. So I have to go right there, I went straight to it. I went straight to chips because I had the By the way, I had the pleasure of directing Erik Estrada, and some commercials years ago, and the stories Oh, my God, the stories he told about what happened in the 70s. People just don't understand what the 70s

Marshall Herskovitz 6:39
I understand. By the way, I never went near that set. So I have no stories to tell about the production of it. All I can say is that that was the low point of my career. I wish when I got out of film school, right, I spent about three or four years trying to be a freelance writer in episodic television, which is, by the way, doesn't really exist anymore. They don't really have people to make a career as freelance writers and television anymore. And, at one point, chips was the only job I could get. And I read one of their scripts. And it was like it was written in another language, I just had no idea how to do this thing. There was no connection there. Once he went to the next dialog didn't make sense, I literally was completely lost. And I came up with it with a sweet idea, actually, about an old Native American who thought his grandson was losing, you know, was not knowing enough about the old way. So he was raising his grandson in Griffith Park, away from people, you know, hidden away. Nice. And they bought it, they liked that do and it was Michael ansara, who played him, of course, because in those days, Michael and Sarah play Native Americans. And so it didn't turn out so bad. But for me, it was a very humiliating experience, because I had no idea. I just was not the type of thing I knew how to write. And in fact, that was part of what catalyzed, I think, the most, one of the most important moments in my career, which was a decision I made after three or four years of doing that, that I just was going to stop. In other words, I sat down and wrote a screenplay as a spec thing. And I wrote out the work the story together together. And then I wrote the screenplay. And I said to my wife, I said, you know, either this is going to work, or I'm leaving the business because I just cannot go on doing what I feel to be a bad job, doing other people's voices, meaning the voices of shows, you know, and and. And so that willingness, I think, to take that chance, and to say, I'm either going to make it on my terms, or I'm going to walk away. What's what turned everything around. And the interesting thing is that that screenplay that I wrote, had never been made. It was almost made three times. But it did change everything for me, because people were able to see my voice and I got work from it. And the work I got from it was what then gave me my career. So the willingness to bet on myself, was a scary thing at age 26, or 27. But that was that was what made it happen.

Alex Ferrari 9:31
I mean, that's pretty enlightened for a 26 or 27 year old, to be honest with us, God knows I was in much worse shape than you were at 26 or 27. I was lost. I was in the darkest pit of my time. That's a whole other story for another podcast. But um, but in most, most 20 year olds don't have that kind of reflection or that honesty, that kind of bravery. to just go, you know, I'm gonna make it on my end, and people listening. It's a very different industry than it was when you were doing this. It was less competition that it wasn't cool to be a screenwriter or director. It wasn't. Nobody even knew what that was to just knew that movies were made.

Marshall Herskovitz 10:08
Yeah, I know, it's true. I mean, it was hard to break in it, by the way, there were trade offs, because there was much fewer product. You know, there were three television networks in those days instead of 200. You know, it's easier to get a job today, but harder to have your own voice today. You know, I think you could have a voice in those days. And, and, and I felt that I had one. And it was something that I that I felt I needed to listen to. So you know, look, the one thing has always been true, which is to make it in this business, you have to be driven, you have to be, you have to need to do what I remember, when I was still in Boston, talking to some person who had been to Hollywood, you know, saying, you know, how do I do this? And, you know, do I have a chance of making it? And this person said to me, basically, if there's anything else you can do, you'll end up doing it? If there's nothing else you can do, then maybe we'll have a chance.

Alex Ferrari 11:15
I don't listen, I don't know if it happened to you. But I mean, I've gone through this, I mean, I've got a lot of shrapnel, I'm sure as you do in this battle of these years working in this business. And there was times I wanted to leave, I'd like I just I can't take it anymore. I want to quit. It's I'm like I and then the voice in the back of your head, like what else you're gonna do? What are you going to go and get real job? What does he get it like it's at a certain point you just like, and that happened to you multiple times? And how did you break through that? Because it's still happening?

Marshall Herskovitz 11:53
I have to say about that, I have to say about that. First of all, I had an inherent belief in what they now call the hero's journey before he had any idea of what a hero's journey was, it's so deeply embedded in our culture, that I believe that everything was a test. And, you know, they're going to throw the shit at you to try to get you to quit, and therefore you just have to try harder. Why I thought that I don't know, no one told me that. That was just my belief. And so my belief was Okay, I get it. Oh, now, six bad things have happened. And I want to leave. Okay, this is the moment when you have to dig down and say, No, I'm not going to leave. I don't know why I believe that. I'm grateful that I did. Because I think it got me through. But the other thing is, it took me many years to realize this something somebody Ed and I talk about a lot. There's a cycle in this business and probably other businesses, but I think it's more of this business, because it's so speculative. The cycle goes like this, you are nobody, you have nothing to lose, you do something bold, you do something original. people notice it, you get attention, you they start to build you up, you start to make money, people start to believe in you, you start to think that you know what you're doing. And in thinking that you know what you're doing, you become cautious, and, and maybe arrogant. And then you make a stupid mistake, and you come tumbling down and are completely humbled by the business. And in the midst of your despair, you have nothing to lose, and you could start being original again. And I could chart five times in our career, when that sort of thing has happened where in some way, you know how they say in Southern California, fire is a natural part of the lifecycle of this environment and it you need to have fires. Well, failure is a natural part of the lifecycle of a career. You have to have failure, you have to fail at things. That's the only way you learn. That's the only way you you grow and become better. And I think people are so afraid of failure, that they become mediocre to avoid it. And the business now allows for that, you know, you know, we always talk about how people fail upwards, which means they're mediocre and they don't make a huge mistake. So they sort of keep sort of moving up. I'm not a believer in that. I'm a believer in you take the chance and then you take what happens

Alex Ferrari 14:32
you know like I mean there's a filmmaker out right now who's you know, taking swings at the bat that I'm so regardless if you'd like the movies or not but someone like Chris Nolan who oh my god is taking massive swings at the Bat believable. Yeah, unbelievable swings at bat and I'm so glad there's guys like him and Fincher and these kind of guys that just go up there and just take massive because there's there's you could take Creative choices are creative challenges and do things that are original at a lower budget. But when you get up to the 150 to $100 million, and you do something like inception, or 10.

Marshall Herskovitz 15:10
I know

Alex Ferrari 15:11
that's, that's a that's a risk. Because imagine if that really badly, you could put in direct to jail. And that's the thing.

Marshall Herskovitz 15:20
I understand. And I have enormous respect. And as you say, it's like I couldn't even follow Tennant. You know, I'll be honest, I couldn't follow it. I want to watch it again. Watch it backwards, you know. And then he makes Dunkirk, which is like, sublime. Do you know what I mean? And it doesn't matter, because he's an incredible filmmaker, who has a vision, who has the resources, the wherewithal and the courage to follow that vision. And, and and you're right, we need people like that. We need a business that will still support people like that. And if there's one big difference between today and 3040 years ago, it's that there were more people in positions of power, who were willing to trust filmmakers back then. That's just a fact.

Alex Ferrari 16:08
I mean, look, we wouldn't have Star Wars. Without Alan Ladd I mean, Alan lamb took a risk on a filmmaker who made THX 1138, which was a horrible bomb. He's like, Hey, you know what? I think let's give him like 9 million sure you can have the merchandising rights. I'm sure that that will work out fine for everybody.

Marshall Herskovitz 16:28
You know, one of the most famous stories in Hollywood merchandising story was amazing. Well, because

Alex Ferrari 16:34
all contracts were rewritten after that. I mean, it would have for that

Marshall Herskovitz 16:37

Alex Ferrari 16:39
Because like there's no money in lunchboxes and our action figures. What is that to a sci fi movie at? You're taking kid? It's, it's absolutely remarkable. I always talk I always talk about the the punch that everybody gets in this in this business. No matter how big you are, no matter how accomplished minor were what stage in life you are. punches continues to come all the time. And as you get older, as you get older, you learn how to duck, a bit. Like when you're younger, you learn how to take it, you learn how to take the punch and keep going like you were saying like, okay, they threw six or seven things at me. Screw you, I'm still going. That's the taking of the punches. But some people get that first punch and their outfit out of the game. They're cold cocked. Yeah, as you get older, sometimes you could duck sometimes you can weave, sometimes it gets getting off you and sometimes it just misses you all together. But that's that's age. That's experience.

Marshall Herskovitz 17:35
Well, can I tell you, I don't think Ed and I have ever learned how to duck or we've, I think we got one of the worst punches of our career this just this past year in 2020. And we were just destroyed by it just destroyed. And I'll even say what it is we we thought we were doing a reboot of 30 something. Yeah, I had a great idea. It basically, it wasn't a redo. It was basically saying it's another generation, all of their children are now in their 30s. And it's going to be as much about their children as it is about the original cast members. And we wrote seven scripts, and we thought it was going to go and we had our our whole heart and soul in this thing. And ABC decided not to do it. And we were just like, we were undone. So here we were, you know, there was no ducking, there was no weaving that was a straight punch right to the face. Yeah. And, you know, and, and the, you know, the thing about the business, if you're a creative person, meaning if you when I say creative person, we're all creative people, what I need is if you make your living by creating things, either as a producer, director, writer, that sort of thing. This is gonna happen over and over and over again, you have to be willing to endure that kind of rejection, which is not the same as failure failure is once you've made it, and people shit on it, you know, rejection is before you get to make it, and people don't take it seriously, or they don't think it's good enough, or they decide they don't want to do it for whatever reason, you know, and and, you know, the point is, it takes just as much work we have, we put months and months and months of work into that, even though we hadn't shot you know, anything. And it was it was awful. But that's why that's that's the that's the job if you can't handle that you

Alex Ferrari 19:39
can't do this job. And that's the thing that I want people listening to understand because a lot of people think, you know, someone like you and Ed, you know, all all doors are wide open. They just, you know, how much do you need? Marshal? How much do you need and because of your track record, I mean, you guys have an remarkable track record individually and as a team remarkable track records as writers producers and directors. And yet and I've said this so many times I look, I always use the example of Spielberg, but I'm going to use you guys as an example. But like Spielberg couldn't get Lincoln gonna get Lincoln, you know, finance, you have to go. So Scorsese couldn't get silenced finance for 20 years ago. And to do icon Yeah, they're too iconic. And yet, Graham, I

Marshall Herskovitz 20:17
don't read my go, Oh, they should be able to do it. Also, I know it would be

Alex Ferrari 20:21
impossible, right. And you know what I've said that story to other people like yourself, and they're like, you know what, I'm not crying for Steve. I'm not crying for Marty, either. But I understand your point. But there's people at every stage of their career at every stage, no matter what they've done Oscars, no Oscars, big box office hits non big opposite, you still is still a struggle. It's still a struggle,

Marshall Herskovitz 20:45
constant struggle constant.

Alex Ferrari 20:47
And that's what I want people listening to understand that, like, there is no magical place that you'll get to in this career. We're just doors, doors will be wide open all the time. It might happen once or twice. Yeah, after big hit after a big hit. You're that you're the toast of the town. You're the belle of the ball. What would you like, and that's when you stick in that that project that you've been wanting to get done for the last 20 years? Like a medieval Excalibur reboot?

Marshall Herskovitz 21:11
There you go. Correct.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Now, when you brought up 30 something, how did you guys you and had come up with that? Because I mean, I remember when I was growing up, I mean, I wasn't in my 30s then but I do remember 30 something was a he was a monster hit it was a monster hit for ABC. When it came out? How did you? How did you guys come up with that whole that whole thing?

Marshall Herskovitz 21:33
Oh, there's a funny story behind it, you know, we Oh, my God, you know, I'm trying to figure out how far to back this up. But But essentially, out because we had done this TV movie called special bulletin, which I can talk about later, which made a big splash in the 80s. It was about nuclear proliferation and nuclear bombs and all of that, it kind of put us on the map. And we were offered a television deal at MGM television, right. And of course, we didn't want to do television, we want to do movies. We thought television was you know, shit. And so we took this deal at MGM television, explicitly for the purpose of the fact that I wanted to put a second story on my little tiny house in Santa Monica. And it would pay me just enough money to do that. And the idea was to try to get out of doing anything they wanted us to do, because they were going to pay us a guarantee. But we didn't have to do anything, you know, we were only obliged to try to sell the television series. That's That's it, just try to sell the television series. So the moment came, where we were going to have the pitch meetings at the network's. And, you know, we had come up with ideas for series and I turned to Ed, and I said, you know, these are all terrible ideas. What if we sell one of these? It's like, we would have to make this this is awful, you know, I and so, and this is not a joke. We sat down, we said, okay, what we need is an idea for a series that has no chance of going. But if it goes, we wouldn't mind doing. So we said, What would that look like? And I sat there and I thought well, you know, what's interesting is that on television at this moment, we're talking about now 1986 there is nothing that represents the baby boom generation except Saturday Night Live. And show called Kate nalli.

Alex Ferrari 23:27
Yeah, remember kitten alley? Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 23:28
Yeah. And that was it. Everything else would had nothing to do with baby boomers. And I said to add, you know, look, we know all these people in this moment in their lives, they're having babies are messy with their careers, you know, this person is afraid to settle down. And it's very interesting, because ed is normally so open to everything looked at me with this look, he gets, you know, we have the same. It's like, he gets this look, that looks like a grimace. And I go, why are you tilt down on this already? And he goes, I'm not down on it. It's just my face. I'm not making a face, you know, they right? He gave me that face. And he was he was just completely, you know, didn't buy this. And in those days, of course, we had this stupid little office at MGM and and at one in the afternoon, we could just go home because we didn't have anything we had to do. So we went back to his house, and his wife Liberty was there. And I tell her this idea I have Why don't we just talk about people we know know, Ed's will point was, but there are no cops in it. They're no lawyers, no doctors, how you going to sell a television series that doesn't have any of the franchises. And I said what do we care about that? Their story and and God bless her Liberty went, Oh my god, I love that idea. And she started just listing all the people she knew and all the dilemmas in her life. And because ed is added he loves liberty. Somehow when she said it, it made sense to him when I said it didn't make sense to him. So literally by the end of that afternoon, we had sketched out this seven characters. You know, by the next day, we had written this sort of manifesto of the series, we went in the day after that to ABC. And of course, who are the executives in the room, they're all in their 30s. One is pregnant, they were exactly the demographic for the show. And we basically sold it in the room to them. And, and, you know, it was the whole thing was kind of charmed. And the irony was, we didn't want to do it. We did not want to do it. You know, it's sort of, that's when Ed started quoting that great john lennon line of you know, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, because at every step along the way, you know, alright, so we wrote the pilot. And people loved the pilot, they said, Go make the pilot. And then I directed the pilot, which is the first thing I directed, and they loved the pilot. And then, in those days, they had what was called selling season in New York City, in May, where they would, you know, show everything to the advertisers and decide what they were going to pick up. It's what now it's called, whatever the sweeps, like sweep, sweep, not the sweeps, you know, the the, the TCPA is whatever they're called, up front, basically. But in those days, there were no cell phones. So you were ordered to go to New York and sit in your hotel room for five days and be within range of your telephone in the hotel room, because you might get a call that your show was picked up. So we sat there like idiots for for four days in New York on the on the fourth day, we get a call from the head of the studio. And that's a whole other story. David Gerber, who was one of the greats is such a character. Every second word was it was a curse word. And he says, and he had this, he said, they love this package. Oh, that's great. But you got to change the name. They don't 30 something, make no sense. But you got to change the name, they want to use grownups. And we go grownups. That's a terrible idea. He goes, Well, they don't know if they can get it because she'll swiper older, but they want to use grownups. And we go, Well, we hate the idea. We don't want to use grown up, we want it to be 30 something. So he hangs up. Okay, so we thought it was over, you know. And then of course, the next day at noon, he calls he goes, they're picking up the show.

Alex Ferrari 27:21
So you're actively trying to sabotage, sabotage.

Marshall Herskovitz 27:25
And not only that, I'll go further. We hang up the phone, and he's like, you guys are amazing. They're like, you could hear cheering behind that they picked up the show. We hang up the phone, and we look at each other. And the thing is, Ed, and I have this shorthand with each other. We don't speak very often, you know, in sometimes these situations, we just looked at each other. And we listed, you know, shook our heads, and went for a walk up madison avenue for about an hour, thinking that our lives had just been completely derailed. And now we were doing a television series instead of being movie makers. And in those days, remember, TV was the great wasteland in those days,

Alex Ferrari 28:03
right? It was about to say that it's not the thing like now TVs have no place to be.

Marshall Herskovitz 28:08
Yes, no, we were sellouts. It's like what are we doing with our lives? It's so and I say that in the full knowledge of how stupid we were at that moment. And I delight in our stupidity at that moment. But that's where we were, we thought, Oh, fuck, we sold a television series.

Alex Ferrari 28:25
I guess we're gonna have to go do it now. And that's the thing. That's the one thing I've I've heard this from multiple people in the business. If you want to get rich, you work in television, if you want to be an artist, you go to movies, because because there's a lot more money to be made, at least there was back, you know, when the residual there was much more money to be made in television than there was in syndication and all of that kind of stuff. As opposed to a movie. It's just a one. So it's like,

Marshall Herskovitz 28:54
That's right. That's right. Yeah, nowadays. You're one of those few people, you know, who, you know, the few directors who can make $10 million, a movie or they can make 20. But they're very rare. Very rare, and especially in today's world. I mean, look, the last few movies Ed and I have made literally, we ended up losing money on them. You know, we made a woman movie called woman walks ahead, we ended up not only giving up our fees, but each of us paying $25,000 you know, in the post process, and so we lost money on that film, when you know, so that's, you know, basically the movie business now consists of 90% indie films where nobody makes money and 10% these big studio productions that are $200 million productions, and that's a very small club that makes those movies

Alex Ferrari 29:45
right in you're absolutely right. And I mean, movies, some of the movies that you guys got made, like, glory, I can't see glory getting made in today's world. Sure, you know, legends of the fall. I mean, Even even if even if you still had Brad Pitt and and Anthony Hopkins in it, I'd still be a tough sell as a studio movie, it might be more as a mini major kind of scenario,

Marshall Herskovitz 30:12
we have a follow up to legends of all i don't mean a sequel, I mean a, a piece that said in 1905, not the same characters or anything like that, but it has a lot of the feel of Legends of the fall. We can't get anybody to even consider making that movie because they're, it's just a different world. Now.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
That's all again, super if you put a cape on them. I'm Jeff, hey, I'm nobody. I'm just saying it might be a lot. I'm just trying to help. I'm just trying to help Marshall. So, so obviously, you and Ed have been, you know, you've obviously been great friends since since the AMI days. What is the writing process? Like? What is the process? How do you guys actually do the writing? Like I always love to hear really good questions. Yeah, I love it.

Marshall Herskovitz 31:01
You know, what's funny is that when we started, I did the writing, we would do the stories together. And then I would do the writing. And when I was supposed to write the pilot of 30, something I was seriously blocked. I mean, I was so blocked, that after three weeks, I had written one act. And, you know, he and God bless him. He he came in one day we were, we had these little offices, like I said, at MGM, and he sat down next to me. And he just took the keyboard. And from that moment, we started writing together. We never said a word about it. We never had, we never discussed what the terms were how we would do it, we just started doing it. And it was all Him, He saved me a demo, he literally saved me. And I think over the years, what we've worked out is we just hand off, in other words, some period of time I have the keyboard some period of time, he has the keyboard. And by the way, this works just as well. Over zoom, actually, we use a thing called goto meeting, but it's the same thing. But you can at least look at the document while you're doing it. Or in person. And one person is looking at a monitor and the other person has the keyboard. And basically, the person with the keyboard is kind of the captain of the ship at that moment, the other person talks and yells and says no do this. And but the person or the keyboard says no, I'm doing it this way. You know, unless we scream too much, then you know, but basically, we we listen to each other. Um, we, you know, it's funny, when when Ed and I started out, he had a very specific set of skills, and I had a different set of skills. And over the years, we've learned each other's skills, but he's still better at what he started out at. And I'm still better at what I started out at. And that's part of I think, what makes us such a good team. And, and that differences that Ed has the greatest story sense of anyone I've ever met in my wife. I mean, I used to say, you could drop ed in any story. And in five minutes, he can tell you where it came from and where it's going, it'll his his ability to, understand the schema of what has to happen, what happened before where it has to go, where the other people fit into it is astonishing. And his speed at it's like speed chess, watching him work, sort of structuring a story. When I met him, he didn't really have much skill at sort of depicting how people actually speak or what happens, you know, between people in a scene, and that was my strength. I hadn't a clue what a story was no clue at all. But I could write a scene, I could, you know, get into the nuances of how people behave with each other, and why sometimes people say what they feel or don't say, what they feel and why they sometimes don't talk and why and other times, they can't stop speaking. Um, and so, you know, we quickly learned to respect the other skill. And so if I'm writing a scene, and he would say, why are you doing that back and forth? So many times, I would say just shut up. It's gonna work, you know? And then he would see that it would work because it would all go boom, boom, boom, just like that, you know, two people why? I don't know, we actually know. But you said that, that other people talking over each other. That was something I understood. Whereas he would say, this scene makes no sense. It doesn't fit into what you're doing, I would learn to understand that he's right when he says that. So. So we each apply our skills as it's going along. But there's a certain level of trust you have to have. I mean, I couldn't do this with anybody else. Because basically, you're like, you're you're just saying any stupid thing that comes to your mind. And what we've come to realize, by the way, and I think this is really important to understand is we've come to understand that if there's a moment where you hesitate because you think Your idea is dumb or embarrassing or revealing in some way. That's the moment where the other person has to say, what is that your thing? You're thinking right now? What is that thing? Stop right now tell me what you're thinking right now. Because whatever that thing is, that's going to be great. The thing you fear is going to be bad is going to be the good idea. And so we expect that in each other. And it's a vulnerability, that it's a sort of a mutual vulnerability, where you know that the things that are the truest are the hardest to say, and therefore you're, you're not going to want to say them. And by the way, corollary to that is that we both hate writers rooms. I mean, I, you know, I know we are far outside the mainstream, but I think writers rooms are terrible places for just that reason. Because the best ideas can't be said in front of eight people. It's too revealing to say it in front of eight people. And so when we do our shows, we don't have writers rooms. I mean, we bring everybody in, and we will sort of talk about the season in general. But then when we're working out each episode, we bring that writer in and we we we get we we work out the outline for that episode with that writer and let that writer going right in. And that works out much more efficiently. And with a much better product, we feel for that very reason. Because people then are less afraid to say what they're really thinking.

Alex Ferrari 36:25
Now, you talking a little bit about fear, and breaking kind of because there's this whole town is run by fear. Let's just be honest. Everyone in the entire town is run by fear. This entire industry is run by fear. And it's getting worse and worse and worse as the years have gone by even in my short tenure in this business.

Marshall Herskovitz 36:46
I've seen the corporate America is run by fear. And now the movie business is corporate America. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 36:52
So you always so did you ever write a loan before at or did you guys just start and just that's

Marshall Herskovitz 36:58
not always I wrote alone? I but we both wrote alone? I wrote a bunch of things alone before. Yes. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 37:04
Okay. So my question to you is, when you decided to say to yourself, I want to be a screenwriter. And you sat down and you saw a blank page, because I'm assuming there wasn't a screen at that point, it might have been more likely might have been a page or a screen. And up to you,

Marshall Herskovitz 37:18
though, it was a page, it was a bit.

Alex Ferrari 37:20
So when you looked at that blank page? Yeah. What did you say to yourself to break through the fear of actually starting to write because it is the most terrifying thing for a writer to see a blinking cursor, or a blank white page, it is a terrifying place to start.

Marshall Herskovitz 37:34
It's the most terrifying thing. It's the thing. And by the way, I would say did me and for 20 years, I mean, I think why was I blocked when I was writing 30 something because I have that fear you're talking about? I just, I couldn't break through that fear. I think, look, I'm a I'm a big proponent of psychotherapy. And I think psychotherapy in particular, when it comes to work, when it comes to the creative process is incredibly valuable. Because each of us has a voice inside our heads. That is self loading. Then you just wrote us a piece of shit. And it instantly goes into we'll tell you exactly. We humiliated you will be when people read that horrible thing you just wrote, and it's paralyzing. That kind of fear is paralyzing. That's shame. It's really shame is what we're talking about. Writing is so filled with shame, because you are exposing yourself. And you're exposing yourself to the worst kind of criticism, shaming criticism, how could you have thought that? How could you write that you bore me, you know, you're uninteresting, you're bad, all of those things. So you have to develop the ability in yourself the compassion in yourself, to say, I'm going to write this anyway, even though I might be shamed. You know the words it's about letting the shame wash over you and realize you survive on the other side. Now, Ed's wick, who is less afflicted by shame than I am, although he certainly is afflicted by it, for sure. But he's, I think we're able to cut through that his invoice is right at bad. In other words, go right for the shame. Just write it bad. Because it won't be that bad anyway. But the point is, except that it's going to be bad and write it anyway. Because you can always rewrite, rewriting is much easier than writing. I think, once I learned that, once I learned, I could try a scene. And if it's bad, it's going to take me 30 minutes to rewrite it anyway, what's the difference? It was very freeing. And so it's much easier for me to write now than it was 30 years ago because I was so consumed with shame and fear of shame at that time, so I feel for every writer, this is our lot in life issue is to face that shame. Every single day, but it's to understand that it's shame. That's what you're afraid of, is shame

Alex Ferrari 40:06
at the I've said this on other episodes about this, and it's something that I've, I think all creatives go through, but I think we, we, we go through it a little bit more as filmmakers and screenwriters is, the ego is a very dangerous, dangerous thing inside of ourselves. And that that voice that you're talking about, I always use the analogy is, if you go out and you have a big meal, and it's you're stuffed, and then the dessert tray comes, that voice in the back of your head goes, go ahead, have the cheese cake, you just work out tomorrow, it'll be fine, then you get the cheesecake. And then later that evening, when you're at home and you're undressing in front of the mirror, that same voice goes you fat pig, hi, could you have eaten that damn cheesecake. And that is, and that is the voice. And this is similar voice to the shame voice that you're talking about. You can have voices the one that got you to write, but then the other one, but it's also going to shame you it's it's it's horrible thing that we have to deal with,

Marshall Herskovitz 41:04
as human beings, as human beings. And by the way, I see it as two different voices. Okay, I see, we all have parts. And that's what I believe we all have parts. And there's one part that's a shaming part. And there's another part that has the appetite and the desire and wants to be a big deal or be creative, or be famous or be rich or any number of things. We have different parts, you know, and the problem is at any given moment, one part is Ascendant and the other part is pushed down. So yes, you look at that cheesecake, and the part that says, Oh, I can do this takes over. And then the next morning, the shamer says, You idiot, why did you do that, you know, and, and it's learning how to live with them, and, and sort of figure out some middle ground between all these voices. And also, I believe, very strongly at this point in my life, in the idea of compassion for yourself, I think that's the thing I did not have, for many, many, many years, I had no compassion for myself. And I, you know, I think most people would have described me as a very compassionate person toward other people. It was something that was very important to me, I had no compassion for myself. And that was very hard won and hard fought. And it's changed my life to be at a point where I do have some compassion for, you know, why I became that way why I'm so susceptible to shame. And here's the problem. People don't go to Hollywood, we go into this business, if they're all right up here.

Alex Ferrari 42:38
I've said that 1000 times

Marshall Herskovitz 42:40
1000 times some hole to fill, you know, you've got some deficit that you're trying to get over from your childhood, if you're out, you're trying to do this, instead of going into the family business in Pittsburgh or, or becoming, you know, what I mean? Honestly, they're, they're, we are propelled by by darkness, you know, in many ways to do this. And that, that's a part of our makeup that were damaged in some way. I believe that and and I have a lot of compassion for that, you know, other people and in myself, and as you know, I like the percentage of damaged people in the film is this must be higher than than other, per capita,

Alex Ferrari 43:21
or industry, per capita.

Marshall Herskovitz 43:25
I mean, patiently, you're surrounded by crazy people of one kind or another. This is one of the few, this is one of the few industries that rewards you if your bipolar rewards you if you have ADD, you know, rewards improve things that would normally harm you in other businesses. So, you know, look, we we are that thing about the tilted the country and all the nuts and bolts, all the nuts went to California, there's some truth to that, you know, because, because there was an ache that brought us out here to try to achieve something and you have to understand that that ache, that's never you're never going to find a source of that in success, you're going to find a source of that in healing yourself.

Alex Ferrari 44:08
Yeah. And I would agree with you. And I think that's something that a lot of writers go through is that that self compassion, and I mean, in my early years, and even into my mid to late 30s, I was brutal to myself, brutal, I just would just pound myself and beat so hard and literally just tear myself apart, where I was more compassionate to people outside of me. And it took my wife to be pointed out to me she's just like, you've got to stop Do you can't beat yourself up about that. Till Finally I I finally get into the place where I'm like, I gotta I gotta give myself a bit of a break, man, because it's, I'm only hurting. You're only hurting yourself. You're hurting your chances only makes it worse. The only makes it worse. It's tough enough, and it's tough enough. Yeah, it's really true. Now you you have gone through a lot of ups. You've got you've gone through a lot of ups and downs in this business, you've been at the highest of highs, and I'm sure you've been at the lowest lows. How do you handle? How does the the psyche, the ego handle, you know, being at, you know, the Oscars, you know, with a project or and then having 30 something, your new 30 something completely just get punched in the face? How do you deal with that at different stages of your life? What's your advice for that?

Marshall Herskovitz 45:27
Well, I think, you know, it's it's along the lines of what we've been talking about, which is, is understanding that, that you're free. There's a, there was a wonderful book 20 years ago called iron john by Robert Bly about what it is to be a man. And a lot of people made fun of that book, because there were all these men's group that respond from it, which were kind of silly, but the book itself is filled with incredible wisdom. And that book helped me understand the idea that, you know, that that failure is part of the lifecycle, and that no man can really avoid failure forever. And that, you know, you have to embrace failure. And so I think understanding that as a big, big help, but it's Look, these blows are just, you know, I had a terrible thing happened 1314 years ago, where I had a startup called quarter life, that was a, that was a social network, and also show an online show. And the online show was successful for a while, but the social network failed, because at that time, the whole point of our social network was it Facebook was only open to college students. And we thought, Well, what happens when you get out of college? You know, and of course, right, when we were developing our website, Facebook just opened itself up to everybody. So our entire financial model went away. And I lost a huge amount of money in this, this was a huge humiliation for me, and not just humiliation, it was destructive. And it was horrible. And I had to say, you know, what, I took a chance, this is something I believed in, and I took a chance and it didn't work, and I gotta move on, you know, and so, that took a while, but you pick yourself up. If you if you still have that fire inside to do something, then you have to listen to that and and say, there are more challenges ahead. So that's all you can do you live with the shame of that and you you move on.

Alex Ferrari 47:36
I mean, look, Katzenberg, you know, put out to put out kwibi. And yeah, he took a swing, he took a very billion multi billion dollar Swing, swing, and you know what, and he he was he was chatting, he was taking a chance and he's like, you know what, I think this is where it's going. I have a pretty decent track record. I think this is what's going and on paper it seemed like a solid investment. But unfortunately, it didn't go up but you know what, I give them nothing but props for taking the swing. You got to gotta have people like that. If not, you know, if it wasn't, you know, for SpaceX or Ilan Musk, or or Ford or Edison, or jobs, or any of these guys who took those big swings in every aspect. We wouldn't be where we are today. So Oh, boy, that's that bravery. And I think as a creative as a screenwriter. Sometimes you got to take that that swing as well.

Marshall Herskovitz 48:26
Absolutely. I I've lived that way I believe in that. And I and I'm willing to take my lumps because I believe in that because you will because you're going to take lumps if that's the way you're going to live.

Alex Ferrari 48:39
Again. No question. Now I wanted to I wanted to take you to your first your first directorial debut jack the bear with Danny DeVito. I love that movie. It was it came out during my my window, my window in the video store. my years at the video store came out so I remember recommending it. I remember the Bach the VHS box on the stage. Like, like I tell a lot of my guests 87 and 94 I'll beat anybody in Tripoli will pursue one movie serviette because that's the time I saw everything that came out. When you when you did that film, which was a wonderful film. You didn't write it you directed if I'm not mistaken.

Marshall Herskovitz 49:16
It was written by Steve Zaillian

Alex Ferrari 49:17
right, not about he's he's okay. He's done. Okay. He's done okay for himself. Um, what was the biggest lesson you learned directing that film? Because I'm assuming I know you direct to some episodic at that point. But

Marshall Herskovitz 49:29
yeah, you

Alex Ferrari 49:30
were you were you were you were at the game. You were at the at the Big Show?

Marshall Herskovitz 49:35
Well, I learned a lot of lessons from directing that film and most of them were negative lessons. Um, it was a very difficult film very, very difficult. There were a lot of problems attendant on that film. And, And truth be known. In retrospect, I think I should have withdrawn and not made it actually. And that's a hard thing to say. Yeah. But, you know, without going too deeply into it, here's here's the issue. I think that although I think Steve Zaillian is one of the greatest writers of our, of our industry, that script has structural problems when I got to the project, by page 60, you did not know what that story was about. And and I don't think a movie can sustain that. And so I, I wanted to make some serious structural changes in the first half of the movie. And Danny DeVito, who at that moment was very ascendant in his career. He was actually prepping hoffa, which was his going to be his big

Alex Ferrari 50:43

Marshall Herskovitz 50:45
big, big directorial project. You know, he had script approval, and Dan and, and Danny love the script as it was. And so they would not allow me to make any changes in the script. And I knew that it didn't work. It was a wonderful script, from page to page, in the scenes, the dialogue, you know, was wonderful, but structurally, it was very problematic. And, and so, I remember, it's very interesting. Danny and I had an interesting relationship, you know, in pre production. We argued a lot about the script. And, uh, and he is he, he's a very smart guy, Dan, and he got, he saw what my fear was, and he and he went right to it one day, he said to me, he said, Look, you're the director of this movie. And when we're shooting this movie, you tell me to stand here, I stand here, you tell me to laugh. I laugh. But right now we're talking about the script. And, and that's what's important. And, and he understood that I, as a first time director, I had anxiety that I was working with this big star, you know, and he was true to his word, you know, as an actor, he was great to work with and, and, and cooperative and, and collaborative. You know, the issues were about the script. And we went ahead and shot the movie, we had a lot of issues in the shooting, because the the, the, the schedule was too short. And I knew it, and the people in production knew it. But the studio didn't want to spend more money on it, because it was a soft kind of movie. And so we went behind schedule, as I knew we would, and got into big fights about that. But the big problem came in editing, the problem came in editing, because when we put it together, sure enough, the beginning part didn't work, as I had told them, it would not work, because, you know, it just it was it needed to be sort of condensed into something that you understood where you were going. And so they wanted to fire my editor. I said, You're not firing this editor. This is a guy Steve Rosenbloom, who we've worked with, both at and I've worked with since film school, who I think is the most brilliant editor in Hollywood. And, and, you know, I put my body in front of him, they actually brought in a second editor in addition to Him, who finally gave up saying, I don't know what to do with this. And, you know, we spent a year just editing that film. That's unheard of less than three months editing a film, three, four months, tops, editing a film, you know, a year just editing. And finally came up with something I suggested two days of reshoots to help knit some things together. And they gave me the two days of reshoots, and we were able to sort of create, you know, sort of knit together the story in such a way that that beginning part worked. And so, you know, it was a difficult painful process it you know, as a first movie, to have to do battle with the studio head to do battle with your star and all of that. It was it was, it was tough. It was tough. And then it came out and of course, did no business at all. And, you know, and critics, here's an interesting thing that I that you know, it you know, we talked about you you never see the bullet that hits you.

We, we knew the problems were in the first half of the movie. Once we got through the first half of the movie, it worked like a top. Okay. And so I'm sitting there with my editor Steve, in a in the first preview, and the audience is laughing and they're into it and we get to halfway through the movie and they're clearly loving the movie. And we're like high fiving like we solve this and then you get to that last part of the movie where it turns dark right and you know the the neighbor Norman you know, attacks the boy and oh, That you could feel the energy in the audience change immediately. And we realized, oh my god, people don't like this at all. And what I realized is that when you have a tone change in a movie, late in the movie, people don't like it doesn't mean it's not good. It means they don't like it. There's a difference, in other words, that they thought it was one kind of movie, and then it became a different kind of movie. Now, when you look at the movie, I put in 100 warnings, what's coming? Some of them, I think, very overt, of like, watch out, watch out, watch out monsters are real monsters that are real. But people don't listen to that. Do you know what I mean? They were taken by surprise. And they thought it became a different kind of movie at the end. And that was, you know, critics hated that. And, and it did no business. And so, you know, I look, I look at the movie. And to me, it still works as intended. And I think those warnings are there, and they work. But for audiences, it didn't work. So, you know, I learned also that you have to think, like an audience member,

Alex Ferrari 56:12
you can't

Marshall Herskovitz 56:12
just think, as a filmmaker. And now when I am writing, and when I'm directing, and when I'm editing, what I'm doing is on the audience, I'm not just the Creator, I'm the person. I'm looking through both sides of the telescope. And I'm saying what is my experience as an audience right now? And is it what I expect? Am I disturbed by it? I'm disturbed in a good way in a bad way. Am I taken out of the movie? I think about that much more seriously than I did before that process. So I think there were lots of lessons from that movie.

Alex Ferrari 56:51
So I love I love the concept of the tone changes because that is something that's a very dangerous thing to do in a film is to change the tone because you'll lose your audience. And the the, the one film that always stuck with my head is a Tarantino film, which he wrote but didn't direct which is called From Dusk Till Dawn, which was the first half of the movie is basically a kidnapping heist film right? Out of nowhere, vampires show up. And then the, and then it turns into vapor. And the tone shift just jars so jarring. There's nothing before that tells you. Hey, there's some vampires coming out even a poster on the wall. Nothing. Nothing. So that's something that writers listening really careful with that tone change because it can really just throw you off.

Marshall Herskovitz 57:38
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It's it's just one of those things. It's the difference between movie reality and real reality and real reality. Shit happens. You know, all of a sudden, you have a car accident and your life just changed.

Alex Ferrari 57:52
Tone shift, but tone shifted. Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 57:54
But but in movie reality, there has to be some unity of of not just tone of character of Overwatch thing. So that's what's what people expect.

Alex Ferrari 58:04
Yeah, like, you can't have Darth Vader all of a sudden be the nice guy at the end. Like, it's that that doesn't but but yeah, I've seen that happen in bad movies with characters that just, yeah, they weren't the guy. They weren't the kind of character that would kick the dog. But then halfway after halfway through the movie, they kick the dog. You're like, wait a minute, I know, No, you can't. You can't take me down a road. And then Sucker Punch me like that.

Marshall Herskovitz 58:28
It's Yeah, yes.

Alex Ferrari 58:30
It's very, very tough. Now, another project you were involved in as a producer, which I would love to hear any, any stories behind the scenes or how you even got involved with it with traffic? I mean, that that is such a I mean, obviously, it's at this point in legendary film, I remember when it came out. It's, it's bizarre Berg, who's, you know, brilliant, and so on. But, yeah, it was a risky film, like the way he shot it the way you constructed the storylines. How did you how did you get involved the movie? And how did that go?

Marshall Herskovitz 59:00
Well, first of all, that was mostly Ed. I mean, Ed wanted to do a story about the war on drugs. And, you know, I, I think, I think my participation in that was more supportive than than most of the things especially because, you know, we didn't write it. We didn't direct it. I mean, Ed was going to direct it. But when he found out that Soderbergh was doing something very similar and had the rights to the traffic miniseries, you know, he called Steven I'm sure he had told the story that he called.

Alex Ferrari 59:32
He didn't he didn't tell us Oh,

Marshall Herskovitz 59:34
it's very, very interesting, because he was kind of stuck and on, on how to make it work. And he called Steven and said, Listen, we don't know each other. I know you're doing this thing. We're doing the same thing. Let's not try to do two things. Let's work together. Would you be open to that? And Soderbergh just said, done. That was it. That was the whole conversation. You know, so from that moment on, you know, yeah, he was gonna direct it, we were gonna produce it. And he kind of, you know, got it together in such a way that the script worked and went and did it. And look, we had no interest in telling Soderbergh what to do. I mean, he was, he's amazing, you know, and, and we learned a lot from him. He has such a different style from us. And I just wanted to see how he worked. And I'll tell you an interesting thing that happened. You know, it's basically three or four different movies. I mean, the casts in their stories almost never saw each other. Okay. And yet, there's this incredible consistency of performance throughout the film. And I remember I was doing a panel when the film came out with with two of the actors. And one of the questions was, how did Sodor How does Soderbergh work with the actors? And they each said, Soderbergh never said a word to me. He never gave me any direction. He just I was so shocked, because you know, I spent a little time on the set, but not enough to really like, you know, first of all, Soderbergh was the operator.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:20
Yeah, he's he's the DP Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:01:22
And so you know, you're he's right there with the actors, you're back with the monitors. I didn't really know if he was talking to them or not, you know, so. But I was shocked that he, they said, literally, he didn't talk to us. And I, and it's funny, Ed has a theory that, that, you know, that a lot of directing is osmosis in the sense that your bio rhythms as a director, get transmitted to the actors? And you know, and and so you have to be very careful what your biorhythms are, because it's going to affect their performances. And what I realized at that moment was that Soderbergh if you know, him, he's very taciturn. He, he's not that expressive as a person, which I think puts a lot of people on edge and makes him seem very serious. He's actually not that serious. He's very funny guy, but he seems very serious. And but I think actors, when they're around Steven, they know they can't fuck around. They know they have to show up. And there's something about his, that that fear of being judged, because he's not judgmental. I'm not saying that. But when somebody is not expressive, or reactive, you put it in, you put out that thing, right? You know what I mean? Right, right. So I think having this guy six feet away from you holding the camera, and sort of in the scene with you had the same effect on every actor, which brought out sort of their A game, their most grown up self, you know, and, um, it's an amazing effect, that, that, you know, in some alchemical way, he got these consistent performances from everyone because of who he is. And that was a very interesting lesson for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:18
I mean, because the cast was I mean, the cast was remarkable and so many different styles of actor and actor

Marshall Herskovitz 1:03:26
yeah and performance are wonderful and they're so every single one of them is so internal and so available when I say internal it means I can see into they're actually not internal they are they are their windows of into their thinking process is so open, you know, and Benito Del Toro is, is sublime, just sublime. In the movie. It's like, just watching the dailies you're going this guy, I it's like, you can't even imagine. You can't even call it acting. It's something else. It's some it's some. He's some possession, possession, possession, whatever it is, you know, um, and Michael Douglas and all of them and Don Cheadle. They were all Catherine's place. Yes. All over some place that was so remarkable. And, you know, that's Soderbergh's gifts that he creates that that world on the set that allows these actors to to inhabit that place in themselves.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:27
Is that the is that the first app? Please remind me because I mean, I'm not I'm not that keen on Soderbergh's history, but was that the first time was the big hit cuz I know Erin Brockovich, and obviously the documentary was the same year.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:04:43
He was nominated. He's one of the first he's one of the only directors should be nominated against himself as a director cheese or an Oscar. He was up for two Oscars as director that year. And, and

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
and Best Picture two,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:04:57
I think right black Best Picture. Yes, yes. He wants to traffic. He wants to record. You want director for traffic. And I remember telling him on the phone I said you just have to beat that asshole Steve Soderbergh?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:10
I mean, he's everywhere. This guy, this guy is everywhere. I mean, he left.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:05:15
And by the way, when we were at the Oscars, it's just so terrible. You know, you're, we're in the second row. And you can see into the wings at the, in the in the auditorium. Right. So Michael Douglas comes out to give our best picture. And you could see that first of all, they had three Oscars for best picture, and we had three producers. And then as he opened the envelope, I can see that the film is one word. I couldn't read it, but I could see it's one word. And so I hit head, and I whispered, we won. And he goes, and the winner is Gladiator, which was one word and had three Oscars. You know, it was, it was one of those great, horrible moments where we thought we won, but we didn't. But you know, so what?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
Yeah, it was all No, I made it. Overall. It you guys did. Okay.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:14
You know, just don't get ahead of yourself more. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:18
And honestly, talking about you know, guys who swing take swings at the plate. I mean, Jesus Sonnenberg I mean, he's not making use of his iPhones. IV is

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:30
really absolutely remarkable. So much respect for him.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:33
I have to I have to ask, when you start writing? Do you add, start outlining first? Do you start with character? First, you start with plot first? How do you how do you start that process?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:44
It's a good question. What we have learned over the years, is not to try to structure anything at first, including the conversation. In other words, so much of what we do when we're starting something is just talk, talk about how we feel about it talk what what is it what ideas come to mind, how do we see the characters but not not in any organized way, we will just go from history to things we've read to what this reminds us of this is like my aunt Marcy, this is whatever, you know, that, that we just kind of inhabit that space. And that could go on for a week, you know, we're more where you're just kind of living in it. And, you know, it's like somebody wants said, you know, if you are want to make a sculpture of an elephant, just cut away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. Yeah, you know, that in some way the thing exists there. And you have to just pull it out that in some way, that's true. It's just harder when it's something like this, that's a story. But we still believe that in some way, it exists. And we have to find it. And that means being open to the most gossamer foggy notions that might be true and be willing to change and follow something down a line. And so it's the willingness to be unguarded and unguided in that beginning part that allows you to really start to have a sense of what the thing is, and then, you know, then we talk about the characters a lot. And I think we get to structure at the at, that's the last thing, you know, there may be some things we know we want to happen. Or we know we want the person to be this kind of person. And so that's going to dictate certain things are going to happen. But but to actually structure the story. That's the last piece of the puzzle for us before we start writing.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:40
Now, there was a movie you did that was in your filmography, that kind of like one thing, like that old song, like something in this thing doesn't belong, which was jack, jack Reacher, which is, I think the only sequel you ever did, right? And it's, you know, it's a, it's a, you know, Tom Cruise vehicle. It's an action movie. Obviously, there's a lot of action and a lot of like, Last Samurai and other things you've done, right? But this was different. How did you guys approach this? And I mean, when I spoke to Ed a little bit about it, he's like, I've never done it before. So I kind of just wanted to try it and see if I could do it. How did you guys approach the writing process of that?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:09:16
Well, I think, you know, first of all, I mean, I'll talk about this I I tend to not want to talk about anything that pertains to other people what other people said or did and so I'm going to be a little bit circumspect, just out of respect. Sure, those people. But basically, the idea behind that film was to take one of the novels where Reacher is in relationship to someone, because usually he's not that much in relationship, because they wanted to humanize him a little bit. And so they picked that novel. And so our mandate was to and I think why they used us was because they wanted the relationships they wanted that sense of connection between him and the woman and the girl. And that's what we wrote. And that's what Ed shot. And they loved it. And I remember Tom, who we love working with, by the way, we're going to movies with Tom. And he's a great guy to work with. So he's, that's a whole other subject.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:22
No, I mean, I've heard john

Marshall Herskovitz 1:10:24
out. I'm happy to get into but he is. He's, you know, who was it? Who said, Tom shows up on the set each day and basically says, How can I make your dreams come true? I mean, that's how he looks at movies, he's full of gratitude, and wants them to be great. And it's so it's a great experience. So at any rate, we made the film, Tom looked at the film, he turned to Ed, and he said, this fucking film made me cry, none of my films make me cry. You know, thank you, then we test the film. And women love it. And young men go too soft. In other words, the idea didn't work for the intended audience of the movie. Now, have I said too much? Maybe? I don't know. But what the hell, it's past history. So we, you know, we did some work on it didn't take that much. We did some work. We we did some things together, we shot a little bit more action, we just kind of toughen it up a little bit. And that's something I believe in I look, I believe in the post production process very strongly, maybe because of my experience with jack the bear, but maybe also even from television, that you can surgically change something and make it into something that works better. And and we've done that a lot. And so that's what we that's what we did with that. And, um, you know, I think it's, it's, you know, it sounds some audience, it's just, it was each of these things looks to me, it's a miracle movie ever gets made. Amen. Is it good? No, I don't I look at that. And I go, Okay, I'm proud of it. We, you know, we did what we were supposed to do, and and then we did what we could do, and a lot of people liked it. So you know, if it's not the most popular movie of all time, we can survive, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:27
and, and I've spoken to multiple people who've worked with Tom and they say, I've never heard of a negative word come everyone's always like, he is the utmost professional,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:12:38
he shows up, he just is can I tell you, when we when we did Last Samurai with Tom, and we went to New Zealand. After we'd been there a week, it was an article in the local paper saying that everyone on the crew had to sign a affidavit that they would not speak to Tom and they would not look Tom directly in the eye. And not only was that not true, but the opposite was true, which is of all the people I've worked with, he's probably the most polite to fashion on the crew. If someone says hi to him, he will actually stop and say hi, how are you and talk to them? You know, he's incredibly available to people. And I suddenly realized, maybe that's never been true. Maybe there's never been an agreement where you're not supposed to look at the star. You know, we could we all think that that's like something that that people have and I thought maybe it doesn't exist because it certainly wasn't true with him.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:39
I mean, I'm assuming you don't want to be in an actor's eyeline. But that's just being professional.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:13:43
That's different. Yeah, different. That's just a that's just a matter of, and in fact, that that's just understood on the set. And anyone who is in the eyeline, we usually tell them to get out because it's just not nice to them. You know, that's different. It's called

Alex Ferrari 1:13:56
being it's called being professional bf. I've heard all the, I only want green m&ms. In my in my trailer, I heard that actually, I actually heard that the origin story of that, which was really the origin story, too. I can't actually say I'll tell you off there. Because there's it's a little it's a little saucy. But heard the story of that one. But yeah, you hear all these stories and look, you know, talking to a lot of a lot of people like yourself and professionals in the business when they work with these big actors. The amount of attention and and you know, that gets thrown on someone like a Tom Cruise or Will Smith the rock under these giant movie stars. A lot of times it sells papers. It's sensationalism. And a lot of times they want to tear tear them down. A lot of times. It's just a

Marshall Herskovitz 1:14:48
weird thing that with Tom. And by the way, the thing that always hurts so bad for me, was that thing about him jumping on the couch for show It's like, that's Tom every day, almost the most enthusiastic person I've ever met. It's like when we did the final battle of Last Samurai, and I came up with a set that day. And we have 500 men on each side, and he's in the full Japanese armor. And we've got seven cameras up on towers. And Tom comes over me and he grabs me by the chest, and he screams at me. This is fucking great. It's just fucking great. That's Tom. He does love the guy. He's the most enthusiastic person in the world. Why would you make fun of him for jumping on a couch? It's like,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:37
God bless him. They always wanted they always want to tear down and that's the thing. Look someone like Tom and then we'll stop talking about time because I could talk about Tom forever. I've been a fan of his since since the beginning, since all the right thing all the right moves. There is a charisma that these these these stars have, there's an energy that they project on the screen. There is a reason why Tom Cruise has been a movie star for 30 plus years. There's not a lot of movie stars. who have been who are still

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:06
movies. Exactly, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:10
movie star, he's still the biggest movie star in the world. He really he green lights a picture today, just like he did in 1990 after he did Rain Man, or Top Gun or any of these things. So there's a reason there's a reason for that. Yep. And you gotta kind of respect that about him. Yeah, look, we all have. And we all have bad days. And of course, when you have a bad day, and you're Tom Cruise, it's news. When you and I are having a bad day.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:38
nobody hears about it. No one cares about it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:41
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests Marshall. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:49
Oh my gosh, that's such a good one. Um, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Alex Ferrari 1:16:54
comes up very often.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:56
Yeah. Um, Chinatown for sure. And I would say Annie Hall, probably. Because I'm Annie Hall. It's funny, because everyone's talking about this right now. And it's been a, it's been a very particularly difficult experience for me, because Woody, first of all, Ed has known woody since Ed was 23 years old. And in relationship with him, and he's not just a hero of ours, you know, creatively, he was such a touchstone for us. And, and, you know, it's just been a very painful, painful experience. And, and the only way I can live with it is to understand that many of the artists that we revere turned out to be monsters. Picasso was a monster, Wagner was a monster, a lot of people, you know, and, you know, artists art, and I cannot take away the fact that, you know, of, you know, Annie Hall is probably my second favorite movie of all time. And that's just will continue to be a fact because he packed so much about what it means to be a human being and what it means to be in relationship into that movie. It's, it's amazing, and you can't take that away from him.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:18
So I mean, how do you in that's a conversation about being able to separate the artist with the art. And, you know, his van, you know, his van Gogh? Do I appreciate Van Gogh differently? Because the way he lived his life? Yeah. I don't know. And that's a that's a much deeper question and a more controversial conversation to have. But at the end of the day, you know, any halls any hall?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:18:46

Alex Ferrari 1:18:47
It was any hall for a long, long time. You know, tomorrow morning, tomorrow morning, Francis Ford Coppola could go out and murder 30 people. But, but the Godfather

Marshall Herskovitz 1:18:58
made the Godfather, but the Godfather

Alex Ferrari 1:19:00
and the Godfather two and the Apocalypse Now and Dracula and all of these classics. It's, it's still the Godfather. Right? By

Marshall Herskovitz 1:19:07
the way. I think I should add a screenplay to that. Yes. Which is it's a wonderful life. You know, we named our company Bedford Falls FPL. And it's a wonderful life. Because for me, it's far and away the best movie ever made. But it's really the best movie ever made. Because it's the best screenplay. It because it shows what you can accomplish in storytelling, that this is a man that I think I once counted. I think there are nine different stories in that movie that are then turned around in the period when he comes back and he never existed where you instantly understand what has happened to those people because he didn't have an effect on them. And if you think it's easy to create nine stories, and in one second understand the effect this guy's had on people's lives because he didn't exist. It's an remarkable piece of work, and also filled with things that add an icon gifts to the audience, which is something I think I learned from George Lucas from from Star Wars, you know, that just thinks to delight you. In other words, when you look at It's a Wonderful Life, the fact that the squirrel crawls up uncle Billy's shoulder that they have a crow in the office and, and the little bits that they play and and, and that, that and he says at the end, I've been saving this money for a divorce in case I ever get a husband. It's like, there's so many great things in that film that are all in the screenplay, you know, and and, you know, as somebody said, you can have a shitty movie from a good screenplay, but you can never have a great movie from a bad screenplay. And that that's, that's the truth. It all starts with the screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:47
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:20:51
That's simple. I've given this advice a lot. I have a theory about this. I believe there are 1000s of undiscovered great actors. There are hundreds of undiscovered great directors. And there are no undiscovered great writers. Because if you can write you know, people will see it right away.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:13
And you're absolutely.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:21:15
And you can get people to read your stuff, you can get assistance. I'm a big believer in assistance, I think, you know, assistants run this town. And if you can get on the phone and get an assistant to read a script, because by the way, every one of those assistance is ambitious and wants to move up. And their capital is finding people especially like if they work for a producer, or they work for an agent, that sort of thing. And the thing is, if you can write, and I'm not saying this isn't, this isn't really about talent, per se, it's about whether your writing fits with the movie business. If you're writing fits with the movie business, people will see it, they will, they will recognize it and there will be an energy coming toward you. And what I usually tell people is that this is very Darwinian, and it's a sad, but true fact of life. Be willing to write three spec scripts. If by the third spec script, you don't feel that energy coming towards you, then you should probably do something else, because you're missing something. Now, maybe you can learn it from one to the next and see what you did wrong. But if after three, you haven't learned it, just it's not going to happen. Because you because because it's electric. When when people like what you've done, it's electric, that energy that comes toward you from people, because there's such a desire for good material. So I just tell people, look, it's the simplest way to break in you just right? It's not the easiest way. There is no easy way. But it's the simplest way. You don't need money. Yeah, you have to live. But I mean, you don't need equipment, you don't need to hire people, you don't need people to like you, you just have to write which is hard enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:57
It's one of the toughest things any artists could ever do is to write a good, solid story. And I've said this a million times as well, in the show, I feel that screenwriting is probably the toughest form of writing maybe next to a haiku that you can that you can do because of the condensed and the way it works. A novel is so much easier. And I've written and I've written, I've written, you know, books, and I just oh my god, when I when I've written scripts, and I've written books, when I started writing the book, I was like, Oh my god, I'm free. I could just write whatever I wanted. Right? I don't have to worry about it. And you just go Where is the screenplay? You're like, what is the mean in this in this description? is do I need the Can I do a B there? Can I do a to like it's,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:23:42
it's by the way rudall show true. Show true. We just go through and take out words, right like why do you need a complete sentence there? You know what you know? Um, yeah, that's why it helps to read the Great's because you realize how little they actually have people say, you know, and, and also the greats who have people talk over each other and and create a kind of a kind of real interaction between people that you could just see on the page. Yeah, and

Alex Ferrari 1:24:15
I've seen descriptions by some of those greats like the Shane Black's Aaron Sorkin's, you know, those guys, that you look at, in depth descriptions, like one word sentences, like,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:24:24
just that, just because you want the script, you want the reading of the screenplay, to feel like you're watching the movie. So if you're going to spend a page describing the scene, you know that you don't have a minute of the movie to do that. You're gonna see that in one second. You know, so that's a really tricky thing. How do you convey a lot of information in a very short number of words.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:46
As you said earlier, this is our lot in life. This is our lot in life. This is why we get paid the big bucks. This is why we get paid the big bucks if you're able to

Marshall Herskovitz 1:24:56
do that. If you can do it, you can do it. Well, now you get the medium About a million bucks,

Alex Ferrari 1:25:01
media bucks, no residuals. Media bucks buy out. That's it. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:25:14
Oh boy. Um, well, I'm gonna tell you something that I don't usually talk about out loud. having to do with why I don't direct anymore. And when I direct, I'll direct an episode, but I don't direct movies anymore. Um, I suffer from an anxiety disorder. And it took me many years to admit that I've obviously affected my life a great deal. But all I ever wanted to be was a film director, I only became a writer so that I could direct films. You know, and I'm, after I made two films, because the second one was dangerous beauty, which is actually my favorite. And something I really loves Beautiful, beautiful film, I love that film and, and it still has a life today, people even though it didn't do well, when it came out, people still watch it. I realized that I paid too high a price directing a movie, that it's just too hard for me to get up every single day for 75 days. And go out there and function for 16 1718 hours a day at your top. I'm the kind of person that needs a lot of time to process, what's going on, that's how my anxiety, that's how I deal with my anxiety is that I need downtime. And you don't have that you're suppressing it constantly. And you know, you basically have to work all that time to be able to just fall into bed, fall asleep, immediately, get your six to seven hours of sleep, get up and immediately just perform at your best every single day for however many days of that schedule, and I it killed me, it just killed me. And I realized it was a very painful realization that the here's this thing that I had wanted so much my whole life was to be a director. And part of that was ego, let's face it, you know, and part of it was creative, that it just made me miserable. You know, it just wasn't worth doing if it made me miserable. And so I said, I'm gonna stop. And that was very painful. And, and by the way, still is because it affected my career. In fact, in how much money I made affected, you know, how people saw me. I think a lot of people didn't understand that it was my choice that I stopped, right? Because the movie didn't do well. So they thought maybe I couldn't get a job after that, actually, I was offered jobs, it was my choice to stop, because it hurt too much. And so you know, I think that was, I think coming to accept that you are who you are, you have your strengths, and you have your weaknesses, and they are all connected, you can't have one without the other, you know, my sensibility, my sensitivity, my ability to see and to help people feel it's very connected to my anxiety, you know, it's all it's all part of the same thing. So I think, again, it has to do with compassion for yourself that, that I realized, I just can't keep breaking myself on this rock, just to prove something that I don't need to prove for myself, you know, so I've had a very good time since then, as a writer and a producer and directing occasionally when it's only a few days, you know, to an episode or, or something like that. But it's very painful at the time.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:29
I first of all, I appreciate you sharing that because I think that's something that the audience needs to understand, first of all, to be being honest with yourself and who you are, is self realization. Huge, huge thing in our in our business, but as a human being in general. And the there's always this kind of myth of what a director does. And after I've talked to so many, so many, like, you know, I mean, I feel that I think I think it kind of started with, with Spielberg. But then I think Tarantino put fire on that with that, which is called like the rock and roll director was like, it was cool and hip to be a director when, like in the 70s in the 60s and 50s. No one knew who made these things. Really. I mean, Hitchcock probably, but that's it. But the reality of what it takes to be a director like I stopped directing commercials, because I just couldn't it suck my soul. Like I'm like, I don't want to sell a product. This is not what I do it paid well. But I just said you know what, I it's not me. I got a I got I'll just pull back I'll I'll go into post production. I'll open up a post house and I'll produce and I'll do my short films and I'll write and I'll do other things. But it was a decision that I made for myself but it was it's all about that self realization. So people who have the dream screenwriters listening now, they think I'm going to write and direct my friend like listen, it's it's a chore and I've also talked to so many directors on the show that they they've told me when I go to direct the movie, I got it. I go into training. physical training because it is

Marshall Herskovitz 1:30:02
brutal on the body route. It's brutal. It's brutal. Yeah. Brutal it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:08
Yeah. And then and then mentally, it's your psyche. And, and that's a bet that's best case scenario without a star that's giving you problems without studio executives trying to sneak in other people trying to, you know, cut your knees out underneath you because it's their agenda. There's so many other politics. And, and that's one thing I never actually asked you about. This is kind of a side note. Can you please talk a little bit about the politics of being a director? Yeah, politics behind the scenes because so many screenwriters, so many filmmakers don't understand that. I mean, an agent told me once when I'm looking for a director, I'm looking for three people, I'm looking for an artist, a politician, and a business person. Because that's what I'm in the greats, all the greats have those three, have those three? Yeah. What? Can you explain just a little bit about your, your experience with the politics, you did another with jack, the bear? But any any any tips on how to deal with that?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:31:04
Well, I think it's, you know, every situation is different. And by the way, I think the business has changed a lot. I think that when we came up, it was understood and expected that as a director, or producer, you could be very difficult and take stands. And and, you know, and and go in the face of studio executives, and when now if you do that, that mostly fire you. So you know, unless you're Nolan, you know, you don't get to do that anymore. So you have to sort of you have to be more political today than you were then. But I think, nevertheless. Okay, I'll tell you a little story. I don't know if we're getting going over time or not. There was a wonderful book called Shogun in the seven about medium exam. Yeah. Okay. And there's a scene in that book, where one of the Japanese warlords had captured the English soldiers, and he was boiling one of them alive in a big VAT. And he was having his people sort of gauge the temperature of the boiling, so that the screams of the man would be just the right pitch for him. That would be like poetry for him. It was very brutal, and horrible and sadistic, and at the same time, spiritual in a way, you know, that, that he would do this, okay. And he's name was Yabu. That was the that was the name of that character. And I remember saying to Ed, that when you're budgeting a movie, and you're in pre production, the studio will grind you and grind you and grind you down. Until the pitch of your screams change. This is not a joke. I realize this is true, okay. They, either consciously or unconsciously, they depend upon the director to actually protect the movie, because at first you're getting, I'm not gonna cut that thing out. But there's a moment when you become desperate, and you feel like they're destroying the movie. That was the moment when they would relent, because they were actually depending on you to know what the movie really needed and not. And so when your screams change, that's when they would say, okay, that's the budget. Now, that was the old days. Now, they decide beforehand, by a mathematical model, what the budget is going to be, and they don't care what your screams are, and they won't make the movie. They just won't make it. It's like, they'll you know, they'll just, they'll just say, forget it, if it costs too much, you know. So it's a very different world now. And you have to decide, can I make the movie I want to make without help from these people, they say where your partner in those days, they might have been mean about it, but they were still your partner. They just don't want it a great movie. Now. It's different now. It's pretty much mathematical. It's the best. Yeah. And because we can get our money back, and you don't have that sense of that these were cowboys in the old days, who would take chances on things they believed in? You know, you don't have that now. I mean, it's rare. You occasionally have it, but it's rare. And we can you imagine taxi driver today?

Alex Ferrari 1:34:19
I mean, we had to put a superhero in it. And that was Joker. Yeah, there you go. That's the only way taxi driver would get made in today's world. I heard Guillermo del Toro say this once. And I think it's so an amazing analogy for working in Hollywood. He said, in Hollywood, you're going to eat a shit sandwich. Now, you can change the bread. You could put some avocado on it. You could put some really nice Grey Poupon. But at the end of the day, you're eating some shit.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:34:50
By the way, we have our own version of that, which we have which we believe to be absolutely true. It's based on an old sexist joke, where a man is hitting A woman at a cocktail party. And he says to her, if I paid you a million dollars, would you sleep with me? And a woman says, Well, actually, if you actually paid me a million dollars, yeah, I probably would sleep with you. And he says, Well, if I paid you $5, would you sleep with me? And she says, What do you think I am a prostitute? And he says, Well, we've already established what you are. We're just negotiating the price. a horrible sexist joke.

Alex Ferrari 1:35:23
It is it is.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:35:24
But but but the point is, that applies to filmmaking, right? Which is, and it's not about money, it's not about sex, it's about quality, that in the end, you're going to compromise the quality of your film, you're going to compromise, it's not going to be as good as you want it to be. And the question is, negotiating the price, how high quality can you get before you have to compromise? It's that simple. And each film establishes that sort of going into it, you know, based on how much money you have, how many sets you have, who the actors are, you kind of get, like how good that movie can be. And you fight that every step along the way for the highest price of quality that you can fight for before you give in. But every day you give in every single day you give in and and you have to understand that you give in it every day. You're just basically losing at the highest level you possibly can. That's unfortunately the truth. But if you keep it there, then you have a good movie, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:36:32
and it's about and and the filmmakers that get those masterpieces done. It's about the battles that you can wage. And when I mean Coppola was I mean, look, we had to go through with godfather Apocalypse Now Jesus Christ.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:36:47
Oh my god.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:49
I mean, she's his apocalypse is out.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:36:51
I mean, God for that documentary, so we know what he went through.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:54
Oh, that's by anyone listening prerequisite. You need to watch hours of darkness, the documentary, apocalypse that

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:00
was such him on the phone saying, You mean I paid Brando a million dollars of my own money. And he's now not going to show up when you see him in his kitchen.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:12
Yeah, you go, oh

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:14
my god. It's like, I never want to do this. As long as I live. I never want to be in a position

Alex Ferrari 1:37:20
where when my or my machine punches the mirror out. And he's like, he's about to he's drunk. And he's about to go after Frances mother while they're shooting. Yes.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:31
Keep it in the movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:34
His hands all bloodied out is that Oh, yeah, totally. I mean, it's it's it's insane. But it is about when riders it's tougher because you have less power. But as a writer, producer or writer, producer director.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:48
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:49
It's about fight. And and look, I'll say this man, you and Ed have have fought some good fights, because you guys have put out some amazing quality work over the years. Some of my favorite films. I mean, Last Samurai blood, I mean, Blood Diamond and other just everything that both you guys work together and separately together on it is you fight I mean, look, you can't get Last Samurai to where it was, without fighting a couple battles.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:38:19
Creative. Oh, we fought many, many battles. Listen, I feel very lucky, Ed feels very lucky because we spent our entire careers making only what we were passionate about. So very few people get to do that. Very few. And, and we are so grateful about that. And, you know, whether that was a combination of we're, you know, difficult or, or, or, or ferocious or, or people liked us or whatever it was, you know, to be given that gift to make movies and TV shows that you really love and care about and that you're not pushed into making is a great gift. And and and always be grateful for that. Marshall,

Alex Ferrari 1:39:06
Thank you so much for your time and your and your just transparency and your raw, brutal honesty, which is what, what what I'm all about and what this show is all about hope. I hope it scared and terrified people in a way that if it's not, if you're scared and terrified and you don't think you should do this don't. But if this is but if this is embolden you to like you know what, I can take that I can take that hit and I can keep going forward, then this is for you. But I'm so glad that you helped us with that. So thank you so much, Marshall.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:39:36
Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

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BPS 116: From Horror Indies to The Revenant with Mark L. Smith

I’ve spoken to many people in the film business over the years but today’s guest is one of the hardest working craftman I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with. Today on the show we have screenwriter, producer and director, Mark L. Smith. If you look at his IMDB you’ll see a list of 15 projects at various stages of development. He’s come a long way from entering the Hollywood scene some 15 years ago with his fear-striking horror screenwriting and directorial debut, Séance in 2006.

Read Mark L. Smith’s Screenplays

Mark stumbled onto writing as a hobby during off-seasons at his family’s ranch where he worked after college. Self-taught, some workshops and an inventory of specs later, his path crossed Mel Gibson’s – who bought Smith’s first-ever script written in 2001.

From then onwards, he’s been credited for successful writing and producing for hits like The Revenant (2015) and Overlord (2018) and The Midnight Sky which was just released in 2020, starring the incomparable, George Clooney.

In Overload, a small group of American soldiers finds horror behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day.

While producing his directorial debut horror, film Séance, with friend of the show and veteran producer Suzanne Lyons, Smith was also a writer on Vacancy in 2006. You will hear more in the interview of his experience navigating the world of filmmaking on both sets, as a rookie, and the village of support he received.

Vacancy follows the unfortunate adventure of a married couple who becomes stranded at an isolated motel and finds hidden video cameras in their room. They soon realize that unless they escape, they’ll be the next victims of a snuff film.

After Vacancy, many horror projects started to open up for Smith. He worked those for a while until it felt old and he had the urge to do something different. That’s when he co-wrote the revisionist western script for The Revenant with legendary director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu.  The film was based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel by the same title. You can watch the remarkable Making of documentary of The Revenant here.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson, the story sets in the 1820s, where a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.

The twist and turns that caused delayed production of the film and its eventual success will pique your interest. The Revenant became an instant commercial and artistic success. It grossed $533 million worldwide, earned 11 Oscar nominations, 3 Golden Globe awards, and 5 BAFTA awards

Mark recently wrote The Midnight Sky that released last year, starring George Clooney. It is a screen adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel, ‘Goodmorning, Midnight’ which is a post-apocalyptic tale that follows a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.

I had an absolute ball speaking to Mark. He’s one of the hardest working screenwriters in Hollywood. We discuss everything from The Revenant, genius-level tips on how to adapt a book to the screen to what it was like work with Quentin Tarantino on the Star Trek script that has yet to be made. If you pray, please pray to the Hollywood Gods that Mark and Quentin’s Star Trek gangster film sees the light of day.

Enjoy this conversation with Mark L. Smith.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I'd like to welcome to the show Mark L. Smith, man. How you doing, Mark?

Mark L. Smith 0:07
Great. Thanks for having me. Alex,

Alex Ferrari 0:09
thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I am a fan of yours for a while. And, you know, we I was telling you before we started, we have a friend in common one, a friend of the show of the indie film, hustle podcast, Suzanne Lyons and anybody who's been at the IFH Academy knows Suzanne very well, because she's one of our best selling co instructors selling courses and webinars. And you guys got a little history as well if I'm not mistaken.

Mark L. Smith 0:35
Yeah, man, we go way back before God, I think before I ever had anything made, I sold a few things. But then something got to Suzanne and, and she was just so lovely. I wouldn't let her go, you know, I just hung on. And so we just, she's just the greatest. So it's, um, so we we kept finding things, trying to put little, little indie projects together and it's okay, and as hard as it is to put like a big studio movie together to get all those. It's those little indies or even tougher, you know, it's just like trying to find all the pieces, you know, because it's got to be just right.

Alex Ferrari 1:13
Yeah, absolutely. So we'll get we'll get we'll get a little deeper in the weeds on on that project in a minute. But before we get started, man, how did you get into the business?

Mark L. Smith 1:22
I stumbled into it. I actually had a right out of college. My family had a dude ranch, believe it or not in Colorado. And it was like 2000 acres surrounded by a quarter million in National Forest. And we were I mean so remote our driveway. Our entrance was a two and a half mile old stagecoach trail, literally North stagecoach trail through canyons and over creeks. And so we we would have guests come in from May until like the first of October. And it was you know, hot air balloon rides and whitewater rafting, horseback riding camps, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:56
all they like sit like cities like city slickers.

Mark L. Smith 1:58
Yeah, the same thing, just kind of a little more of a resort vibe with the tennis courts. But it was that same sort of thing where you got that rustic, they stayed in cabins, you know, and it was kind of cool. But we were only open, like five or six months a year. And so I had to figure out a way to kill those Colorado winters. And so it was, um, they were they were very long, very cold, lots of snow. And so, after about two or three years, I start actually started writing stories for my kids, little short stories. And, um, and then I realized, I've always I just loved films, I just love movies. And so it was like, well, these stories are kind of fun. I wonder if I can combine them. So I did. And I just wrote a couple things. And now this is back, man, this is you weren't emailing scripts around and everything this is this is mid 90s, you know, early 90s. And it was um, so I started playing around just during every offseason, I would try to write one or something. And then I actually went out to the asi did a workshop there. And kind of grasped the one thing that the great thing from the workshop that I remember that I took with me was the first class he said in front of all of us, Nico's, you guys all are here because you want to write a screenplay. I'm going to tell you right now, none of you are going to write a screenplay. You all think you're going to write a screenplay, you're all going to try to write a screenplay, but you're not going to finish none of you're ever going to finish. So that to me was like, I'm incredibly competitive. And everything I do is my family and friends will tell you a little too much at times. So I took that as a challenge, you know, so it was I was going to go and so I started those off seasons starting to write starting to learn to write and then I wrote a couple things that I optioned one option to a producer at Disney, and then they they got like, I would enter in the nickels. nickels. Oh, of course, of course, they still do. And so I entered and I would get a one like, each year, I would get into the nickels finals kind of thing. And so and it finally got around to enough that I I wrote a spec and sold it to, to paramount for Mel Gibson, it was the first thing that I ever did, and back in 2001 that ever sold. And so um, so from that point, it just, it was weird, because everything kind of changed. And it was, um, I was super lucky to get it to a guy who knew a guy was just like this really weird way. But it finally got to people, you know that that they were able to buy it. And so after that it kind of people started coming to me more. And so it was from that point on, I was writing steadily and all the way until I guess the first thing I got made was Vacancy. I think it was like oh six

Alex Ferrari 4:39
years or so.

Mark L. Smith 4:41
And then uh, but all during that that period of time it was just kind of nice, nice steady work and couldn't get anything quite made. I was doing a lot of dramas that people like but they were harder to get made. And so I actually the reason I wrote things like they can see your stance on that was because horror was kind of big at that time and it was like okay, I'm Ready? I've had enough fun, just selling things, you know, it's like, let's get something in, let me see it and so on. So it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
Yeah, that's the thing that i a lot of screenwriters coming up don't understand that just because a screenwriter might have one or two credits on their IMDb have produced things that has, they could be working steadily for a decade. Oh, yeah, making well, making a really good living as a writer and and in script doctoring and, and doing all sorts of things, but only get one or two things produced. And yeah, I know. So.

Mark L. Smith 5:34
It's so even the super successful like, say, a Scott frank, I love Scott Frank is just just, he's my guide as far as writers, but it was, um, you can look and you think, Oh, it's I would have thought he was busier, you know, you look through it. But what you don't know is he's doing he's doing just dozens of jobs in between each of those, you know, he's non stop, he never stops writing. And so it's a it is it's, it's, it's a little deceiving. When you just look at credit system, you know, it's like, oh, they've only they only written that one thing or two things, you know, now what?

Alex Ferrari 6:04
What fear did you have to break through to write your first screenplay, because I know when you when you sit down to write the very first one, when you kind of really are kind of clumsy? You kind of you might have read Syd field, you know, you might have read saved a cat or something. And you might have had something like, what was that thing that you'd like? I'm going to do this. I'm not I'm done. Because there obviously there was fear, there has to be fear. Any writer who looks at a blank screen, it's free

Mark L. Smith 6:29
No, there absolutely. As I tell you, what saves me. It saved me it was William Goldman and Sinfield. And the the structure aspect is, to me is invaluable. And I tell everyone I ever talked to about it structures that thing. Because you're suddenly if you're looking, if you're really into the structure of a script or film, you're not looking at a blank screen that you got to fill 120 pages with, you're looking at a blank screen that goes well, I just got to kind of get 10 to 12 before I get my inciting incident. So if I give good characters and good, you know, some fun action do that, that's 12 pages, I can do that. And then well, now I've only got like 1618 more pages, I've got my first act, you know, so I break it down. And then it's like to my, to my midpoint. And then it's like, where I'm going to turn. And I don't outline when I write I've never outlined. And so I know kind of my beginning, middle and end. But the fun for me is discovering it as I go. And so I tried outlining a couple times. And it was like, actual writing got boring, if that makes any sense. Because Well, I know what's going to happen there. You know, I already know this, it's like, I need to be I need to kind of box myself into a corner and write my way out and twists and turns. So um, so yeah, the structure kind of helped me overcome that fear of kind of just staring at that thing. And I think part of it, obviously is too stupid to know how difficult it was gonna be. Well, I mean, so because I was, like I said, I just started, I just started writing. And back then it was, you know, everything was through the through regular mail. And so I would write a script, send it off to people for to get reads. And by the time I was hearing back, I just immediately dove into the next one. And so I was writing the next one, because it was like, I didn't even care about that anymore. It's like, Okay, what did I learn from writing that script that I can use on this one, I'm gonna write this one. And then I'll say, I just kept doing it, it just got to be in such a cycle of writing that it just became really easy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 8:19
the, the thing that so many screenwriters and filmmakers in general who decide to write as well, they don't understand the absolute insanity that it is to be a screenwriter, the, the diff, the level of, of craft that you need to write a solid screenplay is so much more difficult than reading a novel so much more difficult than writing a novel, or any honestly, other than the Haiku, I think is probably one of the most difficult forms of writing invented. Is that fair? It's,

Mark L. Smith 8:48
it's funny, it's a little bit, um, it's like, to me, I look at almost like a math problem, you know, because I do fall back on the structure of it, you know, it's like, Okay, I've got to do this much in this many, this amount of number, you know, this amount of pages. So everything goes there. So then I have to fit the words and the character and, and all of that into those little, those little sections. So the math part just helps me the structure helps me but it is tricky. And people don't, don't really realize even people that are working in it every day, there was a producer on a film I was hired, went flew over to London, doing a weekly thing, they needed a quick rewrite, they were shooting immediately, and the script was in trouble. So they asked me to do it. So I, I go, and there was I had some friends that were part of it. And so I write I'm writing like crazy. And I, I they need a complete rewrite, but they needed in 10 days. And so I wrote three straight days, gave them the first like 50 pages of the script. And the producer looked at it and she said, This is great. When do I get the rest? You know, it was like, I told her I said, I feel like I'm I'm like having to teach you like you're a small child. I have to teach where babies come from, you know, it's like you don't understand the process. This is what goes into it. You know? It's so it's not as easy as just writing the words down, you know, everything affects everything. And so that was, um, so it's just everyone, you know, it's until you've done it. I mean, it's like anything, you know, it's like, I remember my kids played, played football and stuff in high school sports in high school, and I would you know, I'd be in the stands and grumbling about the coaching and the stuff and I, and then I did some little league football and I'm coaching them and it's like, oh my god, this is so hard. You got to think about everything you got to know. So until you do it, you just never know.

Alex Ferrari 10:32
Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. It's like it's it's I think the film industry, and specifically screenwriting is the only business where someone goes, Hey, I watched the movie. I think I can write that. Like, you don't go You don't you don't pass by a mansion and go, yeah, I could build that. Like, you don't do that and any other

Mark L. Smith 10:46
bridge Game and Watch the Brom play and say, Yeah, I can get out there, you know? Sure. Was that hard? No, but it is, it is funny, because everybody can write everybody has a story. And everybody, you know, so it feels and to be honest, more people could do it. If they had the time, that was the huge benefit that I had, what were those five, six months a year off where everybody else is having to work, go to their day job, do all that stuff. I was at home in the middle of nowhere, you know, and so I could just focus on and without that, I don't think I would have been able to do it. You know, it just it is so consuming and stuff. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 11:24
it was very, it's very shining, like, very cool.

Mark L. Smith 11:29
Yeah, but no, the writing it was so much. So I figured I would write instead of grab an axe, you know.

Alex Ferrari 11:36
fair deal. I think it worked out better for you that way.

Mark L. Smith 11:39
My wife and kids were thrilled.

Alex Ferrari 11:40
Exactly. Now, how many? This is another thing? How many screenplays Did you write before you sold your first one?

Mark L. Smith 11:51
I auctioned my first one, the first thing I ever wrote out. And

Alex Ferrari 11:55
that's lucky. It's very lucky.

Mark L. Smith 11:57
Yes, very lucky. And then it came through I entered in. It was like the Nichols and the Austin heart of film and those kinds of things that they had. And so, and it was just lucky that somebody stumbled on it. So I actually like the first two or three things I wrote. And then I got a little cute, tried to do some things differently and be smarter than I really am. And so I probably wrote two or three things that I didn't so it was probably like my 76767. Yeah, Devil's kiss was it was a Western, it was a Western thriller, that I am sold to Paramount, with no this

Alex Ferrari 12:30
and that. And and the reason I ask is because I always am a proponent. And in many people that I've talked to a lot of professional screenwriters like, say you need to just write. I mean, just write as many and have as many of those screenplays in your inventory. Like you should look yourself as a business. And your inventory and your product are scripts, the more of them you have. So when you walk into a room, you're lucky enough to get into a room. I don't like this one. What do you have? What else do you have? And you bust out two or three other

Mark L. Smith 12:54
100%? Because it's so key because good writing people will find good writing, but the stories are so subjective. You know, it's like, they may like your writing, but not like that story. So it's so valuable to have those other things kind of in your pocket that it's like, like you're saying, you know, well, I do have this, you know, you never know when one of those will click so

Alex Ferrari 13:14
yeah, absolutely. So now, when you did your first movie with Suzanne, I think that was according to IMDb. At least that's the first movie that got produced on I think it's around the same year, as Vacancy.

Mark L. Smith 13:25
Yeah, I was actually bouncing back and forth between the vacancy set, and that's that they were kind of shooting at the same time. So you were directing nothing to everything. But you were directing that one was like, so I had no clue what I was doing. And I'm sitting here it was so lovely to let me do that. I mean, of course, I would never tell them that. But it was like I was following Jeff Shaft who was who was our dp and, and, and Suzanne and Kate. And they were just kind of like, okay, yeah, you probably want to you know, you move the camera here, because I knew the story. And I knew the performances, I wanted to get into stuff. And the one thing that I realized going bouncing from the vacancy set to the SAM set was we're shooting 10 to 12 pages a day on seance we're shooting half a page, sometimes on vacancy, you know, it's like you have so much more time, right? So I had to like, I remember the actors we we just rehearse on sounds rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, because I knew I was only going to have time for like two or three takes so we had to really do it quickly. And so Um, so yeah, that was it was it was a really wild year and a half or so on those two.

Alex Ferrari 14:25
Now what was the biggest lesson you learned working on Seance because that was kind of the first like you were thrown into the deep end of the pool. And I didn't know that you were jumping back and forth between Vegas he was so you could actually see the difference in budget and in between say, hey can see cuz Vegas. He was like walk back

Mark L. Smith 14:42
into that stage on Saturday and go Oh, God, here we

Alex Ferrari 14:45
go. It's just like, what I had to bring my own lunch today. Suzanne when the hell we did that I used to run.

Mark L. Smith 14:51
There was a Carl's Jr. Just around the corner for work. And I would run during breaks to get myself a sandwich because it really was like the nr Our crew was mostly film students from, I think it was the LA film school. And so that was it. There was there was a time there was a point where we were trying to use a gurney. And I'm sorry, a dolly. And we couldn't. We didn't have anybody that could that could do the dolly. So we couldn't do the shot. You mean literally

Alex Ferrari 15:19
you had a dolly, but you had no doubt, we

Mark L. Smith 15:21
had a doubt you couldn't have anybody do it. So just the DP where he's trying to figure out a way and I'm there trying to do it, but we couldn't get anything, anybody to work. We just didn't have enough people and enough stuff. And there was one day where we walked in, I walked into the set, and the stage, and I go into one of the bedrooms, the college bedrooms, which had been gray, and it was kind of I wanted this kind of dark kind of a, you know, just a plain, plain background. And one wall was yellow, the other was bright blue. The other was like red. It was like a rainbow of color. I go What the hell what happened, you know? And this guy goes, I just thought this was so great. It would make everything pop. And it was like, but no, you know, we don't. And we're shooting now in like an hour. And so there's nothing that can be done. And so now every some of the the wardrobe, were the same colors. So there were shooting scribbles there with a blue shirt against the wall. It's like we're losing. It's like, Oh, god, it's like, okay, move over to the yellow wall. It was just like, it was a learning experience for all of us. I think it's like,

Alex Ferrari 16:19
it's like you were you see those shots with people with green shirts over a green screen. And just like

Mark L. Smith 16:24
it was it was so brutal, but it was, but it was, it was fun. If nothing else, I learned it. It was it was weird. I learned I never had time to be creative on directing. So I was talking to a director once years later, and it was like, it becomes such a machine, you just have no time. So everything has to go so fast. That whereas I can sit with a script and really kind of decide what I want to do and make choices and all of this. You're locked in. You know, when you're on set, you're locked in you're you know, that's that's it. And so you're kind of all your creative stuff comes prior, you know.

Alex Ferrari 17:02
So then you're you're doing vacancy at the same time, which was a hit. It was a hit when it came out, because that spawn to sequel and did it did fairly well. Did did opportunities really start opening up after vacancy?

Mark L. Smith 17:14
Yeah, they did. Then Then I've got every every horror project, Senator, you know, it was all of those. And then I got I saw I did a couple of those kinds of things. And then well, I did a couple of those things. And then I wanted to do something different. So that's when Revenant I actually wrote, I wrote The Revenant right after they can see came out. And really,

Alex Ferrari 17:39
yeah, also, that was a script. That was Hank did. I was an old script, he was hanging around and I wrote

Mark L. Smith 17:44
it, they wanted me to do a pitch on it. And the producers had the book gave me the book, they wanted me to come out and do a pitch. And I'm just the worst at pitching. I just can't do it. I can't tell. I mean, I couldn't pitch you The Revenant. Now,

Alex Ferrari 17:58
you know, now that's done. There's a bear, there's Leonardo DiCaprio, that

Mark L. Smith 18:02
would stumble and say, well, the bear kills the guy. And then they know he's, you know, it's like, so it's it is for me, it's easier to write. So I wrote the spec, and I wrote it on spec. And then it just turned out really, you know, I got lucky, it turned out pretty well. And so we started putting it together. And we were God, it went through so many iterations It was originally I wrote it for Samuel Jackson. That's who was going to be Hugh Glass. And I ran into I ran into Sam on another set, and on another movie that I was working on. And I said, Hey, do you remember that because he sent me this great email after we read the script. He was so excited to do it and stuff. And I said, I asked him, you remember how we we used to, we were supposed to revenue together. And of course, he dropped into some of his, you know, his efforts. And you know how that went. That went didn't happen. But we went out with it with a different director. It didn't, it didn't go they wouldn't give us kind of the budget that was necessary. And so I there were so many iterations we had, we had several different directors, we have Christian Bale was on at one point, and with another director and everything, and then Leo saw draft. And then we got all 100 and 100 came in and then it kind of all started started happening. And then um, so it was it was a really long process.

Alex Ferrari 19:18
Yeah, that's something that a lot of people listening who don't know about the business don't understand is that even if it's an indie or big budget, it it just takes for ever.

Mark L. Smith 19:29
And especially what I found was especially with like, because I've done it, I've done like three things written three things for Leo. And so the great thing is is Leo and whenever he's ready to make it, anybody will make it the tricky thing is that everybody wants Leo in their movie, so he gets sent everything and so you can write these things, but there's, there's only he's only gonna make one every year or two. So you have such a small chance that you're going to be one of those ones, you know, so it took a long time like we were getting ready to go in the financing. Wolf of Wall Street came. So they did that first. And then while that was happening 100 got Birdman financing. So that kicked revenue back a little bit further. And so it was just, you're just waiting for all these kinds of things to align. And it's tricky

Alex Ferrari 20:15
It's Yeah, you got these these kind of giant, you know, solar galaxies kind of flowing around. So you got Leo is one galaxy. Alejandro is another galaxy. The project is another galaxy, and we're just trying to get everything to align properly. Because if, you know, oh, 100 got up there. And that's what people don't understand. Like, the second you get financing on something like something like Birdman for God's sakes, that's not the most box office. I got, I have to, I have to go my friend, I have to

Mark L. Smith 20:45
know that it is a little bit like waiting for like this perfect kind of three Planet Eclipse, you know, for everything to just kind of fall off. And just, it's really tough. And so, um, so you just jump on a bill, you know, just be very grateful when it does happen.

Alex Ferrari 21:00
So Alejandro comes on. And then Alejandro starts working with you on the script, as well. He starts he starts working with you and developing the script. I mean, the concept of The Revenant, you know, with is it's, it's awesome. It's based on a true story. The visuals are amazing, feels amazing, the movies remarkable. But, you know, that's, that's a tough pitch. I'd imagine that that's not an easy that's not an easy studio project in today's world.

Mark L. Smith 21:25
No, and that's why I didn't want to I didn't see any way I could pitch it. It was because, you know, I was even when I was writing because it was like yeah, there's going to be like, I'm going to write 30 pages where nobody says a word you know, and it's going to be really quiet you know in our our star leading man is gonna just get mangled you know, so you probably he's gonna look rough for most, you know, all these different things you know, it's gonna be expensive and out in the cold and and we need to shoot it you know, outdoors are no stages and, and so I knew that was that was going to be really tough and it wouldn't have gotten made without like a Leo. It just wouldn't have known then. So no, and then so and then Allah Han and Alejandro as well. You know, you had to have that combination, but all 100 after Birdman. Right? You know, with the combination of Leo that was the key.

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Yeah. Cuz after Birdman, because they both came out year after year.

Mark L. Smith 22:11
Right? Yeah, he wanted us director for both

Alex Ferrari 22:14
years in a row. And Chico was

Mark L. Smith 22:16
kind of talented. Yeah, Chico. Oh, my God. Geez. We'll

Alex Ferrari 22:18
talk about Chico in a minute. So. So you you Yeah, so he did Birdman which exploded. And it's still arguably one of the best films I've seen in the last 20 years. It's still Yeah, I just absolutely love those genius. So it's a it's at a different level. And I got to ask you, man, because you've worked with some some of the most amazing people in the business. When you're working with someone like Leo or Alejandro? I mean, they, they are at genius levels. I mean, they their crafts is, and I'm not trying to blow smoke up anybody's but but I mean, they definitely playing with a different set of cards than the rest of us in a good way. Because they're just, you don't make Birdman and The Revenant. Right after each other in that, you know, no. Feels like there's something they're playing. Yeah. So, I mean, you've worked with everybody from, you know, low budget Indies, all the way to, you know, Oscar winning guys like Alejandro and Leo, what is that? What is it like being in the room? Not to say that you're not part of that group as a genius as well. So you have done some amazing work

Mark L. Smith 23:27
over the corner

Alex Ferrari 23:28
with the writers, but the writers generally are often

Mark L. Smith 23:34
a little stupid is that's expected. But it's no, the, the thing with 100. He's, and then you combine with chivo. And what they do, because we're working on the script, and we do something like we can pull that one off, you know, we can't really do this. And this because mark, you know, I can do this. Just let me watch. And so so it and it always worked every time that I bought, you know, there's just no way he's gonna be able to pull off that shot and make it visible in there. But he did it and antiva did it. And so and that and then Leo's performance, and especially coming off of I mean, you kind of look at you know, all 100 did Birdman and then Revenant and then Leo just did just did Wolf of Wall Street where he's just rat a tat tat with a dialogue and everything's over the top. He's doing good. And then he does The Revenant, which is all just kind of expression and so quiet and everything that I mean, when you can pull that off. I mean, again, like you said, they're just on a different level. And so it was so fun. I just, I just was on go up on set and just watch them up in Canada. It was like, this is like an all you know, but you

Alex Ferrari 24:36
were on set. So you were on set for a bunch of it. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 24:38
it was just a as a tourist, sometimes I would go it need a little we didn't change and he had it so heavily rehearsed, that everybody knew every move. And so there was really no changing of the script. But he would say I need some background dialogue here. Can you give me something that's going to happen there so I go to the trailer and do that. But the rest of the time. I'm just standing there watching them work and it was it was just amazing. Like I said, I just I felt like I learned so much just by seeing those guys what they could do.

Alex Ferrari 25:07
And I mean, I saw that documentary that they did about the making of that Alejandro was on and I mean, it looked like hell, man. I mean that that's a hellish, hellish shoot like,

Mark L. Smith 25:19
I mean, there was there was a time I was thinking there was a scene where Leo's hang up the Rockies trying to fill a canteen after he's kind of drug itself to the river. And it is so cold up there. I mean, I've got gloves and hat and and he's laying there on the side of the river and he's filling this canteen is his elbow deep in the water. And, and

Alex Ferrari 25:37
it's not Hollywood, and it's not Hollywood water. It's real.

Mark L. Smith 25:40
This is this is Canadian, Rocky, right? He's there and they would shoot Alejandro would shoot different angles until he was just shivering so much that they'd have to stop and then put him in the suit with a with, like blow dryers heaters that would then heat him up inside the suit and he's doing doing eating soup, and then they'd go do it again. And then they do it to the shivers then pull them out and do it. I told him, I walked up to him one day, and I go and this is the only time in my life that I'm glad I'm not Leonardo Decaprio, you know, it's like, it was the most brutal thing. Again, stuff you don't really realize that actors go through, you know, and so it's not all just let's hang out in the trailer to we shoot this thing. And um, he was super, he never complained. There was never one time that he like moaned and bitched and groan or anything, he was just like, he's just the best it just, he's there to do his job and do you know, give the director exactly what they're looking for?

Alex Ferrari 26:31
I remember I remember someone saying the commentary for for God's sakes, somebody give Leonardo DiCaprio the Oscar before he kills himself? Like everything

Mark L. Smith 26:41
I mean, you know, Alejondro would ask you to do it. You know, it's like, you know, Leo just called God now, really, but he would do it.

Alex Ferrari 26:48
And, you know, he's an intense figure. I mean, he's he without question. He's an intense director, not in a bad way. But he has, he has a vision, he has a presence about him. You know, I've had him I've had I've had the pleasure of meeting Guillermo a couple times. And he has that kind of different energy, different energy completely, but has that presence and those those kind of directors, I mean, when you're going to make the revenue you you've kind of be a general like, you can't, you can't lollygag around you can't show any week. I mean, you're in jail during the year badly that elements and Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 27:23
everybody, you know, it is like your army is miserable. You know, they're looking, you know, you're you're trying, you're looking for deserters at that point, you know, because it is so brutal. And that and it's it's long and it's cold, and it's hard. And so um, he had it, he had a cool thing that he would do, he had this chime that would go off the same time, every afternoon. And when that time would hit everybody would just even if they're, you know, they would time it. So they weren't in the middle of a shot. But every but if it was pre shot for everything, everybody would stop. No, no one would say a word. Everybody kind of just look around, get get get a feel for nature, kind of, you know, remember what we're doing and stuff and then boom, go back into it. And everybody was ready. And it was every day. And it was really cool.

Alex Ferrari 28:04
That's an that's an interesting technique. I mean, it's just kind of like, because you can get caught up in the not only the minutiae, but just, you know, when you're in the battle, it's tough to just go, Dude, look where we are, look what we're doing. Take a second to breathe. That's it. Yeah. So and that's,

Mark L. Smith 28:20
I think he did it for everyone, because he knew he needed it as well. I think it was very helpful to him because he is so intense, you know, and it is, you know, there are directors that will go and it's just the job. It's it's more than the job for a hunter. Of course, this is life and death, you know, and so he's, it's, it's important. It's funny, because I did something with gamma as well, we wrote a script with him, and they couldn't be more different. You know, no, come on. You know, it's so funny. And they're good friends and everything, but they are completely different. And both so amazingly talented stuff in their own ways, but it's just yet very different.

Alex Ferrari 28:55
And how was it writing with Alejandro? Like, I mean, bringing that energy because you're pretty much a loan writer from your credits, like you generally don't partner with?

Mark L. Smith 29:03
No, I don't. And it was, I wasn't sure. But we got in it was it was kind of fun, because we would each write things that he wanted to tweak and change. I would write my 10 pages, he would write his 10 pages, and then we would trade you know, he'd send me his I'd send him mine. And then we would, you know, discuss which one was, you know, we'd have an argument about which was better, you know, and he always won. Which is, you know, that's what he should have, but it was, um, but it was, it was fun, because I got to kind of see storytelling through his eyes in a different way. And also, you know, not just kind of like the lens kind of thing, but also how the character stuff and everything that he would do now, it's funny because we made one big change that my draft of The Revenant was much more of a kidnapping. There was no Hawk there was no sun, in mind, oh, really, in your mind, the sun you actually opened with the, you see the hands of a little boy and a father and they're carving this star in To the wooden stock of a hunting rifle, and you hear the boy coughing and stuff, and you know he's sick, you're getting just a couple words of dialogue. And then there's a splinter in little boy's hand and it gets a couple drops of blood bleed into the star of the rifle. And you kind of go into the grain, you know of that rifle. And then when you pull back out, we're with Hugh as Leo now, and this age old, battered rifle and everything. So my story was when after when Fitzgerald leaves, leaves glass to die, he hadn't killed anyone, he took his rifle. And so we took the last piece of his son, he The last thing that glass had of his son. So it wasn't my story wasn't as much of a revenge to get to get Fitzgerald for that it was he just wanted his his son back. And so it was literally just to get his hands on the rifle. So it was a little different takes. So that was the one big change, I think, in the, in the two versions, and everything else, kind of more nuances, you know?

Alex Ferrari 30:54
Yeah. And that's, I mean, to be honest, either one seems to work

Mark L. Smith 31:00
fine about his version, you know, no, no, it is, it's just it's like, if you want to go really hit somebody hard with the reason for revenge, or if you want it to be something that is more, you know, a little more subtle, and I do tend, I tend to be subtle, even in, you know, in dialogue, it's like, I don't want to say anything on the nose, just like, let me take a few extra lines or a couple extra scenes to get stuff across. You know,

Alex Ferrari 31:23
now, I have to ask me, because when Chivo got involved, yes, when you start seeing this footage, come back. I mean, it's unlike, it's really unlike anything that had been shot the camera was pretty much I think only that if I'm not mistaken, was a fairly new sensor, new everything, I saw some behind the scenes shots of how they did it, you know, with these giant, you know, giant silks across the forest. I mean, like,

Mark L. Smith 31:49
yeah, it was all natural lighting. So we would have just that little window, you know, two or three hours on some days where there was light to shoot, you know, and so it was, so that's why I was so critical. They did the, all the rehearsing and everything, because they knew they didn't have any time to waste. And so um, no, and then to watch to stand there and watch them shoot, and then go watch the dailies, and they had a nice theater that we'd go to and watch the dailies and to see what was coming out of it what Shiva was, you know, what I was seeing compared to what Shiva was finding, he was like, Oh, my God,

Alex Ferrari 32:18
yeah, yeah, cuz, because we were on set. I know, he was insane. But like when you're seeing like, what, what they're shooting and you're just like, there's no light. I mean, it's an exposure, or is this gonna work? Because To the untrained eye, not knowing who chivo is, and not knowing what the heck's going on in the camera, in the sensor in the lens and all that stuff. It looks like it's amateur hour, there's no lights, there's nothing like there's no even

Mark L. Smith 32:42
flags. And it was so funny, because if you walk down there, it was along a river you walked way. I mean, you drove forever, then you'd walk there to like that. The first attack scene where the the Native Americans came in, and it was, like, you walk back in time, and everything looks so real. And there were so many layers for hundreds of yards, there would be extras, walking across getting water doing this. And if one of those people timed it wrong, which happened, all the horses would race through, we'd get some attack stuff. And it was like, Wait a second, that person that no one's ever going to notice, you know, was out of place, we start over again, you know, and so it was just my god, it was just amazing to watch.

Alex Ferrari 33:23
So then once The Revenant comes out, everyone just loses their mind. How was it? You know, Oscar night? You know, again, it gets what was it? How many nominations? Like 11 nominations or something

Mark L. Smith 33:35
like that? I don't even know a lot. Yeah. whirlwind.

Alex Ferrari 33:38
It was. So what is that like being in the center of a storm like that? Because you're just like, I'm assuming you're just holding on for the ride at this time. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 33:44
Alejandro and I just had to do we went from New York would fly to New York to LA and back, I guess, just doing a bunch of Q and A's. And so it was just he and I and it was it was just a whirlwind. And it was so much fun. And it was, you know, we did a lot of it before, like, after it came out. But before the you know, before there was we did a bunch of stuff before it ever premiered. So we knew how much we liked it. But it was still such a different film. You know, it was kind of a, an action film. But it was an art arthouse film a little you know, so

this, you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:15
it's an art house studio. It's like an art house studio

Mark L. Smith 34:18
film. It really was. It's so it's like, you know, we weren't positive of the reaction, you know, so whenever we got the reaction, I remember the night it opened. And we're all texting and emails and, and new Regency is sending the fox or sending the box office stuff throughout Friday night of what the you know, this is it and it's gonna be this we were like, Oh my god, you know, it was so much more than we expected. So it was it was great from from both into the commercial and artistic kind of sides. It was nice. It was. Yeah, very, very lucky. It was funny because the the title, everybody wanted to change the title at the beginning because they It was like, No, nobody knows what The Revenant means. You know, it's like, let's get something that's simpler and everything but now The Revenant you know, I remember years ago seeing it be thrown around on Saturday Night Live, you know, somebody's giving someone the nickname of the revenue. It's like, it's kind of cool, you know? gonna hang around for a while. Oh, no, you

Alex Ferrari 35:10
know when you hear the word The Revenant you just think bear attack. If you just think Leo and eating, did he eat this? He ate the salmon Dendi.

Mark L. Smith 35:19
Yeah, he did that he actually ate up real liver. He ate a buffalo liver, or I think it was a cow liver. And that one thing and then threw up immediately after the camera stopped. It was just rough because he was vegan. I can't remember he did. It was really crossing a line for all hunter to get him to do it. But he got him to do it. Jesus

Alex Ferrari 35:39
Christ, Matt. Yeah. Now you've adopted a couple of books. As you as you as The Revenant. Do you have any tips on how to adapt a book to the screen? Because I know that's a lot of everyone's looking for IP, everyone's looking for existing intellectual property and kind of things to write scripts about, is there a way that you approach adaptive adaptation?

Mark L. Smith 36:00
Yeah, I find I do the things that there's whether it's theme or character, or world something about it, pulls me in, and I never really go. I don't follow the story, the structure of the novel always, it's like, it's like, I find the character and then I kind of go my own route with it. And so it's, it's a tricky thing. I mean, I love I always feel like it's cheating a little bit, you know, after writing so many originals. It's like, God, when you can adapt something, it's like everybody's doing all the heavy lifting for you, you know,

Alex Ferrari 36:35
it's a play, you're playing at that point.

Mark L. Smith 36:37
Oh, yeah. And it's, you're just finding the stuff that you love, and then using it and building off of it. And so, I don't know that I think I approached it a little differently than most. So I'm not sure I'm the best person to give advice, because I don't follow. I just don't i don't jump in where the novel starts, you know, and I don't ever do that, even with, even with The Revenant, we took on a micropump, the authors, a friend of mine, and it was we just took little tidbits, you know, and then and my first draft was was a little more loyal, close to it. The second one distance itself a little bit more, but it's just you, you kind of find the stuff that you love, you know, in a novel, and then, um, and the stuff that works, and then you you go with it.

Alex Ferrari 37:16
So basically, that's the thing, a lot of times screenwriters will look at a book and be like, Oh, well, it's not exactly like Harry Potter. Like, you know, you missed that part. Like you can't, it's you can't do an adaptation like that, because then it's gonna be a mini series at that at that point, or eight hours, or 10 hours worth of stuff. So your approach, and I think the best adaptations is they take the best of the of the, of the novel in that form, and turns it into a new plot a new a new format, because it is a brand new story, new format, everything

Mark L. Smith 37:44
it is, and there's so many things, I actually just ran into this on this. Another thing I was adapting. There's so many things in a novel that you can get away with little cheats, little things that visually, you can say something's happening on the page. But if it's on a screen, it's like, wait, no, that's not right. That doesn't work, you know, or a cheat in a plot that a plot hole that you go in? Well, I read three days ago, when I was reading, you know, the first 30 pages that that happened, this shouldn't have, you can't do any of that in a movie. So you have to you have to fix those. So there there are some novels that I have loved and wanted to adapt. But they had holes like that they had things like that, that I couldn't figure out a way to get around it cinematically, so I just didn't do them.

Alex Ferrari 38:26
Yeah. Now, you said you said something a little earlier in regards to on the nose dialogue? Do you have any advice on dialogue? And how to how, because you have some very realistic dialogue in your scripts? How do you how do you approach dialogue?

Mark L. Smith 38:39
I tried to my one thing is never answered the question. Somebody asked, you know, it's like, if you if someone asks, is the sky blue? You don't say yes, you know, you would say the sky is blue, but not not like it was yesterday, when the you know, when the storm was here or set, you know, what had just blown through or something that leads to something else, you're always every line of dialogue should kind of be telling you something about the person that is speaking it, you know, and the events and what's going on, you just want to you want to get that feeling. Because that's how people in real life, you know, they don't, you just everything isn't just a ba, ba ba back and forth. It's like things, things flow, you know, and you kind of get off tangent, and you get back and you find your ways. And, you know, it's um, it's essentially, I'll throw another name, name drop on you again. So I was doing the Star Trek with with Quentin Tarantino. And so he and I are working on that together. And when we're talking about he's writing this dialogue scene that I've written, and then he writes it. And it's like, Oh, my God. I thought I was like, didn't want to be straightforward with anything. So I'm kind of flowing over here. And then he does this thing, which is now five pages longer than my scene was. And he's going all out here and he's touching on stuff. That's way over here. And then he comes back over. And it was just beautiful. It was just so wonderful and so funny. And so it's like, he just, again, you're talking about someone that sees stuff. Oh, well, normal humans, you know. And so. And I say that, you know, reverence. It's, but it, he's just that guy. And so he's really good at not just being straightforward with that, you know? So yeah, clearly. And so that that's to me is that you just kind of, you want to take your time, don't rush, don't rush to feed information, don't just deliver information through exposition and everything, you, you just want to you want to have conversations and then let the stuff come out in conversations this did this thing we're just selling, it's a TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch. And I've got these two strangers that kind of meet in Europe. And they're each asking questions about each other, just having a conversation, but neither one ever gives a straight answer. So you, by the end of it, you kind of know where they're coming from, but you don't really know any details about either one, they're still missed your mysteries to each other. And that's, I think, is is important, you don't want to, you just don't want to know who everyone is, you know, in the first 510 minutes, because then it's like, Okay, I'm just gonna follow this guide, then it then it all comes down to and I build everything from character anyway. But if you if you do that, if you feed everybody, if you've given everybody, the audience what they need to know, in the first 10 minutes of a character, then it's like, you're now you're relying on explosions or actions, or whatever, you know, it's just, you're not really getting into the twists and turns of character. And that to me is like that. That's the fun.

Alex Ferrari 41:39
So that was I was gonna ask you, because I always ask screenwriters Do they? Do they start with plot or character. And I know they obviously need both. But some, some writers focus on the plot much more than the character but I always say is my personal experience in it. And I've talked to a lot of writers about this is like, when you think of a movie that you've loved. Rarely do you remember, it's like, Man, that plot was amazing. I mean, you could say that the sixth sense, like Sixth Sense was such a strong plot that right, that that's what you remember from it, but that was like that, yeah, but generally, like Indiana Jones, like I kind of, I kind of remember Raiders of Lost Ark, I vaguely remember Temple of Doom, because not one of my favorites. But then I vaguely remember, Last Crusade, like I get the general plot, but what I remember is Indian, his father and Last Crusade, like that's what, that's what you connect to?

Mark L. Smith 42:32
Or are short, rounded moments, right? It's moments and moments come from character, you know, unless you're in a Michael Bay film, you know where it's like. But it is it's so unique characters, everything. Like I said, I always start off with the beginning, middle end, just two lines. So I know kind of where I'm headed. And then when I my character, I start building the character, normally that middle will change, you know, what's gonna, what I thought was gonna happen at the middle no longer happens, because this character decided to do something else. And so the ending is, usually I'm going to get to the same ending at some point, you know, it, that doesn't vary as much, but it's all about, it's all about the character and where they're taking you, you know, and it's a reason why I'm not, I can't really pitch because I can't, I can't write, I don't know what I'm going to write, you know, I don't know who this character is going to be. I can't tell you like in a TV show, I can't tell you what he's going to be doing in Episode Five yet, you know, I've got to get him to the pilot. And, and there was one time I was first starting out the only time I ever pitched it was a job I really wanted. And I had a week to get ready. And so I sat down and I wrote the script. And I just plowed out the script, 111 pages or something, whatever it was. And then I wrote a pitch from the script that I'd written. And that's what I pitched. And so that's the only way I can do it, I have to actually write it.

Alex Ferrari 43:54
And fill on what you said something really interesting. And I've heard this said so many times, and I've read it in so many books, is that a lot of times writers like Stephen King and some, you know, prolific writers, they'll say this, this comment where like, all the character took me somewhere, or the character decided to do something. And I know a lot of writers listening, I get where that that statement comes from. Because as a writer, I see kind of words, certain things kind of start flowing. But I want to hear your opinion on like, what does that actually mean? Because for some for some people who are starting to write, let's say they start off with Indiana Jones like, well, where does Indiana Jones go? How is Indiana Jones talking to me? Like I think quitting says it he's like, I just let them I'm just addict. What is it a dictator, not dictator, um, court reporter Yeah, yeah, yeah. A court reporter between two I'm like, that sounds great. Quinten but for the rest of us, mortals. How does that work? Like I'm sure you know, Mr. Mr. Blonde, and Mr. Black are talking. That's fantastic. You know, but like, how like, I just want to know from your point of view, and being inside of that space in your own writing, how does that work?

Mark L. Smith 45:03
It is it's so weird. It's, um, it's like he said, it's these guys are talking, and I'm hearing them and I'm saying it, like my wife will say, I heard you, I heard these lines, you know, the dialogue, she's walking past. And it's like, because I don't even realize I'm saying them out loud, you know, and it's, I'm just doing it and it's you, they just, they do they speak to you and they change. It's like I just this one thing, I just sold it. In the in the first 10 minutes, this guy, this man and woman they meet, and you think they're gonna be this great, this this love stories can be wonderful. And then boom, there's just this like tragic death. It's kind of in a thriller action thing. And by it's a TV show, so near the end of the pilot, she dies. And that's the way it was all planned, that's whales all written. I liked her character so much, and they were so good together, that it was like, okay, we're not going to kill her now, you know, we're gonna change this, because she, she just did things that became so important. And she became such a part of the story that we never intended, I never intended that now, she is kind of the second lead in the show. So she's gonna, you know, it's all gonna work out. So that's, I guess, again, the thing that I say, I don't like to outline don't, I don't want to get too locked in, I would always recommend that to be flexible. You know, just because this is the way you thought you were gonna do it when you started. Don't Don't lock yourself into that, because there's so many moves that can be made. And, and if you find, if, as you're writing, and you find something that wow, this feels like it's really working, and I really like it, that means it's really work. And it's probably good, you know, so keep going, keep that person. If that dynamic, you need those two people to really make it work, then don't get rid of the one person. And so um, so there's, there's all that stuff in and characters again, they just, they evolve, and they write I mean, the way I write is I write as many pages as I can in a day. And then when before I start the next day, I go back and I read all the pages that I wrote the day before, and then I kind of change and I tweak and I do all that stuff in those, those first pages. And I keep going that way. So I'm always rewriting. And like, if I just stuck on page 40, I'll go back to page one, and read all the way through and start making changes. And I just keep doing it.

Alex Ferrari 47:15
So that's kind of so so in your writing process on a daily basis, you let's say you write 20 pages, the next day, you'll you'll come and read those 20 pages, and it's almost kind of like a runway to get you going to the next gen like Dodge, as opposed to just starting cold. Pick it up. Exactly.

Mark L. Smith 47:31
I'm already now Okay, I'm with them. I'm with the journey. Now. It's like I'm going I've got momentum. And so it's like, I just keep going and, and it's a quick read, you know, because you know what's going to happen and stuff, you're just kind of seeing if everything is flowing, and if you bump on anything, and then if not you just like you said to run what you just take off.

Alex Ferrari 47:46
And when I'm writing, you know, when I was writing my my nonfiction and fiction books, I do the exact same thing. Sometimes I'll get caught. And I'm like, Where do I? Where do I go from it? Let me just reread this chapter. And you just start back and it just all of a sudden, oh, there it is. And it just, it's kind of like you're picking up a signal or radio signal almost like your channel.

Mark L. Smith 48:05
Yeah, a little beacon back there, you know that you get Okay, and then I got that now I can go but it is true, there are those little things that that you've put in this first sections that you knew were going to take you to the next ones, you just sometimes have to remind yourself, you know, and just see them again.

Alex Ferrari 48:18
Now another thing and I would love to hear your point because you've you've sold a lot of scripts, you've been working in the business for a long time. When and I'm sure you probably did this originally because if not, you wouldn't have sold your first scripts or options your first scripts with the the way that the script is formatted. I've always heard that you people want to see a sea of white, they want to see as much white as possible not as not a lot of description not a lot of black. Unless and obviously dialogue to a minimum unless you turn into you know, which then you do whatever you want. That's a whole other that's another thing. And then also before I'm gonna just go sign off for a second people are always use quit and Shane Black Sorkin you know, Kaufmann these kind of giants in the screenwriting space and they're like, well, we'll quit and does this and and I was reading a quitting script the other day and there was some grammar grammatical errors. And I always tell them, dude, he could he could misspell every word. And it's still gonna get sold. He's at that place.

Mark L. Smith 49:18
That's that's so that's so exactly right. I mean, you just you d