Every year I look forward to sitting down and watching a good Christmas movie. From the classics to the new classics, I love them all. Here are the Top Ten Christmas Screenplays in no particular order. Do you think we’re missing a script? Let us know by providing the link in the comment section.
Today on the show we have director and screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe.
J. Mills Goodloe grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He began his career at Warner Brothers working for director Richard Donner. Goodloe worked from 1992 to 1995 as Donner’s assistant on Lethal Weapon 3 and Maverick, both starring Mel Gibson, then segued into producing where he developed and produced Assassins starring Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore.
In 1996, Goodloe produced Conspiracy Theory, once again starring Mel Gibson, along with Julia Roberts, and Lethal Weapon 4, the fourth installment of the billion dollar grossing Lethal Weapon series.
In 2001, Goodloe wrote and directed A Gentleman’s Game starring Gary Sinise, Dylan Baker and Philip Baker Hall. In 2005, Goodloe wrote the adaptation for the John Grisham novel Bleachers for Revolution Studios. Goodloe also co-wrote the screenplay for the inspirational sports film Pride, released theatrically by Lionsgate and starring Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac.
In 2014, Goodloe’s adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Best of Mewent into production, starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden and directed by Michael Hoffman.
Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson and Amanda, two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they’ve never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart twenty years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love, and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances.
In 2013, Academy Award nominated director Hany Abu-Assad was hired to direct Goodloe’s screenplay Mountain Between Us, a Twentieth Century Fox project based upon the novel by Charles Martin.
In the Spring of 2014, Goodloe’s original screenplay Age of Adaline began principal photography, starring Harrison Ford, Blake Lively and directed by Lee Toland Krieger. The film will be released by Lionsgate in the Spring of 2015.
After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever.
In 2014, Sony Studios hired Goodloe to write the screenplay Christian the Lion with Neil Moritz’ Original Film producing. His other projects include a scripted drama for Bravo Television called All the Pretty Faces which he and Jennifer Garner are producing.
Alex Ferrari 0:00 I'd like to welcome the show Mills Goodloe how you doing Mills?
J. Mills Goodloe 0:14 Very well, thank you.
Alex Ferrari 0:15 Thanks so much for being on the show my friend. I appreciate you coming on before I just want to even get started and how did you how did you get into this insane, insane business?
J. Mills Goodloe 0:26 It was a total fluke. And it had nothing to do with any pre determined strategy whatsoever. I was in college on this thing called Semester at Sea. And I ended up getting kicked off of it for many reasons, but I don't want to get into here. Yugoslavia. Now now Serbia and I had was with some girl that I was dating and she lived in went to USC. And I had I decided maybe I should go to California and what I do in California, I guess they could get involved in the film business. Because people do there and I had one friend of mine who I was went to Berkeley, his name is Chris Silberman. And he's now the chairman of ICM. Oh, nice. And he was a Cal Berkeley guy and his dad was a publicist and his dad got me my first job. And I had no idea about movie business. I'd never read a script. I didn't major in film studies. I didn't braider in English. Very not well. versed. I wish I could tell the story that I saw Star Wars when I was six years old and came out of the theater with my life. It's different and but it's completely fluke. And happenstance had no rhyme or reason whatsoever.
Alex Ferrari 1:45 So I like that story more because I've heard the Star Wars Story 1000 times, I'm part of that generation as well. So this whole like I just fell into it is probably infuriating to some people listen,
J. Mills Goodloe 1:57 Well, If I be like I would have fallen for some girl that was living in Seattle. In the 90s. I don't know maybe I would have gone to Seattle and whatever they do in Seattle,but it was like
Alex Ferrari 2:07 Coffee. You would have been in coffee. You would have been in coffee or Microsoft.
J. Mills Goodloe 2:10 Yeah, exactly. I could have been on the ground floor of Starbucks. But it was it just happened to be the one guy that I knew that could get me a job was in the film business.
Alex Ferrari 2:19 That's amazing. Now, doing a little bit of research on you. One of your first jobs was working with the late great, Richard Donner.
J. Mills Goodloe 2:29 How, how did you get in that was the gentleman was Chris Silverman who said he's, you know the name Chris or No,
Alex Ferrari 2:36 I know the name but I don't Yeah,
J. Mills Goodloe 2:38 He's the he's, I see all he runs all ICM and he was a film student that came out of college and his dad was a publicist. And they were doing this film called Radio Flyer. I remember Radio Flyer, yes. Directing that, and he was already shoot, he had just had finished it actually. And they were gonna do some pickups on it. And I somehow found out that he needed an assistant, a driver. And through a through luck and circumstances I ended up getting an interview with with Dick donner. And he, I did something really crazy in the interview, and I got the job basically being a gopher. Third.
Alex Ferrari 3:21 But what did you do? What did you do? But you have to what did you do? What was that crazy thing
J. Mills Goodloe 3:26 During the course of the my interview with him. And like I said, I'm just out of college. I never been on film set before. I'd never read a screenplay before. I didn't know anything about anything. But in the course of the interview, Dick had mentioned part of the job as being very, almost like an investigative reporter. It was all personal stuff. For him. It wasn't short films. And one of the things he said was, you know, like, this morning, I was talking to someone in my office about, I read somewhere, this is pre internet, by the way that you can, there's these devices which detect lightning. And he said, you know, like, I would just say, he's using this an example of the job. So I'd say to someone that's, you know, I'll say someone on my staff, you know, see if you can find out about that we can use it for shooting, let me just use as an example. And I had this epiphany that night. And the next morning, I woke up really early, and I called some people I know on the East Coast, and then I wrote my obligatory thank you letter for the interview. Once again, pre email, I wrote the obligatory thank you for it's a great opportunity, I'd love to be blah, blah, blah, all the same normals. And at the end is, by the way, if you're still looking for those devices that detect lightning, there are three companies that make them and I listed the three companies and the price and their address done. And later he said, while the guys they interviewed are the only one that actually paid attention and wanted to follow up with some throwaway comment I made in the meeting. So because he had brought up lightning detectors, I had had the foresight to be pre emptive to preemptively kind of go out there and give them an answer on a job that didn't have. And I did that. And that later kind of turned into something that I did when I was trying to get writing jobs, rather than doing your normal pitching, I'd go and write the first 20 pages and send it to a producer before I get hired, really. So that was another thing we did 18 pages.
Alex Ferrari 5:23 And that were obviously that worked out okay, for you.
J. Mills Goodloe 5:26 Well, it's, you know, if you're trying to hire someone to write a script for you, and you meet with six people, and it's a pitch situation, and all of them, they're kind of having the same things. And you can, you can make yourself a little bit different by like, Hey, you don't have to hire me. But look, I just wrote the first 12 pages, I wrote the first three scenes. If you like them, then clearly, you know, I've got a grasp of material.
Alex Ferrari 5:48 That that is absolutely the most ingenious approach. I mean, I've done this for a long time. I've never heard that approach. I have, I've never heard that it's so simple.
J. Mills Goodloe 5:59 Well, you also have to preemptively tell them, if you don't hire me, once again, I'm married to a lawyer, you have to say preemptively, if you don't hire me, that's fine. I'll send a I'll sign a release, you can throw them away. But hey, this is you know, I'll write the first three, four scenes for you and you. And you, if you like them, I'm listed, they hate them. They're not gonna hire you. And I'm glad they didn't hire you in the first place. Because they don't like your writing. But if you I mean, you've read you, you and I've read 1000s of scripts. Sure. If you, if you're a producer, and you read the first 10 pages, and you're like, yeah, that's kind of what we're looking for. You get the job. If you read 10 pages, then you're like, No, he's the wrong guy. And it takes me, let's say, it takes you a week to write those 10 pages. You know, otherwise, you're going to spend, you know, two months trying to get a job.
Alex Ferrari 6:50 Right. And it's the equivalent of like, I'll just shoot the first five minutes of the movie that, um, it's a lot cheaper, though.
J. Mills Goodloe 6:57 Yeah. Or if you're, you know, if you're an independent film director, right? Well, I mean, it's, it's a lot cheaper. Also, if you're going to try to direct a film, it is nice to see I'll shoot the five minutes, but then you're relying on actors.
Alex Ferrari 7:07 Oh, no, no, it's much more complicated.
J. Mills Goodloe 7:09 Yeah. Cinematography, no, you have to but with writing, it's just you. And these are the 10 pages, you know, and it's only up to you, it's only how you're taking the material
Alex Ferrari 7:21 And costing your time. And it's just costing you time. And it's just costing you a ton of time,
J. Mills Goodloe 7:25 But you know, what you spend. So I mean, you waste so much time in this business anyways, trying to get jobs, right, and spend weeks and weeks meeting the people and trying to get through the three levels to get to the guy that actually can say yes to hiring you. It's always labor intensive. So I'd rather labor intensive work to like write 10 pages. And you also find that if you write those 10 pages, they're not going to come back and say, Yeah, we kind of like you. But hey, can you write you know, the last 10 pages? Come back and say that? They're like, Yeah, but what do you think about the second act? Or the third act was like, no, they either get it or they don't get it? Right. So it's pretty great. Hey, you're going off the wrong track? You're not fine.
Alex Ferrari 8:09 Fair enough. So when you're working with Dick, I mean, I mean, Nick is such a legendary director, what was like the biggest lesson you pulled from working with him? Because I mean, you started off as a driver, but you eventually ended up producing and running and running Donner productions.
J. Mills Goodloe 8:22 Yeah. He said, if you if you produce my, if you can produce my personal life, you can produce my movies. That's great. And his personal life was much more competent in personal life, meaning that he had, he had three houses, and he had all of this stuff that he's always tinkering. And he's got cars, he's got houses, there's always things that he was about his personal life, and he had dogs, and you'd always kind of run his personal life. So the biggest the biggest thing, by far I learned for him is anticipating what's gonna happen around the corner, and you can also never tell him? No, he could never say to him, like, I don't know. Like, I'll give you an example. This is just multiple, I can give you so many examples of stuff that you do. But one of the things let's say is he's he would come on and say, I have an idea that, you know, my pool hat goes from three feet to seven feet. But you know, I don't ever use the deep end. This is how his mind works. So I get the pool. So it'd be three feet, three feet in the middle of the five feet. So I can have two, two, a shallow into the pool, and you're like, okay, and then I go out and I talk to people and meet with people, they come back and I give them a presentation about these are three companies that do it. This is the price this is how long it takes. And you'd kind of apply that to making films or you kind of have a task to get something done. And you can ever go back and say, I don't know how to do it. I mean, I used to jokes like I would go back to and say hey, the solution for something you want for your house in the Hollywood Hills is we got to tear down your entire house. It's gonna cost you $7 million to do it. But at least you had a solution. It's something, it's something you cannot go back and say you can't do something years to process information and find solutions to problems. And that helped with producing because when you show up on a film set at six o'clock in the morning, and you lose your location, right, you have to be rational and go to the director and say, Okay, we lost our location. I've thought about it I've anticipated there might be a problem. These are the three different solutions for us, ABC. And he taught me to think like that. And he taught me not to freak out not to panic. And in that situation, if you get to the film set, you need to have producers that that aren't saying, Oh my God, you're not gonna believe the worst thing to happen. We showed up this morning, and the building caught on fire and we have nowhere to shoot. I don't know what to do. Who are we going to call?
Alex Ferrari 10:51 Yeah, you can't do that.
J. Mills Goodloe 10:54 So he that's he really ingrain that in through his own. And, you know, through his the way that his mind works for the three through all the different things that he would do as we tried to train me to think that way. And he trained me to just be rational to always be looking ahead always anticipate contingencies. And basically, you know, just always have a cool level hadn't I had none of those skill sets when I started working for him.
Alex Ferrari 11:17 Now, I do have to ask because I'm such a fan of a lethal weapon, man. What was it like working on on those? You worked on the last one? For sure. Right?
J. Mills Goodloe 11:25 I did the last one. And the very first job I the film first films that I had with lethal weapon three, and I never been on a film set before. Okay, literally, I've never been to California before. I never been I was driving him to the set and the Suburban. And I'd be like, Oh my god, this is a film set. Like this is what people do for a living. And it was very intoxicating. And we made two of those films. And the first one I didn't I mean, I didn't know what a gaffer was, I didn't know what I completely over my head and like, but my job was just basically to get him to the set, and like go take his dog to the veterinarian. But by the end on the fourth one, which is the last movie I did with him, you know, but that was a different, you know, I was at the end those films were made at the end of an era. And that was in the late 90s, Terry Semel, Bob Daley studio films, and they kind of let him do make those films and there was no script. You get pages, you know, three days before you're shooting, and it was very, very a different system than it is right now of making films. Very old boys big office, Donner had an office on the Warner Brothers lot that used to be Frank Sinatra's bungalow. And, you know, you had one, Terry Semel and Bob Daley, if they just said, Hey, we're gonna make the movie, they make the movie, there's no meeting with marketing executives, there's no international people. There's no accountants involved. He just kind of did it. And they've trusted the people. And they made the film. And, you know, there's, I could write an entire book about the stories that I learned during the 90s, making five big studio films for Warner Brothers during those times and how they came together and how they were shot and how they were made, which will never exist in our business again.
Alex Ferrari 13:13 And is that just because they because basically, the studios have been bought out by all the big conglomerates now. They're just giant monster marketing machines, essentially.
J. Mills Goodloe 13:22 Yeah. And there's not less gut. There's less guys that just say, Hey, that's a good script. It's a gut to do it. I think there's so many other decision makers involved in it, as well as analytics. It's kind of like sports, you know, football, it's turned into analytics, and it's taken some of the fun out of it. But I assure you when they made those films, there were no analytics involved. There were no Donner never saw budgets, there was we never really no, there was no signing off in the budget. He but he was a very responsible guy. He was always he never went over budget or over schedule, but there was no tightening the screws on a budget, there was no CGI. And, like, very we didn't, we didn't have to like send, we can rewrite. See, we have writers rewrite scenes and never even send them to the studio to get approved. It sounds about the dailies.
Alex Ferrari 14:15 It sounds it sounds like this is like a magical alternative universe.
J. Mills Goodloe 14:21 It probably happened from the 60s until probably what do you think? 2000 2005? And then it all changed?
Alex Ferrari 14:29 Yeah. And then yeah, yeah. And I mean, I guess it's a movie like conspiracy theory. You know, there's no way a studio would make that today. I mean, just just
J. Mills Goodloe 14:38 THe didn't have an accident Julia Roberts in that and you know, Joel solver would pull stuff and put these movies together and how would they ever got made as but no one ever they've kind of left them alone. I think people haven't been in the studio world and that as a producer 20 years but they really left him alone and didn't give him a hard time about anything. And I'll tell you One quick story about making the movie assassins which was Yeah, easy. That was a which hausky brothers script.
Alex Ferrari 15:05 Yeah, the wachowski. Yeah.
J. Mills Goodloe 15:07 Well, now wachowski
Alex Ferrari 15:09 Siblings
J. Mills Goodloe 15:10 Okay. Yeah, siblings. But at that time there with these two guys. And I had this office at Warner Brothers and these two guys would walk behind my office every morning. They're trying to make matrix. Yeah, yeah, yeah, remember it? There. bookbags like walk back and there. This is before the first major came out. And they had this script called assassins. And Joel Silver for all of his foibles and all the things that are probably wrong with him. He's really great at busting down doors. So we have a script and this is this is will never happen again also. So he has a script on his own. And he goes to Sylvester Stallone, he says, look at slide. They're going to pay you $7 million dollars to do this. Here's a script. Donna's gonna direct it and the studio wants to make this film with you. And sly would read the script he says, Okay, great. Now the studio not read the script. And Donna did not read the script. Smart now, but he doesn't know that that day. He just knows that the IRS here they want so he told him the Warner's wants to Bob and Terry want to make it Donner's gonna do it and pay this amount of money. No one is that then he goes to donner. He says Guess what? He wants to do the film with you and Warner Brothers gonna pay you $5 million to direct a movie. But it's all ready to go. It's just read the script like it's ready to go. Then decrees like Oh, Sly wants to do it. Okay. And scripts pretty good. And and these guys are really hot because they did this movie bound and they're gonna matrix and Alright, maybe I'll do it. Then he goes to Bob antarious has got great news, guys. I got donner. I got sly. All you gotta do is paying him Place. Place. Pay sly seven. Pay donner, five. Here's the script. Let's go make the movie. So basically, he had a producer that completely packaged and put together movie and negotiated their deals without the other two parties knowing about it.
Alex Ferrari 17:11 That's brilliant. And that's also something that just doesn't happen to
J. Mills Goodloe 17:14 No. Now everyone know everything. Yeah. Anything and everyone's confirming like, like funds and never called dick to see if you actually read the script.
Alex Ferrari 17:24 But it was also Joel saying it. So there was there was a level of
J. Mills Goodloe 17:27 Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Dick wants to make this with you. Sly wants to read the script. Oh, Jake wants to make it. Okay. Shall I want to make it with him? Okay, that's good.
Alex Ferrari 17:33 All right. And it's Joel Silver, saying it you know, at, you know, arguably
J. Mills Goodloe 17:36 He's kind of got away with it. And by the time he said, The greenlit and worked for it, because no one knew what the other hand was doing. It was a shell game, and they make the movie and then it's only at that time, it was only two guys that could say, Alright, here it looks like the movie. Let's make the movie. And that was it. And then once you've just convinced two guys to make the movie. You could I guess maybe it's a little bit like Netflix right now where there's a lot more autonomy but and the last thing I'll tell you, which is really crazy about those days is I'll tell you who's in the office. So I was in the office and I was donner. I got bumped up to kind of be an executive with him. And I hired a guy this kid from Michigan State named Jeff John's okay to be my assistant. Now Jeff, John, do you know who he is? I don't ended up running DC films. He was the head of the head Content Officer for DC films from Warner so all of the Batman's and everything that all that stuff now. He's the main DC guy now, across the way in Laurens office, Dick and Lauren, obviously we're married. There's a little guy in the front desk, named Kevin fight.
Alex Ferrari 18:39 I thought this was Kevin was
J. Mills Goodloe 18:42 On a desk that was about half the size of mine in my office right now. And he didn't have his own office and he was Lauren, second assistant. Lauren's first assistant was Scott Stuber.
Alex Ferrari 18:53 And that name sounds familiar.
J. Mills Goodloe 18:55 Scott's do around runs all of Netflix. Oh, there you go. That's why Cooper is he was head of use of his credit budget universal and now Netflix. He's, he has a green light. He's been there for maybe eight or nine years to greenlight, everything like that. So between Stuber Geoff Johns, and Kevin fygi, I was by far the most underachieving of that group. That's a that's a heck of a roll like and I was at the time I literally would be like, like Kevin fygi and I would go take their cars to this carwash on Lankershim on bank, and he would take Donner suburban and he would take Lauren's BMW, the seven series old school BMW, and we'd go twice a week like and sit and watch car get made but like the carwash that was like and detailed and detailed, of course, detailed once a month we had so that was our that was how we started out
Alex Ferrari 19:48 You mean the one that you mean not the that the old school carwash, right by Warner's? Yeah, that's yes. It's exactly where I lived. I lived down the street from Kevin
J. Mills Goodloe 19:58 Murphy go take turns. We take their cars to get washed. And that was like part of our mornings.
Alex Ferrari 20:03 That's amazing. That's amazing story now Alright, so
J. Mills Goodloe 20:06 It was a fun anyways, it was a fun era. It was the last gasp of a dying system. Yeah, a system that unfortunately died. But it was it was a really a fun fun time. And then it all went to shit. And Donna was off the lot goes off the lot. You can't pull that stuff anymore. And it kind of about all screwed up after that.
Alex Ferrari 20:27 Yeah, I mean, all we keep doing is remaking stuff. It's so hard to find original IP now. Because it's just so much money and so much. It's corporate. Everything's corporate like, yeah. And the funny thing is that everything that remaking is because of a system that allowed that kind of creativity to flourish. So like the 80s and the 90s. There was like, you know, can you imagine a lethal weapon today? No way. There's just no way a lethal weapon or conspiracy theories or assassins or any of those kinds of great Donner flicks in this inside of the studio system.
J. Mills Goodloe 20:59 Well, if you said the Goonies you know, I mean,
Alex Ferrari 21:01 Can you imagine the Goonies at a studio?
J. Mills Goodloe 21:04 I mean, that's, you know, when they're, when they're remaking Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that's when I started to really lose my mind, but they can't make I mean, you can't remake who they are. Kevin Hart, and
Alex Ferrari 21:15 Oh, no what with planes trains. Yeah, yeah, I know. He, there's certain because now they're starting to run out of stuff. Like, he can't just, I mean, there's only so many movies that were made in the 80s
J. Mills Goodloe 21:26 Make it another time. I heard that I heard though, that I've always remembered I'm sure you've heard it as well. Miss Stevens. smote Soderbergh said something really smart. And he said, rather than making successful films, they should go back and remake really great ideas that turn films that weren't turned out very well. So movies that you're like that was a really brilliant idea. And in the movie, either to the casting or whatever, it didn't really work but like go and mine the really great stories as opposed to only mine them bait made based upon box office.
Alex Ferrari 22:05 Oh, yeah. Like if you go back to point break when they remade Point Break, I thought that was just an atrocity. And, and the thing is, is like you can't read you can't that that that lightning in a bottle was then it was Bigelow is Swayze it was Reeves. It was that moment in time. You can't bring that into this world, but you could bring something that didn't maybe pop properly in that era. And then because no one will have any emotional attachment to those right.
J. Mills Goodloe 22:32 There was a great idea. Right? I have this I read this week. They're remaking Roadhouse.
Alex Ferrari 22:38 Yeah, I just read that to what Jake Gyllenhaal like
J. Mills Goodloe 22:40 Roadhouse was a great idea.
Alex Ferrari 22:43 It's Patrick Swayze. It's silly to me.
J. Mills Goodloe 22:46 That brilliant about the idea of Roadhouse.
Alex Ferrari 22:49 No, it's a bouncer in
J. Mills Goodloe 22:51 Harley Davidson. the Marlboro Man. Absolutely should make me
Alex Ferrari 22:53 Oh, God. Yes, yes, yes. Oh, God, that would be amazing. But yeah, you look at something like Roadhouse. And you're just like, well, it's to bouncer. And there's like, it's not a really great idea. But also at the time it came out because I was working at the video store at the time in high school, and I came out so I'm very familiar with. I love that movie. It was that moment in time that that thing that that that was Patrick, it was that moment, it was, you can't bring that out, like you can make something else that's kind of something like it. But it's not that you can't read it, you can't.
J. Mills Goodloe 23:26 Because the only this dalje would be is for people of our generation, right? That film and they're not going to be predisposed not to like it. They're No, no one's ever going to come out. So that point break was so much better the original wonder that rode out, I never Alger for people who have have an affinity for the original film, who are not going to like to remake and anyone that's younger than that. Doesn't care will have no idea what the film is. I think the scary thing is a few years ago, I was a writer, one of two writers on mountain between us. And I was talking to I've got two young children, but I had babysitter's who were 18. And I was telling them at 19 years old, and our I was telling them about Kate Winslet being in the film, and then not seeing Titanic. And you realize, wait a second, they're they're born in, you know? 2000 right at 91 was Titanic 9797. So like, you think that our references are very iconic references because you're like, oh, yeah, it's the girl that was in Titanic. But if you're born after that movie came out, you're not going back to rewatch Titanic. Because your upbringing has been social media, YouTube videos, tic TOCs and so forth. So you're not going back like you know, I'm gonna think about Netflix. I'm going to go back and start looking at really popular films the 90s so they had no idea about Titanic.
Alex Ferrari 24:55 Oh, my daughter's my daughter's were, you know, like nine They, they just saw Titanic. And it's probably because you asked you Oh, I know. I know because my one of my daughters is obsessed with Titanic. And the the actual event, not the movie, and I showed it to them and, and they're like, Oh, I've seen Jack before. And now they don't know it's Leonardo DiCaprio. It's Jack. So anytime a trailer pops up like oh, it's Jack, you know? And then oh, that's Oh, that's, uh oh, that's rose. Like they don't they don't see them as they just see them as those. But it was only because of us poking them to go into those like, Hey, you got to watch Star Wars. Or hey, you got to watch this movie or that movie.
J. Mills Goodloe 25:36 Star Wars now because there's they can go and you can get them caught up on Oh, offers that you know, but you look at Roadhouse. 17 year old 20 something year old kid right now he's going to see Roadhouse, they're gonna say I have no idea what Roadhouse is, I've never seen the film. And then the people that they actually are attending for that film detract, which is people like you and I won't we're not gonna like it.
Alex Ferrari 26:01 I mean, the only reason I would even remotely even considered it's because I'm a huge fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. And I'd be curious out of almost a morbid curiosity to see what he does with it. Because he's such a fantastic actor. Yes, but it's not I'm I'm not going because of Roadhouse. I'm going because Joel Hall Yeah, exactly. And it's just a warrior to
J. Mills Goodloe 26:18 Make it you know, if PT Anderson makes the move,
Alex Ferrari 26:21 Well then I'm gonna I'm gonna
J. Mills Goodloe 26:23 I want to get a normal off the off the conveyor belt director. Three, you know, can you do like 21 Jump Street, right?
Alex Ferrari 26:31 Oh, yeah. What you completely turn it on its head. And, and that's a completely reinvention of, you know,
J. Mills Goodloe 26:38 I don't like this thing be reading. I don't want break was not a reinvention of it?
Alex Ferrari 26:43 No, not so much. Not so much. Now, going back a little bit. So you you obviously got you start as a producer, how did you jump from producer to writer and writer, you know, what
J. Mills Goodloe 26:53 I wanted to always direct because of donner. And I realized that it's really hard to be a director without learning how to write. So I did it to be to direct films. And I directed a film that was not terribly successful financially, but it kind of forced me to be a writer. Then I wrote a second script to direct my second film. And that was basically kind of a lot of Magnolia is kind of a film called August and everything after, but I was only writing to direct films. And then that film, the second one didn't get made, even though I got really close with Michelle Pfeiffer and Annette Bening and crazy stories about that one, and then basically, I ran out of money. So you had to start writing, start to realize, if I want to be an independent director, I got to make some money. So I better start writing for other people. That was the only it was only it was kind of a backwards way of doing it. It wasn't it was I'll try to make my own films. I had an agent at Uta, because they really liked the script that I wanted to direct. And then I spent a year and a half trying to make that movie, and I couldn't make it. And then I said, I'm literally broke. I need to make an income. Maybe if someone would be stupid enough to hire me to write something and pay me to write a script, maybe I can get money that way.
Alex Ferrari 28:15 I love your perspective on everything because it's just such a, I mean, universally, I've talked to 1000s and 1000s of screenwriters and filmmakers over my career. And it's always the struggle in this thing. And I've got the watch Star Wars and you know, it's you know, it's James Cameron and it's Spielberg and, and all of this stuff and you're just like, I ran out of money, man. And I just,
J. Mills Goodloe 28:38 I just because I liked a girl.
Alex Ferrari 28:41 I mean, I got into the business because this you know, the girl I liked was in it and I you know, it's so refreshing to hear your your take on it. And I love like, how did you start writing? I needed money, man. I mean, I ran I ran out of money. I was like, Well, someone hopefully hire me.
J. Mills Goodloe 28:55 So broke. I found someone. I found this the one who and through some I found someone give me $10,000 Right, right. Karen bio pic. Okay, sure. And that was like, awesome. I got $10,000 My rent was 1400 a month. I was single. Where we
Alex Ferrari 29:15 Where were you living? In LA? Where were you living in LA?
J. Mills Goodloe 29:20 I was living in the flats of Beverly Hills. Oh, wow. I live in a studio apartment and $10,000 Allow me to live for three months.
Alex Ferrari 29:28 There you go. Yeah.
J. Mills Goodloe 29:30 And I was I was one of those guys. I went from producing really $120 million movies at Warner Brothers with donner. Who by the way in the nine years I was with him. We flew commercial twice. Twice. So I probably spent well over two or 300 times at Warner Brothers jet golf G fives all over the world. She's as he would do junkets in Europe. We take the Warner jet from Burbank to JFK spend the night the four C's the next morning take the Concorde to Paris where they the private jet go to all different our tours all around their life for nine years with him because I was always with him and that was those days vexes. I went from that to, I can't be here later, really hating the month of February, because there's only 28 days in February, which means I had to pay my rent faster earlier than I normally am used to. And I love those 31 days because it squeezed me another two days, two or three days to try to come up with my 14 bucks in rent.
Alex Ferrari 30:32 That's brilliant. Alright, so Alright, so you wonder the amazing story. So you're one of the films you did the gentleman's game, which you wrote, which you wrote and directed. You know, you've been obviously you've been watching dick, do his thing, you know, and he's a master at what he did. On your set. When you are directing What was the worst day you had, and how did you overcome it? Because we all have that day dread?
J. Mills Goodloe 30:57 That's an interesting question. My worst day that I had to set is when my cinematographer went rogue on me. Oh, that he stopped listening to me that he was going to set up stuff and shots on his own. And he was a very well known that had this. This is his this cinematographer named Conrad Hall.
Alex Ferrari 31:18 Oh, yeah. Conrad. Yeah. He's kind of famous in cinematography.
J. Mills Goodloe 31:22 Or his father Yeah. His father was famous. This is the son. Yeah. So his father was a DP on, you know, American Beauty and 1000s of other things. That was I but I realized, I learned so many things. Because when Donner would walk on a film set, people knew his reputation. And no one would ever Can you swear on this thing. So you can if you want to throw a couple articles in there, and no one mess with him on the film set, he carried a certain weight to him that he demanded respect. As a young first time filmmaker. I we've never been around a situation where you have to go to your crew, and have them believe in what you're doing. Because I never saw that. Right? For donner. In, you know, the 90s. He had been directing films since 1976. With the Omen, he had a direct salt and pepper with Sammy Davis and Peter Lawford. He had been directing the original with Steve McQueen, the rise of Superman. Yeah, yeah. So when he walked on the film sets, I never understood that you have to earn that level that people listen to you. And that was something I wish that I would have known. I thought that by virtue of my title that I would be in control of the set. And then people would listen to me. And also, I didn't know exactly, you have the answers to everything. So I was a little bit and I was very inexperienced as my first film. But that was an eye opener for me that you have to go on to the film set and really have the crew know, and feel that you know what the hell you're doing.
Alex Ferrari 32:56 And they will in a season crew will smell it out in the first five Melis fine pre production. Oh, God, you walk on that set, and you just go, Oh, this guy or this gal is way over your head, and then they'll tear and if you got a DP, who's somewhat seasoned, yeah, they'll take
J. Mills Goodloe 33:13 His mark. Yeah, he's trying to undercut me. And they really they smelled it, and it was a fight. And I knew, but you don't get that you're young. Now. I understand that now. Like, now I get how that works. But you know, I didn't, I wasn't aware at the time that if you lose the not the respect isn't the right word.
Alex Ferrari 33:32 But you lose the group. If you lose it. It's mutiny. It's mutiny.
J. Mills Goodloe 33:35 I'm gonna go the extra job the extra mile for this guy because I really see what his vision is. I was reading interview with PT Anderson yesterday. And I'm sure that you know, when that guy goes on the set because of who he is, and his resume, no one's gonna question him, whatever he says is golden. And he's the tour of that film set. If you don't have that reputation, and you're a first time director, they're going to be kind of crossed arms. You're going to get a paycheck, but they're really not going to bend over backwards.
Alex Ferrari 34:02 Yeah, his experience on Hard Eight versus his experience on his latest movie, slightly different pizza. Licorice pizza. Fantastic title. Yeah, it's a little bit different because he got railroaded on Hardey.
J. Mills Goodloe 34:15 But that's because it was a terrible experience on that
Alex Ferrari 34:17 terrible experience on harday and, and that was the producers. He hated the studio. He hated everything. Yeah. And he's like, I'll never do it again. And then that's when he got Boogie Nights. He finally they he said, I'll only do it, but you gotta leave me alone. And that's the first time he got a little bit of freedom. Just a bit. Yeah. Now, you also adapted a film for a book by Nicholas Sparks. How do you approach adaptation because you've done it a couple times? A few times.
J. Mills Goodloe 34:46 Fortunately, with with Nicholas Sparks on that particular film, it was very easy because he had made so many films during that time and he was really amenable to having you change things. was not. And I'd done a couple things. Also with John Grisham, both those guys were really good at understanding it's a different medium, and that they are going to be very loose with their material. So the first thing right off the bat would I had a source material that no one was holding as scripture in terms of what you could do with and there was also a certain I hate to use this word, but there's a certain formula, and how those films were made. And the producer that I worked with, right, had made two other films with him. So you kind of go in there went into a machinery that, you know, kind of what it is, and, you know, that film, you know, it was they were making a lot of those films those days as Michelle Moynihan, you know, it did, okay. There's some things I would have done better, but it was a it was an interesting experience.
Alex Ferrari 35:55 So but when you actually like the actual technical process of adaptation, do you like take the book and outline everything? Do you take what you like out of it,
J. Mills Goodloe 36:03 They go through the book a few times, and I get the idea of what it is, and I just start, I just kind of look at it as a, you know, this is the characters these the story, I'll just kind of know what the story is, I know the characters, okay, that that B, C, D, that doesn't work, this works out, it just kind of structurally kind of putting it all together. And that was more important on mountain between us because mountain between us as a better probably a better example, for an adaptation because that originally was a 400 and some odd page Christian fiction book. And that was going there and saying, okay, know what the story, you know, here's the story. But there's, you know, how much stuff got thrown out of that adaptation? It's like, it's really mainly a job of figuring out like, how much do I need to get rid of how much things can I condense? And how can I kind of streamline the narrative and come up with a narrative, but I look at it as just kind of like a little thing that I can refer to, as you're going through the script, to, you know, but unfortunately, this is the biggest problem that you have is you wish that in source material can take more dialogue? And you don't really can't really, you really notice how much dialogue in in in source material and novels do you have to is different. There's just something about it different than film dialogue than prose dialogue. I don't know what it is. But I think everything everything was an adaptation. There's so much of the prose in prose dialogue that I wished it'd be make my life a lot easier if I could just go in there.
Alex Ferrari 37:46 And just copy copy and paste.
J. Mills Goodloe 37:49 Yeah, I feel like it's much more difficult than that. So it's always a nice thing to have. I think both of them are both originals. And I think the misconception I'm sure your audience knows it's wrong is that they think that, you know, or strictly to the public, the general public, they think your adaptation is just when a cliff notes version of the book is take it's different. It's shrinking it down. It's a whole different animal. But they're, everything's hard.
Alex Ferrari 38:18 No, no, I mean, I'm in the middle of adapting one of my books, and I've lived the story. And it's just like, it works as a biography, or an autobiography, but it does not work. In film like this. This is gonna be a horrible movie, if I make it exactly the way I read. So I have to like,
J. Mills Goodloe 38:34 Just pick you pick the things. You think that right man, that's cinematic, I don't need that. I don't need that.
Alex Ferrari 38:39 We need all that away. Yeah, we got to change this character on we got to combine a few of these characters, we got to throw a better argue out of your own autobiography. I'm not I'm trying not to. I'm trying not to
J. Mills Goodloe 38:50 Have any emotional distance from that.
Alex Ferrari 38:52 I don't. That's the problem. I'm looking for a screenwriter, if you're available, we can talk. And no, it's honestly, with the producers I'm working with. I'm like, I just don't want to do it. I'd rather get somebody else to do it. And I'll be standing behind them. And I'll talk to them and I'll help them but I need someone with a fresh eye. It's so hard. It's so so hard.
J. Mills Goodloe 39:10 You got to be pretty Mercy, mercyless. And I think that you know, I've I said I was fortunate with those situations that the authors of the source material were really, really cool. Although I did do something that I made it a huge mistake on everything, everything. And I think I wrote one of the better scripts I've ever written in my career on that and the film does not reflect a lot of the things that I really liked in there. And the big mistake that I made in that film was I went to off of what the source material was I started making some decisions and some choices and they broke it into I broke off a little bit. I got a bit too loose with it. And the producers in the studio got me because the book was number one New York Times bestseller. They reminded me you can alienate too many people, you got to go back to source material. So I learned also that you can be too. You can also be too loose with it. Right? They got to lose to that one. And it's a weird thing when you're writing and I don't know if any people that if you agree with this or other people to do it is sometimes you're getting paid. And they're cutting you a check to do an adaptation, you feel like you need to do a lot more work, because to justify your paycheck?
Alex Ferrari 40:29 Right! Because you're not
J. Mills Goodloe 40:30 On that project or felt like I could have like, not coasted is not the right word. But I didn't have to do as much heavy lifting. And sometimes you feel like you have to do that the lifting to justify the paycheck, right getting paid on this. I have to like change things, I have to reimagine a lot of things I have to kind of open up the world. And sometimes you can open up too much. And instead of saying you know what they pay you just to? Yep. Well, I'm a little more faithful.
Alex Ferrari 40:57 Right, exactly. And the reason that the movies gave me produces because there's an original IP that they attached, the only reason it's being produced,
J. Mills Goodloe 41:03 I went too far askew on that one. I wish I could use some things that I put in that script. And another I think scripts are a lot of times, there's so much material that I've on films, I've had seven, I think seven movies made, there's so much material that on previous drafts that are like, it's like you have a garage and a car and at least like part of the spare parts around my office that I wished I can put in there. They try to find it never never works into other scripts. There's so many ideas and so much great scenes that I've written that I thought was great that I just can't repurpose,
Alex Ferrari 41:39 Right! Yeah, I've had that problem, too, is like you like, so good here, but I can't,
J. Mills Goodloe 41:44 I know, I'll find it, I can find that. That's such that's such a great idea. I'll find it in another movie. And then you never find it in a movie. It sits there. And he just gets so frustrated. Because there's there's some really good ideas in there. Like I just as on that movie, everything, everything that the character that Nick Robinson played in there, I had this great eye, this whole thread, they get attached to a bar code tattoo. Okay, and what didn't exist in the novel, right? Like this. My my thought this was such a clever idea. And he falls in love with the girl. And one day when they're together, she asked him about his bark there in Hawaii after the after she runs away. She asked what was barcode. And he said that when he was 12, he was 13 I had this whole story you had sit somewhere to a tattoo artist, because it was a date of his 18th birthday when he'd be in massive pain from his parents.
Alex Ferrari 42:34 And that's what the barcode represents.
J. Mills Goodloe 42:36 When he was 13. Like for like, like someday, when I'm 18 I'm this pain that I'm going through with my parents, I can always look at the tattoo, because they tend to the bar code represents the man that whatever the date is two, seven, whatever the is my. So you like you find ideas like that? Do you think they're really interesting, and that that talks about a character's internal pain. It's a physical reminder of why he's waiting to get away out of his house when he can finally move out when he turns 18. And you build in his whole story as you build these whole scenes, and it's never in the movie and I can never use that idea for a tattoo again.
Alex Ferrari 43:12 Geez, that's a that's a good idea, though. That was would have been that would have been fun. Now what
J. Mills Goodloe 43:18 Will that kid is like, my parents suck my dad's in a hole when I turn 18 And I can get out of here and I'm gonna force myself to brand myself to basically say on this date when I turn 18
Alex Ferrari 43:33 I'm happy. That's awesome. Now there's another film you did the age of Adeline Yes. I absolutely love that film. I'd love to.
J. Mills Goodloe 43:42 Well, that's my favorite movie. I've done that's my by far the most favorite thing and the thing I can't complain about
Alex Ferrari 43:49 Now I loved it and my wife and I watched it and we were just like, this is your kids? Nine they're about nine Yeah. Yeah, they're Yeah, they're kids aren't gonna watch it at Adeline just just yet. But um, can you tell me the story behind it? Because I Is there a little bit of a story of this one. I I've heard through the grapevine that there might be a little bit of an interesting story behind this.
J. Mills Goodloe 44:12 Yeah, this is this is crazy. There's a producer, unfortunately no longer with us. But a great man named Steve golden. And he started anonymous content. And he was he was, you know, he wanted Academy Award for Babel and for Birdman. And he was a really, really great producer. And I had written this script called August and everything after which never got into production, but it got people as I said it got a I was able to get an agent. And I was trying to direct that film. And I had a meeting with him when I go to Culver City. And I sit down with Steve and he's like, look, I love your script. It's a great script. I'm doing this movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind right now. And it's a total little pain in the ass. The other thing, too, it's good. But it's like it's hard. It's independent because I had written the script is kind of like magnolia. It was like this kind of big, sweeping, independent, interconnected items. It kind of later turned out to become the crash kind of thing, but crashing out by then. But basically what he said was, I'm doing Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. It's another was another great script. Great, Charlie, you're not Charlie Kaufman, but you're kind of like trying to do some interesting. I just don't want to do it. And he said, at the same time, because he's shooting two films simultaneously. He's also doing 51st dates with Sam.
Alex Ferrari 45:38 Both imagine the sides of the spectrum
J. Mills Goodloe 45:40 And the shooting simultaneous. And he said, You know what, so I'm just, it's just too hard. It's too hard. You know, anything, that's good. I could that's more digestible, that I can sell, I'd be really interested. And I said, Steve, you're in luck. I've got the best idea. I got the most high concept really that I can. It's like a one sentence perfect pitch. Hi, you know, because 51st days was a pretty high concept idea. Sure, the great he says, what is it? I said, Well, look, I need I want to go back and kind of put all my thoughts together. He says, he says, Can you come back next week? I said, I want to come back next week and pitch it to you. I can do it proper, because I wasn't ready to pitch in that meeting. Because I went into the meeting talking about this movie August and everything after mentioned this to me, I said great. So he calls out to a secretary or assistant he says, you know, have Mills Mills has come back Wednesday at 10 o'clock. Did you know okay, I shake his hands walks out. I'll see you Wednesday. 10 o'clock. I walked out there. I had no pitch.
Alex Ferrari 46:39 You didn't have an idea.
J. Mills Goodloe 46:40 Zero ideas.
Alex Ferrari 46:41 Oh my god. It's amazing.
J. Mills Goodloe 46:44 I got a really powerful producer. And I've got a meeting on the books.
Alex Ferrari 46:48 So you so you pull. So you pull the Joel Silver you you kind of pull the joseffer
J. Mills Goodloe 46:55 I got seven days to come up with something. And I have to do in seven days. And that's how I came up with Adeline Wow. And I came in there and somewhere on day like four I've heard a story. I think it was a short I think was Benjamin buttons or there's some things that yeah, that were percolating, like okay, maybe I have a girl that spent the entire 20th century as a 29 year old woman. And then I kind of did that and I went I pitched him on that Wednesday. And he said I really like it. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you I'll give you like $10,000 to write the script and I'm only going to be $10,000 to do it but I'm going to be attached with producer and once you write it then I'll produce helping you to made and I was great because once again $10,000 with some extra money that I could live for another two or three
Alex Ferrari 47:49 While you wrote this thing.
J. Mills Goodloe 47:50 Exactly. So I said great $10,000 And they wrote I ended up writing the script and that was just completely but uh circumstances thing but I'm a big believer in in like right now I'll do it right now cuz this is I don't want I should say this but I'll say it anyways they're trying to do a limited series on Adeline now as they should yeah do but to do it like a whole thing spanning I'd like to see her basically taking the flashbacks that are in Adeline from her in the 40s and 50s Biddle whole thing around it. But I'm a big believer in and I've done this unfortunately too many times where I will call a producer and I'll say I have my pit I want to I have my pitch ready can we put instead of the bucks just so I can have to back into something I have to give myself deadlines to do things like that. And I did that with Adeline where it's just like I've got till Wednesday to do it. You just have to like as a writer, tell people you're going to be ready and you're gonna be embarrassed if you show up and say I've got nothing so you better get your butt in gear and do something.
Alex Ferrari 48:56 It's like It's like posting on Facebook. I'm gonna lose 20 pounds and here's here's my before picture.
J. Mills Goodloe 49:01 Yeah, tell the world you're gonna do it you better do it and with and with Adeline if he would not if he would have that only Honestly, the only reason that script ever gotten written was because he didn't want to do the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Alex Ferrari 49:17 Because it was just too complicated. It's
J. Mills Goodloe 49:19 Too hard for him to do. And if he would have said no, I won't do that whenever it only happened because I saw window as an opportunity to do it.
Alex Ferrari 49:26 And but how long did it take to get made that took 10 years I was about to say it wasn't overnight for 10 years get made. And what was the
J. Mills Goodloe 49:37 I have to tell you off the record. I can tell you I can't do off the reg I'll tell you a really funny story later about that though. Okay, so then how public this is, but there's how what happened over those 10 years. That movie at one point was going into pre production on it with set in Boston with Andy Tennant directing. Okay. Katherine Heigl, starring in Donald Sutherland playing the Harrison Ford Harrison Ford part and they were in pre production. And then it went and I got a call saying that the producer is gonna fight with Katherine Heigl. Just shocking. Yeah, she's this in the middle of her like huge rush, you know
Alex Ferrari 50:18 Of pissing everybody in Hollywood off. Yeah.
J. Mills Goodloe 50:21 No, but but it was also coincided with her run of doing like the bridesmaids movies and not like not was that movie shoot?
Alex Ferrari 50:29 No, no. Um, then knocked up. Yeah, knocked up and all of that 51st Yeah. 50 for
J. Mills Goodloe 50:36 Bright, yeah, bright, or whatever it is, right. But anyways, the moral of that story is I was devastated when I got that call. And I was I was practically in tears. And I, I took a long walk. And I'm like, I was so excited about this. I'm super my big break. It's all gone down the toilet right now. My career is over. I was devastated. And then you look back on it and say best, my entire career was changed because that iteration blew up.
Alex Ferrari 51:06 If it would have been a very different, totally different film.
J. Mills Goodloe 51:11 Totally different movie and, and I just, it just, there's a lesson in there that when things go bad, and go sideways, and you're all upset about it, I always go back to that and saying, God think that we're so glad it worked I just these are jobs that I've gotten that I've been devastated. You didn't get jobs, and then the movie turned out to be really bad.
Alex Ferrari 51:29 Yeah, and I literally was just talking to somebody I had on the show the other day about this exact same thing is like you look back on your life. And at the moment when you don't get the job or you don't get the girl or you don't get the production falls apart or something along happened. She's like, Oh my God, my world is over. And then a year or two later, you're like, Oh, my God, I I think thank God
J. Mills Goodloe 51:50 That that thing never happened me that I didn't get that job, or that movie didn't get made because it would have been a completely different movie.
Alex Ferrari 52:00 And I'm a big believer of it. What if the universe is pushing you in a certain direction? Something doesn't go the way it's supposed to. There's a good reason for that. I'm a believer of that. I truly because I've seen it so much in my life. Like, I mean, I was almost I'll tell you a little side story. I almost got onto Project Greenlight. Season two, I made it to the top 20 And I was this close to getting on and I was like, oh my god, I dodged a bullet.
J. Mills Goodloe 52:25 Then was the one at that time.
Alex Ferrari 52:27 Exactly. Who was the kid who won that that time? It was Shia LaBeouf. That was a Shia LaBeouf season. That was the Shia LaBeouf season. So it was yeah, the battle Shaker Heights.
J. Mills Goodloe 52:36 But again, you'd always that would have destroyed everything
Alex Ferrari 52:40 That would have I would have been known as the guy who was on Project Greenlight, nobody would have taken me seriously, which is what happened to unfortunately, to a lot of those directors. And then I did it again with on the lot. Remember that show on the lot. I made it to the top 20 of that show. And, and one of my best friends was the DP in it as well. So I'm like, Oh, this is gonna be great. I'll get on the show. You'll be my DP. We're gonna kill it. It didn't make it. I'm like my life is you know, I was I was flown out it was the whole thing. And then I look back. I'm like, Thank God, I didn't become a reality filmmaker.
J. Mills Goodloe 53:12 Yeah, and it would have never always been on your Wikipedia would always travel with you everywhere. Right? Really deep, deep hole to get out of so it does work. Yeah, remind yourself when things go sideways?
Alex Ferrari 53:26 Yeah, absolutely. That there's always a way. Um, I have to ask you, do you when you start writing Do you write? Do you start with plot or character? Oh, no, no, no. Okay. So do you. Listen, listen? Are you telling me that you just like sit down? Like, you know, I'm just gonna start writing and something will
J. Mills Goodloe 53:44 I ever? Any system that I do, and then I never write anything in screenplay form. Okay, so how do you write then I write in, I get a Word document. Okay, I'll get a Word document and I'll open on pay and I'll get one page. Okay, I'll say, Okay, what is the movie, this is the beginning the middle of the end, it will be, you know, maybe, you know, five bullet points. Like I know, at the end of the first act, this is going to happen. I know the, in the second act, this can happen. And this is you opening this again. And that's all I have.
Alex Ferrari 54:15 So not like a basically an outline, an outline, then basically,
J. Mills Goodloe 54:18 Yeah, but then day two comes around, and I'm like, okay, that's kind of the game. Now the first x gotta have at least I don't know, maybe 10 scenes in there in the first act. So like, okay, that it just starts growing and growing. And then I put a little dialog in there. And then I put too much description in there. And then it grows and grows and grows until about three months later. I've got a 50 page document that still in word form. That's just kind of building it out and only in the last day before I turned it in. I then turned it into a screenplay and I made it something that's very new. I don't know anyone ever does this, but I equate it to if you're a painter And you have two canvases, if I have a oil and acrylic, and I've got a paintbrush, and I'm going to the actual canvas to start to, you know, to do something, it feels like I'm really making a piece of art. If I have a second canvas over here and I've got a pencil and a pen was kind of playing around with like, I could put a sign here, I could kind of do that, okay, three months doing that, it frees you up mentally. So I've never believed I never had to believe I'm like India fade in page one interior office daytime, and then you're looking at something that's very structured in a very weird format. But if you just kind of let your mind free, just like the beginning and middle the end. So I do that in a very elaborate, I've done that to every script I've ever written. And that's the only way that I think even to the end, I get really specific about like, I just I think interior exteriors screws me up.
Alex Ferrari 55:56 And I tell you what, I do the exact same thing, but with my books. So when I write books, I do the same thing I never get into like the actual document that will become the book until like, it's like never know, I build all that out and I build notecards within each of those chapters that you Shriver. So it's just kind of go in there. And I just kind of organize it all and then when I feel that, it's all kind of written there, then I'll start copying and pasting into chapter one. And then I'll keep going Chapter Two
J. Mills Goodloe 56:23 You can also put a lot more stuff in also, like put as much stuff you want in there, right in, right. At your notes, I'll put in 50 note cards, 100 like I can add everything and then at some point, I'll just start cutting some of those things out and kind of shaving it down. But it feels like it's much more of a playful way of, of writing. And it just puts the pressure off of you, I think when you're starting a script, and you have to hate three and it descriptions very insane. And you know, like description should only be really be, you know, three law. And as you know, in screenplays that you have three, maybe four lines the most that you're you're writing small, you're writing tiny like this, whereas if you have some big huge piece of paper and you're like, oh, it never comes into play, let's say you know, I'm writing a scene, you know, an interior restaurant scene, you're like interior restaurant, there's this person, this person, there's a music, there's seven waiters, this is what's dressing, it's raining outside, you know, these three people are talking like this, the hostess is fighting with her boyfriend, the bartenders drunk, whatever you're kind of you create all that stuff. And I'll just write all that stuff down there. And then I can write the scene in the dialogue that two people, obviously, none of that's ever going to win the movie,
Alex Ferrari 57:38 But it helps you in the process.
J. Mills Goodloe 57:39 But it helps you just like, there's no I just write, I can write. And I just write a bunch of dialogue. And then and then the best line I've heard about write about writing, which is really smart is you always tell less experienced writers is you write a scene, you put everything in there, and then you start cutting it down. So if you took out one more word, the entire seat would make no sense. Meaning like you distill it down to like, everything is as tight as you possibly can be. And then to the point that if you change one little thing, then it's gonna collapse, but you shrink it down like that. So the point of what you said, what you do in your books, and what I do in screenplays is, you can't shrink everything down to the real essential stuff. Unless you start out here, and you can't, unless you write a bunch of stuff, and then you can start shrinking it down. It's really hard if you start if you start the scene only knowing that you're going to be shrinking it down, started big and shrink it down. Just don't mean working in the shrink down phase.
Alex Ferrari 58:40 Right! You're, you're you're creating a much larger piece of marble that you can start chiseling, as opposed to, as opposed to thinking like, Well, I only have three centimeters to chisel as opposed to three feet to chisel
J. Mills Goodloe 58:51 Yeah, and that'll be 10 feet of marble just I'll just do whatever I can do. It's maybe it's a psychological thing, but
Alex Ferrari 58:59 It's, you've done okay for yourself.
J. Mills Goodloe 59:02 I don't I'm not like I'm don't i I've never taken a film school class. I'm really instinctually Yeah, I don't really I'm not I'm not terribly well read. I don't really have a great film history. But just instinctually that's kind of a process that's worked for me. And if I don't, and I just get comfortable with it, and it just feels it feels freeing, because I know I never want to think about what I do too much. I think that's really important as a writer as well, and I'm sure you might understand this as well. If you really think about how you make your living or how you make scripts. It's very, very scary. Because it's so subjective. It's all in your head. Yeah, and it's really frightening so if you just kind of play around with it and don't really take it too seriously, and you're gonna be better off
Alex Ferrari 59:50 Preached my friend preach. Because, I mean, I don't know if you've had this experience, but there's sometimes writers, they they go up there But sometimes, and they're a little too in their own head, and then you're lost. When you get into that mind space you can't create. It's very, very difficult.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:00:09 It's scary if you think it's really, really scary, and I have a family and I've got a wife and you're like, my whole living is based upon the stuff that I think is right. You know, it's kind of like if you make it's the same thing making music. I mean, once your whole living was based upon being a songwriter, and the whole idea of being a songwriter is to say, that note sounds right, that song sounds good. Well, there's no empirical, Deaf Jack measure to it. It's a very subjective thing. Well, how I would freak out if I'm like, my whole career, my whole supporting my family is based upon a song that I think is good or bad or dialogue that's good or bad or or a scene or writing it's a really scary proposition to base a career
Alex Ferrari 1:00:55 With with that said, leaving it's all up Nope. Let me ask you a few questions. I asked. By the way, everything he said is absolutely true. And I've said this constantly it this is a ridiculous business. It's insanity what we do. And if you start to truly break down what we do as a business, it's not a business it really isn't like like a business is in Coppola said it the best is like, I was in the business from business for a long time. That's not a business. He wants to real business Wine, wine. At the end of the day, you stop some grapes, you put in a bottle, you market it, sell it, repeat. That's a business. Right? You never you know, and it's like, does it wine tastes good? Done. There's no question. It's gonna get sold because it's alcohol, as opposed to a script or movie. You can have the best filmmakers of all time who've made some doozies in their career. There's very few. I mean, the only one I've always said that has always hit a home run every time is Cameron. He's really never had a flop really.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:01:58 But every he's my neighbor. By the way.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:00 It was Jimmy, tell Jim, I said Hi, Tom. Can you get the avatars enough with the Avat? Can you can you can you please? But yeah, but other than that,
J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:08 I'll tell you off the air. I'll tell you though. He's out of his house. And man, it's crazy. All right. Yeah. Like it's like Fort Knox over there.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:15 No, I've heard I have some friends who have worked with them. So I know a little bit about the house.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:19 That place is like I he has a he has a whole culdesac here if i is called a sack. You feel like
Alex Ferrari 1:02:28 All you see all you see is Terminator.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:30 Yeah. I mean, it's it's like, East Berlin. Like a Berlin wall there. It's like, why these guys on fire department
Alex Ferrari 1:02:39 Oh, no, I know. Yeah. The fire department. Oh, yeah. Yeah, the navy seals that are on
J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:43 Secret Service guys. I'm scared to go down that
Alex Ferrari 1:02:47 We will we will talk off air. I'm not going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:55 I think the best thing to do if I was to if I was to start out fresh right now doing it. I would be writing and directing. I'll be writing small things that I can get made. The advantage of the business right now is when I first started out there were very small distribution channels. I mean, now there's so many distribution channels. And so many ways to do the film, I would say, to show off your writing, try to find something that you can write on a very, very small budget, maybe million dollars or less than million dollars, or 100,000 or 50,000, whatever it's going to be write something you can get made. That can be shot and use that as a calling card. Because people are more inclined to see a finished product that you wrote than a screenplay and you might have five great screenplays. It's really hard to get. No one's got actually known as five brains. But maybe one has one. One good screenplay that they read that they have written is really hard to get people to write that screenplay to read that screenplay and to pay attention to it. But it's very easy to shoot, or pretty easy to shoot something and to get a final piece of product into their hands to say, Hey, can you watch my movie? And if you can get if you can make a film, you can watch a film, you can get that first thing that people can notice your talent or your abilities. I don't think you can do it well from a script. I don't remember the last time that people said oh, that's I know the blacklist is a big thing right now. But that's been co opted I think in certain ways. But I think if you can have a finished product, you can be a lot more successful.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:31 What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
J. Mills Goodloe 1:04:36 I just keep slugging away at it. I think you just keep keep trying to get away with it. Don't take it too seriously. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. And certainly I know that's can you ask more specific question?
Alex Ferrari 1:04:53 Okay. Um, how about three screenplays that everyone should read? You're now you're gonna go ahead. But if you've never read a screenplay, know what?
J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:06 I don't really I read. I don't really Alright,
Alex Ferrari 1:05:08 So three, three of your favorite films of all time.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:11 Jerry Maguire,
Alex Ferrari 1:05:12 Great screenplay.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:14 Jerry Maguire is one of my favorite things. I love a lot of PTN and stuff. But Jerry Maguire is something actually the screenplay that I have read, which also breaks every rule of screenwriting you ever can imagine. And that's another example, Alex of the film that if you tried to make Jerry Maguire today, it would be devoured by Studio notes, because you're saying, Can you the first movie opens up with VoiceOver, which never comes back in the rest of the film? Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire, he marries Dorothy boy, they break up at the end of the second movie. Do you know why do you remember the film why they broke up? I found a man you remember what it is?
Alex Ferrari 1:05:51 I forgot. What is this? I don't remember specific reason. I've seen the movie 1000 times. What was the specific reason they broke up?
J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:57 She says to him, I'm so lucky. I found a man who really loves my son, and really likes me a lot.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:05 The great line, oh, great line.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:06:08 And she breaks up with him, basically, because he's just isn't into her that much. Or at least he hasn't shown. He hasn't shown it. And then after the rod tubewell thing, and he shows up as he had me Hello. He says, You know, I do love you and I want to be with you. But there is no precipitating or whatever the word is, there's no incident that happens, which causes them to break up. And if you would go to a studio right here, right? What causes the two of them? And they're married by the way? They are married? Yeah, they are to break to break up. Well, they're married. He's working a lot. He likes her. He's not cheating on her. His he really loves her son. He's just not into her that much. How can you possibly get through that? And I think those are that maybe that's those are the things that I find inspiring about any script is the ones that kind of get away with stuff that aren't notes. The best example of that is The Blind Side. Meaning that somehow John Hancock got away on making a film on the blind side. Every rule in there because I asked you, what is her arc in that movie?
Alex Ferrari 1:07:14 It I mean, and I had John on the show, and I asked him about that. And I think it was I think it had a lot to do because he had the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which was Sandy. And she protected the project a bit and that's you need that.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:07:28 That art. Does she have a bad relationship with her husband? No. Your kids fine. Yeah. She rich and wealth in the beginning? Yeah. At the end? Yeah. Every if you if you filter that through a studio notes, yeah, I know for a problem, they would give her an obstacle to overcome just no obstacles in that film. Anyways, if you look at those things, whether it be the blind side, or Jerry Maguire, that if you really empirically or dispassionately look at it, how many things would be noted to death on that by people that would say, you know, there's no reason for her for Renee Zellweger to break up with him. Make something make him more dramatic. Maybe you should get caught with another girl. Maybe you should be
Alex Ferrari 1:08:13 It but it would have been so formulaic. If they did that. It would have been a
J. Mills Goodloe 1:08:17 Thing for me. My other favorite movie is lost in translation. Yeah. Like what relations a great film it is. And you know what? This is another crazy thing, Alex? They're both married in the movie. Right? Yeah, I'm gonna make a movie about two married people who are each other. Right? One of them is much, much younger than them. They don't, they don't consummate that relationship. We don't see the last line of dialogue that they have a great arc with Bill Murray in that movie.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:47 You know, he's pretty much the same guy. She's She changes
J. Mills Goodloe 1:08:49 In time she changes a little bit nicer. She kind of maybe she's trying to figure out her life. There's no extra obstacles. There's no antagonist. There isn't. There's no antagonist in that movie. And it's a brilliant movie. And it works so well. So those are the things I look at. My two favorite films would be lost in translation, or Jerry Maguire. They break a lot of rules. They're they're they're walled off from bad development notes. And they're somehow were made for people not to give them a hard time about it. And those will those always look up to, because they're really, really hard to pull off.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:29 Mills, it has been a pleasure talking to you, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I hope everyone is off. I hope everyone's off the ledge. Because there were some moments on the show. Like this is tough, but I saw Star Wars and that's what I need to do from now on. So all these all my future. I saw my future but Thank you my friend. I appreciate everything.
J. Mills Goodloe 1:09:54 Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it and you've got a wonderful show and I want to read your book.
Today on the show we have television writer and showrunner VJ Boyd. VJ is a producer and writer, best known for his work on the critically acclaimed Justified (2010), the CBS smash hit S.W.A.T. (2017) and creator of Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (2020).
Deputy Raylan Givens has his own, Wild West-style methods of upholding justice, putting him at odds with the criminals he hunts and with his bosses in the U.S. Marshals Service. And an incident prompts his reassignment to the Kentucky district where he grew up. The character is based on one created by author Elmore Leonard in several books and short stories.
If you ever wanted to know what it takes to get into a writer’s room this is the episode for you. Enjoy my conversation with VJ Boyd.
Alex Ferrari 0:00 I'd like to welcome to the show, Vj Boyd, how you doing, Vj?
Vj Boyd 0:14 Hey, doing all right. Happy to be here Alex.
Alex Ferrari 0:16 Thank you so much for being on the show, man. Before we get started, man, first of all, huge fan of justified like huge, huge fan, I watch I binge the entire series with my wife. So thank you for that.
Vj Boyd 0:29 Oh, yeah, thank you for like, that was my favorite job. And that well, that I probably had ever. That was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. And we had a lot of freedom on that show. Um, we didn't like it, when we would break an episode, it wasn't super tight, we kind of knew the basics of what was going to happen. So then when I went away to write it, I got to put in all my fun little idiosyncrasies. And we had a lot of fun with that show.
Alex Ferrari 0:55 Yes. Cool. So we'll get we'll do a little deeper dive into that. But first, how did you get started in this ridiculous business?
Vj Boyd 1:02 Oh, well. Okay. So, you know, when I, when I was a kid, when I was 11, I got interested in writing, just as a hobby. And although you know, anyone, like as they're a kid or a teenager, you know, like anyone else who's interested in it, I certainly had dreams of, Oh, I could do this for a living and would daydream about that. But I didn't think that that was really within my reach. It was one of those things where well maybe like, like, my might win the lottery. And so I got a business degree. And I worked at IBM for a while in Dallas, where I grew up. And I started going to grad school, because I wasn't super happy working at IBM, it's fine place to work. I was in sales, but I started feeling like everyone around me was insane. And what I realized is, oh, no, no, they're not insane. It's that I think they're crazy, because they're liking what they're doing. And I hate what I'm doing. So it's just that I'm in the wrong place. They're not crazy. They're just enjoying their job. And I need to find what I enjoy. And so it was going to grad school and thinking that I would teach, thinking, Oh, if I teach, then I'll have more time to write, which is very stupid, which I quickly discovered, teachers don't have free time. It's not like they have all summer off. And so I then transition to Okay, well, I'll get my Master's in literature, and then maybe my PhD, and I'll teach at college, you know, because then, you know, it's adults, I don't have to worry about the responsibility of like taking care of like teenagers. And then I realized that, oh, adjunct professors don't make barely make a living wage, and no one really gets tenure anymore. So I'm still going to have to have a second job. And I still won't have time to write. And I had a professor at grad school, Tony Daniel, who's a novelist, and an editor at Bane books. And he was like, you have real talent. In screenwriting, you should try and do that for a living. And I was like, Yeah, but like, there's not really a career path. It's like you write a feature, and either sells or it doesn't. And then you spend another six months to a year writing a feature, and it sells or it doesn't, that seems very dangerous. And, and he was like, Well, my good friend, Mike Taylor writes on Battlestar Galactica, and says that in TV, there's kind of a career path, you can, you know, start in the mailroom, so to speak, and start as an assistant and, and work your way up. And that I started researching that. And that made sense to me, that was a thing that I could see, okay, I can see the steps to that. It doesn't feel like I'm just, I'm moving out to LA on a wing and a prayer, whatever. So I thought about for a little while. And honestly, it was like less than a year after Tony recommended, I should just pursue it, that I quit my job at IBM had to, like sell the BMW, you know, and because I was gonna end up like working for minimum wage in LA and I needed all that money, I cashed out my pension. My wife cashed out her pension. So kudos to her for being willing to do all that. So we'll use that savings moved to LA in 2008. It was right when the writer strike was ending, which was good timing, because, unfortunately, so many assistants at that time had had to leave LA, because there were no jobs because of the writer strike. And so I came in, right when the writer strike was ending, and I started cold calling looking for assistant jobs. Because I was like, Hey, I've got this savings. I'll start at the bottom. And I so I would look in the trades. It's like when a show would get picked up, I would find the number for the production company and call them and be like, Hey, can I send my resume I'm looking for assistant job. And one of these times the show the beast, which is Patrick Swayze, his last thing before he passed that that had just gotten picked up to series and so I called the number in if anyone remembers the Hollywood creative directory, because this was before everything was just on the this was before IMDb Pro and stuff. And I and so a guy answered Hello. And I was like Yeah, is this the the beast the writers room for the beast and it was just the cell phone if one of the producers and it was actually I just This guy, Stephen Pearl, who's become a friend of mine. And I actually last week visited in new in New Orleans. And he showed me around I never been to New Orleans. But anyway, so Stephen was like, No, this is my cell phone. I said, Hey, I'm looking for an assistant job. You know, is your writers room starting up? And he's like, I don't know, I'll call you back. And he actually did call me back and was like, Yeah, we actually we are starting up next week. We don't have any assistants come interview. And I can't i When interviewed with the job, I interviewed with Vincent Angel, who was one of the creators. And you've also seen in stuff, he's an actor, he always plays the other man in California. Keishon. He was like banging Dickov nice wife and a great guy, Vince. And so he interviewed me and hired me as the lowest level assistant, the writers pa so there's normally three tiers of assistant, I was the lowest one. And I was super lucky honestly, that everyone in that writers office was such a weirdo, because like I didn't like I was coming from a different world like a corporate world corporate world. I never worked in the show business I just moved to LA right there were like, it's a different culture. And so I just didn't quite I definitely made some missteps and everything but the fact that so, so many of like my bosses and the other writers are honestly such weirdos, one of the weirdest writers offices I've been in that I just fell through the cracks. It was like That's another weirdo. So it was a perfect spot for me. They were all super cool and read my stuff. And then when that show ended, I ended up I was out of work for like a year and the cold calling thing wasn't working and I was like, Man, did I just get lucky and I'm not gonna like is this man am I gonna have to like start working on set which is another way of going right you set PA and then and then you know network with the writers for the show and try to get in the writers office and I I wasn't ready to give up. I wasn't given up. But then this guy Keith Schreier, who I'd met on the beast. He was one of the other Assistants, he out of nowhere, I didn't even asked him. He was like, Hey, I found out that like Vince Gilligan is looking for assistance for the show Breaking Bad. And, and also Graham Yost is looking for assistance for this show called law man, which was what justified was first called? And I was like, yes, yes, please send my resume. And Keith not only sent my resume around, he actually fixed made my resume look better. He's like, Hey, can you send me the word version? Because I think you need to format it better. So I ended up getting a getting interview with Graham iOS to be his assistant. And I thought the interview went pretty well. And then he called me a week later and was like, Hey, man, so I decided to hire this other friend of mine. Tom Hanks assistant wants to transition into like, the writing world. So she's going to be my assistant. I'm sorry, but we do have this writer's pa job. It's the lowest level job. I know. You already did that. And I was like, yes, yes, I'll do it. Yes, please. Right. And at that point, by the way, I had never read Elmore Leonard before. I knew who Elmore Leonard was but I mostly honestly knew who Elmore Leonard was because Quentin Tarantino talks about them were laid off and and so I was like okay, so I read like the short story that justified was based on and the other two books Raylan Givens in his in because I was like, I know I'm the assistant but I was like, what if they like ask for pitches because you know, like sometimes you know, you the you know, sort of the last the assistant what they think and I want to be ready anyway. So I ended up writers PA on that first season. Going into second season, I was justified was on hiatus, I was working as the writers assistant on Falling Skies, which Graham was also running at that time season one. And while I was there, I was about to have my first kid so I was about to be in a position where if I don't get staff then I'm going to be staying home with the kids because my wife has a real job and an insurance company so I'm going to be like holding the kid and writing my next like scripts back here. And Graham found out Season Two justified was coming and I was thinking okay, maybe if I can somehow be moved from writer's PA to writer's assistant, then maybe then I'll get a freelance script, right like and then maybe the next season I can be a staff writer right. I'm thinking that so Graham offers all the writers their jobs back and one of the writers that the lowest level writer staff writer chose not to come back. So there's one spot up and Graham was like Graham hates like having to which I understand having done it now a few times having to interview like 2030 people know and Harlan turned a bunch of people down and and so he was like, he had read a couple of my scripts. And he was like, Do you want the job? And I was like guess that'd be obviously what the job is. So I was able to like jump over those extra two years that you often have to do of being the Interim Assistant and then and then being and then getting a freelance and then finally getting staff writer so I went right from writers, PA to staff writer and very very lucky, but I always say that I was prepared for the opportunity, you know, because like when Graham said he'd read my stuff, I had a lot of quality pilots that I felt comfortable giving him, you know, and, and I should also add, I always think this is funny, I gave him two scripts, and one of them was a crime, procedural, and I was like, this is what he's gonna like. And I was like, I'll throw this sci fi one in as well. Because like a sci fi script for justify that. And, but the crime, procedural he didn't like, and he ended up I found out this later, he gave the Sci Fi script to his assistant, and was like, Yeah, tell me if I should even read this. And she was like, I really like this, you should read it. And he read it and really liked it. And if if she had said something different, or if I'd only given the crime, procedural, I wouldn't have gotten that job. Like, like, hopefully, something would happen eventually. But getting on justified, which ended up being a really well respected show. Yeah, and was a great show to learn. I mean, that was in a kept coming back huge for my career. You know, instead of keeping on what happens to so many people, you're on a show and it gets canceled. So you have to go on new show and he gets cancelled. It's and so it makes it hard to move up, and it hurts your resume. So
Alex Ferrari 11:14 Right. And, and what I I mean, I personally, I mean, I discover justify during the pandemic, and I just binge the entire
Vj Boyd 11:22 Oh, wow. So that's a very, that was a very interesting way to watch it. Like, honestly, I have not watched the whole series since I left the show. Yeah, I want to do that and see is it must be such an odd experience? Because for us, we're making it over the course of six years, right? Yes, of course. And so if you're watching all of it, you're going like straight from season one to two to three, you probably see those changes so much more clearly.
Alex Ferrari 11:46 Yeah, just the adjustments in tone sometimes in adjustments in just character. Yeah, I mean, but yeah, I mean, we found that we discovered it, cuz I always heard justify was a good show. I always heard about in the background, but like, you know, like everything else, there's 1000 Good shows. And there's people get busy. So like, what am I going to sit down? And like, really? So when we were looking down and my wife's like, hey, why don't we? Why don't we give justified a shot, Mike? All right, let's give it a shot here. It's great. Let's give it a shot. And it just we got hooked. And we're like, and we're really looking forward to hopefully the spin off. That is happening. I heard in the in the trades that they are going to come back somehow.
Vj Boyd 12:21 Yes, yeah, there's there is there we worked on that. Which by the way, that was awesome this year. So we did 20 weeks or something like that of a room for city primeval, the justified spin off. And it's one of those things where you never expect in this industry to end up working with the same group that you worked with in the past, like maybe one or two of the same people, sure the same group of people with with a couple of additions, because we had Walter Mosley in the room for a little while, who I knew from snowfall is awesome. And also Easter Davis, who's an actress and writer, so we had added them, but other than that it was the old crew. And it was it was very cool. So we'll see we have no shooting date yet. Because one of those things where they did a room, but they didn't commit to shooting it. And also like we have to like figure out, it's obviously a big deal to bring that back. And we want to do it right. So hopefully, we'll get the go ahead to shoot it this next year. But I like what we came up with.
Alex Ferrari 13:21 Well, I'm, I'm excited about that. And I always find it fascinating, you know, with writers and writers rooms, when you are writing in a writers room, and especially early on in that like season one and you start seeing what the actors are doing on set with your words, does the writers room start to adjust the tone the language to take advantage of the performance of that actor?
Vj Boyd 13:45 Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that honestly, I think that that is one of the advantages to the old way of doing things of you make a pilot, and then you get picked up and make the rest of the show. You know, I get the disadvantages of okay, we have to like make a whole pilot and then wait around to see if we get to make the rest I get that that everyone's kind of waiting around not getting paid and everything but once you start writing the rest of them, you know exactly how everyone talks and you can write to that if you use the the model that the streaming uses that Hulu Netflix Amazon use. Although Amazon sometimes makes pilots not so much anymore, but like Netflix, certainly you go in and you write them all right, all six, eight episodes, right? Then you go shoot them all, and you're you absolutely are going to end up rewriting stuff on the fly because you're like, Oh crap, this guy's really popping. Or oh, man, I wrote this character this way, but that's not quite the way they play it. Right. And and that's also one of the downsides of the streaming model of it's only a couple of the writers who remain through the shooting. Like you have the room for 20 weeks or so. But then it's just the creator and maybe one other producer there for the rest of the time. And you're absolutely going to end up like, like you're talking about rewriting for the actors. But no, it is a it totally changes. It totally changes things. Just being on set with the actors with the director, it changes the way you write things, because you've now had discussions with people who do these other jobs and you understand the way they think. Anyway, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 15:23 Yeah, I mean, cuz I mean, I'm just on a comedy standpoint, like I'm assuming for season of Big Bang theory when they start seeing Sheldon pop. I mean, I'm assuming that like, wait a minute, we didn't think this character was going to be the breakout, but let's start working or the friends crew. I mean, the friends writers room like that first season a friends
Vj Boyd 15:41 Or think about family matters.
Alex Ferrari 15:43 Oh, yeah. Oh, my God.
Vj Boyd 15:44 Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 15:45 Jesus. Can you imagine Sophia, like all of a sudden Sophia like, okay, she's poppin. We got to do something here and rework things. But yeah, I always find that fascinating on how writers will start. Because you don't get to do that in feature. You get into TV in the streaming, but you don't get to do that and feature all that
Vj Boyd 16:04 Although, although, yes, I mean, certainly big. I would say though, that the way big features are now they do so many reshoots, so many reach students that that I'm sure that I'm not as familiar with it, but I'm sure that sort of thing happens, where they'll watch a screening and be like, crap, like that character, write a subplot for that character and reshoot that and will delay the release for a couple of months or something. I'm sure that sort of thing happens not so much with like, indie film, but if you have the money or time to reshoot, like, I I know people who were producers on the new James Bond movie, and when they were shooting that like they were already shooting, obviously huge production, right huge. They were already shooting it. The script was not finished. Like they literally they had like 250 pages of script. And we're just shooting the scenes they knew we're going to stay Wow. What's your name from fleabag and love was was like whittling it down to what it was going to be? You know? So even with the big movies things change on the fly.
Alex Ferrari 17:11 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely no question. Now I always find it fascinating as well how to how writers in a writers room break a story so can you kind of go through the process at least in your in your experience how you approach you know as a showrunner but also as a as a writer in the writers room. Let's let's take it back to justify first season your your the second season, you're in the writers room now. How do you approach breaking a story? And what do you seeing around you?
Vj Boyd 17:41 With justified we had a lot of lead time because we were a cable show. So if you're on a broadcast show, like when I was on Swat, we would only have a couple months to like start writing and have lead time before we it was time to shoot. So we only had a little bit of time to blue sky or just brainstorm. Justified we had more like four months before we started to shoot if I remember correctly, so and we're doing fewer episodes only 13. So we would spend like the first three weeks, sometimes even a month, but the goal was always like two or three weeks, just sitting in the room and throwing out like anything that could possibly happen that we're interested in. You know, like we could be like I remember I remember season four. That was the season with Drew. What's it in the bag that was hidden in the wall and the guy who liked crash landed in the teaser lane? Yeah, we there was a there was we talked for two or three days about a version of season four, in which there is going to be a flashback story we were going to tell episode two episode about a Raelians dad and Boyd's dad doing crime back in the day. Like we started breaking that and then we abandon it after a couple days because we realized people aren't tuning in to see these guest actors play their dads and less so unless we're having Oliphant and and Goggins play their dads, which wouldn't work for Goggins, he doesn't look a thing like MC Gainey. Then we were gonna have to like abandon that idea. And so we would go down to various paths. So, like thinking about season two, we had just visited Harlan. For I think for the first time Yeah, cuz we didn't go before season one. So several of us went down to heart, the actual heartland. And Graham had a lot of specific ideas from having been in heartland and he wanted to do something in the world of weed. He knew he wanted to do something with a criminal matriarch. So we had those ideas that he had thrown out. And so then there's the eight of us or how many there were that season, and we're pitching Okay, well, the matriarch could be like this. And I don't remember who pitched it, but it could be like, it was like, Okay, what if she had these sons that Raila knew because that's the whole idea with justified right is He's going back to the place he's from. So running into people he knew or knew of or the know of him. That's a big part of the show. And we were like, Okay, what are the sons like, right? And so we started pitching on what they could be like, and, like, what we oftentimes will have, like actors that we will call them by like, oh, the Nick Milty character or the whatever, before we've given them names to kind of get in our head like who they are. And, like, I remember Season Two of justified there was, what was the oldest son's name because it was Coover and Dickey, and then the oldest son here. Yeah, I can't remember. But he cuz obviously Coover and Dickey kind of steal the show. But like, but like, I pitched like, he could be the sheriff. Like, he could be like a cop. Uh, yeah, like so that he has, there's some color of law. So it's law man against law, man. And that ended up sticking. So it's that sort of thing. And sometimes, again, we're always going down paths that we ended up like, okay, that doesn't work. Let's go down the other path. So anyway, the first, you know, three weeks to a month, we're just coming up with the big broad ideas. And as things land, we put them up there as tent poles for the season, like, well, maybe mid season, this kind of thing could happen right now. And by the end of the season, we want this sort of thing to happen. So then, after those three weeks or so, now, we're in the room, and it's time to make up what's going to happen actually in episode one, right? And so then we got to get more specific and we draw those columns on the board, like teaser, Act One, act two, blah, blah, blah. And we just again, we start pitching off sometimes chronologically, like, okay, like, first this then this and sometimes more like, Well, I think it could end with this, it very much. It's very much how, how one might imagine eight people sitting in a room making up a story, right? And, and then it is important and was justified. Graham was in there most of the time on some shows. The showrunner is not able to be in there all the time. And so you end up you're making up stuff, and then he'll come in for an hour and you pitch it to him. And then he'll fine tune it. But it was very helpful and justify the Graham was in there most of the time. So if we're going down a path he doesn't like he can immediately say, No, I don't like that. So we can go another direction. So we don't waste three hours on a thing that he's going to come in and say no to in like five minutes. So yeah, go ahead.
Alex Ferrari 22:18 So the one thing I loved about the show and also being able to see it all at once in a binge was Boyd's character. Boyd is such a fantastic character because and for everyone listening, he was the he's the bad guy for some of it for some of the seasons. But yet, he's bad. Like, he's a he's not a nice guy. Like at all. There's there's very few redeemable things about them. But the way Goggins plays him is an absolute like he should win an Emmy every year for that show. I mean, it was so brilliantly performed, that towards the end, I started seeing it as I could start seeing it that I saw the writers were like, Wait a minute. Yeah, we can't, we can't kill him off. Like they're gonna get people gonna get pissed if Boyd is gone. And I think there was a moment I forgot what season it was where that kind of crossed over like you like, up until that point was the point. And that was the point of no return. Like, you know, what, if we want to kill him off, we could still kill him off, and we could keep moving forward. But there was a certain point where you pass you're like, yeah, there's no way and now he becomes almost Beloved. And he partners with Galen, and it's like, it was just like this. What that's the that was the engine that ran the show. For me, just watching those two characters constantly going back and forth. And the way it was just so brilliantly done, and that's very hard to pull off a character like that, like a bad guy like that with such depth and to make people feel love for him, even though they're, it's like the Hannibal Lecter thing. Like he eats people. He eats people and he's a cannibal, but yet he's charming as hell.
Vj Boyd 24:02 Yes. And I mean, with Boyd part of it is a huge part of his Waltons performance, you know, like he's so like, I love him and righteous gemstones, his baby belly, he's so amazing and righteous gemstones. If you haven't seen it, that's probably one of my favorite shows right now. But I like Walton is so charismatic. So that helps, but also, like, very early on in season one, you have you have Boyd actually questioning his own motivation. You know, when he has that scene where he's like, sitting there, like praying because he started this cult. Right? And he's like, he said, He's, like, all his guys get killed. And he's like, was I just talking to myself this whole time? And you realize, oh, he actually kind of buys his own bullshit, you know, and or It's not bullshit, or he or he really is trying to, it's like, so it makes you realize, oh, he doesn't, he's not a sociopath. Right? He buys into this new thing. He's into whatever that happens. To be right, and sometimes he knows it's partially a grift. But sometimes he's really he really believes in what he's doing. And so because you can see that he's not trying to scam you, the audience, then you're like with him. And you also you see him as sort of occasionally like a Robin Hood esque character where he's standing up for the hauler, and he's against these other guys who are worse guys, you know, guys like corals or whoever, right? And but yeah, like, we had a long conversation beginning of season six about how do we end the series? You know, are we like at the end of the series, is Boyd going to die is really going to die, they're both gonna die, are they both gonna live is boy gonna be in prison and, and we put all those permutations on the board and discuss them for days. And, and and, and Graham had really long conversations with John Landgraf an ethics about that, because he's very heavily involved in story for the shows, and I am very happy with how we I think we stuck the landing with how I agreed.
Alex Ferrari 26:07 I agreed because he and not gonna give any spoilers out for people who haven't seen the show, but there has to be some sort of payment because he did do some bad stuff.
Vj Boyd 26:16 Yeah, no, absolutely absolutely. And I think one thing that's interesting is in the pilot, Boyd kills that guy who's like, one of his like skinhead, guys whose driver, yeah, and he's like, and then lay. And then he says, To Dewey, or someone who's like, he, he's like, he killed him, because he suspected he had betrayed him. But also, he just didn't much like it. You know, and he killed a man, and he was wrong about it. And he didn't really seem to feel that much remorse about it. But then as the show and but as the show goes on. It's like, okay, he's the same guy, but the audience, I think, and sometimes I think even we forgot that he's the guy who just killed that dude in the car for no reason. You know, like, that's who he is. And we wanted to remind the audience and ourselves who he was. And that's why in the final season, he kills Shea Whigham his character, you know, in that truck when he may not have needed to, I mean, that's a call back to that pilot moment. And what's interesting is in talking to some fans of the show, they felt like, Oh, I like how you made Boyd really bad in the end, so that we might think, you know, we might think, Oh, he's gonna die. It's like he that is the same as the thing he did in the pilot. We didn't make him really bad. He's doing the same kind of thing. Just reminding people. Yes, yes. So I don't know if we completely landed what we were trying to do because we weren't trying to do we didn't want it to feel like this cheap on that will make him really evil. We felt like this is totally in his character to do. He has to survive. Shay Wiggum. My he doesn't know this guy if the same thing.
Alex Ferrari 27:50 No, and Boyd's care boys character I agreed with you. He he was even towards the end. He was who He was like, he didn't change. There's just so many shades of him. And you forget that he is the guy who killed that guy for just no apparent reason. It again, I'll go back to Hannibal is like you forget that he ate people and until we start seeing him eat people. Do you go through? Oh, oh, cuz at the beginning, he's just like, oh, that's just a lovely, lovely man whose happens to be behind bars is very eloquent. It's a little creepy, but generally we haven't. We've only heard of the things he's done, but we haven't seen it. And then when you see it, you're like, oh, oh, he's a cannibal. What does that say about me that I like him. And then and then at the end of Silence of the Lambs, what happens? You're like, I hope he eats that guy. Yes, that's brilliant. Right? That's brilliant writing Berlin performance. And anyone listening if you want to study a character, develop the character development through a series. Boyd is such a wonderful character to just study how you guys were able to the nuance of Boyd's character was, again, like there's moments you're just like, God, man, I want him to die. And other and other moments, you're like, I still like them. Like it was just you. And again, because I benched it. I got the full, the full, you're making me want to binge watch the show. It was a was a great experience, being able to binge it all because you, I mean, would go three, four or five episodes a day, you know, sometimes depending on the day of the pandemic, so we just, we just cook through seasons, and you just really get a taste of these characters. And that's why we fell in love with them. We're like, Oh, God, I hope that series, the spin off goes, I hope so too. Now, when you're in a writers room, especially now, what are some mistakes you see young writers make in the moment
Vj Boyd 29:49 Well, I'll say a couple of things. In one one is not so much a mistake, but a thing that I think young writers should keep in mind. That listen, I When I got my first actual writing job staff writer on season two of justified, I'd been in the room, you know, many times before subbing for the writers assistant, just sitting in if I didn't have pa duties to do, then I was the in room assistant on Falling Skies, like I've seen people pitch and all this stuff. And I was like, Okay, I'm prepared to pitch stuff, and then have it rejected, I'll be fine. But when you finally are the lowest level person, and you pitch your thing, and everyone's like, No, I don't think so. And everyone just clearly hates it. It's like, oh, it makes you feel like everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I'm not gonna pitch the rest of the day I suck. And it's like, you have to be you, no matter how prepared you think you are, you're not. And you got to have that sports mentality of like a cornerback, who got beat by for a touchdown. Forget it. Move on. No one's staring at you. If they are, they're a bad person, like, no, it's like that. They're they're moving on to the next story idea, you move on to the next story idea. I would say another thing that a mistake that I made, and this may just because of the way I think, or whatever, I kept early on pitching things, and they wouldn't land. And then 45 minutes later, someone would pitch basically the exact same thing, and it would land. And I was like, What am I doing wrong, that I pitched that 45 minutes ago. And what I realized is, when you're pitching a thing, people and this may seem obvious, but it's not when you're in this room of eight people throwing out ideas. When you when you say oh, they need to find the to find the guy in the bar. And that's where the guys hiding. You need to talk everyone through your thought process, how you got there. Because you've had this whole process, you're just blurting out things, you find them in the barn? And they're like, No, I don't think so. But then as they do that same thought process, they come to that same conclusion. So you need to talk through and say, you know, I was thinking, based on what, you know, Taylor said, since he's this kind of guy, and he did this last episode, I think he should be hiding in the bar, you got to talk people through that. And that was not, that's not an obvious thing, because you already have those thoughts. So you got to talk people through how you got there. And though, the other thing that I have seen, and like my brothers talked about having my brother's a TV writer, also, and he's talked about having seen, he's been on more shows than me, actually, because all these streaming shows are so short, even though he started several years later, but um, his people in their first job, or even second shot, like a low level of writers not taking no for an answer when your boss says no, you know, and it's like, yes, if you have an idea, and whoever is in charge of the room, then whether it's the number two, or whether it's the showrunner says, I don't think so. If you are 100% certain that this is the best idea ever. Maybe you say, Well, can I just maybe you say one more time, right? But you only get a couple of those. But if the boss says no, no, we're really not going to do it. Let it go. Let it go. You're not in charge. Like I think a lot of people have this idea. And I've even heard even upper level writers say it. Well, we're all going to come to something we all like, No, you're not sure what anyone saying. It is not best idea wins. It's the idea the showrunner likes, wins, you know, and so you can think whatever you want, it's like our best idea wins. No, like keep pitching the best idea that will appeal to your showrunner you are making your boss's show, you know, you're not making what in your mind is the best version of the show. You have to figure out what it what is it that your boss wants out of the show?
Alex Ferrari 33:34 And that's something that I think that's another thing that is talked a lot about in the business is the politics of the writers room, the politics of a show, and how to maneuver through that, because that's definitely not taught at film school. And just what you just said, that little bit of knowledge that's just like, look, it's not about like, this is not a democracy. This is this is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. It is a creative dictatorship, and it is the showrunners job to you know, to to run the show. So are there any little other kind of landmines that you as a writer, if you're if you're lucky enough to get in those writers room or even as a PA or an assistant to kind of avoid in the in the political scheme of a writers room or have a show?
Vj Boyd 34:25 I think I would. So this is a really tough one. And I don't know what the solution is. But one to have in mind is because remember, I said that the showrunner, a lot of times isn't in the room, depending on the show, you know, they're in the room some but they have other things to do. They've got like two hour calls with an actor who has issues with a script, they have to be in post, they have to maybe be unset, etc. So oftentimes it's the number two who's in charge in the room, maybe the number three if the number two is rewriting people, and you have what you don't want to do is Let's say it's the number two or number three in charge in the room and you pitch a thing or have an idea that, you know, the showrunner would like, but you're told no, by the number two, you don't want to be the snake who's like when the showrunner comes in, I'll pitch it even. And that can be tough, because you might be totally right. You know, the showrunner would like that. But if you're, if you are going to do that, you need to like, ask the number two or number three, hey, I know you said no to this. Do you mind if I just pitch it to the boss? You know, don't just surprise them? Because I know people who've done that, and that, doesn't it? Listen, it's a small world out here. Travels, you're not gonna lie, it's gonna be tough to get another job. If you're if you're that guy. I would, but at the same time, remember who it is? Who has the power to advance your career and who it is, like we said a minute ago whose vision it is. So again, like maybe it once you get to know everybody, if it's like, Man, I know that number two is gonna look nothing like this idea. I know the showrunner is just don't even pitch it to the showrunners in there, like that's a fix. You know, instead of like creating like a conflict with the number two and being disrespectful to them. But also, like, sometimes, you're going to get if you're a staff writer, everyone outranks you. So sometimes you're going to get like, supervising producer or a co EP who's going to give you certain advice, like, oh, you know what you need to, you need to like pitch more, or you need to pitch less or whatever. You take that with a grain of salt, always unless it's coming from the person in charge, you know, because I've known people in situations where they were given this advice by people above them. And it turned out that was not what the showrunner wanted, you know. So just like with any other business, I think it helped me out a lot that I had been at IBM, honestly, for, like six years. So I've been in this corporate environment of ask of like, asking for feedback, and saying, How did I do you like, like, have those conversations? You know, and I think that that would be just being upfront and having those conversations is a huge help, politically, if you're not a person who's naturally politically savvy, you know, which a lot of writers aren't necessarily, there's so many things that go into TV writing, especially if you're like, a producer, you know, because if there's like writing, but then there's also politics, there's also management, there's also there's so many things that go into it, and not everyone's going to be good at all those things.
Alex Ferrari 37:31 Yeah, there's, there's forces that you don't even see that the show might be under, and the production might be under and the stress the stress of that. I mean, I can imagine being in the room, I worked in TV for a few minutes, early in my career as a PA and worked in the in the office and stuff. And I would see the pressure, like are we going to get picked up? And you could see the whole production is like, wow, why even bother? If we're not going to get picked up? That whole energy it gets it gets really weird. And these are things that you don't see, and especially when you're young, or when you're just starting out, you don't get you don't really understand the scope of what's going on. Like I got great. I've got a great story. This Pa was so amazing. I was on a show on Fox was one of the first shows I was on. And the first part the first episode finally airs. And the the one of the off of the head office ba takes all the reviews of the show and paste them on the wall. They were all bad reviews. So he like I don't even know what she was thinking. She put them all up and they were like all bad reviews. So then the showrunner shows up, reads them has a complete meltdown, goes into the room breaks down the friggin EP has to come in and like the producer has to come in and just like try to talk him off the ledge. And like I saw I was just first front row seat on like, what do you like? Just she got her ass handed to her.
Vj Boyd 38:59 That is so weird.
Alex Ferrari 39:01 It was so weird. Because she wouldn't she meant well, she met well, she's like,
Vj Boyd 39:05 She didn't read them. Some reviews.
Alex Ferrari 39:07 Here's the reviews from the, from the LA Times in from, you know, from variety. Let's put them all up and do it really bad. But that's it. She meant well. Yeah, but obviously these are kind of these I don't even know if she's still stuck. I don't think she stuck around very much. I think that might have been her last week.
Vj Boyd 39:29 Well and and has difficult to listen when you're first starting out. If you obviously you want the people above you to say read your stuff, right? Of course you know, but you it's tough to know when do I ask them? And so, honestly, you ask the people around you who've been doing it longer if there's an assistant on the show if let's say you're an assistant, if there's another assistant on the show who's been doing it a few months longer than you or who knows these people, ask them for advice. Ask the lower level writers who just got staff be like hey, when do you think is a good time for me to like ask them to read my stuff or like Like, make and make friends with all those people and let them read your stuff, you know, and because they'll they might be a staff writer now, but they'll be they'll have a show eventually. You know, I think that is one of the thing that let me let me throw out there that listen, you can absolutely succeed, being a very political animal who you know, flatters and sucks up to people that is a legitimate strategy. I know people, many people do it. I like it. It bothers me to this day when I think about even people I think are good people that I worked around when I was assistant or didn't matter as they say, you know, in LA, and it's like, you're having a conversation with this person in the lunchroom, let's say, you know, and then someone more important comes in. It is a Hollywood thing. I'm sure you've experienced it all the sudden, the conversation with you ins you do not exist anymore. And now it's time to talk to this EP who walked in. It is as if that conversation never happened. And that happened to me numerous times. And I at first I was super offended. And then I was like, I guess this is just how things work. But I You know what I remember I remember the people who never did that. I remember the people who were like, Okay, I know I'm talking to this pa who doesn't matter. But I'm going to finish that conversation before I like I'm not going to act as if royalty has walked in, you know, in the current scene. That's not to say you don't show respect to people who've earned it. I'm just saying, I would love to see a culture change where people just treat everyone like people. And I know that might be asking too much of Hollywood, but I'll throw it out there.
Alex Ferrari 41:33 It might it might be. It might. It might be a little much. I've I don't think that's gonna happen right now. But it is getting better. It is definitely getting better than where it was without question. But that's the thing in LA, you know, and by the way, I moved the exact same year you moved. I was thrilled. It's funny. It was three months prior to the collapse of financial. So I was lucky that I was able to skate right through all of that, thank God but I moved literally just a few months before before the
Vj Boyd 42:01 We were probably at the same coffee shops. Probably a lot of coffee shops.
Alex Ferrari 42:07 What part of town did you move into?
Vj Boyd 42:09 We were at Park LaBrea at first like so I would go to insomnia Cafe on Beverly and I would go to a lot of the normal spots literati and Santa Monica all those places I was
Alex Ferrari 42:20 I was over in Burbank so I was that was down the street from Universal and stuff so I was every Starbucks every coffee bean that was the one thing I don't know if you got the same experience the second I got I kept going to all these coffee shops and all I would see is laptops with Final Draft like Oh yeah, yeah everywhere everywhere everywhere.
Vj Boyd 42:39 Honestly, it depends on the day whether I like it or hate it
Alex Ferrari 42:44 It was just such a culture shock from coming from the East Coast when I when I moved now you also worked on SWAT which is completely very very different than justified because this is a procedural Now I always I always like to wanted to find out from you. When you want to watch procedures and I've watched a lot like I was a big big big fan of bones and and I would watch and that was another one we binge during the things I saw 13 seasons
Vj Boyd 43:12 That's a lot of a was a was with us about bones now like guys in general just
Alex Ferrari 43:17 Oh, I know way more than I should know about bones. But that was like, you know, a good three months of just like what are we watching tonight? Bones it is. So I but I was I always liked watching procedurals because there is an overarching arc of the characters. There's an overarching ARC of this the plot of the show of the season. And but things keep sticking in weekly, you know, the weekly order that we have, in this case of the week. Yeah, the case of the week. So how do you balance that in the writers room?
Vj Boyd 43:50 Yeah, so like with procedurals, like, before I had worked on one eye, definitely there was a little bit of an elitist vibe among those people like myself who were working on prestige cable procedures. And, but then once I worked on was like, oh my god, this is so difficult. It is its own, it is a whole other skill. It's not like like before I was working on one and I was like Okay, so the week Sure, how easy is that? You have to balance all this stuff. No, it is so difficult to keep the keep getting those fun character beats in there because people aren't watching it just for the mystery there. It's not like I'm a robot solving the mystery. They want these fun characters that they care about, you know, solving the mystery and for the it have ramifications on who the character is, and fitting that in along with an entire plot in the 42 minutes or whatever we have, because you still have to have that beginning, middle and end of a mystery of a case that week. You gotta have a client, you got the person that we're saving or like we're solving their mystery or whatever. And so that's a guest character who has to have an arc and you've got to have like little b stories. Relationship stories. And as you said, You've got to serve like maybe one or two beats of the overarching season long arc for for Hondo in the case of Swat. And I would just say it's a huge challenge I, it took me like half the first season of SWAT to really get a grip on it like fortunately there were a lot of people on that show who understood procedurals and could help me through that, but a big part of it. That is helpful. What's helpful for me is the way that Sean Ryan breaks TV, which is that he does not break sequentially. Like when you're putting up the teaser, Act One, act two, whatever, he doesn't do that first. The first thing we do is figure out okay, what's the a story? What's the mystery, this episode? And we just break that in a single line? Forget X. It's like what are the every single scene of the a story? Now? What's the B story? What's the relationship story? Or what's the who's our character who's learning something this episode like Luca is learning that he do we want to do a story where Luca learns that he actually doesn't want to be in a leadership position, you know, that he that he just pride that makes him want to do that he really is happy being like the wing man. Right, then. Okay, we're gonna break that story out separately on the board. You know, it's like separately of everything, no X or anything. Here are the scenes of that. And then is there a C story? That's the overall hundo arc like, okay, Hondo has taken on his friend, son as Darrell. He's taking care of him while while his friend is is in prison. So we want like a couple beats of that. What how are we moving along the story and we write those out. And that is a huge help, because there's so many things going on. And a procedural that if you for me, if you break it sequentially, you really lose track of like, okay, well, what storyline are we in and it's so helpful to me to break them separately. So like if I were doing a procedural pilot, now, that's how I would that's how I would break it is do the storylines separately, then weave them together. And what you often find is oh, this B story beat for Luca, where he's learning about leadership that can combine with this a story mystery beat, he can learn he can learn this thing about leadership as part of this mystery beat right? And if you watch the shield, which is a technical procedural, but it has it always has some case of the week whether it's Dutch and Clyde that might have a case or or Danny and I can read the cop she's partnered with have a case, there's always some storyline that ends, you can see the way or I can having worked for Shawn. You can see how Shawn breaks things in that show. Because you see the B story and C story and a story aligning. And you can imagine in your head how he broke them separately, and then they combined?
Alex Ferrari 47:55 No, no, like, as you're explaining all this. I've just My head hurts it just so many
Vj Boyd 48:01 Didn't make it easier by explaining
Alex Ferrari 48:03 No, because no, no, it was no, it was wonderful. But like just thinking about your absolutely like you walk it. Like if it was me walking into a writers room like oh, it's procedural. That's procedure one a week it's on, we do a couple things. But then you start thinking about all the characters have to have their own arcs, they have to have their own beats inside of each one. And then you've got to work in a beat for the main character, and then how those represent, like, there's so many characters, so many story beats, and then throw in the murder of the week or case of the week, right? And then and then interact those with the beats that you need to hit for everybody. And for the season. Like a head wants to explode like it's insane. It's like that seems so much more difficult than justified where it is not a procedural it's just like a story arc through the whole day.
Vj Boyd 48:50 And obviously like we especially season one we it played out more like a procedural early on season one, right and in justified the first half of every season, and maybe beyond would always have like some closed ended story. But the credit story took up like in Swat, that closed ended story is 60 to 75% of the episode and justified it was more like 25 to 50% of the episode. Right. But that was part of how Graham wanted to break it. And I think it was, I love that because it's very important to me, in a TV show that each episode has its own has its own thing. It has a character to it, like what I would always say and justified is okay, if this is the one where blank is this though you want when people are talking about the show, what are they going to say this one's about? You know, like there's some shows like damages is one of the most rare one most famously where it's just a serial, it's just 20 episodes 13 episodes that they're just like cutting the story at certain spots, you know, but to me, and I think honestly, that's one of the things that I think people love about succession. is so many prestige shows are so serialized where it's like you can't remember what episode things happened even like it in succession. It's like, oh, no, this is the one at the retreat. This is the one right? This is the one at this level, because I mean, they're shooting at all different locations. Like each episode has its own character. And I, you know, like it has, it's like, oh, that's the one where blank that's the one where blank. I think that's very important. And a thing that's in streaming can get lost. You know, I mean, one of the reasons people love squid game, this is this game. This is the one with this game, right?
Alex Ferrari 50:31 Well, I mean, first of all successions on the list, haven't seen it yet. So we're gonna binge it now it is on the literally on the bat and
Vj Boyd 50:41 I'm, I'm catching up. Also, I started it really late. I'm in the middle of season two. So that's why it's on the mind because I'm binging that right now.
Alex Ferrari 50:47 Right! Yeah. Cuz I was like, Oh, I keep hearing about and then I was in Austin at the Austin Film Festival. And then friends. I'm like, Have you not seen succession? What's wrong with you? Like, I'm like, Okay. Obviously. Have you not seen Ted lasso? I'm like, No, I've never seen Ted law. So I'm like, Okay, you gotta watch that last. I'm like, alright, we'll go we'll go we'll go through that. But it's, it's it's, it's, it's really interesting. The whole the whole process and how we, we do like in squid games, by the way, squid games. Let's talk about big kids for a second. What was it in your opinion? Being a, you know, professional television writer that caught our attention? What's good games, because I watched the whole thing, obviously. And I like after the first episode took me a minute. And then at the end of the episode, you're like, Oh, okay. And then you're in, you're in, they hook you with that first episode. And then it was just like me and my wife are just in there. Like, this is a well written show. I mean, I thought it was a well written show. And the way they keep the characters going, and even though the acting in my opinion was a little bit over the top sometimes and things like that, but emotionally they got me what was it about? I'm assuming you saw summit games?
Vj Boyd 51:53 Yeah, I'm I'm I think it's isn't that like an eight episode or nine episode? I think that I'm, I'm on episode five or six. I haven't finished it because that's one that I'm not. I haven't been binging partially. Partially. And this is because so often when I'm watching TV, I'm eating. And so if there's something with subtitles, then I keep missing stuff. Right. So I have to watch squid game last in the evening when I'm done with my snacking. So sometimes I don't make it to it. But no, I. I don't know. I mean, I think I along with every executive in Hollywood is trying to figure out what people love about squid game. I mean, it might honestly be as simple as it's, it's a really like wild premise. That then when you tell people about it's going to spread like wildfire word wildfire. Like yeah, there's this show. We're blank, right? Yes, it's high con super high. Um, it's, it has very interesting visuals. And like I said, like that first episode, like the first game, the red light green light. And like, though, like, that's not something those visuals the way that setup is not something we see that much in American TV. You know, I don't know how normal it is in Korean TV. And so it's like, Oh, I haven't seen anything like this. But I get it. There. It's not confusing. Because so so much. I don't I feel like streaming is doing a better job of not being confusing. But for a while there, I felt like every prestige show, I wouldn't be like halfway through the pilot and have no idea. Who's the main character? What what do they want? There's lots of people looking at each other. And like they're angry of the ocean, I don't know what's going on. Right? It's very clear what's going on. And it's very clear why people are doing things. You know, like some people would even argue it's like, simplistic, but you you you get it, you get it. You care about these people because they have understandable issues, whether they cause it for themselves or not. And you know, what's that huge? Do you want to see what happens next? You want to see what the next game is? You know, even though it's not a procedural it has an engine. You want to see what that next game is.
Alex Ferrari 54:01 Right, right. And now Now the show runners like, Oh, we're doing season two now. And it's like, and now you want I won't run the show for you. But now you're like, Okay, I want to go I want to go back to this world. As violent and insane as it is. Yeah. It says something about us to want to watch things. No, I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Vj Boyd 54:26 I'll say that on the feature side, I'll give the advice that my friend Dan Kymco always gives and he sells a lot of scripts is write your spec. Like I like every year there's an army of people saying the spec script markets over only this many scripts sold. And every year, hundreds if not more scripts still sell plenty of them for people who haven't sold them before. So like write that script. Yes, you can get caught up in Oh, well, I won this contest with this feature script. Now I'm getting offers to go pitch on Yeah, sure, go pitch, write your next spec, write a really good spec, still confined to buyer. And when you write a thing, you can you can sell it five years from now, if you pitch something based on someone else's IP, it's that was too much wasted. If it doesn't sell, I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying a script you write last forever. And on the TV side, also, I would say keep writing new things. I know a lot of people trying to break in who are like, Hey, we read, we read my stuff. And it's like, okay, what do you have, I have this one script I've been rewriting for five years. And that's easy to happen. Like you keep rewriting the same thing. No, at a certain, cut it off, write a new thing, you can go back and revisit it later, you can rewrite it for five years in the background, write a new thing, because you're gonna get better. Every time you write a thing, then write another thing, then write another thing. And if you don't have a workshop group, find one, maybe the first group you try to create or join doesn't work out, you don't like the people in it, find a group of people who you trust to give you notes, and for you to give them notes. Because number one, you will learn things when you're giving other people notes, you're going number two, you're going to make contacts with people who are trying to do the same thing you're doing. And number three, you can learn a lot about how to take notes, which is a huge part of this job, if you get to do it. That is a lot of this job is being able to take notes. And your stuff will get better through the workshop group. My I was in the workshop group in grad school, which helped me out, I'm still into workshop groups with other writers who we've kind of come up together, one of which we start, when we started the group, we were all assistants. And now we're all in shows, you know, and so we all like came up together. So I think that's a huge thing. And don't be shy about telling people what it is you want to do. Because you never know, like, who can help you don't be like, don't be precious about it. Like, oh, I'm just it's just a hobby, you know, or not telling anyone what you want to do. Especially if you've moved to LA and you're having contact with people in the industry. I don't care what they do. Let them know. Yeah, I'm, I'm doing this right now. But yeah, I want to be you know, a TV writer, and I'm working on this kind of this kind of a spec right now. Or whatever, let people know what it is you want to do. So those are those are the pieces of advice I'd give.
Alex Ferrari 57:13 Now. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? These are my, these are my Oprah questions.
Vj Boyd 57:26 Um, and this is something some people just don't have an issue with. Like, if you're someone who like was in improv, or did drama, or was a great salesman, you don't have to learn this lesson you already know it. But just like not being Don't be a rock star about things. And this is I'm stealing this for another person. And what I mean by that is, if you're a who's a who's a rock star now, like, if you're a who's the guy who did that, though, if you're the weekend, if you're the weekend, and you're like talking to some people, and you like tell a joke, and no one laughs at it. You don't care because you're the weekend. You know, like if you if you like, make a mistake, it call someone by the wrong name. You don't beat yourself up about it all day, because you're the weekend, who cares? And if you're and you're not afraid to go talk to a stranger you're not afraid to, you know, be honest about what you think about something or be up front because you're the weekend, you know, act, act like you're the weekend. You know, it's like, because you're the only one who's sitting around beating yourself up about a about that thing you said earlier, it's like, oh, I won't talk in you know, I just won't talk to groups of people anymore. I had to learn that networking is not a dirty word. You know, because it's like, no, you're just networking is meeting and talking to people about something you both enjoy and love. You know, like, don't be afraid to like break into that group of people if you're at Austin film festival or whatever, like, what is the worst that can happen? You know, and
Alex Ferrari 59:07 It's not the Squidgames. It's not the Squidgames.
Vj Boyd 59:09 Yes, that's right. I still have to remind myself of like, all your regrets are going to be when you were too shy and didn't speak up. So be the weekend this week.
Alex Ferrari 59:23 And I'll just be the weekend it's just the best advice you can you just get the weekend and three television pilots at every every register read.
Vj Boyd 59:32 Oh wow. I'm pilots that people should read not watch. Um, well, I mean, Breaking Bad. Probably everyone's already read that. What's these? I'm trying to do it where they're not all from the same era. But I think madmen is one because that's an example of what did Matt Weiner wrote that like a decade before they ended up making it something thing like that I know he made some changes but I'd say madman is one that's also one of my favorite shows what's uh what's another good one? Oh you know what read the justified pilot that is that's a really good pilot that from my understanding Graham got very few notes on so what you're reading is almost I mean it's never your first draft but as close to like a first draft of a pilot you know like I think he got one that basically one big note in any added a scene at the end. But apart from that it's and apart from talking about reshoots. Famously, Walton Goggins character died when they shot that pilot in the pilot Boyd died he tested so well this is a one time when testing actually worked out it tested so well they did a reshoot where the current amount in the stretcher and he's alive and where would the show be employed had not lived? Wow, that's awesome talk crap about testing and it is annoying. Like, but it worked out for justified but yeah, read just the justify pilot
Alex Ferrari 1:01:08 Vj man. It has been a pleasure talking to you, brother. I really has thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your experience and continued success are in the business. I appreciate you man.
UPDATED December 2021: If you want to be a screenwriter you need to read a lot of screenplays. And if you are going to read film scripts might as well read some of this year’s best. Below is an active running list of 2021-2022 Oscar Contending Screenplays. I’ll be adding new screenplays as they become available so check back often.
PLEASE NOTE: These screenplays are FREE and LEGAL to download for educational purposes. The studios will only keep them online throughout the awards season so the clock is ticking. Enjoy.
There are things that happen in Hollywood that are insane. Things that make no sense. Well the below list of screenplays fall under the why hasn’t this been made into a movie category.
We have compile ten of the best screenplays that have yet to be produced. These screenplays are remarkable and amazing reads. From writers like Joe Carnahan, Stanley Kubrick, David Koepp, The Coen Brothers and Guillermo del Toro just to name a few. Enjoy.
(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).
This screenplay is one of the most insane we have ever read. I don’t know if it works as a sequel to Gladiator but it definitely works as a stand alone.
As a Roman god in the afterlife, Crowe’s Maximus meddles with Roman gods, is reincarnated, defends early Christians, and ultimately lives forever, leading tanks in the second world war and mucking around in the modern world.
According to David Koepp’s website here is what he had to say about this script.
“Oh, how I love this Howard Hughes / Clifford Irving story DePalma and I came up with. Inches away from making this with Nic Cage, but then Snake Eyes came out and wasn’t a hit, and we were dead. It be’s like that sometimes.”
This mythical screenplay is based on the novel “White Jazz: by James Ellroy. White Jazz is a 1992 crime fiction novel by James Ellroy. It is the fourth in his L.A. Quartet, preceded by The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, and L.A. Confidential.
Stanley Kubrick’s legendary script for Napoleon is a thing of myth. He spends years developing the story. He literally knew what Napoleon did everyday of his life and had it cataloged. If you saw the Kubrick exhibit at the LACMA you had a chance to see it. Apparently, this script is being developed into a min series so lets see what happens but until then get ready for one hell of a read,
This was a personal project that obsessed Sylvester Stallone about the infamous poet and writer EDGAR ALLEN POE since the time he wrote the original ROCKY screenplay. He toiled for years to get the funding for this project but it never came to fruition. An extremely interesting read. You can watch a live reading of the script or purchase it below.
Written by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Reversal of Fortune Nicholas Kazan, Cortes paints a a searing portrait of the 16th-century conquistador who vanquished Eden-like Mexico and its exotic inhabitants.
The historical catastrophe of Spain’s clash with American Indian civilizations is played out with comedy, tragedy, valor and barbarism on both sides.
One of the best Hollywood-satires ever written. It makes The Player look optimistic.
Moving to LA to pursue his film obsession, an oddball film fan bounces around the dregs of Hollywood trying to get work as an actor. His best friend is a young man whose interest in Edward Ford is a way to seek understanding of his own past.
Who are you going to call? Yup that is right, we have on the show today to co-writer of the new installment in the Ghostbusters universe, Gil Kenan.
Gil co-wrote Ghostbusters: Afterlife with his friend writer/director Jason Reitman. Check out the trailer below.
From director Jason Reitman and producer Ivan Reitman, comes the next chapter in the original Ghostbusters universe. In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, when a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind. The film is written by Jason Reitman & Gil Kenan.
Now Gil isn’t just an accomplished writer but also an Oscar nominated filmmaker (Best Animated Film) for the animation classic Monster House (2006). He also wrote and directed, Poltergeist (2015) and City of Ember (2008) and the new Netflix film A Boy Called Christmas.
In ordinary young boy called Nikolas sets out on an extraordinary adventure into the snowy north in search of his father who is on a quest to discover the fabled village of the elves, Elfhelm. Taking with him a headstrong reindeer called Blitzen and a loyal pet mouse, Nikolas soon meets his destiny in this magical, comic and endearing story that proves nothing is impossible. A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS, on Netflix Nov. 24 in select territories.
Gil and I had a great conversation about working with Jason and his dad Ivan Reitman on bring Ghostbusters back to life, the pressure of playing in the Ghostbuster universe and lessons learned from his journey in Hollywood.
BTW, I had the pleasure of watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife and all I can say is if you like the originals you’re going to love it. Enjoy my conversation with Gil Kenan.
Alex Ferrari 0:00 I like to welcome the show, Gil Kenan. How're you doing Gil?
Gil Kenan 0:14 Great. How are you?
Alex Ferrari 0:15 I'm doing great, man. Thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I I am I'm a fan of your work. I've from Monster House to city of Amber. And your latest collaboration with Mr. Reitman. Both Mr. Reitmans Ghostbusters afterlife, which we will definitely be getting into later in the conversation. But first, how did you get started in the business?
Gil Kenan 0:39 Well, I had one of those experiences that you you think about sometimes when you're going to film school as a sort of scenario that might happen but that you accept at some point during school isn't going to happen to you, which is that I made a short film that was screened at the DGA. And out of that screening, I got representation, and that the representation ended up being pretty serious. So I got signed to ca while I was sort of graduating from UCLA Film School. And the weird thing is that I had made a short film this short called the lark, that, by any measure should not have had a commercial break through potential. It's a weird 10 minute black and white, live action animation hybrid about an abusive relationship with a with a bird.
Alex Ferrari 1:44 So money, just money, just you could smell the money, you could smell it.
Gil Kenan 1:49 Nothing says box office like a play animated, tiny bird that that comes to life and murders and abusive husband. It just says give this kid a shot. And so to that film, screened at the DGA as part of the UCLA spotlight awards, and there was an assistant on the desk of a film lead agent at CAA who was there covering the event. He came afterwards and gave me his card. And he then took a DVD, he might have gone with a hybrid strategy of DVD and VHS because this was the the final phase of VHS, short distribution. And he brought it into the agency and made a bunch of copies was very interested with it, sent it to everyone. And by the following Wednesday, I was represented by some pretty serious people. And so so that's kind of how I got my start as a film director because they ended up sending the film around to a bunch of people. And one of those people was Robert Zemeckis, who was beginning to think about producing monster house. And then he and I had a series of meetings that led to me being brought on to make that film. But I will say that, before any of that, I I grew up in the valley in the in in receita, you know, outside of the center of filmmaking, which is sort of Burbank and Hollywood, but still sort of tangentially connected to it. And I ended up getting through a summer internship program called inner city filmmakers, a series of internships from the time that I was 17, just right after I graduated high school, in various various departments on film, mostly editorial. And so my very first paying job where I had to actually report to work was as a editorial intern on the Tony Scott film Crimson Tide and and so that was a pretty crazy initiation to the world of film filmmaking and then ended up working on films throughout my university and in film school.
Alex Ferrari 4:25 I got that you What is it like watching Tony Scott work? Did you get to see him like a director or being on set a little bit
Gil Kenan 4:30 So that was actually a pretty weird experience because it was a very caustic environment, the editing room, it was actually pretty harsh. Yeah, I ended up being basically a human mural carrying prints from the Disney lab to the Culver studios where the temporary editing rooms were set up. But I I remember feeling good The seriousness of it that everyone was like taking the task of telling the story extremely seriously. Like there was a lot of sort of octane and machismo in the air.
Alex Ferrari 5:12 No, I can't I don't understand why I have no understanding why.
Gil Kenan 5:17 It was like cigar literal cigar boxing going on. There may have been some cowboy hats. It was a hardcore environment. But it was it definitely felt like a threshold. Anyway, I got hooked from that moment on to the allure of storytelling on a grand scale, you know, a couple 100 friends coming together to tell a story. And haven't it sort of never, never waned?
Alex Ferrari 5:47 Yeah, it's, it's, it's what I like to call the sweet disease. Once you get bit by the drug, by the by the bug, you can't kick it, it's, you're done. You're done. It's it's for life. You can't get rid of it. As much as you might want to sometimes, and your journeys, you're unfortunately stuck with it. Now, I also got to ask you, you know, because not many of us are going to have the opportunity of having a meeting, especially that first meeting with Robert Zemeckis out of out of college. Dude, what is that, like walking into that room? And just sitting down? You're like, Hey, Bob.
Gil Kenan 6:22 It's, it's pretty intense. I mean, so it's, there's two ways to answer it. The the, the film fan in me is freaking out, obviously. Right? Because filmmakers, film directors, to people like us who grow up eating, drinking sleeping film. It's, it's the storyteller. That is the real star of every film, you know, the actors are cool. But the people who are making the film are the ones that I actually had, you know, if I could have had trading cards, it would have been Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg. Yeah, so. So that part of me is freaking out and doing backflips and like, terrified and shaking. But it's, it's sort of offset by another part of me that I discovered actually, in that meeting, or in the hours leading up to that meeting, which is the part of me that had a story to tell, and became so passionate about making sure that I was the person who told that story, that somehow I am able to suppress the terror of eating Assad. And actually, look, look him in the eye and say, I know how this story should be told, or I have some ideas for this story. And, and being taken seriously. Maybe not totally seriously in the first meeting, but progressively with more with more seriousness, and, and I actually kind of found that out about myself at that point. And I am fed that experience a few times since where I'm like, I should be objectively, like, freaking out and I should be vomiting in a trash can in the hallway right now. Right? I, but I feel a responsibility to the story, that I don't want to let the story down. And I feel like I have if I if I'm not the voice for this story right now. I don't know who else is gonna do it. And they might not care as much as I do. So anyway, it's a little earnest, but it's, it's the damn truth.
Alex Ferrari 8:28 Yeah, and it's also just like, Yeah, cuz I imagine you still have to act as a professional because you want to get the job. But at the same time, the the, you know, the 10 year old inside you like, Oh, my God, Back to the Future. Oh, my God. Oh, my God, Roger Rabbit, oh, my god, like, you're just freaking out. So I can only imagine that there's that.
Gil Kenan 8:45 I may have mentioned in one of those first meetings, that I did create a linear, graphed out version of the, of the space time continuum, across the three Back to the Future films, of course, to find the try to find holes in the narrative structure as a kid. And
Alex Ferrari 9:11 What did he say? What did he say? What did you say to that?
Gil Kenan 9:14 I think he's probably heard every version of that he changed my life. Because for so many of us, it was a gateway moment where Sure, so many, so many engines were firing in unison at the same time with those films, that it just felt like we were, we're the back of a future generation.
Alex Ferrari 9:35 Yeah, exactly. there and it's, it's, I should back to the future to my wife a few years ago, and she just, I hadn't seen in forever, and I was just sitting there smiling the entire time. And she's like, You really liked these movies? Oh, yeah, I do. These are amazing. It's probably one of the best trilogies of all time, like it is. It's perfection. And God and God help anybody who wants to remake it. I'm just throwing that out there into the universe. God help anyone who tries to remake? Because you can't?
Gil Kenan 10:02 I don't I mean, the weird thing is like, what would it be? It would take place in, in the 90s. At this point
Alex Ferrari 10:09 It just like you, you, it's kind of like the remake of Point Break really? Like you can't capture that magic again.
Gil Kenan 10:18 No more, more more power to him. Let's see. Let's see what they do. But yeah, I don't I don't I don't need to see that maybe I've got a perfect. There's a perfect place on my mantel for the films that that Bob made.
Alex Ferrari 10:31 Yes, absolutely no question. Oh, casual. Bob. Hey, Bob. So So you worked with Bobby also worked with Steven Spielberg on Monster House? What was the biggest lesson you took away from working with those two legends?
Gil Kenan 10:46 Well, I, it's hard to even figure out how to approach the subject of that, because there were a few things. One, I was immediately struck by my tremendous luck at being a person was able to be in that environment, because nothing in my life up until that point, suggested that that was possible. So luck definitely had something to do with it. I had an extraordinary experience on Monster House where the very first time that I met Steven, it was with Bob. And we were showing the work that I had been doing for a couple of months to start to create the look and sort of design of the film that I would be making our hopes to be making. And then we went into the next room, which was the Amblin screening room, and projected the animatic that I had put together with a very crack small team of artists. And sitting down was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, like as the lights dimmed, and the animatics. I was like, Okay, I guess I'm putting this out there in front of these two literal gods of storytelling. But when the lights came up, a conversation started within a few sentences, I realized that we weren't talking anymore about whether or not I would I would be making the film, we were starting to talk about the the content of it, like the the pacing and tone, and a couple of specific plot points. And 45 minutes passed. And it was just the three of us having this conversation. I remember just thinking in the back of my head, like I'm trying to stay cool, engaged. But I'm also thinking holy shit like this is actually happening. I'm having a story conversation with these two wizards, film. And, and I so I learned an incredible amount of stuff. I mean, one of the things that I that I've taken from that very first conversation was because we were talking about structure and pacing. And specifically first act, and there's always a tendency first acts are really easy to write. And then you get to go put a film together, and you start to pull away because you're like, Okay, you want the audience to be able to get into the into into the real nuts and bolts of the story. And I remember coming out of that conversation, both of them impressed on me that that tendency, that instinct to cut into the first act is one that you have to suppress as a director, that you should actually fight to keep those moments that feel like they are too long feel like they they don't have any place and in a film, because if an audience ends up loving your film at the end, it's because of the investment that they put into character in the first act. And so that felt like, okay, that's an actual lesson. You know, I took it, and I never, I never like, oh,
Alex Ferrari 13:58 Wow, man. That's that's actually a really great piece of advice. That's a really great advice.
Gil Kenan 14:02 I'm happy to happy to pay forward.
Alex Ferrari 14:06 Now, another film you did, which I was a big fan of when it came out when I watch the city of ember. Oh, you're the fan. I'm the one. I'm the one. I was a pleasure. No, I actually I actually really enjoyed it when it came out. And I saw it and I was like, this is really ingenious and so funny. You're the dude. But how I knew I had me to vote it. Okay. But I'll Joking aside. How did you come up with how did you come up with the concept of it and go down that road? And how did you get that made? That's another question.
Gil Kenan 14:43 Yeah, it. It definitely was a moment in time. I mean, I started developing city of ember, actually, at the same time that I was beginning to have my meetings on Monster House. So city of ember was adapted on, on a novel a series of novels by Jean Dupree, who. And those books were sent to me by play town, Tom Hanks, his production company, again, as part of that initial round of short game, why not? very casual moments in my life totally
Alex Ferrari 15:20 Normal, normal, completely normal.
Gil Kenan 15:24 But, so I ended up developing that and was lucky enough to bring on a screenwriter who I really loved Caroline Thompson, who had written Edward Scissorhands and countless other incredible screenplays. And she and I began a collaboration that was going on throughout posts on Monster House. So I was lucky enough to have a script that I could say, This is what I want to make next, before Monster House was even out. And I think that the answer to the question of like how it got made, was probably the sort of the excitement that was starting to happen around the release of Monster House. And then what sealed the deal was when monster house got nominated for an Oscar, right, basically, city of ember got greenlit, it was a weird moment, though, because it was like being made by a sort of experimental Studio is a partnership between Fox and Walden, that actually didn't arrive the release in the film. So they were they went out of business or broke apart as a studio before we came out. And that wasn't great for the film, or for me, it was a bit of a nightmare, because I ended up not dealing with executives. By the end, I was dealing with lawyers who were
Alex Ferrari 16:47 That's always fun.
Gil Kenan 16:48 It's great. It's why you go into the business, you know, you want to,
Alex Ferrari 16:52 And you want to talk to lawyers about assets. Yeah.
Gil Kenan 16:56 It just felt like your creativity. But so that was like, it was an incredible experience. I had the best cast, I met Toby Jones. So I continue to work with Bill Murray, who obviously I've now been lucky enough to have worked with in some capacity twice. Sushil Ronan Tim Robbins, Robin. Yeah. It really an incredible group of actors and artists. So it was a wonderful experience that was tinged with a lot of complexity. And what came out I'm proud of, but could have been so much more. And so it's, it was a big lesson. And for those of you who are listening, who are thinking, screw this guy and his easy path to get a good directing career from film school, this is the moment in the conversation where you sit back and smile. And shoden Freud that I had, I had a really hard time on the on the second time.
Alex Ferrari 17:56 Well, there's there's that and that's the thing that Look, man, I've talked to hundreds, if not 1000s of filmmakers now over the course of what I do, and, and I've heard every story. And there's never one that's the same. Like, oh, I just happen to run into Spielberg at a coffee shop and he greenlit my movie. Like you hear the weirdest stories. And I've heard the easy ones. I've heard the hard ones. I've heard the ones that are completely lucky. I've heard the ones I've taken 20 years. It's all relative, but I don't care who you are. You always have there's always those pits in thought, you know, the valleys? Yeah, there's always that there's always that. So regardless of how you get in, man he got for me, it's like, more power to you, man. If you got in that's just hopefully that gives us a chance somebody else's chance at one point or another to get that opportunity. But it was timing though. And that's the thing. I always tell people because they always a lot of people look back to the 90s especially during the Sundance independent phase with Robert and, and Rick Linkletter and burns and Smith and all these kind of guys. And they're like, I'm gonna do what they did, like you can't like that's, that was a moment in time. That was very specific. So you happen to get monsters monster, which is against all odds, monster house off, then it happened to get nominated. And you also had to do Amber's waiting in the wings. So you didn't like start it after you got nominated. So it all the timing was perfect. And of course, the way Hollywood works is like, Oh, you just got what do you want to do next? And that's your that's your goal. And that's your willy wonka ticket. And then exactly,
Gil Kenan 19:27 So so. So it's sort of was a, it was a really good set of timings and circumstances. And it was a crazy experience. You know, I'd gone from making an animated film to now having an entire city built in Northern Ireland and Belfast.
Alex Ferrari 19:46 Well, you have to ask because I mean, I remember the sets were stunning. And it wasn't. It wasn't I mean, it was 2007 2008. Yeah. Yeah, it was a relief. Yeah. When we felt so you film the 2007. So yeah, there's visual effects. And yeah, there's still you know, but it's not where we are now as far as like world building like a lot of their stuff. If you would reshoot that movie today would probably be done digitally.
Gil Kenan 20:10 Yeah, maybe wait till you see a boy called Christmas. I can't. Actually, we,
Alex Ferrari 20:16 You believe that we thought bill
Gil Kenan 20:18 I built so much of that city. So I had an incredible production designer Gary Williams and on a boy called Christmas and I learned a lesson on city of ember that when you can swing it, building world makes an incredible difference both for the audience, but more importantly, for the actors and the cameras when you're shooting, because you just have that sense of place that's very difficult to fake when everything was green screened, and correct, Dan, and I still fight for as much build as possible. I, for me, that's a priority in filmmaking. So I put real emphasis emphasis on in the budgeting phase, towards getting as much tangibly built
Alex Ferrari 21:03 Practical stuff. And then so when you walked on the city of ember, like as a filmmaker, man, what is that like playing in such a beautiful pig playground? I mean, you've got Bill Murray, you've got Tim Robbins, you got this insanity of a set? What is that? Like? You know, how did you feel being on set like day one involves and again, this is not an animated movie anymore. Now you're on a live action. Yeah, playing with with serious hitters serious, serious monsters.
Gil Kenan 21:31 There was a lot of stress about getting what I needed on on camera and that film, because the, the amount of visual material was so overwhelming, and I had to stay very disciplined about what I was shooting so that I could make sure that I was emphasizing performance, and storytelling, and not getting lost in this sort of beauty of the environment. Because I was my eyes were bugging out every direction I look, because it was so cool. And I think that a part of me clicks into place, which is like, focused on character focus on the story. That's what ultimately is going to communicate to an audience. But it was so fun to shoot in. For imagine it was designed to be filmed. So you know, we were just able to move the camera through it in such a in such a cool dynamic way. And I love moving the camera. And it was like a real joy to be able to have all those practical lights creating material for the eye. And we shot on film, too, which is another thing that I really fought for on that one. It was like one of the last 35 millimeter films before the full conversion to digital, obviously now there are films that fight for shooting on film again, but it really was one of the one of the last in that series of the pure 35 millimeter from the ground up show.
Alex Ferrari 23:02 Yeah, yeah, no question in 2007. And red had just basically come out and it wasn't you weren't it wasn't there just yet digital. I mean, there was so lateral collateral. Yeah,
Gil Kenan 23:14 She'd been out and we sort of knew what were the Viper. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 23:19 But it was still like you had to work with that giant monster of a frickin rig. And it was just like, it was a it was like shooting on on Attack of the Clones or something like that. It's like it's the beginning of it's like the olden days of 35. You saw those giant blimps that they used to work on. It's it's equivalent is x, same thing. Now, as film directors, we all we always have a day on set, where we feel that the entire world is gonna come crashing around us. Everything is is going wrong. Bad performance actors not working. We're losing the sunlight. The first ad is killing you because you're not making your day. Something happens in that moment. And that day, what was that day for you on city of Ember and how did you overcome it?
Gil Kenan 23:59 Oh, my God, this is so long ago.
Alex Ferrari 24:02 Or or any movie, by the way? Any movie? On poltergeists on anything?
Gil Kenan 24:07 It's a it's a it's a it's a really good question. I mean, there was there was one injury that really frightened me on on city of ember, but it wasn't, you know, it didn't end up being something that was catastrophic. But the Steadicam operator had a slip during a very complex tracking shot. And that was a really difficult moment as a director sure, because I felt so responsible you know, I had designed a complicated shot you know, the look required a spray down a hose down of the streets, of course in treacherous conditions. So that was really difficult. One thing on ember that I remember that was just like a reality of filming in Northern Ireland, and I just didn't know how to expect it. We only have one day scheduled of exterior shooting, which those of you have seen that film can under Stand. Why, but the entirety of the film was in a soundstage, in this city city set, which ended up being Game of Thrones. By the way, this whole the, I think the the entirety of Game of Thrones, all the interiors were all shot in the footprint of the city of ember set. Which is, which is always funny for me to think about is like, I know, I know just how cold that tree was on that day. But it ended up raining every single day that we shot on city of ember, there was not one day without rain, it was like, just a crazy summer with no break in, in weather. And then we kept trying to get this one day of the exterior and having to having to miss it. It's not that dramatic or interesting, except for the fact that there was just one shot at it. And to do, we have to take the entire crew including serratia. And Harry Treadaway, up to a mountain to film and we finally got the one break and just squeaked it out because we were supposed to wrap and and finish the shooting. In a pinch, that's the closest I can remember to like a real a real practical challenge. The harder ones were all what came later on, you know, like the the studio and getting and that's a much more complex, nuanced conversation. But, you know, I guess suffice it to say, I'm proud of the finished film. And yeah, especially because of the performances of it. And and searches second performance, and she's already a superstar in it. And yeah, so I'm psyched that you're a fan.
Alex Ferrari 26:49 I am I am I am definitely a fan of him. And I'm glad it I'm just glad movies like that. Because Can you imagine trying to get that thing to me today? Like it'd be unless it's a Netflix film? Yeah, I mean, it streamers would do it.
Gil Kenan 27:02 See when you know, when you see a boy called Christmas, you'll see that somehow, I've been able to squeak out another film that sort of goes against the grain, it has yet more original elements to it. It's not based on another film IP, not that based on IP. And it allowed me to build out a full world, that that's the kind of stuff that's really, as you say, super hard to do nowadays. So I'm extraordinarily proud of the world building and that came in a boy called Christmas.
Alex Ferrari 27:41 Now, you also tackled another film called Poltergeist, which how in God's green earth do you approach a classic? Like remaking remaking a classic and then that in you know, Steven, so Steven was obviously heavily involved with the making of poltergeists. It was still you know, Toby Harper directed it. But Steven was there as well, you know, you see him all you see the behind the scenes of him, like, you know, pointing and nobody will ever know what actually happened. The scenes of like, what happened there? But regardless, the movie is a classic. How, how do you as a filmmaker go, Alright, I think I can bring this to the new generation and how do you how do you approach that? I'm fasting?
Gil Kenan 28:19 Well, there's, there's a, there's a few things first of all, you know, it's it's definitely about as difficult of a, an attempt to make as you can do, because the chances of connecting with an audience when you're entering hallowed ground like that are pretty slim. On on. There's a few ways that that process started, they gave me a sense that I should try this. One was that I got a call from Sam Raimi.
Alex Ferrari 28:50 And that's always that's always a good, that's always a good sign.
Gil Kenan 28:53 I basically should just stop there, because done done, Sam Raimi calls you done. So that was like, sort of the beginning and the end of it for me. But also after that, I went out and found Toby Hooper. And I went up to him and introduced myself and said that I'm thinking about going into this world of film that he created. And, and if he had any advice, and, and he was so gracious, and he was just like, you know, it's it's just the story, like, and
Alex Ferrari 29:38 It's just a movie, man. It's all good. Yeah.
Gil Kenan 29:40 I've sort of gotten that kind of feeling from folks who have made things that are so meaningful to me as a especially as a young person, where you talk to them and they're like, oh, yeah, that was a movie. You know, you just use a gig identity.
Alex Ferrari 29:54 It was a gig. I did. ,
Gil Kenan 29:56 Yeah way too much. Way too much. Generally a slight chill out. And so it was a there was a sort of combination of those moments and that, you know, I remember talking to to Zemeckis about it and him saying just how loose the process was when, when poltergeists was being made that you know, they were him and pop Gail were in the next room working on the draft that they were trying to get back the future greenlit while Stephen was in pre production on D and in production on folder, guys. And then it was just like a it was a perfect vehicle for cool gags. Like they all approached it like, oh, try this, you know, have the head melt offer.
Alex Ferrari 30:49 Have the towns have the time with the arms?
Gil Kenan 30:50 Yeah, exactly. And, and so obviously incredible artistry very, very difficult to enter into that world and connect to people who, to whom that film was so important. But I had a great time making it so proud of my cast. Cast. Yeah. And, and yeah, and I'll and as I began, I got a call from Sam Ray.
Alex Ferrari 31:21 And look, I mean, if Sam Raimi called him like, Hey, man, can you redo Evil Dead for me? I'd be like, I don't. I mean, you're asking me so I guess I guess yes. If that's ever you say whatever you like. Now, did you pull any nuggets of wisdom from Sam working with him on that?
Gil Kenan 31:41 Oh, yeah, he's so cool. First of all, there's no better audience in the world than than Sam Raimi. He watches every single screening of every film, whether he worked on it or not, as if it was a matinee in a movie theater, it, you know, it when he's 10 years old, he sits, he sits front front and center with a huge grin on his face, soaking up the story. And I got mostly from him, the notion that you can work in this career in this industry for as long as he has, with as much success as he has, and still find absolute joy in, in film viewing as much as film making. And so that would just like put so much wind in my sails to it's inspiring when you're working with collaborators, who are just so passionate about about the craft of storytelling
Alex Ferrari 32:39 It you know, I've had the pleasure of meeting some of these these folks as well. And it's they're just like on a whole nother level. Like their the way that they approach the craft is is just at a completely different depth. Then then the The civilians are normal, or yeah, it's just it's just remarkable to see them approach story and I love that they You said to like, yeah, it was a story. Yeah, it was a little gig. Yeah, we were just trying some gags that there see what would work. Because that's what we do when you're starting out. Like that's exactly what we do with our friends. It just so happens that they're friends who happen to be like, you know, John Melius and Brian De Palma and George Lucas.
Gil Kenan 33:20 So they just they just happen to be hanging out with a with a high wattage crowd.
Alex Ferrari 33:26 That's great. Great term. Great there. Love that, sir. Oh, yeah, it's it's, it's pretty awesome now. So your latest project you worked on? Was your second to latest project have two projects are coming out pretty close together. But we're here to talk about Ghostbusters. And oh my god, I saw it last night. It is there's no spoilers here so you can continue to listen to everybody. There is no spoilers I won't spoil anything. All I gotta say is, it is the sequel that Ghostbusters deserved. In my in my humble opinion.
Gil Kenan 34:00 That's very kind of you to say I'm so proud of it.
Alex Ferrari 34:03 And I am and for people for people listening. Ghostbusters for me was one of those films I literally saw probably I'm not an exaggeration you pray 35 times in the theater like it was it was a goal of mine to keep going back every weekend and anytime I got rereleased because it was rereleases back then I wore out the cassette tape.
Gil Kenan 34:23 You know what's crazy is God Mackey to see how long that film played in cinemas or theaters theaters. It came out in June of 84 and was still in movie theaters all the way through like fall. I think by by November, it was starting to leave movie theaters. But it's just an incredible concept when you think about it. And I think it's I think it's stayed number one in forever.
Alex Ferrari 34:49 Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was a phenomenon and I was living in New York. And my Ghostbusters stories is this. My dad My stepfather was a taxicab driver. So wait, so we're driving around Manhattan and I was with him in the front seat. And all of a sudden I drive by the Ghostbusters set when nobody was there. It was just blocked off. And it was like, it was after the after Gozer did all the thing and the The ambulance is inside and there's snow because I didn't know it was marshmallow snow everywhere. And then six months later, I go to theater. I'm like, oh my god, I was on the set of Ghostbusters. It was my first so cool. It was my first true experience of, of being even close to to Hollywood being close to a real movie was the first time I ever even understood what a movie set was. Because for kids listening today, there was no information in the 80s about filmmaking. None. None.
Gil Kenan 35:41 No, I learned I learned most of what I know about moviemaking from the Universal Studios tour. When Yes, when we went to tourists, like I think that that's where I learned about the ideas behind what went into making something. But so. So it's so cool that you got to experience that said probably the morning after they filmed it. Yeah. And I don't know if you've heard Jason talk about this, but Jason Reitman, my, my collaborator, co writer and the director of Ghostbusters afterlife was on set that day at that, you know, on the west side of Central Park, yes on the road opened up. And he was actually filmed with his mom. And I think his sister as part of the background of the watching. He goes by she's doing her thing and was cut out of the film. Oh, but but he remembered it's one of his first memories as a as a kid was watching them pouring that marshmallow fluff out of buckets on risers and feeling like alright, this is moviemaking. This is what I want to do. I want to do this what I want to do, yeah, so you guys happen to be in the same place in the same moment in time, which is really cool.
Alex Ferrari 37:11 That's actually really it's that's funny as hell man. And so Ghostbusters has a very special place in my heart for both Ghostbusters one and Ghostbusters two. I just, and I was in New York when that hit. So you could only imagine it was it was a phenomenon around the world. But being in New York as a kid when Ghostbusters it just it just is everything. It was like there was nothing like I don't know what the Indiana Jones had just come out maybe like there wasn't it still wasn't as much stuff as there is today. There's 1000 a million things to watch. It was like Ghostbusters was it man and music that song? Jesus Christ
Gil Kenan 37:49 Good. So it was a pretty crazy summer because I think Goonies came out. Yeah, right. Sorry. Gremlins later I've been gremlins. Yeah. About the other. The other the other G titled when found Gremlins came out that same summer. And so obviously, that was like a life changing summer for those of us who were lucky to go to that time. And for me, it was a pretty crazy experience with it. Because we moved to America when I was seven in July, almost August of 1984. And Ghostbusters was the first film that I saw in a movie theater when we moved to America. And obviously I'd seen films before that but i i So associated with with this country that I was now living in with what a Hollywood movie was and could be and just like you it totally became culture. It became more than a film. Oh yeah, it was something it was something that I we grew up with.
Alex Ferrari 38:49 I actually called the 555 number trying to get to the Ghostbusters I did it just was it just busy. No it's just it's it's a 555 number so nothing happened I think was busier to like that but I actually like watched it a commercial one by I'm like I wrote down the number real quick. I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna call Ghostbusters.
Gil Kenan 39:09 Sweet and you know, by the way, we all stuff that instinct that's why there are moments in this film right so when again you saw last night that are about satisfying the gods perience that we had as young people watching Ghostbusters because that is sort of that was that was our mandate was like how to capture the the awe and the joy and weirdness and magic of seeing Ghostbusters in 1984. In you know, in today's world,
Alex Ferrari 39:42 it is it is the Ghostbusters universe is something that I feel that needs to be respected. And you guys definitely did it in a way that the Star Wars universe or the Star Trek universe or any other sci fi universe because it has its own world Nik in that world can be built out beautifully. And I think you guys, I think, got the thing I loved about the film and it's, uh, you guys got the tone. So perfectly done because you can tell that you were definitely nodding to to the fanboys in the room, you know, and then you were also helping the kids of the fanboys in the room, as well. So how did you as writers balance nostalgia with bringing this concept into the new generation?
Gil Kenan 40:29 Well, I think that one of the ways we did it was by being aware of what our own expectations were for a new Ghostbusters film, right van. I mean, right, obviously look like Jason, I come at this from similar but extraordinarily different places, I grew up with a love and a passion and respect for Ghostbusters. But I was a kid watching it in a movie theater in the valley, his dad was the son of a director on the side of the camera. And he went on the press tour with AI then when the film was being released, and so for, for for, for him, it was an incredibly intimate relationship. And for me, it was just like a fanboy one right. But both of us, both of us approached the idea of telling another Ghostbusters story with incredible respect for the the films of the 1980s. And we had a sense as fans of what we would want to see. But we also knew that if we just made this a sort of museum tour of the past, it would end up feeling like a pretty stiff and lifeless spectacle. And it happened that through the work of building the characters Phoebe and her family are brother Trevor mom, Callie are friends, podcast and lucky that we got to a place where realized that actually just as important as our own satisfaction of seeing things that we would want to see in a Ghostbusters film, we have the opportunity to have pure discovery in this film, because we have characters who have no fucking clue what a Ghostbuster was. And they've grown up in a world where just like, a lot of events from the 80s history. Yeah, this is stuff that that doesn't really register in the lives of many people. And so, and there's a specific reason for why this particular family, Phoebe's family, has kept sort of blinders to the events of those years. Much more, you know, much more sort of emotional and, and baggage related. Shit now, but but the point is that through the character of Phoebe through her eyes, were able to discover Ghostbusters, for the first time all over again, if you know what I mean. No, yeah, yeah. And that became that became that became our compass that was our way through.
Alex Ferrari 43:09 It's so funny, because my daughter's, they say, old timey. When it comes to anything that was pre when they were born, to like, So when was that? Like, like the 80s? Sometimes they'll bust out like the 30s. I'm like, How old do you think I am? Like, like, you know, when Titanic came? Like, were you around when Titanic sank? I'm like, No, I'm not around with what?
Gil Kenan 43:29 How have you been freaked out when that train came at you in the movie?
Alex Ferrari 43:34 I was. I jumped right, I jumped right on my horse and buggy and I just bolted out of that theater.
But it was it's, it's fascinating because I love the way that you bring back the 80s In a way, it will bring back those events in a way that this generation understands, you know, the way they view things and things like that. So it was just, it was just it was it was masterfully done. And I applaud both you and Jason to do it when I heard about it. I was like okay, if there's anybody that can do this as Jason as a director, it was just it I just felt it was like okay, cuz I respect him as a filmmaker tremendously and that he's tackling this thing is remarkable now well,
Gil Kenan 44:21 it I mean, did to that point, I mean, one of the things that made this whole thing meaningful and and actually gave it as sort of shape is that as much as this is a film about characters discovering their legacy as Ghostbusters. It's it's also a film about a director who is tackling his legacy as a filmmaker. And that that because that works on multiple levels. It felt like there was always a way in like we always understood that this was a film that had had something to say it was about the weight of familial responsibility, and what whether you choose to turn around and face it, or try to chart your own path or, you know, run away from it. And so we sort of knew that
Alex Ferrari 45:18 that was in the background. And I heard Jason came up right prior to the screening on a little pre pre recorded video and he's like, this is the most personal film I've ever made. And I understand why because you write the characters are mirrors, like the director in the in the in the characters in the movie? are mirrors, they're both struck, they're both dealing with legacy. And, and approaching it and should you do it? And I have to imagine you, you and Jason must have had conversations is like, should I go down this road? Because I mean, you know, the amount of I mean, look, fans are fans and haterade haterade. And that, you know, all that's gonna come out but at a certain point he's like, I mean, do I want to I want to step foot in this hollow like, this is hollow for me talk about hollow ground. Ghostbusters. Yeah,
Gil Kenan 46:03 YYeah, it's, it's so loaded. But also, I think that we approached it without an expectation that this was something that had to get made. We started talking about it as friends and collaborators. And Jason had had these couple of images that had sort of been haunting him, right, a girl discovering a proton pack, a teenager finds what was the Ecto one, but now sort of Arrested overheat. And, and all of that was kind of swirling in his head while he was thinking about the loss of Harold Ramis. And oh, really, you really can't. You can't have a Ghostbusters story, or at least continue the story of the original Ghostbusters, without Harold Ramis. And of course, there was this. So so. So there was just this idea that that started to come together about a way to thread that concept with the images that I was just explaining. And when Jason and I started talking about it, we never said, let's let's make sure this happens. Because we've got to make the Ghostbusters film or because Jason has the direct one. It was like there is actual genuine enthusiasm because we started to feel like a, an honest, a true way to make a sequel to Ghostbusters was beginning to form in our, in our eyes. And that we we started to work this out without a studio without any interference, just the makers as friends. And then we realized that it just kept coming together. And before we knew it, we had a story. And we brought that story to Ivan and pitched it to him. And that that was obviously a really important moment in the life of this film. And then we brought it some of the other Ghostbusters, and we brought it to Sony, and they were just so supportive. And so understanding of what this could be. And it really felt like okay, this has a chance to be a true continuum. It's not something that was handed to us as an assignment, like find a way to make a new Ghostbusters film, it was done in about as pure of a way as, as could could be imagined.
Alex Ferrari 48:27 I mean, you were basically writing it as almost like fan art. Like,
Gil Kenan 48:31 I mean, we we really, really were I mean, the only complication is that, you know, Jason was had a front row seat to the entire building of the, of the empire, right. But it really was done with absolute sort of removed from the expectations of the of the business or the fans. It was done as two lovers of Ghostbusters, who were seeing if we could build a story that would live up to to this world.
Alex Ferrari 49:05 And from what I understand from Jason's video intro to the screening, Papa Reitman, Mr. Ivan Reitman was on set every day with his director's chair right next to Jason. So what was it like, you know, having that presence over over you this and it's like, it's having Toby Hooper, on the set of poltergeist everyday sitting next to you.
Gil Kenan 49:29 I didn't, you know, the way Jason describes is like, Could you imagine if your dad was sitting next to you at work every day,
Alex Ferrari 49:36 And questioning everything you do?
Gil Kenan 49:38 Are you gonna you're gonna push that button? Okay. I mean, that's fine.
Alex Ferrari 49:41 I wouldn't. I wouldn't I wouldn't do it that way. Yeah.
Gil Kenan 49:46 There's lots of ways to do it. You know. And so you, you just have to put yourself in the position of Jason to have made a film that works as well as it does. That's amazing, but the truth is, and I've seen this Now countless times on this process that Ivan is extraordinarily proud of his son and has so much so much love, both for his son as a as a human, but also for insight as a filmmaker as a storyteller, and just had, like an incredible respect, they have a lot of mutual respect those two, and being close to them over these years, has just given me a lot of appreciation for the relationship that they have.
Alex Ferrari 50:34 Now, let's talk a little bit real quickly about a boy called Christmas. How did you come up with that idea? How the hell did you get it made it with a with a budget in today's insane world.
Gil Kenan 50:48 So I can't wait for you to see it. It's a it'll be out in the states on Netflix the day before Thanksgiving. So really soon, like next next Wednesday. It's based on a novel by Matt Hague, who this year I think is the number one selling author in the world for his novel midnight library, which is been changing lives all over the world. And he wrote this book with a really simple question. His son asked him one night before Christmas, what was Santa Claus, like when he was my age? And that question, just kicked off a bedtime story that very quickly became a novel and, and the book is so full of life. It feels it felt to me when I read it. Like this was the obvious next step in the storytelling mode of Roald Dahl. You know, like this is the way to approach a young characters adventure where you're not holding back from all the horrible things that kids have to go through Scott monsters, it's got real magic. It's got incredible scope because I went to Lapland to start filming this film. So I went up to the Arctic Circle. Then we went up
Alex Ferrari 52:10 to you filmed up at the Arctic Circle.
Gil Kenan 52:13 Yeah, we filmed in the Arctic Circle. It was the coldest man, I've never been so cold in my life. I got off the plane and I felt my breath freezing in my mouth. It was the craziest feeling. And I survived barely by having Bluetooth controlled electric socks that I was able to like Bluetooth. That's amazing. Yeah, I probably shouldn't be saying that even out loud because I realized it's embarrassing.
Alex Ferrari 52:36 No, no, listen, when I've been called I understand what that means. Whatever it takes to stay warm. I don't care if it's Bluetooth. I don't care if it's a fire log in your socks. Whatever, man.
Gil Kenan 52:46 You do it the gear. Yeah, but we we had a scene one of the first scenes of drama in this film. We had taken all the camera equipment up to a frozen lake at the top of the High Tatras mountains in Slovakia, using snowmobiles. It was the only way we can get the equipment up there. And then filmed on a frozen lake using a mobile camera rig but the grips invented for this film because we shot 70 millimeter and they hammer rig using basically a series of metal poles with a gyro controlled head slung from them, just so that we can have really smooth, precise camera moving camera work on a frozen lake in the mountains while a snowstorm was coming down. And that was the first proper scene that we shot with all the actors. It was an incredible adventure. I'm very proud of the film it film. Like all over Europe, we ended up filming in London and the Czech Republic and Prague where a lot of the sets were built in Slovakia and in Finland, as I mentioned. And it was a labor of love. Like it's that adventure cast. The cast is insane. Maggie Smith, Toby Jones, Sally Hawkins, Kristen Kristen Wiig, Stephen Merchant. Yeah, I'm just like for you to see it. I
Alex Ferrari 54:09 can't wait to see it.
Gil Kenan 54:10 Hopefully as a as somebody who Doug city of ember I think, I think this one's gonna be right up your alley.
Alex Ferrari 54:16 Yeah, it's it's it's remarkable that you were able to get this made man and it's just having the mill and just like that's your unicorn essentially with film like this. I mean, I mean, seriously, like, you know how it works in the business man that they don't they don't make movies like this, let alone 70 mil, let alone wanna fly. Like that's a James Bond movie. Like that's, that's it? Like, you know, and I know you didn't have James Bond money.
Gil Kenan 54:39 You know, now that it's all it's all on the screen, then some I mean, basically, you know, you'll, you'll, you'll, you'll see that we really got we got a lot of story up there and can't wait. It's cool. Yeah, man. I'm excited for you to see it.
Alex Ferrari 54:55 Now. I'm gonna ask you three questions asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Gil Kenan 55:01 To tell stories in whatever way you can, and that doesn't always mean film or a script, it can be a tiny picture book, it can be a Christmas card, it can be a craftily worded letter. But I think that actually storytelling is the exercise that makes you a filmmaker, not directing or camera work or the technical aspects to the job. But the pure act of of storytelling. So I would just say, nothing can stop you keep telling stories?
Alex Ferrari 55:37 What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life
Gil Kenan 55:42 saying no, is it is a really powerful? Yeah, somebody grew up like me, you know, in a, in a, in a part of the city, with no real access or opportunity. The idea that at some point, you need to be able to say no to things because you have only so many films or so many stories, there's so many years or days in your life that you get to do. And it's not a natural one, but I think it's an important one. Because if you say no to something, then what it immediately asks or suggests to you is that you have to have the thing that you say yes to. And I've found now in my recent experience, that when you say no, somehow a light shines on the thing that you should be doing the same time. And so that's, that's something I've learned.
Alex Ferrari 56:39 Great, great piece of advice, three of your favorite films of all time.
Gil Kenan 56:44 So Clockwork Orange, because I remember the and it's not because of all
Alex Ferrari 56:47 the Kubrick memorabilia.
Gil Kenan 56:51 It's because it was a moment of pure pure cinema for me. I remember. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 56:58 How in the God's green earth did he get that made? In the 70s? That movie couldn't get made today? The first 20 minutes just the first 20 minutes of that film. How could that even get made? It's it's so masterwork, it's a miracle.
Gil Kenan 57:14 Alright, I'm gonna get pretentious with the next one. But but it because it says I mean it because it was a movie that actually changed my life. When I was young. I my dad took me to see this film when I was way too young. It was it was the 10 drum. I don't know if you've seen a German film. It's incredible. And so messed up, but totally changed my life. Okay, there you go. And another film that I'm going to bring up because it changed my life because I remember that when it ended. I thought to myself, somebody made that film. This is this there's a there's a person, there's a madman behind this story. And I want to be that person one day. And that film was time. Yes. Yeah. And, and when it when it ended, I just remember feeling like a rush that this was a story that that that was made by people and, and how lucky they were and I would do anything in my powers to to get to be in that chair one day.
Alex Ferrari 58:15 Terry Gilliam, I mean, one of the most under I feel, I think one of the most underappreciated filmmakers of his generation. It's just he's so So I remember seeing time bandits in the theater. And when I was a kid, and it just blew, it blew my head wide open. I was like, How is this even I spent even then I still didn't believe I didn't even think it was like, being a filmmaker was not even a conception in in the mid 80s. Really? It just really was so it just it was it was so another world
Gil Kenan 58:44 It was close. Yeah, it was a closed. It was a closed world. I mean, it wasn't something again, I every time I step on a set, I still get that rush. They're like that. I can't believe I'm doing this again. Yeah, they're letting me do this. But yeah, totally agree. I got to meet Terry Gilliam right before, right before I film, city of ember, we we had dinner together. Oh my god. So cool. He was amazing. He weirdly, you know, grew up in receita. Just like me, so we had a lot of we had a lot of stuff to talk about. But It's cool.
Alex Ferrari 59:17 And last question three screenplays that you think every screenwriter should read?
Gil Kenan 59:22 Well, I recently read the so it's so obvious, but I recently read the screenplay to Chinatown. And I thought I would just be reading it for a couple of pages because I had found it somewhere and I started reading and that was like, holy shit. This is so good. And I just could not getting it. Three screenplays. If you haven't read a Sorkin screenplay on the page, I really recommend it because the way that the words form and like you know the The Social Network screenplay is so so good. So so on the page and and I guess in a in a slightly different way I feel like reading a Diablo Cody script is like a total bit of joy for the brain like I've I've had the good fortune of reading a couple of her screenplays on paper and she just has such an amazing way with words in character. And obviously my my friend Jason Reitman's been lucky enough to bring a few of them to life on the screen. Those are the ones that sort of come to mind right off the bat. I'm sure I'll think of 20 more.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:49 Right. But go man, thank you so much for coming on the show, bro. It has been an absolute honor and pleasure talking to a fellow film geek about geeking out about Ghostbusters and all the other stuff that we discussed. Thank you again for it. And again thank you for Intel Jason, thank you for making Ghostbusters afterlife because it is I can now I can sleep at night now. Because it was it was rough for me since 89. I just just like when is this going to happen? I can sleep now. So thank you my friend.
Gil Kenan 1:01:19 Hearing that you can sleep means that I can finally sleep and I'll call Jason. I appreciate it too. Thank you. And it's been a real blast. Thank you for taking the time to really talk through the the films that that I've been lucky enough to be a part of.
Today on the show we have legendary independent filmmaker and Oscar® nominated screenwriter John Sayles.
John Sayles is one of America’s best known independent filmmakers, receiving critical acclaim for films including Eight Men Out (1988), Lone Star (1996) and Men with Guns (1997). He’s also written screenplays for mainstream films such as Passion Fish (1992), Limbo (1999), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) and did a draft of Jurassic Park (1993) for Steven Spielberg.
“one of the few genuinely independent American filmmakers”,
which John modestly denies!
John has directed over 20 films and written well over 100 screenplays throughout his career. Two of his early films, The Return of the Seacaucus Seven (1978) and Baby Its You (1982), were selected by the United States National Film Registry for preservation in 2012. John was born outside Scranton, Pennsylvania and graduated from Williams College.
John is a talented screenwriter as well as director; he made his first professional short film TSR: Thirty Seconds Over Reims (1971) after winning a talent competition with a script for the film. John’s work often touches on social issues – including unemployment, inner-city violence and war – which John believes make excellent material for stories due to complex personal relationships involved with these topics.
John also discusses his career path, including his decision to become a screenwriter, the difficulties he faced working as a screenwriter in Hollywood and his experience of writing for other directors such as Steven Spielberg.
John and I had an amazing conversation that was full of knowledge bombs. It was truly like being in a filmmaking and screenwriting masterclass, hence the title of the episode.
Sit back, relax and get ready to take some notes. Enjoy my epic conversation with John Sayles.
Alex Ferrari 0:00 This episode is brought to you by Indie Film Hustle TV, The world's first streaming service dedicated to filmmakers, screenwriters, and content creators. Learn more at indiefilmhustle.tv. I like to welcome to the show, John Sayles. How're you doing, John?
John Sayles 0:15 Good.
Alex Ferrari 0:16 Thank you so much for coming on the show my friend, I truly truly appreciate it. I've, like I told you off air it I'm a huge fan of of your work over the years. And, and you when I was coming up in the 90s as a as a film student, you know, Lone Star and Eight men out and all of those films really had a big impact on me. So I'm excited to get into it with you, my friend.
John Sayles 0:39 Great!
Alex Ferrari 0:40 So first of all, first of all, how did you start this insane journey of being a filmmaker?
John Sayles 0:47 You know, I I started really just telling story. So I certainly grew up watching more TV and movies than I did reading books. Although I did rebuilt books. I did some acting in college and directing of of theater in college, the College I went to didn't have a theater major, and certainly didn't have a film major back in 1970, or whatever it was. There were you know, maybe about four film schools at that time. I didn't go to any of them. And and so I started out, basically having this kind of long distance Jones for wouldn't it be great to make a movie. I didn't know anybody who had ever made a movie or bend in one I didn't know anybody who'd written a book or gotten one published. But I did. I was working just kind of straight jobs and started sending off short stories to magazines. Got one published got another one that the company said, Well, could you expand this into a novel? And so I started as a novelist, I wrote two novels and short story collection. And then a friend of mine who had produced and directed the summer theatre I worked in who I'd gone to college with, said, You know, we know so many, you know, good actors. And I had just started getting work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Somebody had read one of my short stories. They worked for Roger Corman. He said, Well, let's get this guy and see if you can do anything. And I wrote Bronto for him, which was a very successful new world picture. Then I wrote two other movies for Roger and he was, at that time, a signatory to the Writers Guild. So I had to get paid minimum which was $10,000,which are screenplay.
Alex Ferrari 2:57 Which I'm sure he hate, which I'm sure he hated.
John Sayles 3:01 Yeah, well, wasn't it. He wasn't a signatory to the Directors Guild. So Joe, Dante who directed Parana got $8,000, which was well below the guild minimum at that time. When I had $30,000, in one place at one time, I figured when is this ever going to happen again? My friend who had run the summer theater, I've worked in just said, Let's make a movie. And so I wrote, We turned waka seven is really the only time I've done this where I said, here's how much money I have. Let me write something I can do well, for that budget. Sure. And I, you know, I had some vague idea about what, you know, camera rental of a 16 millimeter camera and all that, you know, very little idea, really, because they weren't books about filmmaking, or YouTube. There was a internet yet. And so it was kind of on the job training. And I had five weeks to shoot. And we rented this old ski lodge near the theater that we had worked in that we had lived in before, which became housing set. In no office. Nothing I shot was more than a five mile radius from that. The movie was full of people who were right around 30, who were good actors, but not quite in the the, you know, right, the actors guild yet. And it was about people turning 30. So it was very much tailored to as I said, what I could do for very little money. I had a crew of seven, who had made commercials in Boston but never a feature before. They had 16 millimeter film equipment. could rent the rest of it. And on the first day, my first shot I get up, not that complicated tracking shot and timed how long it took to, you know, get done. And I decided no more tracking shots. Like the cat, camera, and a little bit of handheld. And we got it made somehow and then got it made. I edited it. Just through a friend of a friend, we got a recommendation to submit it to a couple film festivals. One, the film felt film X Festival, which used to be in Los Angeles, good festival. And then the new directors Festival in New York. And we got into both of those. And this is 1978. There's about five, maybe six independent distributors who they'd watch anything with sprocket holes, you know, right, like, the head of the company would watch anything with sprocket holes, because there were so little competition. And so we had about three companies bidding for it. We went with a guy who, who owned theatres in Seattle, Randy Finley, he had a company and then he realized he really didn't know anything about east of the Mississippi. So he went partners with another of the bidders on the film, Ben Baron Holtz, who had a company in New York, and then kind of invented the midnight movie, and you know, had a long track record. And together, they got the movie of pretty good distribution. It, we never made that many prints, we probably had 10 prints and all. And we would play an era, you know, a region and then move those prints to another region and move those prints to another region. Didn't do TV advertising, we do a lot of radio advertising. And word of mouth. And in those days off Hollywood theater, if they were doing well with a movie, they just keep it on the screen.
Alex Ferrari 7:04 Yeah, because there was just no competition. There was nothing there was no content, they needed content.
John Sayles 7:09 Yeah. But you would get in a situation like in Chicago. The the Art Theater in those days was the Biograph, which is where John Dillinger was shot. And it was the only show in town for a non Hollywood movie in Chicago. And I remember my year what was called My brilliant career was doing very, very well. So we were in a holding pattern over Chicago until that started to do less business. And then we came in and did seven or eight weeks, which you just don't get to do anymore.
Alex Ferrari 7:44 Yeah, it was a whole other world back then. And then also that film got submitted or got into the film registry that the US film and film registry. Is that correct? Eventually, yeah, yeah. That's what was I mean, seriously, I mean,
John Sayles 7:57 It's a phenomenon, I think, you know, just kind of, you know, because it was kind of the beginning of the American independence movement. Yeah. All theaters showing American independent films starring nobody you ever heard of
Alex Ferrari 8:11 Right! It was it was the it was it was the Sundance movement. Before there was Sundance. It was kind of like what the nine
John Sayles 8:16 Years before Sundance I actually went to something called with a USA that the Park City Film Festival, okay. The became the USA Film Festival. It was basically the Denver Film Festival, I think was the pensez or ran Telluride for years. ran a couple years. And then Redford just decided to do Sundance, which, you know, step things up another notch.
Alex Ferrari 8:42 Yeah, I mean, I came up in the time of the 90s, which was the birth on like, I was telling, Rick Linklater when he was on the show was like, you know, you go, you're kind of like the birth of the 90s independent film movement. He's like, Yeah, there was John before me. There was many other others before me, I go, Yeah, but the Sundance phenomenon, which is the overnight superstar, like the lottery tickets, like, like Rick and like Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, and at burns. And Steven Soderbergh. The list goes on and on Spike Lee, these kind of guys. That was that moment in time. But yeah, I always like to always let people know, especially filmmakers to understand, like, if you were able to just make a movie in the 70s and 80s. If you finished it, it was sold. Like it didn't matter if it was good or bad.
John Sayles 9:31 It didn't necessarily get that much screen time. Right? Well, but somebody would try to put it on the screen and see if it worked. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 9:40 Now, I wanted to go back real quick to your Roger Corman days because is there anyone who did not go through Roger Corman? I mean,
John Sayles 9:48 A lot of people went through it and in their careers never really just, you know, took off, right. But Roger always said I'm suspicious of anybody who works for me more than twice. already good. They've probably moved on. But an awful lot of people did you know before me Francis Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich and Jonathan Demi and Jonathan Kaplan, and a whole slew
Alex Ferrari 10:15 Oh, God,it just the list goes on. The list goes on and on. And now what was it? So out of all the time that you were working with John, I mean, excuse me, we were working with Roger. I mean, you did Purana. Which, you know, is it's a classic. And then did you write also alligator?
John Sayles 10:31 I did alligator, which was not for Roger, but with with Lewis T, who I had done, lady in red. With, and then I did the howling with Joe Dante, but that was not a new world. I did battle be on the star. Yes, that's the one up there, which is, you know, James Cameron ended up being made head of the production line. Yeah, he met smarter who did the, you know, the soundtrack for it? And, you know, so we said, the great thing about working there is that Roger, if he paid you for a screenplay, he, he wasn't gonna waste that he's gonna make that movie. So for somebody to write three screenplays and see them on a screen within a year, that's very rare in Hollywood,
Alex Ferrari 11:17 That's insane. It is insane to actually be able to do that.
John Sayles 11:20 And then for the directors as well. He, he basically said, here's the deal, here's your budget, here's your script, don't go over, you know, make the best movie you can. And you know, some of them were good, and some of them less than good. And as he said, you know, if you're any good, you won't have to work for me again. So Howard was there when I was, you know, working there. And Rhonda to I think he started one and then he directed another for Roger, and then he moved.
Alex Ferrari 11:53 Right, exactly. And I have to ask you, what was the biggest takeaway you had from working with Roger at that time in your career? Like, what was that lesson? That you're like, Okay, I'm gonna take this with me. And I, you and I used it and you use it throughout your career.
John Sayles 12:07 Certainly, it was getting to go to the set, I got to go to the set of Pirana down in Texas for a couple days, and it was to see what couldn't be done with just hard work and creativity. And what do you need to draw money? And there's definitely, you know, a party in between those two. And so, you know, Joe, Dante had $800,000 to make this Jaws spin off. And he did what he could, you know, and some things cost money and and some he just fudged it and found a way around the expense and still did a good job.
Alex Ferrari 12:55 Right. I think if I remember Pirana, it was there was there was some of the Pirana shown, but I think he used a lot of the Spielberg book of saying, like, let's just see the aftermath. As opposed to always seeing the Pirana hit.
John Sayles 13:07 No Joe had started in the editing room, man, I'm cutting trailers and then cutting features for Roger. There's a lot of fast cutting. Yes, it's about this many frames, if you remember. Then and then they don't look good anymore. You know, but but with really good sound effects and good music by delta, non Joe. You know, Joe made it work?
Alex Ferrari 13:33 Yeah, no question. Now, you've also edited many things. And not all of you have edited all.
John Sayles 13:39 I work with editors of all three of my team films.
Alex Ferrari 13:43 Right, exactly. So and you edited a lot of them yourselves. Do you find that filmmakers or directors specifically, what is what what is the value you think being an editor brings to being a director because I've also been a cutter I started off as a cutter, and I man, it makes my life a lot easier on set, because I'm like, I'm already editing it while I'm shooting. Do you find that as well?
John Sayles 14:04 Yeah. I mean, absolutely. Certainly, if you're working on a tight budget, and you're doing a little bit of coverage, you know, I've got what I need. You know, so I often enacted were saying, wait a minute, we only get three takes and I blew a line, every take and I say yes, but you blew a different line, your take, and Your acting was good. And you didn't break character. And you know, I've got this cover, and we're moving on. I think the other thing is, you know, you don't need to edit your own movies, but I think it's a good experience to have had you learn, oh, it would have been nice to have a close up of this kind of way. Have a look left once, just in case, you know. So you you learn more about coverage when you're editing, especially when you're editing something You know, I'm always cursing direct the director when I'm in the editing room and saying, what did he get? He didn't get cut away the dog or whatever. Yeah, well learn that stuff, you know. And then the next time out, you cover things a little bit better, and not necessarily hosing things down. It's, you know, something very specific. Well, we'll maybe get me out of a problem in the editing room later. And I'm going to get that specific thing. Right now.
Alex Ferrari 15:29 I think you can never have too many cutaways. Never have too many cutaways.
John Sayles 15:33 I've also done movies where I, you know, I have done lots of master shots, sure, like 789 minute long master shots, and the things what Master shots, if you're really going to get the crew into it, you have to commit to them. You know, they hate it, when they see you stop and do some little bit of coverage. Because why are they busting their balls?
Alex Ferrari 15:55 Fighting the movement?
John Sayles 15:56 Yeah, well, that stuff. And so you know, when I do those, I really commit to Sure, and you'll build them up and rehearse them and everything. And then, and then the great thing about that, in your editing period is you come to that scene and you cut the slice off, and you just cut eight minutes and go to the beach.
Alex Ferrari 16:15 You know it? That's it? That is if you're when you're able to pull off one of those long takes, you're just like, oh, great, that was a great, it was an easy cut, it was eight minutes of the movie I don't have to worry about now.
John Sayles 16:25 It's wonderful. We that's the morning, eight minutes is a great board.
Alex Ferrari 16:29 Oh, absolutely. No, no question. Now, um, is it? Is it true, I read somewhere that you did a lot of acting and writing assignments to kind of support the directing aspect of it or to have freedom to do your own things? Is that kind of true?
John Sayles 16:46 Well, no, I that's how I make a living. You know, on my movies, I've a little better than broken even over the years, you know, because I have invested in my own movies, okay. And very often, the Directors Guild and Writers Guild very nicely have said, well, if you're investing your own money, you don't have to pay yourself upfront. If the movie makes money, then you pay yourself out back in some ways I do. And sometimes I you know, don't get to that point. I don't get paid, you know, I only I act for scale. So, you know, my acting is not going to finance anything. But I make a living as a screenwriter for hire. And that's, that's usually the money that I have, if I have to invest in my own project, to be one of investors in my own project, just stuff that I've built over the years, you know, as a screenwriter for hire. Now, you know, I've written over 100 screenplays between my own movies and other movies, probably 4550 of them have been made. So I do get residuals. And that's a nice income when you you have a fallow period and you don't get new work. You know you you've got some money coming in from those residuals. The howling does very well around Halloween.
Alex Ferrari 18:05 Yes, it does. But you're but you also do a lot of Script doctoring as well.
John Sayles 18:10 Well, not really doctoring. I do a lot of rewrites. Yeah, I've occasionally done doctoring. I think twice in my life, I've done something where they said, Can you just punch up this character? Right? You know, or you can you run this through one time, and that's gonna be it. Generally, though, I'm given a script. They say this isn't working, maybe they have an idea of what direction to go to. And then they just say, well take it from there. So something like the howling, you know, I had it, they gave me a script, and they said, you know, keep the werewolves keep the title. Go, and that was fine. You know, and I didn't have much time to do it. And, you know, that was good also, because then you don't get rewritten a million times by committees. You know, it's always nice to, to jump on the bus when it's about to go over the cliff because they're always can do anything to put the brakes on. You know, they're happy about it. That's, I think, you know, if you're not willing to bet on yourself, I know Mel Gibson has done it a couple times. John Cassavetes used to work on his house, you know, to get movies made. And you know, so I, I don't love the fact that I ended up investing in my old movies, but I, I do it when I have.
Alex Ferrari 19:33 But the game but the game has changed so much over the years in regards to investing in your movies and making money with your movies. I mean, back like you said, 70s 80s, even 90s and early 2000s, there was something called DVD. There was something called foreign pre sales. There was a bunch of that kind of stuff, where in today's world, it's so much harder for you to generate revenue from a film just because of the gluttony of content out there. I mean, you came up at a time when there was inability to do that. I think it's much, much, much harder now, from my experience in talking to filmmakers making.
John Sayles 20:09 You know, there's not as much of an audience going to non Hollywood films, right. You know, even before COVID You know, that was kind of hard traceable cash. I remember when Steven Soderbergh was the president of the Directors Guild, he had a study done. And it was something like 2% or less of directors income was coming from their movies being shown on computers. And higher and higher percentage of the people watching their movies, were watching them on the computer. Sure. And so, you know, he was just basically saying, you know, the internet had not really been monetized for filmmakers. And now that more and more movies are made for things like Amazon and network, Netflix, where they go into that thing. And who knows, you know, it's not money is not passing hands individually on that movie. How do you know, you know, you know, you get paid whatever they paid you to do it? Or are to hand it over? And then you just don't know.
Alex Ferrari 21:21 Yeah, exactly. There was that leak a few weeks ago about that they they paid for squid games, I think $21 million dollars, but it's been seen by 180 million people. So if you try to monetize, I mean, can you imagine I mean, that's a huge, but we don't get those numbers. So you're right. And I'd argue that the internet still hasn't been really, it's not really built to monetize for filmmakers. Now, either. It's getting better, but it's not where it's still, it's not the old days,
John Sayles 21:49 Something existed like this. In I'm in ASCAP and because I occasionally write lyrics for songs in our movies. And in the early days of ASCAP, they just sampled a certain number of stations, this before computers, and so if you just played on on eclectic stations, you might get nothing. Even though your your your thing was, you know, playing here and there, you got nothing. And Michael Jackson got everything, you know, what if that was playing everywhere? Now, almost every outlet that plays music is on computer and their playlist is trackable. So people are actually doing a little bit better if they're if they're getting any play time at all. But it's it's still, you know, the Michael Jackson equivalent is getting most of the money. But you're getting something is just that there's so much out there that it's it's diluted so many times that that ideal thing where you take something a person goes and sees it, they pay money, and that money goes directly to you. There's not that direct chain and was never that direct. There were like, five little things in between you and those dollars. Sure. Um, but oh, it's it's like it's all on the cloud. And who knows how that money's gonna flow back to you the filmmaker?
Alex Ferrari 23:22 Yeah. Now when you I mean, you've written like you said, over 100 scripts, at this point in your career? How do you start the process? Do you start if you're doing an original script? Do you start with character? Do you start with plot? How do you how do you start the process,
John Sayles 23:37 Umm, I usually start with a combination of characters and plot, you know, so for me, it's, it's a character or characters in a really interesting difficult situation. And it may be a life or death situation, it may be a moral situation, it may be a life change situation, but that situation in those characters interests me. And then I start, you know, very, actually, two or three times in the last couple years, I've done this, where I'll be being flown out to to Los Angeles, or find myself out these days to have a meeting or something. And in that six hours, um, I have an idea for a movie. And what I'll do is I'll just write all the scene headings, and then like a one line of what happens in that scene. And by the time I get there, I have maybe 20 pages of seeing headings, which is like an outline for a movie. And it's got, you know, this, that it goes to this and then it goes to this and then it goes to this and these are the places and this is kind of what happens with it. And I'll look that over and generally I'll just start filling it in. Now as I fill it in, I'm adding characters on you know, going into depth with those characters. Sometimes Sometimes I have to stop and do research on It may be something big, it may just be okay. What kind of weapons would they use? Right? You know, I'm sure the, you know Homeland Security high on their list. Oh, yeah, right. Right there. You know, he's pulling up the White House again.
Alex Ferrari 25:15 Google how to blow up White House. Not a good.
John Sayles 25:21 But But yeah, it kind of the plot and character come together, I write very fast. So I write a draft of a screenplay in about three weeks. Wow. And then generally, if I'm lucky and working on something else, and I go work on that, and then they come back to it. Or even if I'm not, I'll just do something else for a week or two. And, and the way my head works, when I come back, it's like, who wrote this and recognize it. And so then you can really be much more critical when you're looking at it and trying to make it better. Everyone wants I was like, geez, that's pretty good. It's like, Ooh, wow, that's brutal. Working on there.
Alex Ferrari 26:04 No, I had the exact same experience. Sometimes when I was when I'm writing my book, sometimes I'll, I'll look at it. I'll like who wrote this, like, I'll just go the next thing like who wrote this? isn't that bad? You just don't even read, you don't even recognize it. I always I always like to ask screenwriters and high performer high performance individuals? Where do you believe, you know, when you're writing? Do you? Do you like, tap into that? Are you going to flow? Like the flow state? Are you tapping into something? When you're writing when you when you're sitting down? Right, like the Muse that, you know, the old idea of the Muse showing up? What is that thing? And do you know how to get to it pretty easily for yourself? Or does it is it hard?
John Sayles 26:47 You know, I, I still write novels. I've got a novel coming out late next year, that's like, 100 page novel, wow. And you know, you do you do movies for a while, and you don't do anything for a while. And then you decide, okay, I'm going to, I'm going to try to do that thing as a novel. And, and there's like, for me about 10 minutes of just don't remember how to do this, and then I get interested in the story. And then oh, this could happen, and oh, this could happen. And oh, this connects with something else. And then you're into it. And so there really is like a zone, and I'm locked in, then I've never really had that, you know, writer's block thing, which is, and part of it is that I'm willing to just kind of, you know, keep moving and say better writing here, I'll work on that out later. I don't know how to do this scene yet. So I'm gonna go to the next scene and write that, and then maybe I'll know when I come back. So you just keep going forward, but I get into the zone pretty easily. And, and, you know, I like writing. So it's fun, you know, to see where the story is gonna go and know that, you know, I could connect this with this and all that, there's a lot of problem solving to it. So there's, there's, you know, there's kind of almost like a crossword puzzle kind of thing. It's not, it's already there, you're creating it. But to make those connections and to build one thing on another, and then you always get to rewrite. Right, though, so I don't know too much about anything being perfect while I'm doing it, because I know, I'm gonna go over it. And, you know, half of the writing that I've done for hire has been rewriting other people's stuff. And I'm always happy to keep the good stuff. You heard the structure, if that's what they want me to keep? You know, I'm not shy about, you know, that's a great line. I'm keeping it I don't care if I wrote it.
Alex Ferrari 28:48 Right now it Do you you've also directed some amazing, some amazing actors over the years, and I've noticed that you kept a lot of the same actors, you kept working with the same actors again, and again. Do you have any advice for filmmakers directing actors? How do you pull a performance when an actor is not going exactly where you want to go?
John Sayles 29:11 Well, you know, some of it, some of it's just trust. And that's one of the reasons to work with people that you've worked with before, right? You know, you know, I have, I tend to have big tasks. And you know, you've got 20 People in the cast, and eight of them are known to you, you've worked with them before. That's like, oh, I don't have to juggle 20 balls, I can put eight of them on the floor. And I only have 12 right now to figure out how you're there to help the actor and the actor is there to help you, you know, it should be mutual. And so the first thing you want to do is really talked to that actor beforehand about who's this character, and I mean, before you get to this app, so I write a bio for every character, even if The person has three lines, I write a bio for them, the bio may be longer than their, their screen appearances. You know, four pages is the most I've ever gone with anything. And it might be like, a short story or something like that. And that's the stuff that's not necessarily in the script, you know, how long have you been married? No, where's your life going right now, all those kinds of things that would be helpful that an actor would have to make up themselves, I want to make those things up and steer them in the direction, then you talk to the actor, you know, usually on the phone, in my case, because I can't afford to bring people in for rehearsals before I start the shoot. Um, so you know, you're on the same page. And then on the day, really, what you want to do is just set the scene for the scene that they're going to be in, and then watch what the actor is going to do. That's where you start. Now, that may not be where you finish, but what you want to do when you know, you're hiring actors, because they're good. I think they're right for the plot. Every once in a while I've had an actor who really interpreted without changing the line, something very differently than what I've imagined. And I've liked it better than what I imagined. That's why you want at least that first tape to see where they're going to go with, you know, and then you start to say, and, you know, you know, you do these things incrementally, is okay, let's bring it more in this direction. Because, you know, all you're really, you know, giving actors is direction, you're not teaching them how to act, you're directing them. So let's move in this direction, let's move in the direction where you are really, really pissed off, and you're working really hard not to show. Okay, and then you go to the other actor who's in the scene and saying, you know, what you really love to do you like to make this person break. They're cool. Yeah, you just so you know, just give them a little needle on this. And then you can have a different dynamic, you know, so, you know, it's, I always say it's like, especially in two people seeing it's like being the corner man, for both fighters, the other woman and say, you know, hit with a jab and said, Well, he throws that jab at him really good, you know, so you can change that dynamic each time and get something interesting. You have to handicap actors very quickly. Some actors are wonderful on their first take, right? Their instincts are great, their energy is all there. And then they start to complicate or lose energy. Those are actors, you want to have technical things all really, really ready to go. And probably the cameras pointing at them first. So they're not stale, from having the camera behind them, you know, for six or seven tapes, you know, and then you have other actors who actually, you know, maybe they surround their lines, you know, they get closer every time well, maybe that's the person who you're over their shoulder for four takes before you turn the camera on them. And they, they've had time to walk around in the scanner, the character a little bit, you handicap those things, the same thing with information. Some actors want a lot of information. I've had actors just say, give me a line reading, I don't care, I'll make up my own. And then other actors, it's if you complete a sentence there, I've stopped that, you know, and so what you really want to do is, is think of like three words, that's going to get them in the direction that you want to get them. And they'll they'll take it from there. Because anything else kind of gets in the way of their process. So you figure those things, you know, you can ask an actor before you start, how do you like to work? And they will tell you, that's not always actually how they like to work.
Alex Ferrari 33:48 That's how they think you want them to work?
John Sayles 33:50 Yeah. Well, like to think about themselves is working, but when you find out what's really going to be helpful for them. Um, you know, an actor's having a hard time with lines. A lot of what you have to do is depressurize that, you know, if it's an older actor, you say, you know, do you like to work with cue cards? No big deal. We'll just write them up. You know, usually they'll say no, and sometimes they'll say, Yes, you know, you wish they had said yes earlier, if they're at that point in their career, but what you have to do is defuse that, because when when people get tense, they get even worse at their lives. And so, you know, you just say we'll do this one line at a time if we have to, just you know, you know, keep your focus and stay in character. And don't, don't always say cut just you know, now, especially that we're not shooting on film, and we don't roll out after 10 minutes. Um, you can just keep rolling and keep the thing very, very kind of loose and, you know, easy and so much of my direction then is not you blue aligned. As the actor knows, they blew the line. It's, yeah, yeah, you'll get the line, really, you know, this time concentrate on this feeling, or this undertone, or this physical movement or whatever. And, and so that the criticism and the direction is not underlining the fact that they're blowing their lines, it's about the acting, it's about the character, to keep them in character. It's, you know, it's, it's a lot of work. But as you, you know, you really want to, you're there to help the actors. And if you've got people you've worked with before, and they're good at it, sometimes they can really help you with that other actor. I've taken actors aside and said, Okay, I need a little bit more out of this guy, exaggerate your performance, I promise you, we are behind you, you know, you can overact to beat the band on this one, and it camera's not going to see it. Or I'm not gonna cut out any bad stuff anyway, so you can just kind of, you know, to the scenery in this one and see what you can get out of this person. I work with a young kid in, in Mexico once, and I was working with Federico loopiness, a wonderful, large intending actor. And I said, Well, I'm going to do this thing on Danny. Because he's getting, you know, like, like, a lot of kids, he thinks, Okay, my job is to learn my lines in order. And so I'm waiting for my cue for the next line. And, and I want them to learn the line. So he's a character and when he's asked a question, he answered that question. And so I just said to Danny, you know, you know, Federico is kind of old, and he probably won't blow his lines, but he may say them out of order. So you're gonna really have to be on your toes. And really, no, you know, what your listen to what he's saying, you know, because he may owe you a curve, and you're gonna have to, but answer what he you know, don't do your things in order. And then every once a while, I had Federico mess one up, you know, and the kid was so on his toes that he was really active. Instead of saying he wasn't dead, turn his turn my turn his monitor,
Alex Ferrari 37:21 It, don't you find that sometimes with actors, you have to just kind of get them out of their own head, sometimes, especially, I mean, experienced actors are different. But when you have young actors like that, they're getting in their head so much, that you just have to take them out. And that's a brilliant technique you just laid out, that's a brilliant technique to get into the out of his own head.
John Sayles 37:39 Yeah, I don't like to call them non actors, I like to call them new actors, right? So very often with them, it's what I'll do with my body, you know, because all of a sudden, they're thinking about it, you know, and I'll give them something to do. And I'll actually be specific about so I'll say, Okay, you're me, you know, he's gonna come and question about a year and be hanging up laundry. Um, but the really important thing is, put all the blue stuff up first, and then put the red stuff up, and then put the yellow stuff up. And then I'll have the props people mix them all up. So while while they're like doing the laundry, they can't just be, you know, mind dad grabbing something and putting it up, they've got to look for the blue, they've got to really do something. Um, they probably will not blow their lines, but they're going to have that little lack of, you know, like a person whose attention is divided. Like, I'm doing my laundry here. This guy just showed up and he's asking me a question. I got I got a job here, buddy. takes them out of them worrying about what do I do with my hands? And you know, you know, how much how much time do I I take before I answer him and anything like that, and what, how much eye contact and everything like that they got a job to do. And that really I find helps. Occasionally I'll just, I'll just say look, you know, we're shooting you from here. I want you to be on I want you to be even more uncomfortable. Lift up your like left leg and balance on your right. Okay, let's shoot. A No. And all of a sudden the person is trying, but you know, make sure you don't look shaky hills, a person is really concentrating on something. And it gives them a sub, you know, a subtext of these they're worried about something here, what they're worried about falling over. But to the camera is just like what's going on with this person? You know, they're there answering the questions, but something else is on them.
Alex Ferrari 39:52 That's brilliant, that those those all those all those techniques are going to help everyone was taking notes on that one. Because those are things that you only learn from Doing only learn from going again and again and again and again and being on set so many times,
John Sayles 40:05 And having been an actor, you know, and that to knowing what helps you as an actor, you know, especially day players because that mostly the acting I've done in movies in other people's movies has been as a stapler, the you know, the important thing to know, when you're a day player is you walk on the set, and the crew looks at you as a liability is this guy going to kill us today we're gonna be here all day, you know, we're gonna get behind, you know, and that once you're done, you are furniture, when you when you're, you're wrapped, get out of the way, because they've got stuff to do, you know, and so you're there for a very, very specific thing. And, you know, as a day player, when the main things you have to do is just remember this movies about me. That's my character's idea. I'm going to go on, you know, the camera may stay there with that idiot, but I'm, I'm the star of this movie, and I have to play it that way. But in the real world, I'm firming.
Alex Ferrari 41:15 No, you're right.
John Sayles 41:17 I'm that the stars gonna get to get into character and all that kind of shit. I've got to be really be ready with this thing. And, you know, just open yourself up to the script supervisor should help you and the director who can help you and just say anything else you need, you know, and be as generous to the other actor who's in the scene with you as as you can be done. That day player thing is I really value people who can come in and just nail a scene. And, and and goodbye.
Alex Ferrari 41:51 Did you ever have one of those times that you acted in someone else's project? Did the director pull you aside and go, John, how do you? What do you think about this scene? How do you think I should shoot this?
John Sayles 42:04 Well, no, during it, I was in a movie with that bear trend. tavini, I directed in Louisiana, and John Goodman and Tommy Lee Jones were in it. And nobody pulled me aside while I was acting, but they started fighting over the cut, the director and the producer and the actor kind of went in different directions. So all of a sudden, you're asking me to look at the thing. And so guys, I would do a date player. I can't tell you. And finally I just I said okay, I'll watch both of the cuts. And I'll tell you exactly what i All of you exactly what I thought of them. And I thought, you know, these are both valid ways to cut this movie. And, you know, Breck Thrones is more poetic. And the one that Tommy Lee and the producer made, you know, it makes more sense, probably literal sense for an American audience. And they did what is rare, which is the smart thing, which is they finally decided in Europe, it was bare trans cop in the United States, that was the producer. And now and so they could all, you know, say nice things about the movie when they did their their press tour. Yeah. But, you know, really, you really, when you're acting in somebody else's movie, you're really trying to help them make their day and make the scene come alive. Right? You know. And, you know, a couple times I've been on, like, I wrote a TV show years and years and years ago, and called Shannon's deal. And I came to do a part on in an episode. And it was like, you know, the fifth episode or something like that. And every single actor who had a recurring part came to me, because they knew that I was the head writer on this thing is that, you know, in Episode Seven, they got me into chicken soup. You know, my character wouldn't wear a chicken suit. Guy, you know, I'm the writer. I'm not the producer. But, you know, you have to figure that they figured, I'm talking to God here, right apart, and to a certain extent, is good for actors to butter up the writer in a TV series. Absolutely. You know, good writers, when they when they when they see an actor start to take off or do something interesting. You know, especially for a series that you're trying to stretch into another season. It's like, Oh, I could hang something on that. You know, we could go somewhere with that guy.
Alex Ferrari 44:36 Now, as a director, I mean, I think every director, whoever who's ever directed a movie, there's always that day in production where everything is falling down around them. The world is coming. Though the world is coming to an end. Either you are at that moment going. I'm a fraud. This is horrible. I'm not going to make my day the sun is going down. What was that moment for you in any of your films? And how did you overcome it?
John Sayles 45:05 Yeah, I mean, we, you know, there was a scene in my second movie Leanna where I just said, We're never going to leave this room. Terminating angel is is like that boom, well movie, and because just light would break and somebody's stomach would blowing right in the middle of a scene. And it just, it just wasn't happening. And I did that. And then same thing happened when we were making Lonestar there was a walking talk between Chris Cooper and Liz Pena, alongside the real Bravo. And it just wasn't good. And both times I said, you know, I think I have to rethink this scene, when you shoot this again, and let's move on. And so you just get out of there, and then you have time to rethink it. And sometimes it's, I'm not going to change anything, but I'm going to appear to change things. So you move, you move the camera back, and you put a longer lens on, and you got the same image. But it seems like you've done something different, you know, you know, I up the angle, you know, let's, let's change this thing. And so it's not on the actors, if they're part of the problem. And it doesn't, it doesn't seem stale. So I read blocked the walk and talk slightly. I move some lines around. Then I made like one good kind of a line and a transposition or something. And I remember I, I got there. This is, you know, down on the border, near Eagle Pass, and I got there. I skipped lunch that day. And I went and I, I laid down on a hot rock and thought about how am I going to restage this thing, so the actors feel like they're doing something totally knew from what we did yesterday. And I started hearing the crew arrived and everything I looked up in the sky, and there were five buzzards circling rock, you know. And then, and then I explained it to them, as you know, you know, I think I figured this out. And I've changed some lines here and a slight change in the blocking. And it was new enough that the actors came at it with a totally different energy. And we did two texts, and we were gone. So so a lot of it is just kind of just change the change the dynamic a little bit. Sometimes it just means everybody's tired, and you should go home. Important to know that you're just gonna do two hours of bad work, why not go home and get two hours of decent sleep, and then you'll catch up at some point. Sometimes it's that, you know, something has gone stale. A hard thing for movie actors that you don't have in theater, because I've acted in theater, too, is that when you, you've got to make everything seem new. And it's not an order. And often when you're in trouble in a scene, just because you're playing the end of the scene, because you know what happens at the beginning of the scene. Right? And that's hard to forget that on take 12th Especially if it's kind of a long scene, well, whereas if you if you change the dynamic or come back another day, you have more energy for it, you know, and if it's different, it's different. It's not the same scene doesn't have to be that much different. It's not the same scene, and all of a sudden, you find another way to do it, and it comes along a little bit.
Alex Ferrari 48:56 Did you ever use that old editors trick where you if you have a producer that you have to appease? Or studio that you have to appease that you throw in a red herring in the cut to have them have something that's so obviously not supposed to be there where they can go, oh, I can I have oh, I yeah, you need to change that and seeing six and you're like, Oh, thank you for seeing that. But you knew that that was gonna come out anyway.
John Sayles 49:23 Yeah, you know, I really only had had that battle once when I was making baby two with Paramount and they just decided they wanted a high school comedy halfway through the shooting. And it wasn't written to be a high school comedy. It was never going to be Porky's or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But I really just said, I'm just going to make the movie. I'm going to cut the movie that I think is the best movie and then we're gonna fight over and I got out of the editing room. Ah, they get their cut. They test marketed it their test market at one point worse than my, my cut. So they very grudgingly gave me back the movie to cut. And, you know, there were a couple things they done, you know, just kind of physical cuts that I liked. And I kept, that was a throw everything else went back to what I had before. But I didn't want to, I didn't want to test them with that kind of stuff, there wasn't a censorship problem, which I think you can get with with sex and violence, you can get censorship problem. And then sometimes it doesn't make sense to just like, let's just hit him with everything. And so in such shock and awe, that if we, if we cut things out, leave the four that we really want, you know, they'll be happy and think that they've won the battle. And you know, people would do that with the MPAA as well as they leave a couple things in that they could concede. Okay, you forced me to give up my favorite shot. You know, when it's a fair shot at all? I haven't really had to do that kind of gamesmanship. What I do, I do do is when I do screenings, I don't do the the fill out a form. Did you like this? Did you not like this thing? That's so subjective. My questions are all Did you understand this? Because that's when you lose an audience's right, don't understand what things are confusing. Right? You know, and that's usually the feedback I get from an audience that that means the most and makes me you know, change cuts. And then also just kind of sitting with my back to the screen and watching an audience watch it and feel them reacting to the picture. No. And does this seem like they're treading water a little bit? Should? Should we get to something quicker? Yeah. You know, it's good to have, you know, people who did not work on the movie, see it, but people who you think are gonna like it, or could like it. The problem with those invited screenings that they did is, you know, they did a test of baby, it's you. And there was a rumor going on, you know, in Paramus, or wherever it was that it was a Burt Reynolds picture. Well, some of our bad numbers were probably because people were pissed because Burt Reynolds never showed up. The son of
Alex Ferrari 52:22 What's Burt Reynolds gonna show up in this movie. Now, in your film, Lone Star, I honestly when I saw Lone Star I was I probably was in film school, and, or right before it, and I, for the first time really saw the transitions you did to transfer time. I remember like, it was all in the same shot. So you'd start off in the bar, and you would pan over and then it was in the past. And it was done so masterfully. Where did you get the inspiration for those shots? Because I've, I mean, I've seen Coppola do it and not with time as much I thought, like Dracula and and Tucker and things like that. But yours was the first time I really kind of noticed that mastery in that in that scene transition. Did you get inspired from somebody? Or did you come up with that?
John Sayles 53:08 No, I'd seen you know, tricky master shots before and stuff like that. Um, I think there might have been a couple of Italian movies, you might do that once in a film or what?
Alex Ferrari 53:20 Sure.
John Sayles 53:22 But I actually, like those kinds of transitions. I remember. I wrote the screenplay for cleaner, the cave bear. Yeah, there, Hannah might, you know, and originally it was going to be a TV movie. And in the TV movie, you had like seven commercial breaks. And so when there was going to be, you know, a time montage, you could get rid of the time montage, and just your cut to a commercial break. And, you know, so you know, we see some little blonde girl, get saved from a saber toothed tiger that, you know, scratches her thigh, you know, and leaves climax on her on her thigh. You cut from that to the commercials. And then, you know, seven minutes later, you cut to Darryl Hannah's thigh, and it's got this scar on it, and you pan up to her faces Carolina, and that many years have passed, you know? So I often thought about transitions and how different they are in a feature. They're different than in a TV movie. And, you know, and what a transition does as far as time is concerned. And so I was interested in how do I do a transition, where I underline the fact that we're living with the past. It's not this is now that was then it's, this is now and then is right on our shoulders, then is is, you know, loading the dice with everything we do now. And that's the kind of town that we're in. And so I thought up the shots where we would go from, you know, you know, present day, back 27 years or whatever it was 17 years, I forget how many years it was, and without a cut, and then you sit with your, your production designer, and your lighting guy and your grip department and you figure this shit out. And it's really fun for them to do. Oh, yeah, no, it's like, when you do this, you know, oh, well, you know, when we come back, the place has to be redesigned. So we have to have stuff that we can just stick on the walls and stick on the columns really quickly. And, you know, Cliff, James is a big guy, and he's in his 70s, he's not going to be able to get out of that chair quickly enough. So we're going to have to have two grips, lift him in the chair up and run ahead of the camera and get them
Alex Ferrari 55:55 Those are the best. I love this shots
John Sayles 55:57 You know, the other ones where we're going to start on two cops walking down the street being harried by these two civilian ladies. And then as they go behind the car that they're going to get into our camera operator is going to step onto a platform on the side of the cop car that's has to be slid in after the driver gets in. So that we need to give them two lines there for that to happen. When the guy slides in, he shuts the door, we hold on the guy on the other side, still standing up. But by the time we come down and look through the window, there's this platform, our DP has, you know, operator has stepped up on it, and they can drive away with them. And now we've got a moving to shot without a cut. And then they can get out and we can follow them into a building. You know, well, those for a grip department, it's so much fun, there's guys sliding under cars with Makita drills in you know, and pulling the trigger in between lines and stuff like that. And, you know, putting magnets on with with light units on the front of the car, because you saw the car first naked, and it's got to have all this rigging on it, you know, and you know, that's maybe half a morning of rehearsal, just for all that mechanic stuff. And then you start working the actors in and we we'd make three takes, and then you know, it's lunchtime, and you're done. There. There's so much fun and satisfying for our crew and for the actors and stuff. And there's a there's a nice kind of energy and spirit for the actors that comes with them. Um, there's the challenge, you know, you're doing a nine minute scene, and you come in at 830. And you have three lines. You don't want to blow off.
Alex Ferrari 58:01 Oh my god, yeah,
John Sayles 58:02 That guy who had the last line who was lying because you've been waiting for so long, you know, you know, and we just do another one. And you'll be better this time.
Alex Ferrari 58:16 And it's lovely. You go You You better be better this time. Now, um, I have to ask you, you know, you also got to direct a young up and coming musician back in the 80s. By the name of Bruce Springsteen. How did you get hooked up with Bruce and like, direct some of the most iconic music videos of the day of that of that era,
John Sayles 58:40 Kind of evolved. When we did baby, it's you, which was, you know, set in in Trenton, New Jersey, and, you know, during the 60s, and even though is the music that we used wasn't from that era. There were four songs that I really felt like iconically belonged in that movie, just as in they're not coming from jukeboxes or anything. So they're not, we're not pretending they were written then they're kind of the the more authorial music in the movie. And we just contacted his management and said, Look, we'd love to use these songs. We're going to cut the movie together, put the songs in, you get to see it, if you hate it, we have backups. If you like it, we'll make a deal. You know. And then as it turned out, they liked the movie. They liked the way the music was, was was used, and were very generous with their half of the music rights label performances. They own the publishing and they were very generous with the publishing which was, you know, great because, you know, we could buy some other songs. So we had that contact. Then Maggie frenzy who are married to and has produced a bunch of mine. Movies, her sister did a PBS movie, a dance movie? She's a choreographer that your Springsteen music and the thing with PBS is you can use anybody's music. And it's free. Because it's public, you know, television. So if you saw the the Vietnam series that burns dead, every hit of the of the six,
Alex Ferrari 1:00:21 You're absolutely right. I never thought about that.
John Sayles 1:00:25 Oh, wait, you know, 28 seconds of Rolling Stones in the background, because you don't have to pay for
Alex Ferrari 1:00:30 Oh my god, I never even thought about that.
John Sayles 1:00:33 You know, you could finance a country for you know what, what he has to pay for some of his soundtracks. But for Peasy PBS, it's just like, you want it, you got it. And so, Marta was able to get that movie to Bruce. And through that, we kind of met Bruce and the people who, you know, kind of ran his business forum. And I think it was right after the Dancing in the Dark video. He wanted to do Born in the USA kind of gritty, and they call us up and say, Hey, I do Grady. Any had, you know, so did the three videos for Bruce. And they were, you know, basically his ideas. And I certainly had, they weren't big budgets, but it was certainly more money than I'd ever had to make two and a half minutes of film, short class, I got to cut Springsteen, music, you know, in the at the end of the day, so they were really fun to do. A little difficult in the case of glory days, in that he had just gotten married, and was more famous than anybody on the planet for, you know, about three months. And so I remember, we were driving out to where we're going to do the intro on a baseball field. And there's like, you know, a rock and roll station helicopter following us reporting. We're just in case we need more people hanging out and in screwing up our shot. But there were fun. And, and, you know, the E Street Band was fun. For the first one, we got to film for concerts. So we get to see for Bruce Springsteen, live concerts are close every night, you know, so that there was some continuity in it. But that was kind of when you know, rock videos, I think there is an important role that they did for you know, upcoming directors. So many upcoming directors cut their teeth on those with a real budget with cranes and fog and all this shit that can't afford
Alex Ferrari 1:02:45 Techno cranes and stuff like that. Yeah,
John Sayles 1:02:47 Yeah. You know, creative things with them. So that was a that was a nice era, I think for upcoming filmmakers,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:56 Especially the 90s when like the finishers and Michael Bay and Quan Spike Jones. And, I mean, you look at some of those old Fincher like Aerosmith. Like Janie's Got a Gun. It's a masterwork. I mean, he had all the money in the world, it was insane.
John Sayles 1:03:10 Yeah, and in many of them are kind of like very small movies, right? Kind of diable cut out, you know, and they had to look good, you know, and they were it was very competitive, those kinds of things. And the record companies still kind of existed and still have money to spend on those things
Alex Ferrari 1:03:29 God so much money in the 90s.
John Sayles 1:03:31 And then it disappeared fairly quickly.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:33 Yeah, I remember working in Miami when I was coming up as an editor and working like two $300,000 budget music videos on like B and C level. X, not like a levels would be getting half million million million and a half. It was in since say it was a different time.
John Sayles 1:03:51 Feature films in my world? Absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:53 Absolutely.
John Sayles 1:03:54 Really. I'll make a feature.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:56 Absolutely. No question. Now, is there any advice you wish you would have heard at the beginning of your career?
John Sayles 1:04:03 Yeah, I think I could have used about a week of film school. Just for some technical things that would have been helpful. On my first movie, I wish I trusted my instincts a little bit more. My crew having having, you know, late 70s shooting commercials, everything was kind of rock steady and very clean. And the shaking cam thing on MTV hadn't started yet. And I wanted a more sound documentary look to it and handheld. And I would have been happy to have almost the whole movie handheld. And they just Oh no, it's gonna look terrible. People are gonna get sick. It's gonna be shaky. Right? When just to have some movement in the movie. There are two sequences in Secaucus seven, one where these guys are playing basketball and they work a thing out, and another where the whole bunch of more playing volleyball, and then a third one where they're playing charades. And I got the operator to handhold. And it turned out he was a great handheld operator he had worked for, forget the guy's name, who made all the scheme films, Warren Miller, why and he, my operator used to ski down a hill and duck his head between his legs and shoot upside down and backwards as people ski down a hill behind him. Wow, that guy and he used to shoot the Dartmouth football games handheld, you know, so he was a great handheld operator, he just, he just didn't think it belonged in a feature movie, because that's the commercial feature world that he was thinking of. Sure. So I think some is, look, you know, trust your instincts, and then live with them. So if your instincts are wrong, then you go in the editing room and you know, you you try to fix things, but and then I think it would also just be don't say cut so quickly.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:16 Oh, god. Yeah, that's one of the best piece of advice I heard some I forgot who it was like, when your
John Sayles 1:06:22 First one because we were running we were running out of 16 millimeter we were up in New Hampshire. We didn't want to over you know, buy stock because you couldn't really get back or anything like that. So it came on the on the Trailways bus twice a week. We just kind of parceled it out. And so I was always really you know, cut right on the thing because I don't I you know, if I've got two minutes left on that 10 minute reel, you know, I got a I got a, you know, minute and 52 seconds seen that I can get in there or take that I can get in there and I didn't want to blow that and half shortens. But so often, I caught a little too close, or there was a nice reaction from an actor. You know, it is the great thing about digital now which is you let it go. I saw I think it was Tom Hanks and Matt, what's his name on a show who had done a Clint Eastwood movie and they still were so so you know because cleaning wasted you know, notoriously low key on a set and you know, instead of action it's kind of okay, let's let's get into this guys. And they were saying that they had to get used to eastward saying when he was done with something Okay, that's enough of that which is better than clot too quickly. But there is a nice thing which is that sometimes what you get at the very end it may not even be for that scene. Yes reaction. It could be your face because they hated their cake. But that face can work.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:07 Yeah, yeah, I heard that same advice somewhere someone said when you're about to do cut wait five seconds just hold it for five more seconds even when you want to cut because you just never know and I've been in the editing room so many times I've grabbed a look a movement something from exactly what you just said an actor hating their take or something going like oh, and it's perfect for another scene.
John Sayles 1:08:29 I learned I also learned early doing conversations especially to just say okay keep going stay in character okay look left at the guy now look right at something done and and every once in a while you need that that right look you know or that left look and you have to flip something and have you know the
Alex Ferrari 1:09:00 The logo it digitally remove? Yeah. 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?
John Sayles 1:09:13 I would say you know, you're a filmmaker, make a film. Um, do and importantly, do something that you think you can do? Well, so let's say you wrote a nice 90 minutes feature and it can it can it can star you know, new actors or you know, kind of a mixed bag of people were pretty good actors are very new edit or whatever. See if you can go out and make that movie for your money. You know, with the best, the best equipment you can get. And then call it a rehearsal and look at it and if there is 20 minutes that you think is great after you cut it together. You You have that to start showing around. You may get to make that very movie, again, with ideal people, some of the same, some different, whatever. And you've already had a great practice, run. But really learn learn what works, what you did well, and that's what you show. But I think the best way now to get discovered is not you know, necessarily knowing somebody or, you know, showing, you know, oh, my film school teacher thought I was wonderful, you know, which is to have something to show behind, and then and then you're going to have to give it away. Yeah, you have to put it online, you know, and try to, you know, get it seen, wherever you can. Volunteer, you know, if you got to film school near you, if you're an actor, you volunteer to be in all those movies. Um, you know, I got Chris Cooper for making one who had never been in the movie before he done quite a bit of theater. Because he was in my production office coordinators, student film at NYU, Nancy Savoca, had used Chris Cooper. And when he was just an acting student in New York, she's you got to see this guy. You know, he volunteered, you only met Nancy. And he did a good job in her film. And she really liked working with him. And she talked him up. So as an actor, you know, just find out who's making movies and say, you know, here I am. I'm not the guild yet. I'm giving it away. You know? Um,
Alex Ferrari 1:11:38 Yeah. And you've and it worked out with you and Chris Christie, he's on okay for himself over the years.
John Sayles 1:11:42 Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and is, you know, if I hadn't discovered him, somebody else would have been, in those days, I somehow got away with making a, you know, $3.2 million movie with an actor who asked to lead who'd never been in a movie before.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:00 That's insanity. Yeah, yeah, that's insanity. That would never happen in a million years now. It just doesn't. Yeah.
John Sayles 1:12:06 Well, I mean, I think, you know, think about, you know, you've written a bunch of scripts, what's the one that you could do for almost no money? With friends, and it would be watchable, when the ideal would be watchable? Or is there a scene from it? That that that shows, you know, some part of your directing that you think is really good? Or somewhere you're writing that thing? You know, you just do that sing? It? It's, it's doable? No, it used to be that would cost you money. Even on an amateur level, it would cost you money, you have to buy film stock. And right now, you I was 16, at least equipment. No, it does not have to cost you any money. And here's the thing, though, about that, which is you and your collaborators. The hardest thing for you to survive and stay friends will be success.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:01 That's great advice,
John Sayles 1:13:03 A cut, you know, I've seen this happen a bunch of times, you know, when a movie comes out of nowhere and gets to be a success, really, only the director may be an actor, and may be the producer, but probably not will get any attention. And they really are going to have to grab on to whatever that is and get a deal for another movie or whatever. And, and other people may be jettisoned, you know, which is a why I say on your first movie, you can pay people nothing. On your second movie, you either have to pay people something or get new friends who are also just starting out. So it's a big deal. But also, just understand that, you know, credit doesn't go to the team. Very few lactams have stayed together for more than one picture. So, so really think beyond be honest with each other of what you're getting out of this is the experience. You know, I know people who had a big success at Sundance, and one of the great things they were able to do is they said, We are renting a condo, anybody who worked on the picture if you can get your ass here, come and you're invited to the party and you're invited to the movie and and that's it, we can afford to bring you there. And that that may be it that may be a reward, you know, is the fun of that party and having worked on something that's good.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:36 And how about for screenwriters. I mean, because you've just written so much about screenwriting is trying to come in and break in today.
John Sayles 1:14:42 Yeah, if you're only a screenwriter and you went to film school, I'm trying to buddy up to some of the people we think we're really interesting directors. You know, an awful lot of people Coming through film school, I think they have to be writer directors. I'm a writer, director, there are few writer directors. There's a writer directors, there's a lot of really good directors who have a good story sense, but they're not writers, right? They need. And if you're a screenwriter, that's who you want to hook up with somebody who think he really has a nice visual style, who has interesting ideas, who has a good story sense. And then you say up once a material to try your hand on. And once again, it might only be a scene but hook up with those people. It's a really hard thing as as a screenwriter to break in, as I said, Well, I broke in by having written two novels and a short story collection and introduction to a film agent, right. Somebody read one of my short stories, and then, you know, and when I wrote a screenplay, I had only read one screenplay. Somebody gave me a copy of William Goldman's screenplay for The Stepford Wives. So I knew, because there weren't, there weren't film writing books, then. So I at least knew. And I read it, and I realized, I could do that. For, you know, it's very simple screenplay. It's, you know, it's kind of a no brainer, you know, he said, what I could do that, you know, so it actually is good for my confidence of the this guy gets a half a million dollars for running things through his typewriter, you know, I could great premise, blah. But you know, just just kind of knowing that, and then we really having this thing is, okay, I'm writing for a reader. And so this thing has to read, exciting, it has to have the rhythm, the rhythm of a movie. And so you really have to think about your whitespace and your Yes, popping things up and cross cutting, and not too much description, you know, but my favorite example of great discretion is Raymond Chandler story, where he has this line. The detective goes to somebody's sleazy office, and he says, he gave me a drink of warm gin and a dirty glass. That's the only description of the office. That's all you need. If you can find that equivalent, you've got one little slug line, you know, don't be saying no. And then we see this, and we see that and you that's for the, you know, production, you can get it down to those one or two lines, you know, and, and maybe it's funny, or whatever, and keep the rhythm of the thing going. So that it reads like a house on fire, if that's the rhythm of those screenplays. But you know, this is the movie right now. And then later on the directors gonna say, well, I need to know more about this, this, this and this, and this, that's after you've got the green light, you can put all that stuff in. But the but the first thing you're writing is a selling document. And that's just got to just be exciting to read and have a page turning quality.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:23 What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
John Sayles 1:18:28 You can't predict the future. And there's a thing called the Monte Carlo fallacy, and gambling, which is basically okay, you're playing roulette, just because the ball went on the black 10 times in a row doesn't mean that it's more likely to go on the white the next spin the month, it's still a little less than 5050. Because there's, there's, you know, the one, the one greenspace. So, when you're not getting any work, that doesn't mean you'll never get any work again. And while you are getting work, that doesn't mean you're always going to get work. That there that there was so much luck involved in it, no matter what your talents. Um, there's, you know, I know actors who have had terrible time because they did good work and three movies in a row and those movies didn't get released. Right? Like they died, or Oh, does that actor have like a substance abuse problem? What happened to that actor? Well, they disappeared because the movies didn't get released, not because the actor did bad work, you know, and then that was over a year and a half, two year period. It's just like they disappeared. Well, they're off the list. That can happen with writers as well. So you you really have to just keep slogging away at it and not let it get you down, you know, you have in terms of life, you have to be realistic. And if you're gay, I've been lucky. And I've gotten to the point where I've made a living as a writer for a long time now, pretty much rapid interrupted by maybe a year or two of no work. But enough money coming in that I didn't have to take a different kind of job. If you're younger, if you have kids, you may have to take another kind of job, right? And then you have to really make that decision of what kind of job can I take, where I still have the energy and willpower to go home and crank at the, you know, the keyboard for a couple hours. Whereas I really, you know, doing that, when I when I was first sending out short stories, I found that when I worked in a sausage factory, or a plastic factory, I could come home and I could work for three or four hours. No, no human contact, just noise, you know, and, you know, kind of wrote, you know, routine, you know, motions and physical work, but but nothing mental. When I worked in hospitals and had to deal with people, I was too exhausted to work at all, and they paid. So probably the non human contact Job was a better one, to also have a career as a writer than one with a lot of human contact. Don't be a social worker.
Alex Ferrari 1:21:36 No, no way. Um, is there a lesson that you learned from your what is the lesson you learned from your biggest failure in life and in the film industry?
John Sayles 1:21:47 Um, I would say that the movie is gonna last for a long, long time. And that the compromises that you're willing to make with a movie are gonna haunt you, if you you feel you sold your own movie out? Yep. And so it cost quite a bit career wise, maybe. And, you know, my hair should still be blonde. Uh, I hung in and you know, on baby, it's you and I said, Look, you know, you financed this movie, it belongs to you, I'm just not going to put my name on it, unless it's a cop that I believe in. And finally, it was one of those deals where they said, they kind of threw it back at me and said, Okay, cut it the way you want to. And then pretty much told people do not do any work on this movie, we're going to let it escape, we're not going to release it. And so that was kind of a vindictive release of the movie. This is so counterproductive. So kind of productive. You know, that happens on it. You know, it especially happens when new people take over a studio and killed cups. You know, in this case, it was like they had some other successes. And you know, they just wanted to get this thing off their hands and not look bad. But the movies still good. And I still liked the movie. So I don't have to kind of say, Oh, God, I wish I had held out. You know, and you know, and so that was in some ways it was a failure because the communication broke down and round, as well as it should have. On the other hand, we turned out the way that I thought it should. Good.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:35 And last question three of your favorite films of all time.
John Sayles 1:23:40 Ah, yo, Jimbo,
Alex Ferrari 1:23:42 Nice.
John Sayles 1:23:45 You know, just just kind of the music, the everything, the rhythm, everything. camera angles, just really fun to watch again and again. Treasure of Sierra Madre. Just a great Hollywood movie. You know, by certainly independent spirited director, John, it was you know, he got himself down to Mexico. And where are from, you know, you're probing and made a really, really good movie and drank a lot of tequila, I'm sure. And, and it and it plays like an independent movie to me. Yeah. And has a real kind of soul to it. And then to women, which is Vittorio De Sica movie with Seville aren yes is just really, really moving. World War Two movie. And it's kind of my introduction to European cinema. I didn't see a movie with subtitles until I was in college. I just saw you know, foreign movies on TV, if they played them all, and if they weren't in English, language they were dumped. So I saw the dub diversion first with commercials and it's still, you know, got me to cry, you know, and, you know, just the kind of depth of humanity of it, you know, beautiful performances. And just SICA had a really, really human touch. So, you know, those three movies you know, to me just kind of got me interested. How could you? Could you actually because most movies weren't like that, right? Like, then mainstream movies and everything like that, but those were ones that really jumped out at me when I saw them.
Alex Ferrari 1:25:39 And when when's your next movie? When are we gonna see another John Sayles movie?
John Sayles 1:25:43 Why would I get one financed? Like most green screen writer directors, I have? three maybe four. Just just add money. You know, we're working on a couple now. I'm actually I got to work with Doug Trumbull effects, who also did Silent Running and brainstorm. We're working together on something that we would co direct it kind of big science fiction thing I've got that we shoot in Mexico. I've got a kind of one location bar room movie with John Cusack and Chicago that you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:26:26 But John, thank you again so much for being on the show man. I hope I hope someone listening please finance John's next movie. But I appreciate this has been a masterclass in directing and writing and I truly appreciate your time and, and and your career and all the work you've done and inspiration. You've given a lot of filmmakers over the years. So John, thank you so much for being on the show.
William Goldman is a legend in the film industry. He’s a screenwriter but also the best selling novelist. He has written some of the best films of the ’60s and ’70s. Screenwriters should read and take notes on how he structures his screenplays. The screenplays below are the only ones available for free online.
“William Goldman is, by far, one of the most popular storytellers of our generation,” says Sean Edgar, an author.
Stated above is one the millions of great testimonies people around the world have to say about the iconic writer, William Goldman. Though his name may not ring a bell with people who are not the within the entertainment industry, but it is definitely a household name anybody who works within the industry.
William Goldman, one of the most successful and prolific novelists, playwright and screenwriter ever, was born on August 12,1931. His fiction novels became popular in the 1950s and after then he ventured into the into the world of writing screenplays, for which he won so many prestigious awards including two Academy Awards(firstly, for the western Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in 1969, and then for All the President’s Men in 1976)
His books on the craft of screenwriting are legendary and a must-read for any screenwriter.
Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting – Amazon
Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade – Amazon
The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? and Other Essays – Amazon
William Goldman was born into a Jewish family in Chicago. His father, Maurice Goldman, was a businessman whose successful business eventually went south due to his alcoholism. Maurice later committed suicide when William was still in high school. Consequently, William and James, his brother, were left alone to cater for their mother, Marion Goldman, who had a hearing impairment.
William Goldman obtained his BA degree from Oberlin College in 1952. Afterward, he joined the army as a typist and was sent to the Pentagon as a clerical officer in 1954. After he was discharged as a corporal from the army, he went to Columbia University for his master degree. Meanwhile, in his spare time, he resorted to doing what he loved the most – writing short stories – and strove to get them published.
According to William Goldman himself, he said he began writing after he took a creative writing course at his alma mater. It should be noted that, initially, William did set out to be a poet and novelist but not a screenwriter, which he was later well-known for across the globe today.
Before he started his career as a screenwriter, William Goldman had had five novels in prints and three plays produced on Broadway. His debut novel was TheTemple of Gold, which was a success. Marathon Manwas the thriller he wrote after the death of his first agent, prior to which he focused on serious literary works.
His writing career to a sharp turn in 1964 when an actor, Cliff Robertson commissioned him to adapt the screenplays for Flower for Algernon, which was renamed Charleyand for which Cliff won the Academy Awards for the Best Actor. Having seen the job well-done by Goldman, Cliff had him rewrite Masquerade, which was Goldman’s very first screen credit.
William Goldman spent eight years researching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, his first original screenplay and sold it for a record $400,000 in the late 1960s. Afterward, he used several of his works as the basis for his screenplays such as the Princess Bride, All President’s Men and so on, except his novel No Way to Treat a Lady which was translated by somebody else. One of William’s most popular un-produced works is a pirate adventure, The Sea Kings but it was scrapped because the budget was way too high.
One of the greatest creative confessional ever written about the entertainment industry is was Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, which opening sentence
“Nobody knows anything”
was the most famous personal quote line ever written by Goldman. The idea of the title actually came from Dylan Thomas’ collection of stories titled Adventure in the Skin. The book was an interesting exposition on how the Hollywood entertainment industry works and contains virtually everything an intending writer needs to know about the industry. The book explained how the success of a film is affected by the stars, the producers, the writers and other professional players associated with.
It also tells the story of each film in the life of the great screenwriter, William Goldman and then finally, the book went on to give a step-by-step, comprehensive exposition on how one of William Goldman’s masterpieces, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was made with a full presentation of the screenplays. The book was actually about Goldman’s feelings about his business. He wrote the screenplay of the Butch and Cassidy and the Sundance Kid while he was teaching creative writing in the Christmas vacation of 1965-1966. All studios he showed it to rejected it except one, the 20thCentury Fox, which finally accepted it.
Then the 20thCentury Fox embarked on the project of the filmmaking. The filmmaking was directed by the George Roy Hill whom William Goldman considered to be the greatest and most prolific director he has ever worked with. The movie stands out as Goldman’s biggest success commercially ever. After the production of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film, he began – perhaps motivated by the success – to more novels and screenplays.
Often, he would tell his daughters, Jenny and Susanna, bedtime stories and on one fateful night, he asked them what the title of the stories they wanted him to tell them, and then one said “Princess” while the other said “Bride”. And that was how he got the title for his superb novel, the Princess Bride in 1973 and shortly after then, he wrote the screenplay for the novel. According to him, that is the only novel really likes. Perhaps the likeness was a kind of emotional attachment to the work which would be, most likely, as a result of the anguish of mind he experienced because the work took an unusually long time.
William Goldman disappeared from the limelight in the entertainment industry for almost a decade after writing to Mr. Horn in 1979. This was, definitely, not because the stream of Goldman’s creativity has dried up but because the self-financed producer, Joseph E. Levine, he was in a screenplay writing a contractual agreement with, could not finance the budgets of the filmmaking, so none of these works was produced during those years.
On the other hand, Goldman too made a lot of efforts personally to get other studios and producers to help him produce some of them, but that too was to no avail. Meanwhile, he continued to write several other books, one of which was Adventure in the Screen Trade which finally became a best seller.
Fortunately, he was able to secure a job with Creative Artists Agency (CAA)in 1986 and within a month he was offered the rights to adapt An Invisible Man, memoir authored by H. F. Saint and, luckily for him, the film was produced.
However, his first real comeback movie was in 1987 when one of his novels, the Princess Bride was produced. In 1990, he was also commissioned by Rob Reiner, director/producer, to write the screenplay for Misery which was adapted from a novel authored by Stephen King. He continued to write popular screenplays in the 1990s, namely Maverick in 1994, The Chamber in 1996, the Ghost and the Darkness in 1996, and Absolute Power in 1997. He also co-authored the screenplay for the General’s Daughter with Chris Bertiloni in 1999.
At the dawn of the new millennium, another of Goldman’s memoirs was released titled Which Lie did I Tell? It reflects the usual honest, down-to-earth style characteristic of Goldman’s literary works. In the book, he explained all a writer need to know about the screenwriting business and how to thrive in the business.
Goldman is prolific not only in the art and craft of screenwriting but also in novel writing. The following are some of his many works:
Theatre: Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole (with his brother James Goldman), Misery, A Family Affair.
Screenplays: Masquerade, Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hot Rock, the Stepford Wives , All the President’s men, A Bridge Too Far, Misery, Year of Comet, Chaplin, Indecent Proposal, Last Action Hero, Maverick, Malice, The Chamber, Dreamcatcher, Wild Card, Absolute Powers, The General’ Daughter, Wild Cat, Dolores Clairborne, Heart in Atlantis, Twins, The Ghost and The Darkness etc.
Novels: the Temple of Gold, Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow, Soldier in the Rain, Boys and Girls Together, No way to Treat a Lady, The Thing of It Is…, The Princess Bride, Magic, Marathon, Tinsel, Control, The Color of Light, the Silent Gondoliers, Heat, Brothers, Father’s Day, Control
Non-fiction and memoirs: the Season: Candid Look at the Broadway, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Hype and Glory, Which Lie Did I Tell? Wait Till Next Year, the Picture: Who Killed the Hollywood etc.
Short stories: Something Blue, Rogue, the Ice Cream Eat, Till the Right Girl Comes Along, Da Vinci, the Simple Pleasures of the Rich etc.
Almost 50 years career as a professional writer, Goldman has won awards to his name including two Academy Awards(both for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men), two Edgar Awards, he also won the Laurel Award for screenwriting Achievement in 1985.
William Goldman is indeed one of the greatest American screenwriters of all time.
Bill I think in the books that you've written about screenwriting that you've become famous for to two averages, one of which is that nobody knows anything. And the other is that screenplays are structure, that nobody knows anything. It's funny, it's caught on. And what I is I remember what I meant by it was that nobody has the least idea What movie is gonna work. I mean, the big movie that's opening this weekend is Sex in the City, too. And nobody has the least the first one was a free kit. And people loved it. And now they've done the sequel. And sequels or horror movies, as I've written, the only reason you do a sequel is to make money. And nobody has the least idea. Is it going to be a phenomenal success? Or is it going to be? Is it going to take, I was talking with a studio guy, recently, and he said, we'll make movies that cost under 25 million and movies that cost over 75. And I thought, total horseshit, what he meant was, they would make quote, unquote, an art film.
And they would make special effects movies. But that leaves out a gigantic percentage of what most of us fell in love with movies for I mean, it wasn't because of the special effects stuff that they're doing. They'll understand that Avatar was terrific, etc, etc. But there were other things besides Avatar was the movies I liked. I started my first screenplay, I think in 1964. I mean, I don't know that Tom Cruise was alive in 1964. If he was he wasn't like, and it was such a different world then because now, the numbers are so terrifying. The studios, I think, from what I'm told are scared shitless because the amount of money that they're spending in movies, I mean, the first movie really, that I did was Harper and had pulled him and bless him who was, I guess, the biggest star in the world in? And I think it cost $3 million? Well, you figure that was a long time ago monies. But it's still you can't you can't get a major stars gym teacher for $3 million. today. It's just the prices are I think the big change that's happened right now is the money. And, and I don't know if it'll ever go back to being where it was a little bit more sane. I think if you're a kid, and you want to start out in movies, you used to be able when I began in the 60s, you could pretty much write anything you wanted to write and pray. Because they weren't you know, they wanted romantic comedies, which they really thank you. I guess they do now I thought date night was terrific. But they don't really, you know, they wanted westerns. They don't want Westerns anymore. I mean, it's very limited as to what they're making because they're panic, as I would be to if I were running a studio, because they have no idea what's going to work.
And they have they've got to keep making their stuff. And they just don't know. I mean, every it always was a crapshoot. But now the numbers are so I think the numbers are the biggest difference. And if I were young screenwriter now you can only write, this is a sound. So we're binnacle. But you can only write what you give a shit about. And you've got to keep doing that. If, for example. You don't like special effects movies. Don't try and write one because it'll suck. And for example, I don't like special effects movies. I mean, I love jaws. But for the most part, I don't like you know, all the things coming down from the planet to kill us and all that stuff. And it would be ridiculous for me to try and write one you've got to try and write something you care about. That sounds really corny, but it's true. When I started.
There weren't film schools I never saw in my life. Not even for a second. I never saw a screenplay until I was 33 years old. And a lot of kids are finished with their careers when they're 33 because they've been to film school. They got their first movie done when they were 23 or 25. And then the now that they're 33, there's something there directors or whatever else. And it was a different world. And when I first heard of film schools, I thought it was the stupidest fucking idea I've ever heard of. Why would anybody you know because we fell in love with movies by going to the LCN theater in my little town in Illinois and You went to the movies, and they were wonderful. And then now movies are important, which they never were when I was a kid. I was born in Chicago and 31 live there for six years, then we moved to HetLand Park.
And I have childhood amnesia. So I have no memories, whatever, are the first six years of my life, I have very few memories of the early years at all, but the Chicago years and I wish I knew what it was like then were totally blocked. My father was in the clothing business. And my mother was his wife. And he, he worked for a company of Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, where the two biggest and my father worked for the third, which was not a giant company, and he was always coming in New York and, and clothing, business, etc, etc. And then it was a family business. And my mother who was much more powerful, and my father became convinced that my father would never be made ahead of the company, because it would be a family business, and they would screw him. So she made him retire, which I don't think he wanted to do, and start his own business. And he did. And his alcoholism got out of control. And his partner in the new business which he started, which was doing well close the business because my father was a hopeless drunk. And then he came home to live. The last four years of his life, he lived upstairs in the house, as I was growing up, and then he killed himself when I was 15. And I found his body and No, I've never written about it. But it was a very fucked up child.
And yet, there was something in that childhood, there was something in your upbringing that inculcated but I mean, but you and your brother both became writers? Yes. Unusual, very unusual. And you went to the theater as a kid, I know not to mention the Alcyone you just
know, but also legitimately did a lot of theater going my parents like to theater. And we would go to see road companies or whatever hit musical was in town. And I would see and then we came to New York twice, and saw a lot of theater and I love theater. I still do. It's just very when it's wonderful. It's better than anything, but it's not wonderful, so much. And you'll have to basically, for a when you go ahead, it's going to be something that you'll have memories. And, and like that. So my upbringing was very fucked up. And I guess I might as well talk about my writing. I showed no signs of talent. I showed no signs of talent. And the fact I've been a writer for half a century and more now is insane to me. Still, you were at Oberlin. I was at Oberlin. But I was when I went to Oberlin, we had a literary magazine, and I was the fiction editor.
And it was a poetry editor and an overall editor. And everything was submitted anonymously. And these two girls were just brilliant. And when my I would submit my short stories to be published, in which I was the fiction editor, and they wouldn't, you know, and it was all anonymous, and they would look at it. And I was so nervous, my story was coming up. And they would say, what, we can't publish this shit. And I would say no, that we can't publish this shit. And I never got anything published. I think I must have somewhere in my life 100 rejection slips from magazines. And no one had the least interest. I never got a little thing back saying, show us your next story. I remember once. This can't be true, but I think it is. I submitted something in the New Yorker, a short story and I got it back the same day. Now the males are not that good. But I remember as I opened my mailbox, that was a fucking story that I just sent out to the New Yorker. And I took a I took a writing course at Northwestern and got the worst grade I took a short story course at Oberlin and got the worst grade. And my dearest old friend is a fabulous figure in my life. John Kander, who has had amazing success in Broadway. Catherine M, they wrote Chicago and cabaret in New York, New York and, and Johnny was there. And I remember, Candace saying, One day we were having coffee, and we had to submit a story the next day, and I'd written mind weeks and working on it. And he said, Well, I got to go back to my room now and write the story and I said, you haven't started it yet. And he did. And then Johnny got B's and A's and I got C's. And I was a very bad student.
That'll Rowland, and I went in the Army in 52, everybody was drafted. And in those years, the army was 16 weeks of basic training, eight weeks of learning to throw a hand grenade and marching and how to use your rifle, and eight weeks of something else. And because I knew how to type, I was sent to clerical school. And there were seven of us that day, who arrived in clerical school the same day, and we were all college kids. And the head of the clerical school was a captain, who was a golf net. And he realized having just come, because he would have the seven of us run the clerical School where he played golf every day. And she will he wrote a letter to the Pentagon, requesting we be taken out of pipeline, and be given to the clerical School for the next two years, because we were fabulous. And he wrote this bullshit letter. And the Pentagon got the letter, there was a famous story in World War Two, about the five Salomon Brothers who were sent overseas after basic training, and this ship sunk, and they were all five killed. And the government felt that was unfair pain. So they passed a rule, which I think is still in effect, that everybody after basic training in the military gets two weeks to go. And so we all went home, the seven of us for two weeks, and then met at the Pentagon. And we had discovered the Pentagon had gotten the letter and thought, if we were so fabulous, they wanted us at the Pentagon said we were sent to the Pentagon. And in those two weeks, the jobs they had for us were filled. So they were gonna keep us there until the next levy to Korea happened. And it never happened because the Korean war was ending. So the seven of us had nothing to do for essentially 22 months.
And I mean, it was amazing. The people who rent the civilians who were in our offices loved us, because the more people they could have working for them, the higher their ranking wouldn't be in the civilian world. So we had nothing and I remember I was given jobs, I was given one job to do to make a deviation up for every job title in the army. And I remember, I made the Washington Post on that by name, because some of my abbreviations were longer than the job titles. And they thought What kind of an asshole thisand years later the Washington Post would pick up very important anyway. I would write shorts I would we were in Fort Myer, Virginia, across a little thing from the Pentagon. And every night I would go to the Pentagon and write my short stories. And I never got anything published. It was just horrible. And then, after military, I came to New York, and I was going to Columbia. But my grades at Oberlin were so shitty. I couldn't get into Columbia. So I got in and pull ahead of the music department and wonderful man named Douglas more, got me in. And I got a Master's at Columbia. And I didn't know what I was going to do in my life. And then I felt I know what I'll do, I'll get a PhD. But then I realized I have no language skills. And that would have been an extra two years to learn two languages. And I desperately I was living with my brother, who was at this point of failed play, right? We're all in our 20s and Kander, who was not successful yet he was giving voice lessons.
And I realized I'd gotten a masters. And I wanted to be a writer, I'd show no signs of talent. No one ever had the least notion that I wouldn't succeed as a writer. And I went back to Highland Park. And in a frenzy of three weeks, I wrote my first novel. And I remember so clearly. I was on page 50. And I'd never been on page 20 before because the short story is worlds short. And I wrote the novel. I had met a guy in the army who hadn't met an agent. So I called up the agent who was just starting wonderful man named Joe McCrindle. And I said, Can I send you my novel? And he said, Sure. And he knew an editor at Club and he sent the novel to the editor, and they had a very odd reaction to it. They said, we'll publish it if you'll double in in length, which was very strange. So I went frantic and I doubled it in length, and send it back and was waiting to hear. Now I never had anything published, ever, ever, ever hired showed no signs of talent. And I got a phone call that morning. I was alone in the apartment in New York that they hadn't accepted the book in candor, came home about two hours later.
And he said, Have you heard about the book? And he said, Yes. And he said, and I said, they're going to publish it. And he said, Oh, Billy, which he's the only one who calls me Billy. Isn't that wonderful? Is everyone thrilled? And I said, I haven't told anybody. And he realized I've been walking around having a catatonic fit, because I didn't know how to deal with this news. And Candace said, Would you like me to help? And I said, how would we do it? And he'd say, well, we'll sit at the desk. And I'll call people and dial him and tell him your book was taken, and that you don't want to talk about it. And you can say, Isn't it wonderful? And they would say, yes. And then we dial it next purse. And that's what we did. We tell everybody we knew, and said Billy's book has been taken. And that was how I started. And I still am staggered. No one remotely thought I could ever succeed as a writer. And what I, when I got my master's, the only the only job offer I got, I think was from a high school in Duluth, Minnesota that said, I could come and teach English. And I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to go to Duluth and teach English. And probably what would have happened to me was I had an uncle in who was in advertising in Chicago. And I think probably, he could have gotten me some kind of menial job in an ad agency. If I, and then I wrote the novel, and that changed everything. But it's still
freakish to me that any of this happened. They felt they'll find me out. And what I had to do was write a novel every year. So the next year, you know, what I did was I was living in New York. And I go to the movies every day. Because it was possible. It was wonderful. 42nd Street at that time, had 17 I think movie theaters that showed double features, and you could go down, it hadn't become dirty yet. And I'd go down there and didn't know what there was a double feature has been played westerns, in one played comedies, you know, you can go see anything foreign film double feature. And that's really those years. I where I got my movie education seriously. I mean, I went to movies all the time when I was a kid. But I just went to shitload of movies those years. And I wrote an album that was temple ago came out in 57. And I had a novel came out in 58. And I went to Broadway, which is a disastrous thing for anybody to do, and novel in 1960. And then I wrote a very, I wanted to write a long novel. Don't ever write along, though. And it took me a long, long time. It was, it was a book for boys and girls together, eventually changed a lot of things in my life. And I'd gotten about it was 1000 pages, typed as long fucker. And I had gotten halfway through, I stopped for a year and a half to do theater. And when I came back, I was blocked, which is everybody's nightmare. And I didn't even know I had 600 pages typed. And I didn't know what to do.
And one day, I read an article, I think, in the Daily News, the big crime at this time was the boston strangler. And the new theory in Boston, was it there might be to Boston Strangler. And as I was walking up to my office, a notion never happened before, maybe once again, an idea dropped into my head, which never happens, which was what if there were two Stranglers and one of one of them got jealous of the other. And I called up some friends and said, I've got this idea for a novel. But I want to write my long novel and they said, Well, if you can write this strangler book quickly, why don't you do that? Maybe we'll get you juiced up to finish up the lawn but and so I wrote the strangler book in 10 days, and it was became a novel and it became a movie was called no way to treat a lady. And the reason I'm going on about this is I wanted to make it seem longer. then it was. So I had a ton of chapters, because each new chapter, I could start on the top of the next page. And I think there were probably 50 or 60 chapters in 150 page book was a weird looking book.
And the reason I go into this was because that's what got me in the movie business. Lovely actor named Cliff Robertson. Somehow got ahold of no entry lady. And he came to my apartment, and he said, I read your screen treatment. And I remember thinking shit, that wasn't a screen treatment. That was a novel, but because of all the chapters, and sometimes it'd be a one sentence chapter and then the next page. And he said that his career, his great successes went on television, but that when the movies happened, he didn't get the parts. So we had optioned a marvelous short story called flowers for Elgin, by Daniel Keyes. And when I write a screenplay, and I had never seen a screenplay, and so he left, and I was talking to my wonderful wife, Eileen. And I said, I've got a good time to turn down the Time Square was midnight, or one in the morning, and see if I can find what a screenplay looks like. So there were bookstores that were open late in Times Square in those years. And there was one, I don't know what it was that was published at that time. And when talking 64 and I bought it, and I brought it home, and I looked at the screenplay. And I realized I could never write in that form, because the screenplay is all double space, faded and double space, build double space, he is sitting in a chair, but all in motion. And I realized I could never write in that form. And, and I didn't, and then
for some reason, Robertson, I was writing the screenplay for him. But I hadn't done remotely anything on it yet. And he asked me to come over and Dr. Movie, which I did when he was shooting a movie, I think Sean Connery was supposed to play the lead. And then he couldn't do it. So it was they had a real change the the dialogue. And I did that for a couple of weeks, and I came back, finished Flowers for Algernon, sent it off to Robertson who fired me immediately. I'd never been fired. It was a horrifying experience. And he got sterling silver had to write him in the movie was Charlie, right? He won the Oscar. Not a sentence of mine was in the screenplay. But that's how I got in the movie, because it's all a fluke. I mean, if Cliff Robertson doesn't miss read my, my novel and think it's a screen treatment, he never asked me interesting. And I never and I said I was 33 years old. And I'd never ever seen a screenplay. Nobody. This has any interest in our business now can say that. There's a screenwriting convention that happens every year in California, and used to be before the crash. 1000s of kids came from all over the world, and they would listen to agents would come and people would, you know, talk about how to make the movie but
so how do you feel about that whole sort of orthodoxy of screenwriting? That the books and the Robert McKee and theMickey I remember, I listened to him, but he's very good. I mean, he really is a good speaker. I heard him once I went to a lecture he gave he's a very skillful fellow. There were no rules on this things happen. I mean, when I think of, there's no way if I wrote which Cassie today, which is the most successful movie I've ever had been or will be connected with. They don't make that movie. They don't make a Western. The only way they might make it is if Mr. Eastwood felt an urge to make a Western and he got together with George Clooney.
And he directed it and whatever. I don't know. But otherwise, they don't make westerns. Westerns flop. I mean, John Wayne was the biggest star, John Wayne couldn't get arrested. The greatest dancer that ever lived, Fred Astaire couldn't get arrested. Now. What part? I mean, what part Have you seen in a movie that Fred Astaire could have played? They don't make Fred and Ginger movies anymore. They don't do it. It's all different. And when you think about those giant stars of my childhood, Gary Cooper, what is Gary Cooper gonna do? What is Jimmy Stewart going to do? Are any of them going to get?
I think they'd be on television. They'd all have TV shows. That would be how they are in delivered But I don't think. And when you think of the big stuff, we live in a time right now. 2010 I don't think this has ever happened in the history of sound. There was one movie star. And that's Will Smith. And yes, Johnny Depp put them in a pirate movie. Sure. But Will Smith in anything, the way they the way they look at movies out in Hollywood? is does the movie open? Which means the first weekend, does it new business. And the reason they pay stars, these obscene amounts of money or you used to was because they felt the stars would open the picture. Tom Cruise will open a picture. Well, he doesn't anymore. He has a movie coming out this summer. If it's a big hit, maybe they'll love Tom Cruise again. But it goes very fast. And one of the reasons actors are the way they are, is because it's not gonna last and they know it. And they know it and it's scary for
you net, you never moved out there. You know, I
don't like California. I have no sense of direction. I hate to drive. I had a wonderful summer in the boot camps and each summer. But that was a different world. You know, we, George Hill and I met every day at his office on the Fox lot for the day. And we talked about this and talking about that and this line in that line. And they wouldn't do that. Now. It was like the summer, we spent working on the script that we had. Redford and Ross and Newman in for 10 days that three of them just heal in myself and the three actors. And they were also gorgeous.
And I remember I was walking back to his office one day. And he said in a quiet rage. I feel like a mutt because they were here were these three gorgeous. They are and they were and I think the three Ross was the best horseback ride. I've always thought I've been told it. But and then we had the crew in for like two weeks we had everybody in the editor and the camera man and bla bla bla, talking what problems do you have with this? What do you have, we're gonna have trouble making that work well, so that when the shoot actually happened, the movie went like a dream because we had had an amazing amount of, of work on the script. And on location. Before the movie shot, they wouldn't do that. The novel I mentioned, no way to treat a lady, which was published I think, in 64 was published under a pseudonym Harry longbow, which was the real name of the Sundance Kids.
So this is five years before the movie came out. So I'd obviously been trying to, there was not a lot about them at this point. We know anything. We still don't know really anything about long, but we think he was from we think he was born and brought up in New Jersey. And he was clearly as good with a gun as anybody at that time. And he was, and he went to South America, which Cassie Cassidy was a fabulous figure. There are only two figures in the history of the West, who were famous at that time when they were alive. One of them was Jesse James, and one of them was Cassidy. Cassidy was so well liked. This happened. If he was being followed by someone, he would go up to your house and say, Hi, I'm Butch Cassidy. The sheriff is after me. Can you hide me in the basement?
And they say sure, come on in. But everybody loved it. He was this marvelous, strange figure who had no violence and we never shot anybody really went to South America. And he was he in the Sundance Kid, we're friends. Why in the world, it was wonderful material. And one of the great stories about this is true. As a young man, he's in jail. And the governor of the state and I'm going to say it was Colorado says I'll make you a deal. If you promise me you'll go straight. I'll let you out. I mean, he was not in murder. He was whatever. I'll release you from prison. All you have to do is tell me that you'll never commit crimes again. And Cassidy said, I can't do it. He said, but I'll make you a deal. If you'll let me out. I promise I'll never do anything in college. Again, and the governor took the deal, and he never did anything in Colorado again. It may have been I don't know what state it was. But he was may have been one.
But he was an amazingly likable figure Cassidy was and that he had arguably the biggest gaming and he ran it. I mean, it's ridiculous. Why would why did they all follow Butch Cassidy but they did. Until Harriman they robbed railway them. It's like the movie. It didn't make much of that up. They robbed rail and eh, Herrmann. It was a billionaire at that time, whatever the equivalent would have been. went nuts. That Butch Cassidy kept robbing history. So he formed the greatest law outfit.
And your super posse, the super posse, and he had six guys from around the country who were the top law men in America. And he got them all together. And he said, All you got to do is capture Butch Cassidy. And when Cassidy heard about it, he realized they would kill him. So that's why he went to South America. I mean, the idea of going into South America was insane. But you know, he was, it's a wonderful, he was a wonderful figure. Not like really anybody else.
So he wrote it on spec, basically, I tended to do that a lot. I wrote my novels on spec, etc, etc. That means not having a contract by roadbook Jones back and I had a very great agent named ever Ziggler. And he decided to have an auction. And everybody turned it in, except one studio. And they wanted to change, which was the studio guys said, they can't go to South America will buy this if you don't have them go to South America. And I said, but they went there. In the studio guy said to me, I don't give a shit. All I know is one thing.
And then this great line, John Wayne don't run away. And of course, John Wayne didn't run away. It was a very unusual thing. For Western heroes. It's one of the other things that made the story so wonderful. And so I rewrote it. Changing almost nothing. And Ziggler auction did again. In every studio wanted it you set one. And there was this insane auction. And I have to mention the number. It was sold to Fox Richard Zanuck, David bro, bless them. For $40,000 Which now we're talking about what 1967 Whatever it was, it was a shitload of money then. But it was really a freakish amount of money now. And it got in all the papers. Because nobody at this time knew anything about screenwriters because all they knew is an actor's made up all the lines and directors and all the visual concepts. And the idea of this obscene amount of money going to this asshole who lives in New York who wrote a Western drove him nuts. That was the most vicious stuff. And when the movie opened, the reviewers were pissy because they hated me. And the movie, basically caught on and became what it became. But it was the writing of the screenplay and the amount of money that it went for. That basically changed everything in my life. I think I'd written a couple of things that hadn't gotten made. And then Harper, and then there was something else. And then I wrote Butch I mean, I wrote, but my second daughter was born in I think, 65. And we moved to Princeton, because I'd spend a little time I didn't go to school, everyone. I spent a little time in Princeton, you're teaching. Now I was just basically out there. I became a teacher later, and we decided to move to Princeton. We were gonna have a second kid. It's a great town, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'll tell the story. It's it's a huge change in my life. We move to Princeton. I am planning to be a writer.
A guy who I admit who was the writing professor, came up to me and said, I have a chance suddenly for sabbatical. Would you take over and be the writing professor next year? You know, I've always thought I'd like to teach teaching writing at Princeton, there weren't that many kids that take writing. I'll do it. So I taught writing. At Princeton at that, that was the over I wrote Butch over Christmas vacation in Princeton, New Jersey. I mean, I've been working on it for I don't know how many years. And I tend, once I have the confidence that I know what I'm doing to write quickly in movies. In other words, I don't know what it took me three weeks, whatever it was, but I've been working on it for x years, so you don't know. And I had done apparently a quality job in my teaching there that year. And I got the same guy who was cutting back said, would you take over and be the other writing teacher here at Princeton? And I thought, well, we'd like, for instance, so and so and so and so yeah. So I was gonna be a professor of writing at Princeton University. And I didn't hear from the guy and I didn't hear from the guy.
And finally, I ran into him, and he said, Oh, God, I've been avoiding you. And I said, What do you mean? And he said, There was a revolving head of the English department in that time, I have no idea if they still have it. And the guy who was the head of the English department that year, I had mentioned a book, I wrote a long book called boys and girls together, it became a gigantic hit in paperback. And it was about a bunch of people, young people who come to New York and fuck up their lives, boys and girls, gays and straights, all kinds of stuff. The guy who was the head of the English department that year, said, I will not have our students this direct quote. I will not have our students worshipping at the Shrine of a pornographer. I mean, the son of a bitch call me a pornographer. And I'm such a nice Jewish boy. It's so ridiculous. And this was, I went back to Eileen, the kids were then born, I called Mr. Ziggler. And I said, I am leaving Princeton. I don't know that I'll ever come back. You must give me something to do somewhere this summer. I don't care what it is. I want a doctor something this summer somewhere.
Get me out of here. So we moved back to New York that week. I think in the 40. Some years, I've been back to Princeton once. And I have no intention of ever going back. And it's a swell school and all that shit. Lindsay got me a job, I think in London, and we were off that week, where I spent this summer and I've lived in New York ever since. But it was if either I think of the other two English heads had been running the department that year and never would have happened. This one guy hated the book so much. Wow. And like that. That was a big. And that was a big deal. Because I was 3334 Maybe 35. And I had planned to be a professor. I really thought I was going to be that. And then that all changed. So I came to New York and I've been a writer reversals. Interesting. Yeah, fascinating for me. Well,
yeah, but luck. I mean, you know, the, the role of chance and oh, yeah, Chance favors the prepared mind, though, at the same time. You said about this. One other question about Butch Cassidy wishes that you said that everything you could from your Hollywood career came as a result of the cliff scene?
Well, it's, it's from Gunga Din. I think, for me, the greatest movie ever made is a movie directed by George Stevens called Ganga Dune, with Cary Grant. Victor McLaughlin and Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Santa Fe, Sam Jaffe in the title. And I went to see it at the LCS. And I remember I was so rocked by that. I went back the next day. And I remember when Grammar School everybody was stunned that I'd gone back to see a movie again. And I remember some kids said to me, how could you go again, when you knew when you knew who won something like that? And, and I did, and Gaga then I've seen it 16 times. My best younger than story for me, is the day I got out of the Army in 1954. I was back in my small town in LA Really. And there's an Army post fort Sheridan about two miles away. And a friend of mine was getting out.
And I called him. And I said, you know, I'm back when you're getting my mama. And he said, You'll never guess what's playing on the post tonight, Ganga did. And I said, Because I saw it every chance I ever got. And I knew it by heart. I said, I'll be there. And he said, there's a problem. You have to be in uniform. So the day I got out of the fucking service, I got back in uniform and snuck out into Fort Sheridan. So I could see Ganga did that so much. I loved it. I am moved. I written this and I believe it's still true. I am moved for reasons I do understand more than anything, but what I call stupid courage. And the two best examples I know where I don't want to spoil the plot and bring it in. But at the end of young at the end, there was a real shot to shit.
And The Waterboy Sam Jaffe is also wounded. And there's a tower and the British troops are going to get massacred by the evil, the evil criminals. In Cary Grant says the Colonel's gotten to know and indicate use him as a trumpet and go get in crops crawls up to tempo to go, which is what my first demo was called, and blows his bugle and gets killed, but the British are safe. And that was so moving for me. And the other thing that moved me out of control was one of the great musicals ever written this Porgy and Bess by the Gershwins, and Porgy is a cripple, and he's got a goat cart, and it's down south. And he's in love with a town beauty.
His name is Bess. And there is an evil person in the thing called sporting life was a drug pusher. And he gets us down south. And he convinces Beth to come to New York with him and he gives her drugs and they go off to New York, and Portuguese in jail because he has killed a town bully. And then he gets out of jail. And he comes back, and he's crippled. And he's on a cart. And you just sit there in the audience thinking, Oh, God, mess is gone. What's he gonna do? He's got no lives and crippled mama. And he says, Where's Bess? And there's a embarrassment from the people. And then they say, she's going for you.
She's going to New York. And there's a pause. And he says, three words. He says, Bring my goat. And when I heard that, I got so hysterical, because I realized, fucking Porgy was gonna go in his goat, his goat cart, having his goat pull him from the deep south to New York City. And I thought, Oh, my God, and I started to sob hysterically. And it's at the end of the show, and there's curtain calls and chairs. I'm still hysterical. And I can still remember when we left the theater, people would touch me pat my head and say to my parents, Is he all right? Is there something wrong with your son, because I couldn't stop hysterically crying. So that, you know, stupid courage moves.
So I mean, the cliff scene of Butch Cassidy really is a Ganga, Dean. Oh, it's totally, totally. I knew the Sundance Kid couldn't swim. I knew that because all those years I was doing research, I found out that most cowboys couldn't swim was not a thing that was part of their life. And I remember thinking shit, that, you know, like, clock that way. And so when you come to the thing, in which case that you were at the cliff, and they're about to get killed by the super posse, and voice says, We'll jump and the Sundance Kid says, I can't swim. That was a big fucking moment at the movies that people just shrieked and then they jump off the cliff unsavoury. She did
it. For me, it was like and then when Newman says, Well, it's the fall that'll kill you.
But that moment was one of the moments that and the other moment I think that I think they did die that way. There's a lot of dispute as to whether they were killed by but I think the militia got and that last scene where that they have when they're gonna, when Bush says let's go to Australia And then they go out and get shot that word because they never talk about the fact that there's a fucking militia out there and that they're bleeding to death as they speak. And they're going to die. They just talk about can we go to Australia, it's got nice beaches, whatever the dialogue is. And you could learn to swim and the kids that swimming is not important. But here they are talking about going to fucking Australia.
And they know they're going to die. And that's, again for me stupid courage that worked. That worked. And it was, Oh, I got to tell a wonderful story. Halfway through shooting, he'll has me out to look at like the first hours of dailies that he's done in the woods. Wonderful. And we're going to set after I'd seen hours and hours and hours and stuff. And it was just when they were going to Mexico for this up American secrets. This is a directing story. We're walking to the set. And a guy walks past.
And he's carrying a hat and he says hat, okay. And he'll nuts. And then we go on the rest of our walk, and suddenly Hill almost drops to his knees because he realized what the guy was saying is this hat that I am showing you. Okay for South America, because if he hadn't got it was the wrong hat. And if they had gone to Mexico, and the Sundance Kid and didn't have a hat, that was the same hat that he was wearing in New York, or wherever it was, they're fucked. They have to stop shooting. Someone has to fly from Mexico that loss and whenever whenever, and I'll never forget that because directors have that kind of problem.
Because if there's a thing if you need something, and you're a director, and you need this for a shot, you need that kind of crowd that kind of hat. You better have it or your fuck. I had Harper and Butch in the 60s. And there was other stuff. But I mean, those were the two and then I'm trying to think there was a long period. Oh, God, when was I a leper I wrote about it was when I wrote the season. No, it was when I wrote adventures in the screen tree. And I hadn't realized that I had basically, I had written some movies that hadn't gotten made. Right. And suddenly I was a leper. And the phone didn't ring.
Well, you wrote a great movie that I love, which is the great Waldo pepper.
Yeah, that was neat. That was for George Hill. That was only because George loved old airplanes, right? And whatever. No, but there was stuff. It's just the interesting thing about Waldo pepper. It was Redford and hill again. And the advance height was terrific. And we had a sneak in Boston. And I think it was Susan Sarandon, his first big part. And she was wonderful. And there's a scene where she's trapped on an airplane so that you know, old old older planes, and she's frozen on this airplane. And and Waldo makes a plane to plane transfer, and goes over and rescues it. But she loses her grip and she falls to where do the audience went fucking nuts.
They felt so betrayed. I never felt more panic in and I thought they might attack us, because there were people getting up and in a rage because we had done this. And the reason I mentioned this is today, if we had seen that it's a half a day's reshoot. All you have to do is put some footage in the same dress, bobbing up out of the lake and waving or fist and anger up at Waldo. And there's and she's fine. But we didn't do that. Then we didn't do the reshooting which happens now which is a big part of moviemaking. We didn't do that. And what are we talking about 40 years ago? It was we never thought part of it was hell. But we never thought of reshoot it. It was never mentioned by anybody. No, we can do this. Because it's an easy reshoot.
I've ever seen that the old Rivoli Right, yeah. So how did you learn? If you had not seen the screenplay before and the ones that you saw were fake to be around by again, I've been very lucky in that I've only written movies. I want to write.
In other words, when I got offered a special offer Facts movie. I know I couldn't do it.
And you can only do what you can do. I think that sounds. But you know the other thing that I wrote that caught on other screenplays are structure, you're telling a story. And you've got to basically, you've got to believe in the story and sounds really corny, but you do. You can only write what you think you can make play. And I think for anybody who's starting out, if you try and do something that you don't give a shit about, you're not going to get it made. And I was very lucky, in that the movies that I wanted to do got made in there for a long period, at least for the first 20 years of my career. They were all movies I wanted to write.
And you were never one for pitching.
You know, I only pitched once in my whole life. And I pitched her friends at Castle Rock. And it was so awful. I quit after a few minutes. I couldn't, you know, it's, it's my problem. I just couldn't do it. And you know, I got very, I was very, I was very in demand for a long time out there because Harper was a hit. Great line, the producer of Harper. We went up to him, Newman's house in Connecticut. And I remember walking, talking about the script. And we walked around the streets, the back streets of I think Westport.
And he was the two best stars I've ever worked with are Eastwood and Newman, they're just they were fabulous. And I remember with Newman, he had pebbles. And every time a car would come by, throw a pebble in the woods. So it was back was to the car. So no one stopped and said, Oh, my God, that fall moment. And he said he would do it. And we drove back into the city. And the producer said, you don't know what has happened to you? And I said, No, my first movie. And he said, You just jumped past all this shit. And that was true, because Paul Newman said he do it. So the movie good movie. He was that biggest star in those days? And, and had a fabulous career.
Can you tell the story of the opening credit sequence for Harper, how that came to be and what it was, I got a call from the director saying, I don't like being on the set. First of all, I have a tendency to fuck up the shot. I tend to stand in an area where the kid was going to move. And, and it's boring. For me, I don't want to I never wanted to direct. I don't understand actor. I never remotely except when I was in my, you know, hot streak, whatever. And people will want me to direct I would never want to do it. You know, it was ridiculous. And the director said, We need a credit sequence. And I thought what the fuck was my, you know, I didn't know about movies. But I knew what I knew what the credits were there, those things that come up to start and I thought, well, he's got to wake up in the morning or write about him waking up. So I did. And I got the notion that he was out of coffee. And he was living alone.
He was a detective. And he was living alone. He was divorced, whatever, had a miserable life. And he's not a coffee. So he has to make his coffee, with coffee grounds in the garbage. And then he made his coffee. And there's a moment where he sips it. A look of sheer horror comes over his face. And when I went to see the movie, they were having a screening of it in New York and I went to see it. There was this huge laugh, which I had not known who was going to be there. And one of the reasons I think when he when Newman's face when he sips his coffee was a huge laugh. And that's what people were talking about the movie was a big success, a good success. And one of the reasons it worked, I think was that moment in the beginning, when he makes that face the audience just liked him from the other story, which is true when I went to see the this sneak the screening. I walked in, it was a guy at the door.
And he didn't have my name. And he said, Who are you? And I said I'm a screenwriter. And he said, I don't know if I can let you in and I'm Eileen said he's the screenwriter for Christ. He wrote it. So the guy let us in. But I mean, that was also a good example of the power of the screenwriter. Nobody wanted to tell us that you said that screenwriters rank somewhere between the the man who guards the studio gate and the man who runs in the men who run the studio.
I think that's you know, they It's it's an odd most screenwriters I think, are only doing it because they want to get on to other things. They want to direct. I think most screenwriters really want to direct and I understand that because a director a makes more money but be as power. And you can if you're lucky as a director, and you have talent as a director, I mean, I think it's a terrible life. But it's better in many ways than being a screenwriter. I mean, it's not movies or an on movies are very, very odd way to make a living. They really are. Because for everybody, it's not just stars that lose it. Directors, nobody wants this director anymore. Nobody wants that writer.
Nobody wants that editor. A lot of technicians have long careers. I was a great, great editor just died DDL. And she had been around. I mean, she didn't start too young because she was a woman and there was prejudice in those years. But, I mean, she ran a lot and a wonderful run. But a lot of technicians if they're really skillful cameramen and editors can have long careers. There's a documentary out now about screenwriters. And what's interesting is, screenwriters tend to tell the same story? Because most of us have the same experience. These are people who have had careers, but you have the same things that didn't work.
It's interesting, you're talking about Director's Cut, because you you talk about the perplexing what you call the perplexing relationship between the writer and director, you say that the writer needs to be as supportive of the director as possible. You've also called them insecure lying assholes.
Well, I think basically, that's true. I mean, a lot of directors are wonderful people, Ron Howard. The two nicest people I've ever met in the movie business. Richard Attenborough in England and Ron Howard here in terms of just plain nice, decent professionals. But most directors are, it's weird, because it's hard doing it. Because you don't Oh, my God, you can't get you can't get this room. I thought we had this room sewn up. No, we don't have it, we have to go here, or it's raining out.
Or there's a million things that can go up that can screw up a director and most directors. It's hard. I mean, George Hill is the best director I've ever worked with. George didn't work that much. George would basically not work for like a couple of years, and then would do two movies back to back. And why he worked that way. I don't know. I don't know it was his rhythm. But it wasn't that he wasn't wanted, because it was offered everything. But I'm in a lot. It's a strange. And if you have a movie, that's a flop and you're the director, they remember that. I mean, you got to look up people's careers. A lot of guys have a long time of years between work. It's because the studio the last movie flopped, they don't want you.
So it's never been a desire on your part. You'd never had any desires direct,
I would have died rather than do it. I wouldn't know what I wouldn't know what the fuck to say to an actor. You know, they're I mean, actors. wonderings about actors. It's true, like everybody else, even though they're cuter than we are. They're very insecure. And when an actor wants the lines changed, you don't know. Is he really saying I don't like this line? Is he really saying, I want more lines? Is he really saying? I want everything in this scene to be about me? What did they really say? I don't know. I mean, they're, they're very peculiar. You know why? I don't know. I? I don't know why actors say yes, I'll do this part. I don't understand them. And they are what they are.
But in the case of Paul Newman, and Butch Cassidy, you had a great example of an actor saying not not worried about his co star not worried about the co star getting more attention or getting more lines or no,
but that was Newman Newman was. I mean, he was remarkable figure I think one says such bullshit about actors Oh, so and so was, but Newman really was.
But I remember this is an awful story. I wrote a movie in the 90s. It was a very successful Western Maverick. And James Garner played Gibson's in turns out his father, and I thought Shit, Paul Newman would have been great for the park because he looks like. And I went to Mr. Newman and showed him the script. And he had some suggestions. And then he said, Let's do it. And I remember he hit his dead, what the hell? Let's do it. And then there was a pause on this is Paul Newman. And he said, I hope they don't lowball me, meaning I hope the studio doesn't try and Chin's me out, or whatever my salary shouldn't be. And I said, that's not going to happen. It did happen. It did happen. They low balled, Paul Newman. And the big female star that time was Meg Ryan. And they low balled her.
And suddenly, Mel Gibson, I was told this, who was a giant star at this point. Got in a rage, because he didn't want to be the only star in the movie. So they went to James Garner that day? And he said, Yes. And Gardner had been in the you know, and it was a very, very, and they went to Jodie Foster and offered her more money than she'd ever been offered. And she said, Yes. So they suddenly over a weekend had their cast. But it was, you know, why would they? I still don't know. How anybody would Lobo? How can you basically take one of the great figures in film history and offer him enough money? Less than he felt? He wasn't a greedy man. And I don't know. It's a strange thing. But that's, that was a horrible story. Because Paul was probably Newman was probably 70. Wonderful looking always.
Yeah, the eyes, everything, just everything. He said that he had it all to do over again, you'd have written everything you've written except for All the President's Men.
Yeah, it was a terrible experience was an swell movie. It is. But it was a it was just a complicated film. It was you know, I wrote about it once. In a book it was, it was just that's another movie they don't make today. I mean, even if a big star wanted to make it which Redford was then a big star. It was just a very unpleasant experience. And the movie, it doesn't matter. The movie had some wonderful things. And I think the actors were swell, and we got through it. But it was a very, here's the deal. It doesn't matter. If you have a shitty experience on a movie, maybe eight people on earth? No, that is shitty experience and that movie, because I wrote about it in a book. But other than you don't, doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, the movie itself, whatever is up there on the screen or on your TV shed or on your little whatever those things are. That's what matters. Do you like that experience of being around that movie for that period of time? And it doesn't matter if you have a good experience or have a bad experience, except to the particular person. You know, did the director have a shitty time, you know, whatever, I don't know,
it was such a complicated story and so many different characters and names. And oh, God, the names were so terrible, I'm terrible. But it was Bob Woodward, who was one of the writers of it was a huge help to me. And the movie doesn't work as well as it does if he wasn't as helpful as, as he was, and then has gone on to having a fabulous career. But it's like, just in general, whether I have a good experience or a bad experience, making a movie writing a movie. I mean, let's talk about the writing of a movie, writing for me, my work habits are, I can't do anything until I think I know what I'm doing. And I only know what I'm doing, when I know the story from beginning to end. And then what I do is, I'll put on my wall, I'll tape to the wall, a yellow thing maybe with 15 or 25 numbers. It'll say interview, rain, whatever it is. And the rain means that when I'm going home today, there's a storm and some people are hurt because there's lightning, whatever it is, right? So I'll just put a few words down. But that's really the story of the movie. So and once I have those words up on the wall, I can write the movie and as I said, I mean one of my favorite writers ever Graham Greene, very, very great writer used to count the words.
And I think he wrote 300 words a day. And when he got to his 300 word, he stopped middle of his sentence screaming which you know what? Got me well That's crazy. But that worked for him. There's no, but once I know what I'm doing, once I have the notes up on the wall, I tend to be able to write fairly quickly. And that's, that's what that's me telling the story of the movie that I want to tell, or that I think I can tell. And that's the way it works for me, everybody else is different. I know right at home, but I had an office for years, don't go up there and whatever, whatever. But the main thing is, it's someplace quiet. And I think that basically, what we do, there is no, there are no rules for writing. You know, as I said, at the start of all is the fact that we're talking about my writing career. The fact that this happened is just inconceivable, as Xeni would say. You know why I decided to write a novel, when I had never written one. When I you know, why did I want to? It's crazy. It's just, it was a bizarre experience, and makes no sense. But here we are.
How do you tell the difference between what seems like a great idea, and something that's Oh,
I just think it's something I can make play. I remember I was talking about stupid courage. I read a book when I was a little boy, called Scarface the score story of a grizzly, I have no idea if it's in print. It was about a huge bear. And his adventures and bla bla bla bla bla. And at the end of the book, Scarface is old, walking along a cliff edge, an avalanche starts. And he doesn't try and run to the end of the ends. He turns, gets up on it and fights the rocks as they carry him to his death. Well, I couldn't stop crying for hours. And I didn't know why. I mean, basically, it was that same thing that moves me. So basically. I mean, there were three famous movies that I've turned the Godfather, which I loved as a novel, and God, I loved it. But I had just done something to do with crime. Maybe it was Bush. And I didn't want to write another crime story, not ontologically. That feels right. Yeah. And the second one was the graduate, which I didn't get. The movie I think is wonderful, blah, blah, blah, but I didn't get it.
And the third one was Superman, which I desperately wanted to do. Because I was I am a comic book nut. But I remember them saying we need to star and I knew enough to know that no movie star was going to play Superman. I met Warren Beatty, once we were he was a very smart and fellow. And they wanted him to be Superman. And they gave him the costume. And I think this is true. I think he told me, he went and he put it on, walk outside of his house, looked at himself and thought what the fuck am I doing and what took it off. But I knew that know when they were going to get eastward you know, but Sonny's was not going to. This is a long time ago, but you're not going to get a movie started getting that stupid costume. And I knew that. But they said, No, we're going to get a star. And of course they didn't they get the lovely Christopher Reeve no longer with us. It was wonderful in the movie. But those are three movies that I look back on. And it would have been wrong. I mean, the graduate was not a big deal. It was a small novel. But I didn't know how to make away. I didn't get it. The novel is different than mean it's forgotten who wrote the scripts a hell of a script.
But they made change. I mean, like, Godfather, I just can't remember turning down Godfather, loving it. I mean, usually when you love something you can, but I think it's I didn't want to do a crime thing. I think I don't know what I can't remember there was Was there another gangster movie that night? Or something? I can't remember what but those are. I don't regret them. I mean, the only one I wish I'd written them. The three that I wanted to write was the Superman and I was too smart for the room because they insisted on having a star now you wouldn't. I think if you were doing a special effects movie now, you would know enough. You're not going to get Will Smith to play. Maybe you will if you're lucky, but you're probably not going to get him you're gonna get somebody or somebody who's not famous yet.
Well, what about adapting I mean, you're talking about adapting novels and adapting someone else's work as opposed to adapting your own. I mean, you've, you've done both you've adapted. So
you know, I'm basically when you, when you do an ad, it's all the same thing. You've got to, you've got to like the story, you've got to think I can make this play. I can make this play. And if you have that confidence, I mean, I don't think any of us are ever confident about anything we right. God knows I never was. And I remember I'll talk about Princess Bride. I don't like my writing. I should say that I never have liked it. I don't like it. I've only liked two things I've ever written like Butch Cassidy and I like the princess. And the Princess Bride. I was going to California. My kids were little. I said, I'm going to be gone. I'll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?
One of them said for instances one of them said brides nice. And that'll be the title. Blob, I wrote a couple of pages that I don't think exists anymore in Los Angeles. Then I came back. And I had a lot of scenes, I had the fencing scene, I had a lot of stuff. But I didn't know how to do it. And I remember walking around the city. Because I really wanted to write this for my children. And I couldn't make it work. I couldn't figure it out. And I was gonna never write it. And then one day I got the notion that I didn't write it, it was written by this other finger in a Morgan stir it all of a sudden, that meant I could build from one good part to another to another. And all of a sudden it opened up for me if that doesn't happen. Marathon Man only exists. Because one day I was walking I think it's 47th Street. We're talking about 40 years ago, the diamond is sure. And in those years, it was filled with Jews who had concentration camp marks on their arms and stuff. And I remember walking on the street and thinking Jesus Christ What if the world's most wanted Nazi was walking on the street?
Suddenly the rest of it happened. But if I don't walk that street that day, or if it's winter and I can't see anybody's marks. I never wrote marathon if I hadn't thought of the fact that somebody else wrote Princess Bride. It never is written. It's all fluky how it happens. God knows. But it's always for me a crapshoot. It's stuff you know if I don't read that paper of what's there were two Stranglers I never write no way to treat a lady, which is what got me in the movie business. I mean, a lot of this stuff.
Is it safe is one of the great lines to me, and worked, because there's an ambiguity there that you don't know for a long time at work.
And well, that was a great thing working for Mr. Great Olivier story, who was the greatest actor that ever lived arguably.
He had been ill. I was working with John Schlesinger no longer with us.
Marathon meme was a thriller. John was not known for doing it, but he had done a movie that he thought was going to tank and he thought this could save his career on here.
He doesn't need a locust maybe.
Maybe it was I don't know, but he thought it was going to take. So we're in London. And we try and get Olivia Olivia has been. He was very ill with a bunch of diseases. And Slazenger. What am I thinking? Nobody knew if he live. And then I remembered this marvelous thing. Richard Widmark a wonderful actor, was in London and called up Slazenger is and I know you want Larry, can I read for you and Woodward got very famous in his first movie kiss of death, playing an evil figure named Tommy Yuda, who pushed the woman down the stairs. And he came, and he was fabulous as the evil Nazi as you can, if you think of it, even kiss of death. And then Olivier got strong enough to do it.
And he's bald in the movie wall in the book, blah, blah, blah. And we were terrified that Olivia, who was a very ill man, and had been gorgeous, as a young star might not want to have all his hair taken away. And I wouldn't have blamed him. So we had a barber. And we hit him in the basement of the place where we were doing rehearsal. And so Lawrence walked in and said this lesson. First words, elements. We shouldn't really do something about Getting rid of my hair. And so that only went to the barber and he came back bald and he was just fine with extraordinary. Yeah, he was he was the fabulous figure.
We'll talk a little bit about agents Have you have you had a number of them? I mean, who have been your?
Well, look, I live in New York, I basically think of myself still as a novelist who happens to write screenplays, even though I haven't written the novel in 25 years, 20 years. And I've written a bunch of nonfiction over the last decade or so. But I haven't written a novel. I remember the first agent I had I mentioned Joe McCrindle, who was the agent for Tableau goal. And I think Joe, Joe became I don't know if I have this right. We're going back a long time. Joe had been an editor. And he didn't like it, because he was dealing with agents all the time. So he became an agent, to deal with writers. And he went around the country. When he was just starting, and he went to all these schools that had writing programs. And he picked up I think, Philip Roth, he picked up who was a kid, and you know, but he picked up a bunch of writers. And then Joe was my agent for several years. And then he got bored with it. And he went out and lived in Princeton. And there was a wonderful woman named Monica McCall.
There were at this time, all the big agents in New York. For books were women. There was Monica McCall and Obi Wan, and I can't think of the third right now. And they had everybody and Monica became a agent. But I didn't need a movie agent in the beginning. And then what, eight years later, after I'd been a novel, whatever. Mr. Ziggler was a wonderful figure graduate of Princeton. Really a bright, bright man. And he then he died. So do you have? Do agents really do anything? Yeah, zig did. I mean, the auction was a huge thing. But he liked it was an odd thing that misters he had a he liked it doing auctions. When he got a script that he thought he could sell for a lot of money, he would call up all the studio heads that he knew. And say, I've got this terrific script. I'm sending it to you Friday. You have to have an offer in by Monday. Boom. And that was what he didn't.
Any he liked doing that. And, and he was very successful. But agents, I don't know what to say you need one. You desperately need one. But it's a strange life they have. Because people are always leaving. I mean, it sounds like the world we live in. Everybody's always leaving everybody. But it's fucking true. I mean, almost nobody is that Oh, yes.
Oh, so it has been waiting for 40 years. You always hear that someone says it to him, whatever it is. All I can say is you hustle. You have to not mind rejection. You have to send stuff off to an agent with a letter and pray that somebody in the office will read it. And pray that whoever reads it likes it, and gives it to somebody else in the office and somebody says, Wait a minute, I think we can sell is in which case you have an agent, but they're not your friends. That's not what they do. And like that, but you have to have,
I should say we're changing cars. We were just talking about that you have this extraordinary year where you were a judge both at con and a judge at the museum,
my wife? Absolutely. It was just a marvelous experience, because everybody on the jury has a different job. And when we talk, you know, we see, we'd see each other like every six movies. And we talk about did we like this? Do we like that? What about whatever, whatever. And it was so interesting, not just being around a director or an actor, but a photographer and an editor. And we all were, it was fascinating. It was a marvelous experience.
But you were that you judge Khan that was the was probably the conqueror.
Yeah, it was really it was such a great, yeah, incredible move. It was a wonderful. It was a wonderful experience.
That was that during this period, there was that you said in the eight years prior to 78. You had seven pictures. And then there was an eight year desert was a period of eight years nothing happened.
Nothing got made. It was amazing. One of the things was I got involved with a marvelous figure not dead named Joel Levine. And he wanted to work with me because a bridge too far brought him back. And he had been in the wilderness.
He was We did an original screenplay deal and none of the screenplays got made it was. I mean, God, it's one of these things you think about it. I wrote a screenplay. This is like Butch. I wrote a screenplay about two pirates, which happened. One of them was a man named Stede Bonnet, who lived in this is hundreds of years lived in Barbados, and was the richest man in the island, was married to a monstrous, very lovely woman, but evil.
And he'd been in the service but he'd never seen action. And he got very ill one winter. And he thought, shit, I might die. And he always wanted adventure. This is true. So we did something totally, totally never done before since he built a pirate ship pirate ships were always stolen. Bonnet built his own fucking pirate ship, got his butler to find a crew and he went off sailing to be a pirate. And he didn't give a shit. If he died.
He just wanted action. And through a wild fluke, he attacked the greatest pirate that ever lived black. And they sailed together for a while. And I wrote a movie called The sea kings. And I still think it's a fabulous fucking idea for a movie, because they had adventures. And, you know, they were they were just totally all Blackbeard wanted to do was get enough money to retire.
He was so sick of action. He was so sick of adventure. All he wanted to do was just get out of it. And all Monat wanted to do was see some adventure before he died. And I had these two guys as my heroes and it was I still think it's a great story. And it killed me that never got me, but it never would have higher it's became prominent in Princess Bride.
Yeah, yeah. But I think the reason the pirates there was a big pirate movie that tanked shit, I can't remember what it was cut through an island. And if someone were and they aren't, you know, oh my god pirate movies. Nobody wants to see. And then you know, Jerry Bruckheimer did the pirate movies and everything. But it was it's still, I think, a marvelous story. I think what we do is right, what we hope will move us and we hope that you can translate that emotion to the reader, whether it's a poem, or whether it's a novel, or an essay, or a movie or a play. You want to move people and you want to help people say,
Well, I didn't know that. Whatever, whatever. And it's, it's tricky. It's just tricky. Princess Bride though. And you said that was your favorite?
That's my one. That's what I really love. It really can look at it with it. When I said I don't like my writing, I really don't like my writing. And that doesn't quite track into my nonfiction because nonfiction that's not you know, it's not the writing style. It's so important. It's what do you, you know, whatever. But when I write fiction, I really don't like it. I when I when I look at it, I almost never, I almost ever reread anything I've written.
Because it's so horrible for me. I just don't like it. I wish it was better. But Princess Bride, I really, really like. And in bridge too far with something that you said you really was terrific. Well, that was a great experience, because Attenborough's such a fabulous figure, and we got I mean, it was an amazing story. And a really good book and it didn't work. It's funny. It didn't work commercially, as well as it should have. Everybody loved it until the audience came.
And it was long. Yeah, it was. It was not filled with heroic stuff that you could say, Oh, John Wayne wouldn't been great in this. And sort of the anti longest day. Yeah, it really was. And it was but you know, you as I said, You never fucking know. Nobody knows anything. Nobody has the least idea. What's going to work? And screenwriters are the basis I think of everything.
Because if you have a shitty script, even if you had Bergman or Fellini, or David Lean is not going to work as a movie. It's just is it and everything. I think everything begins with the script. And I think when you see a movie that that's not very good. One of the reasons is just the script and more. It's not the elegance of the prose is not the language for me in terms of moving.
He's only talking movies. It's all fucking story. That's really all it is. If the story works, if the audience, if you're moved by whatever the goddamn story is, you have a chance to have a movie that works. And if it doesn't, if the story isn't well told, or nobody cares about the story, you know, it's not going to work. It just isn't, it's going to be you'll say, You know what I was? You know, I'm sorry, I saw that. I don't know a lot of people that walk out of movies, I tend not to. But you know, half an hour in usually, if you're bored, or you really do when you sit there now, you've always said you have to get them in the first 15.
I think so. And get the beginning is really what it's, it's a weird if there was any logic to it. We wouldn't be here. The fact is, it's not logical. And most. Most, it's very hard. I don't mean for me, it's hard for anybody to tell a quality story, to have a good beginning and a middle and an end that works and all that stuff. It's just difficult. And you look at even the greatest writer directors did turds. And you say why? Well, because the story that we're telling didn't we're not all really well, it was wonderful. Right? Some of it was not even burden, my hero, that all of it was wonderful.
Was it because of Attenborough that you worked on the chaplain felt?
Yes. That was because he needed work at my doctor did for him. But then I got billing, I guess. But it was funny, you know, Downey, we live in a world where one could argue the two biggest actions are not John Wayne and Gary Cooper. They're Robert Downey and Matt Damon. And that's not possible. It's not possible at Robert Downey isn't Julia Anakin. But he is, you know, and he's a terrific guy, and a wonderful actor. But when we did Chaplain If you'd said, Well, who's really going to be an actor? You'd say, what are you smoking? But that's the world we live in. A lot of it is, you know, in Matt Damon in the Bourne movies, they're marvelous scripts by Tony Gilroy. But you know, Matt Damon's Wonderful.
Well, speaking of Tony Gilroy, you had an experience with with Tony on absolute power.
Absolutely. You say my I was. The movie works, it's okay. But I was having terrible trouble. There were too many characters, trying to figure out the story. Eastwood is just as fabulous figure. I remember when he said he would do absolute power. I fly out for a meeting on the script. And this is what it's like, you'll go through the thing and they'll say, this scene here. Could it be shorter? And I'd say that would be good. And then it goes in? Could this be funnier? I can try and good. All of a sudden, half an hour later, I'd say.
That's what he does. And it took anybody who's worked with him. He's the fastest guy, you know, he's still I mean, he's gonna be 80 years old, and he's still directing to movies. I don't know how he does it. But he has a crew that he's all worked with before. And it's like lightning. It's a marvelous experience when you work with him. And I mean, I don't know how he does. It's amazing. My theory on why Newman and Eastwood are the two fabulous figures that they are. And we're is because they did not make it when they were young. They were close to 30. East wind was digging swimming pools in California.
Newman was desperate to try and find any kind of work he got. And they both got lucky. They both got lucky. Eastwood told me he was walking in a movie studio to see a friend who had a job not as an actor, but as a in a guy stopped him and said, Excuse me, sir, are you an actor? And Eastwood said, Yes, sir. And the guy said, we're trying to cast a television show. Would you come read for us? And it was this what was in western that he did that was so raw. And the reason that they wanted him was because the other guy they'd already cast was really tall. So they needed a tall guy to play rowdy and Eastwood was tall, most actors are short. One of the things you must know when you're a screenwriter is they're not
the same experience you had with Sylvester Stallone. Oh, yes, I was. I was staggered by seven
I believe this is Caribbean This is a story I think Eastwood told me. It's his first year and the thing and Ryan, he comes home to his wife, whatever the wife was, and he said, I was offered a piece of shit Western. But I turned it and she said, What was? It takes place in Italy? And she says, We are in Italy when they pay you. And he says, oh, yeah, $25,000. She said, Well, wow, we can use six. Okay. So it goes over shoots this Western and Italy comes back to raw who never hears the Western Union. There's another movie. That's a gigantic phenomenon all over Europe. Nothing is ever heard of. months later, he gets a call from the producers as cleaned. Cleaned. Can we do it? You come while we do our sequel, Eastwood says to what? And they changed the title from A Fistful of Dollars, and no one had told him. So he said, let me see it, certainly send them home. And He's creeping, you know. And I think he rented a little movie theater in his town and had some friends. He says, I don't know what this is. And he liked it. So we did the sequel, then the third one and the end of that he was the biggest star in the world. But I mean, if he doesn't walk down that hall at that moment, and then the consistency of his stardom. Oh, it's amazing. There's ordinary over nothing,
Oh, nothing. I think he's the greatest star in Hollywood history. I really do. But then the director is so freaky, that he's become this man. I mean, arguably, this fabulous director has a just incredible. And Newman was fabulous. He didn't direct as much as he might have. But I remember Newman did our town a few years, he was wondering, but they were they were both late 20s, I think when they broke through, so they had years of suffering and whatever. And I think that's why they were the decent figures they turned out to be.
The reason I asked you about absolute power was because you said that you'd had screenwriters mess around with your novels that you had never really? He never said to somebody else. It's true.
It was hard. I don't know. Sometimes you just can't do it. I don't know. Anything. Finally, you want to say is there? No, it's just basically it's it's just what we started out with screenplays, their structure. The story I think is everything. And you've got to really try and do stuff you think you can make play. It's hard. You know, it just is you've got to do your job and don't fuck it up and don't screw around. Just do what you're trying and tell your story or whatever they want you to do, as skillfully as you can and and hope and hope
Eric Roth is one of the most sought-after and successful screenwriters in Hollywood today. His multiple awards winning screenplays are amongst some of the all-time exceptional films written and recognized by the American Film Institute. He’s well-known for writing or producing films like Forrest Gump, A Star is Born, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, Ali, and many more
Alex had the pleasure of sitting down with Eric and discussed his career, the craft, and much more. The screenplays below are the only ones that are available online. If you find any of his missing screenplays please leave the link in the comment section.
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.
Before we can talk about the best movie themes in film, we have to understand what theme exactly is.
In the dictionary:
Theme – an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.
So, for example, The Notebook has several themes, which films can and do have, but its main theme is, love.
Love is such a big theme that we’ll jump right into our list.
While we are giving you the most successful themes in movies, we are not ranking them on their importance. As you’ll see, most standout films have more than one theme.
If you’ve ever watched a film you’ll have noticed that 100% had loved as one of its themes. Think about it? There’s always a love storyline in any film. Go ahead, try and think of a film that doesn’t have a love storyline?
Can’t do it, can you?
Love, a great theme to write about and needed to be on our list for sure. The Love Story is one of the most popular themes in movies. This is because love is the most universal emotion and love stories can touch people from all walks of life.
There are two types of love stories. One is the romantic love story and the other is the platonic love story.
Romantic Love Story
A romantic love story is a story about two people who fall in love with each other. In the platonic love story, two people fall in love with each other, but they don’t end up together. The theme of love in movies is very broad.
In fact, it can be a theme for a film on many different levels. For example, if your character falls in love with his ex-girlfriend, then it’s not a romantic love story. However, if he gets back together with her after they broke up, then this is a romantic love story.
Love at First Sight
If your screenplay revolves around a couple who fall in love with each other at first sight, then this is a romantic love story. However, if you want to create an unexpected romantic love story, then it’s better to avoid using the phrase “love at first sight” in your screenplay. It might sound too cliché.
Platonic Love Story
However, if it’s a romantic comedy, then it is a platonic love story. When writing your screenplay, you need to understand that the love theme is the most important one you have to think about. It’s the heart and soul of your story and it will be the reason why your audience comes back to watch it again and again.
Go to Genre: Romance
One of the most popular film genres is horror, and in horror, there is a ton of fear themes. If you’re writing a scary move and don’t incorporate fear, then you haven’t written a horror film at all, you’ve written a boring drama.
Horror is more than just a bunch of jump scares and gore. It has to be based on fear, otherwise it isn’t really horror at all. Fear is the basis of horror, and that means that there has to be some form of fear in every horror movie. So what is fear?
Fear can be described as a feeling of impending doom or danger. It’s the idea that something bad is about to happen. It’s not just about the idea of death, it’s also about the idea of getting hurt.
There are several types of fear, and they each serve a different purpose. The first type of fear is physical fear. This is when you have a real threat of bodily harm, like being attacked by a killer or having your house burned down.
There’s nothing scarier than thinking that you’re going to be hurt, and it will cause your body to tense up and your heart rate to increase. Next is emotional fear. This is the fear of something that is scary, but it’s not as immediate. It’s more about the feeling of dread, like being scared of something that is out of your control.
A great example of this is watching horror movies, which are designed to give you a sense of dread.
The third type of fear is situational fear, which means that you’re afraid of something that you can’t do anything about. This could be something as simple as the fact that you don’t know what’s around the corner. The best horror movies always incorporate some form of all three types of fear.
If you have only one type of fear in a movie, then it won’t be scary, it will just be boring. You have to have at least some form of physical fear in a horror film. This is because without a threat of bodily harm, there isn’t going to be any tension. There has to be some kind of emotional fear in a horror movie. Otherwise, there will be no sense of dread.
This is because if you don’t have any danger, then the story will never end. Fear can be incorporated into many different ways in a horror film. You can use fear to make a character scared, you can scare the audience, or you can just scare the hell out of them. In a horror movie, you have to scare people. That’s how you get the audience to feel afraid and want to watch more.
A good way to incorporate fear into your script is through the use of suspense. A lot of people think that a horror movie is only scary because of the gore, but this isn’t true. Horror movies are scary because of the use of suspense. This is when there is an element of surprise in a situation that the characters are in.
Go to Genre: Horror and Thrillers
Good Vs Evil
Do we even have to explain this one? Any superhero film that you have ever seen falls into this theming. Even films like the Lord of the Ring series is all about Good vs. Evil.
Good and evil are two of the most used psychological concepts in movies and TV shows. There’s a reason for it: they’re extremely easy to understand and apply, and they’re very powerful ways to help us emotionally process information we might otherwise not take into account.
The good guys are the ones who save the world and help people, while the bad guys are the ones who want to destroy the world and hurt people. In real life, however, good and evil isn’t as cut-and-dried as in a Hollywood blockbuster.
In reality, it’s a matter of perspective. Some people might be more compassionate, and others may not. And just because someone is the good guy today doesn’t mean they will be the bad guy tomorrow.
We may see a movie or TV show where a character does something we don’t agree with, but it doesn’t make us want to condemn him or her. Why not? Because of the way emotions operate in our minds.
It’s a question many of us have wondered, at least in our childhood years. The answer is simple: it all depends on what you believe in. When we grow up, we often develop a philosophy about how the world works and what values are important. As such, we also develop beliefs about what is good and evil.
But it doesn’t have to just be used in films with massive battles and explosions.
Take a look at a comedy like Due Date. Robert Downey Jr. can be considered the good guy as he’s our main character just trying to get home before his wife gives birth to their first child.
Zach Galifianakis can be seen as the evil character, seemingly sabotaging our protagonist throughout the film, until this theme slowly disappears as the two characters become friends.
Go To Genre: Action and Superhero/Comic Book Films
We’re all going to die someday. That can be a very scary thing for some and a calming thing to understand for others. Death is a major part of life so its obvious that it would be a major theme used in all sorts of films.
Usually, in high stakes type of films, death is the danger of pushing our characters into action.
A film like Inception, by Christopher Nolan, can have amazing visuals and imaginative plot points, but at the end of the day, one of the major themes in the film is death.
Inception shows us what happens when we die, and it’s a haunting and fascinating concept to think about. The film asks questions about how we go on living after we die, and how we could be brought back to life.
Inception shows us how our consciousness continues on after we die, and it makes us consider if we really want to continue living after we die. We have an interesting choice to make, whether we want to go on living or not. I’ve always wondered if we go on living after we die, but I never thought about what it would be like to die.
Sometimes, though, death is not just an obstacle to overcome but also a major plot point that can lead to a resolution. Sometimes, death is a necessary part of the story.
Death is the end of one thing, or the beginning of something else. In film, death is used as a plot device in many different ways. It can be used as a way to help the audience understand the characters or as a way to help the characters understand themselves. A character can die in a movie, or they can die multiple times.
They can even die before the story begins, or they can die after the movie ends. If we look at the films listed below, we can see how death is used to make a point.
Here are some of cinema’s greatest character are developed by using death.
Fight Club – Death is used by Tyler Durden to help him understand himself and his purpose in life. His death helps him realize that he needs to change and to become the person he was meant to be.
Memento – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Leonard Shelby, understand his own identity.
Casino Royale – Death is used in this movie to help the main character, James Bond, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is.
The Dark Knight – Death is used by Harvey Dent to help him understand himself and his purpose in life. His death helps him realize that he needs to change and to become the person he was meant to be.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Lisbeth Salander, understand her own identity. She learns that her life isn’t defined by what she has done, but by who she is.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Frodo, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is. Death is used in this movie to help the main character, Aragorn, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is.
The Top Death Movies
Apocalypse Now is about a United States soldier named Captain Willard. He is in Vietnam at the time, and he is about to be promoted to Sergeant. He is also having problems with the men under his command. He gets into a fight with them, and he ends up shooting the man who was leading the fight. The other men try to kill him, but they cannot.
They eventually bring him to a medic, and he is sent home. As he is on his way home, he is shot by another soldier. Willard ends up in the hospital for three days, and he then dies. When Willard dies, it is a turning point in the story because the movie has now become about Willard’s journey to find out what he really wants from life.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a girl named Nancy who is a high school student. She has a crush on a boy named Johnny, and she spends most of her time at his house. One night, she is watching television with Johnny and his parents when the television turns on by itself. It shows an old woman, and she says, “What is your name?” She then tells them to leave the room.
Nancy and Johnny are trapped in the room with the woman, and she tells them that they will die if they do not get into bed with her. She then starts killing them. She kills Johnny first, and then she kills Nancy. The girl’s parents find her dead, and they think that she committed suicide. The girl’s mother is so upset that she goes to the police to report what happened.
Taxi Driver is about a taxi driver named Travis Bickle. He lives in New York City, and he is having problems dealing with his past. He is a Vietnam veteran who was dishonorably discharged from the military, and he is obsessed with the death of his girlfriend. The main theme of the movie is what it means to be human.
We see that the most human thing is to love someone and to be loved. When Travis meets Iris, he falls in love with her. This causes him to become very violent. He kills his friend, and he tries to kill a man he sees with his girlfriend.
As he gets more and more involved with his job as a taxi driver, he starts to get obsessed with the idea of killing. When Travis is talking with his psychiatrist, he realizes that he needs to get help for his problems.
Blade Runner is about an android named Rick Deckard. He has been assigned to track down four escaped androids named Roy Batty, Pris, Zhora, and Zhora. He is trying to determine if they are really human, or if they are just machines. He has to track them down and determine their fate. This movie is about how we deal with death.
We see that humans have the power to destroy themselves. We also see that death is not the end. The main theme of the movie is the idea of how we live in this world. Humans have the power to destroy themselves, but they can also overcome anything.
The Shining is about a writer named Jack Torrance who has been living with his family for many years in the Overlook Hotel. Jack is an alcoholic, and he has been working on a book about the hotel called “The Overlook” for many years. One day, Jack’s wife and son decide to leave for the day, and Jack gets drunk.
When Jack goes to check on his son, he is not able to find him, and he hears some noises coming from his son’s room. He goes in to see what is going on, and he finds his son dead in his bed. Jack is unable to deal with this tragedy, and he kills his son and then himself.
Jack Torrance is the first character that we see die in the film, but it is actually Jack Nicholson who dies. This was a way to show how Jack had completely lost control of his life and how he was not able to stop himself from killing his own son. In the end, Jack is the only one who can stop himself from killing his family.
American Beauty is about a man named Lester Burnham. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He is a successful businessman, but he is bored and unhappy with his life. One day, he goes to a local bar and sees his neighbor having an affair with his wife.
Lester goes home and tells his wife that she is an adulterer, and that he doesn’t want to live with her anymore. His wife and daughter leave the house and go back to their apartment.
Meanwhile, Lester’s father is dying of cancer. Lester takes his father to a doctor for treatment, but the doctor says that it’s too late for treatment. He explains that the cancer has spread all over his body and that he only has a few weeks left to live. Lester spends the last days of his father’s life with him, and they talk about life and death.
The end of the movie shows Lester, his wife, and his daughter sitting in a car listening to the radio. Lester turns off the radio, and he starts crying. Lester then looks at his daughter and says, “I’m sorry, honey. I just don’t know how to quit you.” The next scene shows Lester walking into his house.
The Usual Suspects
The Usual Suspects is a great movie. But what makes it so great is that it features many great characters. One of them is Keyser Soze, who is one of the main villains in the film. He has died several times throughout the film. We can see this in the trailer for the movie: We can also see this in the actual movie: What is interesting about these deaths are the different ways they happen.
In the trailer, we see him die in a way that is very dramatic and shocking. In the movie, we see him die in a way that is very funny and surprising. In the trailer, he dies with a gun in his hand. In the movie, he is shot by an innocent bystander.
This was a great way to make him die. It was shocking and it made us question if he really was Keyser Soze. It was also funny because it was unexpected. It would not have been shocking if he had died in the same way that we saw in the trailer.
Go To Genre: Horror, Action, and Adventure
Who doesn’t like to watch a film about someone getting their comeuppance? A revenge story is usually told through the eyes of a protagonist who finds out some bad news and reacts by taking action to make things right.
Films like Gladiator, Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2, even Mean Girls, are all about our main protagonist getting revenge (justice) for what has been done wrong to them or someone close to our character’s heart.
Examples of revenge stories include the plot of The Godfather, the film about a family that avenges the death of its patriarch by murdering his killers; the plot of Reservoir Dogs, the Quentin Tarantino film about a group of criminals who plan to kill a member of their own crew for stealing from them.
This popular theme allows us the viewer (and yes, the screenwriter) to see things come to life that we wish we could do in our own lives but understand such things would most likely have us in jail, for life, with no chance of parole.
In the case of the “revenge movie,” the protagonist seeks retribution by taking out the perpetrator’s life. Typically, the protagonist is motivated by a sense of justice or morality. Revenge stories can also be used to promote a product or service—in which case they are often marketed as “my way or the highway.”
Everyone loves to see someone get what they deserve, and that’s why Revenge makes for a great movie theme.
We will take a look at how a revenge story can be told and how it can be used as a theme for your screenplay. Revenge is the most common and popular theme in movies. It’s also the most difficult one to write. Why is that? Because there are so many rules and regulations we must follow to make sure our revenge plot is done properly.
And if you don’t follow all those rules, then you risk ruining the entire revenge plot. I’ve seen it happens time and again, even to some of the best writers out there.
Why do we love Revenge?
For starters, it’s always entertaining. Whether it’s watching someone who has wronged another person get their comeuppance or watching the protagonist go after the bad guys and bring them down, we all like to watch a good revenge movie.
Revenge is fun because we all want to see someone get their just desserts. Even if you are the one doing the getting of the just desserts, it’s still an enjoyable experience to see justice done. It’s also exciting. It’s not everyday that you see your protagonist go after the people who have wronged them.
In most cases, they don’t have the resources or the skill set to do so. However, in the case of Revenge, our protagonist is an expert in the field and he’s got the right tools at his disposal to bring about justice.
Finally, it’s cathartic. We all know deep down inside that we would like to see someone else get their comeuppance for what they’ve done to us. We all hate the way they treated us or the way they did things, but we hate ourselves for being the one who allowed them to get away with it.
Go To Genre: Action and Thriller
This one, like love, is very straight forward, in fact probably more so. War stories are a staple of Hollywood blockbusters and independent films alike. It’s no coincidence that the most successful movies have been ones about battles for survival, love, independence, and freedom. And a good war story isn’t just one that shows up in a movie.
It can also be found in the pages of a bestselling book, in a magazine article, or even in a YouTube video. In order for the reader or listener to truly empathize with the hero or heroine in the story, the storyteller needs to paint a picture of the hero or heroine’s situation that is so vivid that it feels as if the reader or listener has lived it themselves.
The same is true of the war that the hero or heroine fought in, even if that war never happened. A good example of this would be the movie Black Hawk Down. Though the story was based on actual events, the filmmakers were able to add dramatic elements that allowed them to make the story feel like a living, breathing experience.
One of those elements was the depiction of the town where the battle took place. In the movie, they created an African-American neighborhood in Mogadishu, Somalia, and gave the people there a sense of pride and dignity, all while showing the effects of the brutal war that raged around them.
The same principle can be applied to other types of stories, including science fiction, fantasy, and romance.
But it works best when the author is willing to tell a story from his or her own personal experiences, rather than relying on a fictionalized account. This makes the story more relatable, and therefore more effective.
A movie war story will include one of the following elements:
An intense situation where you or your characters must make a choice about which action to take
Someone’s actions will have consequences that reverberate down the line
You may experience a personal loss in the story
Your characters may be forced to deal with emotions that are unexpected for them
You may need to learn to trust someone in the course of the story
Obviously, any film that is about war will have themes of war. Films like Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, War of the Worlds are all about war. How each film explores that theme are vastly different from each other, but the core theme is there in all of them.
Once again, this is a perfect theme for superhero movies, especially team-ups like The Avengers or Justice League, where our heroes are usually fighting some sort of alien army.
But if you want to be a little more subtle, a movie like Scarface also has some elements of war.
Go To Genre: Action and Thriller
Coming of Age
Not only is this a theme a lot of popular films explore, but its also a popular genre. To put it simply, a coming of age a story about how a character learns to grow up, get out of his or her comfort zone and learn the necessary skills to become a mature adult.
This may include the character going through a rite of passage (such as a coming of age experience, a death, or a move to a new city), discovering his or her sexuality, or discovering his or her purpose in life. It’s a coming of age movie.
It’s the movie that deals with a group of teenagers who come of age. A coming of age story is a very important part of American culture. The first generation to truly take advantage of the benefits of the industrial revolution was born in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
They were able to rise above the poverty line and start making a life for themselves. They could also go to college, and get jobs to support themselves and their families.
The Breakfast Club, Superbad, Stand by Me, Perks of Being a Wallflower, are all films with Coming of Age as one of their themes. The list could literally go on and on.
Coming of age usually covers themes of universal experiences, which make them so popular with audiences. We all know those awkward, angsty, embarrassing, etc events we had to go through while maturing into adulthood, which allows us to connect more closely with our main character.
This is why coming of age movies have become so popular, because we can all relate to them. Coming of Age Movies are also a great way to explore universal human experiences. The main character has to grow up and learn the necessary skills to become an adult.
This can be done through many different ways, such as learning how to survive in the world, learning how to take care of others, learning how to deal with love, and learning how to be happy with oneself. It’s also a great way for directors to explore what it means to grow up and what it means to be an adult.
The Breakfast Club
One of the most famous coming of age films is “The Breakfast Club.” The movie follows five students who spend the day at detention together. It’s there where they learn to get along with each other, learn that they are all very different from each other, and learn to let go of the past. The characters learn about themselves and the world around them. They discover their true potential and what they want out of life.
This film is another coming of age film that explores universal coming of age themes. The main character is a high school student named Evan, who wants to be popular. He gets caught up in a whole bunch of things that he doesn’t understand, which causes him to fail. His friends help him get back on track by telling him what he needs to do, and giving him advice. The main theme of this movie is that we all have our own unique qualities and abilities that we can use to make the world a better place.
One of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies, and it deals with the theme of coming of age. This movie follows three characters, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, and Samuel L. Jackson, as they go on a quest to get revenge on a group of people who killed their friend.
Their quest leads them on a journey where they learn more about themselves and what they want out of life.
Dazed and Confused
Another coming of age film that deals with the theme of coming of age is “Dazed and Confused.” The movie follows four high school students, as they spend the day in a small town.
It’s there where they learn to deal with the pressures of being a teenager. They learn to find out what makes them happy, and what makes them sad. This allows them to discover who they are and what they want out of life.
One of the best coming of age films ever made. It follows Benjamin Braddock, a college student, as he tries to find his place in the world. He goes on a journey to find out more about himself and what he wants out of life. This allows him to discover his true potential and what he wants out of life.
Go To Genre: Comedy and Drama
If you’re familiar with the “overcome adversity” storytelling format, you know the idea behind it. An underdog rises to challenge the status quo, and wins. Overcoming adversity is a great way to capture attention and inspire readers. Movies like Titanic, The Fighter, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby all use this formula.
Overcome adversity is a great theme for biofilms. We don’t make films about famous people simply because they’re famous. We make films about their lives because they are the people that battled adversity, and somehow in the end, reach their goals and accomplished their dreams.
When it comes to overcoming adversity, the best story line from a movie is the one that tells the audience why the protagonist didn’t quit, why he continued, and how he prevailed in the face of the worst adversity imaginable.
For example, in the movie The Last Samurai, a Japanese samurai is asked to train a group of American soldiers, but he refuses to do so until he is given the respect of being allowed to choose the time and place. He eventually accepts and trains them.
We all want to have that inspiration of seeing someone like us being unstoppable in their journey to a better life, because if we see someone else able to do it maybe – just maybe we’ll be able to as well.
It’s also a great theme to explore as a screenwriter because you’re going into your story already with a clear understanding that you’re going to put your character through the ringer and almost to the edge of death, before giving them their much-earned comeback.
Go To Genre: Action, Comedy and Superhero/Comic Book Films
When we think about heroes in films, we often think about the ones who are doing something great, whether it’s saving people or winning the battle or saving a country. This kind of heroism can make us feel good and helps us overcome our fears.
However, there’s another kind of heroism that we can draw inspiration from—it’s the hero of the story who simply helps someone else get through a tough situation. He or she doesn’t have any grand plans to change the world, but rather, they just want to help someone else out.
While it may seem that this kind of heroism is less impressive than the other kind, I’d argue that it’s actually more valuable because it’s less self-serving. When we act on behalf of others, we put their interests above our own, which is what makes it so powerful.
This is why helping others is one of the most important aspects of altruism, and it’s also why it’s such an important virtue for a society to encourage.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This is what makes the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty so fascinating. The film follows a man who has spent his life living vicariously through other people’s stories. However, he finds himself in a situation where he needs to do something heroic himself—something that will make him feel like a hero.
In order to do this, he has to find a way to live a normal life, one that doesn’t involve him constantly being pulled into someone else’s story. This is a difficult task for Walter, since he has spent so much time living vicariously through others. But if we can look at the movie from a different angle, we can see that he’s doing a great job of overcoming his selfish tendencies and acting on behalf of others.
In the first part of the movie, Walter has been living his life as a reclusive office worker. He is content with his life, but then he gets a call from his estranged wife asking him to come home for Christmas. As he listens to her, he starts to think about his own past. He remembers how he was once a man who was driven by ambition, who wanted to do something great.
He remembers how he used to make plans to be the best photographer in the world. But after he meets Jane, he finds that he can no longer live vicariously through her stories. Walter is forced to confront the fact that he doesn’t want to be the hero in her life, or anyone else’s life, for that matter. He doesn’t want to become a hero.
Instead, he wants to go back to his old life and lead a normal one. So, how does Walter do this? The answer is simple. He just needs to stop thinking about himself and start thinking about others.
He needs to forget about his own needs and desires and start focusing on those of others. And in order to do this, he has to learn how to let go of his selfish tendencies. The first step in doing this is to stop thinking about himself.
Walter has to stop focusing on himself and his needs and instead focus on other people and their needs. This is a difficult task for Walter because he’s always been so self-centered. But if we look at the movie from a different angle, we can see that he’s doing a great job of overcoming his selfish tendencies and acting on behalf of others. He’s living vicariously through others.
The heroic theme is a popular theme because it’s obviously once again tied into the superhero genre. We all want to see the good in people, and especially in today’s world, it can feel like there are no more good people left.
Films that deal with themes of Hero allow us to see the world in a more optimistic light. The hero film can inspire us to take actual action in our real everyday lives. The hero theme doesn’t just have to be for superhero films.
A film about Martin Luther King, Jr would have themes of “the hero” too. What’s even better is that that was in fact a real, living, breathing, hero that once lived with us.
Go To Genre: Action, Biography and Superhero/Comic Book Films
Man vs Machine
A story about Man vs Machine (or Man vs. Technology) is a story about two characters whose minds are set on the same goal. It’s a story of a human trying to beat a machine at a task. That’s what makes it a good choice for movie storytelling. A character has a specific goal, and the storyteller tries to find out if the character can achieve it. And then the storyteller tries to tell the audience what would happen if the character succeeds.
The basic structure of this type of story is usually a confrontation between the hero and a machine (the antagonist). The main idea behind a man vs. machine story is that the protagonist has some unique quality or skill that makes him or her the best choice to solve the problem at hand.
The machine or antagonist, on the other hand, is the epitome of modern technology and science. The hero must use all his or her skills and wits to overcome the machine and save the day.
This could be a sports story, an action movie, a comedy, a drama, or any other genre of film. It’s a story about a human trying to beat a machine at a task. That’s what makes it a good choice for movie storytelling. The main idea behind a man vs. machine story is that the protagonist has some unique quality or skill that makes him or her the best choice to solve the problem at hand.
This is a theme that you see explored all the time in the sci-fi genre. At least once a year, there will be a film released exploring this theme. When done well, they become classics and/or pick up a ton of awards.
At some point, humans and machines will become more evenly matched. That’s what happened in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the human resistance sent a T-800 into cyberspace. The T-800, however, wasn’t the only machine that became self-aware and began to see its human creators as a threat.
A group of humans who are trying to survive on the Earth, have been attacked by a robot with artificial intelligence. The machine is called “Terminator.” “T2 is a follow-up of sorts to the original 1984 sci-fi film. In the film, John Connor leads a resistance movement against the machines.
The premise of the film Ex Machina is fairly simple, although it’s execution is quite complex and nuanced. A beautiful young woman is brought into a high-tech research facility for an experiment where she’s partnered with a robot. protagonist Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is being tested to see if he’s suitable to be a candidate for a job at a major tech company.
His test involves being shut inside a room with an artificial intelligence named Ava, which he must impress in order to get a job offer. This is the point in the movie where we learn that Ava is not a person—she’s a “simulation” of a human being.
She looks, acts, and thinks like a person. But she’s a computer program, and it’s important to know this when attempting to communicate with her. At first, he seems to bond with her robotic companion, but soon discovers that it may not be an ideal match.
He must decide whether to trust the machine that appears to be her friend and companion or to trust her own judgment.
When dealing with the man vs machine theme, as a screenwriter you might start to fall into some classic Man vs Machine tropes. So, to keep your story fresh, figure out a way you can incorporate another theme to mesh with this main one that we might not have seen before, or at least not very often.
Obvious choices would be to go either to love or fear, but if you’re looking to make an impact on a genre and change the way Man vs Machine stories are seen and told, you might want to connect a theme like Remorse and see what interesting plot points you may be able to come up with.
Go to Genre: Sci-fi
Remorse is a theme that has been around for a while in fiction. I’m sure there are plenty of movies that explore this theme, but I just haven’t had the time to watch them all. So, this will be my first foray into it.
What is Remorse?
As Wikipedia puts it,
“remorse is a feeling of regret or guilt that results from a belief that one has behaved in a manner that violates the values or moral principles that one holds dear.”
There are a few ways to go about exploring this theme in a screenplay: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. They realize they’ve behaved in a way that violates their moral code.
A character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. But, it later comes back to haunt them. A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong. And, there is no change of heart from the character.
For instance, a character who kills someone and then later realizes that what he/she did was wrong, but there is no change of heart. I’m going to be examining three remorses in this section.
Remorse 1: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience.
Remorse 2: A character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong.
Remorse 3: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong.
The first remorse I want to look at is the character’s emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. It could be anything from a crime to a moral failing.
Here are a few examples:
A character murders someone. They realize what they did was wrong, but there is no change of heart. They feel no remorse.
A character murders someone and then tries to cover it up. He/she feels no remorse.
A character has an affair with a married woman and then covers it up. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
A character breaks into a house and steals things. He/she feels no remorse.
A character embezzles money. He/she feels no remorse.
A character steals food to feed his/her starving child. He/she feels no remorse.
A character kills a baby. He/she feels no remorse.
The above examples all have the same element in common: there is no emotional response to the action that affects their conscience. This is the first type of remorse that I’m going to be looking at.
The second type of remorse is when a character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. Here are some examples:
A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits theft. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits murder. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits adultery. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits incest. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits rape. He/she feels no remorse.
The above examples all have the same element in common: there is no emotional response to the action that affects their conscience. This is the second type of remorse that I’m going to be looking at.
The third type of remorse is when a character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience, but it is later revealed that what they did was wrong. Here are a few examples:
A character murders someone. He/she feels no remorse.
A character murders someone and then tries to cover it up. He/she feels no remorse.
A character has an affair with a married woman and then covers it up. He/she feels no remorse.
A character breaks into a house and steals things. He/she feels no remorse.
A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
A character embezzles money. He/she feels no remorse.
I hope this has helped you understand theme and how to use it in your writing. Come back to this article when you have writer’s block. Happy writing.
How to Find Theme
What’s the theme you? You don’t know what the theme is your fifth grade teacher we taught you nothing. Oh, we’re gonna talk about what a theme is. Yoga is here and today is all about themes. So if you’re a little hazy on the whole, what is the theme thing? Stay tuned because I’m gonna confuse the hell out of you. totally kidding, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t do that to you guys. I love you guys. So I guess we should probably start with what is theme, maybe definition theme, a central idea in a piece of writing or other work of art.
And then when we’re talking about themes we’re talking about a universal concept that is much bigger than the characters or the story that you create these abstract ideas or observations can be applied to well everybody me you this guy. Well, maybe not that guy.
But movie theme is more or less the writer or filmmakers message to the audience. Any good film or screenplay can have many things. Some themes are insanely obvious, and others are more subtle. For example, you could say that a theme for Finding Nemo is through friendship you can overcome your fears and insecurities doesn’t have a character doesn’t mention any plot points and it’s a universal concept can be applied to me you are this guy. What theme isn’t?
Well, theme is not communicated in one word, it’s it’s about love, friendship, friendship, family. These are really themes. They’re just subjects or topics. However, you can use the subject to help you find a theme themes are observations, opinions, or ideas about the subject of a movie. For example, the subject of a movie could be revenge, but the theme could be revenge destroys everything and everyone including the person seeking How do you find the theme?
Well, there are a few different ways. Let’s talk about that one look at your protagonists journey. How does your main character change throughout the course of the story? What do they learn? If you substitute your main character for say all of mankind, then your protagonists journey and how they change can be a theme for example, in Iron Man, Tony Stark begins the film as a naive war profiteer, but over the course of the film, he realizes the destructive impact of his actions and takes full responsibility for them. So based on his character arc, you could say that a theme is we must all take responsibility for our own actions because at the end of the day, nobody else will and another theme could be no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, it’s never too late to set things right.
To look at the central conflict of the story, what are the opposing forces which one wins? And if so, why? And by forces I mean, the more abstract generalized definition for example, in the Terminator
The two opposing forces are man and machine you could say that the theme is no matter how advanced our creations become they can never replace the human spirit you know Arnold Schwarzenegger was all swole up with his you know metal skeleton and everything but I mean, we still one I mean, you aren’t a Swanson I mean, I love you bro. But you lost the machines took an L three. Sometimes the character can just flat out state a theme of the movie doesn’t always happen, but sometimes it does.
For example, in The Incredibles, just before Bob tries to fight the Omni bot alone at the climax, his wife Helen says this, I’m asking you to wait with a kid and I’m telling you Not a chance. You’re my husband, I’m with you. For better or worse, if we work together, you won’t have to be so if you’ve seen the movie, you understand that Bob has had trouble embracing this whole marriage slash family thing and his wife Helen is pretty much outright flat saying if we weren’t together, we can conquer anything. thing with family and marital unity.
Anything is possible. Oh, that was actually kind of good. I like the way I worded them. write that one down. No, you want to avoid being too vague or obvious with your theme. For example, family is awesome. Love is blind. love conquers all. Friendship is important. Yeah, I’m just I’m just not digging those. There’s more. It’s worth mentioning that themes can be horribly subjective. Two different people can read the same scripts or watch the same movie and walk away with two completely different things.
Sometimes a film can have conflicting themes. Or sometimes people can see themes in a piece of work or film that the filmmaker outright rejects or didn’t intend to be there. Somebody could easily think that the theme for Man of Steel is never trust frickin aliens pay, it’s subjective, he wouldn’t be wrong. The general rule of thumb is, if you see it, you own it. We bring our own life experiences into the scripts that we read in the films that we watch, the way that we interpret the meaning of what we see is also informed by our own life experiences. As a result, people will inherently see different messages and meanings.
So whatever themes you see they’re absolutely true for you. Now, of course, all the examples that I used earlier are all based on my own subjective experience. So you got to come up with your own theme. does this affect my writing? You’ll find that when you’re writing your own work, the same themes keep popping up whether you intend for it or not, you’ll naturally sort of gravitate to certain topics or subject matters. It could possibly maybe more than likely probably leaning more towards Sure.
Almost 100% sure definitely probably mean that these things are important to you on a subconscious level. I noticed in my own work I always tend towards the exploration of pain my characters are always dealing with a lot of I don’t know what it is about it I just, you know, when I start writing, I always end up writing about that in some form or another as a writer, try not to force a theme oftentimes when you’re working on a project and you get put so far into the writing process, a theme just sort of rises to the surface that had probably been laying dormant in the back of your mind somewhere it seems to work best that way.
Anyway, some people like to start writing with a loose theme in mind some people don’t think about theme at all and as they write if a theme pops up great, if not great, do you think about theme before you go into the project? Or do you just kind of let it surface as you’re working? Are you are you a big theme or are you not a big theme or that that’s not even a word?
So get in the comment box and you know, let me let me know what you think. Well, that’s all I got for you.
Finding the movie theme of Jurassic Park
There it is. For a kid growing up in the 90s, Jurassic Park was everything. It’s hard to imagine anything cooler than a dinosaur. And this film brought dinosaurs to life in a way never before possible. But as time has shown simply, including dinosaurs is not enough to make a movie good. Allen, and then revisiting the film as an adult, it’s clear that one of the most impressive aspects of Jurassic Park is its screenplay.
While the film is filled with exciting action sequences and amazing visual effects. It is also populated by interesting characters who are used to explore an important modern theme. So today I want to examine how the themes origins inspired the creation of two very specific central characters to look at how both the plot and supporting characters challenge their beliefs, and dissect how every single choice made by the writers fed the theme until it became a full grown, unstoppable monster. Welcome to Jurassic Park.
In the early 1980s, author Michael Crichton was working on a script about a graduate student using technology to recreate a dinosaur as he was writing crighton arrived at a problem explaining this kind of research is tremendously expensive. And the question arises, who will pay for it? The only thing that I could think of was that it would come from a desire for entertainment.
So the idea of a dinosaur theme park became the foundation of cratons premise and buried inside this premise who would find what would become the DNA of the story? Its theme in this book into the woods a five act journey into story, john York discusses the importance of theme. A theory is posited as an argument explored and a conclusion reached.
That, in a nutshell, is what theme is, subject matter is a static given. theme, on the other hand, is an active exploration of an idea. It’s a premise to be explored. It’s a question, is it a good idea to bring back dangerous extinct creatures? Just because we have the technology to do something doesn’t mean that we should. And more broadly, is everything we call progress actually progress? This is the theme of Jurassic Park. But Michael crighton didn’t think the question had a simple answer.
So he and screenwriter David cap use the theme as a blueprint for creating two characters with opposing viewpoints. When we first meet Dr. Alan grant, he is anti progress in two distinct ways. Computers feeling’s mutual. We see the grant is completely mistrusting of technology. Look at the external grants that must be compatible. We also see that he is not compatible with a more symbolic representation of the future. He slashes to here.
You are alive when they start to eat you. Grant doesn’t like kids, and doesn’t want to have them. What’s wrong with kids? He looked in noisy there’s messy they’re expensive to see.
They smell. Throughout the first act we see examples of grants dislike of children and his contentious relationship with technology again, and again. And again, and grant clearly represents the anti progress side of the theme. But soon someone with an opposing viewpoint comes barging into his world. JOHN Hammond Hammond is so pro technology and progress he doesn’t even consider that genetically engineering dinosaurs might be dangerous. When a worker is killed by a velociraptor Hammonds only concern is that it might delay the parks opening. In fact, Hammonds favorite catchphrase spent no expense was spared no expense spared no expense is an expression of this mindset forward at all costs. How can we stop in the minds of discovery Act, the first act of Jurassic Park establishes grant and Hammonds opposing takes on the theme of progress. But just having characters and body different perspectives isn’t enough. To truly explore a theme you must find ways of testing the characters believes.
An act to the screenplay splits Scranton Hammond up putting an entire island and a 10,000 volt fence between them. This separation allows each of them to encounter situations uniquely designed to attack their beliefs. when the power goes out all over the island, grant is suddenly forced to get along without the help of any technology.
They wouldn’t touch. Don’t touch anything we stopped, while at the same time finding himself responsible for the lives of hemmens grandchildren. But that’s not Throughout the second act of the film, every single moment and grand story is about one of these two things. Boy, eventually, Grant even acknowledges that he has been resisting progress and his own life, and then he might be ready to change. What do you like to do now, if you don’t have to pick up desert bones anymore?
I don’t know, I guess I guess we’ll just have to evolve to. Meanwhile, Hammond is dealing with the fact that the dinosaurs he decided to bring back to life are destroying everything he’s built. But even worse, they’re now threatening the lives he values most. By having to witness the disaster unfold, Hammond is forced to realize that he only loved progress at all costs when he thought he had control over it. But it’s not just the situations that are designed to attack grant and Hammonds beliefs.
The script uses Dr. Ian Malcolm k audition to test the character of grant by flirting with grants partner, Dr. Ellie sattler. As I go into, as identified by and in his interactions with grant, we see that Malcolm might have some of the qualities Dr. Sadler wants that grant lacks. Really kids. me Oh, hell yeah, three. I love kids. Anything at all can and does happen.
This hints that if grant doesn’t figure out a way to evolve, he could lose Dr. Sadler welcome tests Hammond by spelling out the exact problem with Hammonds pro progress obsession. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before. Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they couldn’t they didn’t stop to think of a shot. Once Malcolm is injured Dr. Sadler another well designed supporting character steps in to test Hammonds beliefs for weaknesses when we have control over have control that’s the illusion. The only thing that matters now are the people we love.
Elon Lexan to him.
Jump out there were people are dying. The screenwriter even reminds us of Hammons catchphrase at the end of the scene, highlighting how Hammons progress at all costs viewpoint has failed in the face of disaster, and now sits around him melting. La reaches out and takes a spoon out of one of the buckets of ice cream and licks it good. He looks up at her and his face is different, as the unhappy irony of what he’s about to say finally hits home. expanse.
Ian Malcolm Alec Sadler, and even characters like Dennis nedry, Muldoon and Gennaro are fun additions to the story, each with their own memorable moments. Clever. But more importantly, these supporting characters exist to sharpen the film’s focus on theme by challenging the beliefs of grant and Hammond. And because their beliefs are challenged throughout the film, by the end, they’ve both learned to evolve. Now they pulled off the tar locks. During the movies climax flexes skill with new computer technology becomes the reason all the characters are rescued. The fact grant is forced to acknowledge Mr. Hammond phone’s gonna come through the glass and after the trauma of this ordeal, Hammond has realized that sometimes the cost of progress is simply too high.
After careful consideration, I decided not to Windows to park so by
the both of them have changed their beliefs suggest that the central question at the core of a theme doesn’t always have to have a neat, easy answer. As Michael Creighton said, it seems to me that we live in a society in which technology is continuously presented as wonderful. Isn’t it fabulous that we all have computers? Well, yes and no is my response. Yes, and no. Jurassic Park is a great example of how to use theme to guide the design of a screenplay. It celebrates the marvels that technology can provide, while also warning of the dangers of irresponsible progress. And taking it a step further, the filmmakers even found ways to weave in moments about all kinds of progress issues from the early 90s. from illegal and bureaucratic red tape to feminism.
Eat man, woman inherits theory, to corporate espionage. This commitment to theme elevates the film above a simple monster movie, helping make it one of our most beloved and enduring cinematic experiences. One that may never go extinct. And it allows a thrilling, meaningful adventure to wait inside the gates of Jurassic Park.
Jurassic Park was first released in theaters in June of 1993. But it didn’t come out on VHS until October of 1994. As a seven year old, having to wait that long to watch it again, it was very frustrating. But I filled that time by playing with my Jurassic Park toys. And by reading the original book, the book has a much darker tone, but it’s really great.
And if you haven’t read it, you should, which is why I’m so glad that audible has sponsored this video, because you can start a 30 day trial today and get your first audio book for free by going to audible.com slash lfts or by texting lfts to 500 500. Audible has the largest selection of audiobooks on the planet, and you can listen to them on all your devices, seamlessly switching between your phone, car or tablet, picking up exactly where you left off.