Inside Creating Top Gun & Writing in Hollywood with Jack Epps Jr.
It is an absolute thrill to have Jack Epps Jr. on the show today. The award-winning writer, USC Cinematic Arts professor and filmmaker is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He’s best known for writing Top Gun, The Secret of My Success, Turner & Hooch, and Anaconda 1997 screenplay.
Jack first became involved in making films while doing his undergraduate at Michigan State University. Inspired by a student film festival, Epps made his first film the following semester which became Pig vs. Freaks that was later titled Off Sides.
Top Gun was Epps’ big break. He partnered with Jim Cash who was his screenwriting professor at Michigan State University, to write several projects and Top Gun was one of those screenplays. Top Gun’s success was seismic. It became a box office number one grossing $ 357.1 million on a $ 15 million budget while also stacking several accolades including an Academy Award, Golden Globes, and a number of other international film awards.
As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be the best in the class, one daring young pilot (Tom Cruise) learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.
Epps is credited for the original screenplay in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick which will be released this November.
Epps shares co-writing credits with Jim Cash and Hans Bauer for the screenplay of the Anaconda adventure horror film series of 1997 and 2004. The first story follows a National Geographic film crew in the Amazon Rainforest that is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who forces them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.
While the first film did not receive critical acclamation, it grossed $136.8 million worldwide against a budget of $45 million.
In the second film, Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, the premise is quite similar. A scientific expedition team of researchers set for an expedition into the Southeast Asian tropical island of Borneo, to search for a sacred flower for which they believe will bring humans to a longer and healthier life, but soon become stalked and hunted by the deadly giant anacondas inhabiting the island.
Here is a clip of Gordon (Morris Chestnut) after being paralyzed from a spider bite, who comes face to face with death.
These are some classics and I couldn’t wait to chat with Jack about his creative journey—from his work as a cinematographer and an assistant cameraman on various local productions, to his love for writing or reviewing romantic comedies films like Viva Rock Vegas, and Sister Act.
Let’s dig in, shall we? Enjoy this conversation with Jack Epps.
Learn screenwriting from legendary screenwriter James V. Hart (Hook, Contact, Bram Stroker’s Dracula)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Jack Epps Jr. – IMDB
- Jack Epps Jr. – USC Cinematic Arts
- Book: Screenwriting is Rewriting: The Art and Craft of Professional Revision – Amazon
- Watch: Anacondas: the Hunt for the Blood Orchid – Amazon
- Bulletproof Screenplay Script Coverage Service – Get Your Screenplay Covered by Industry Pros
- Arc Studio Pro – #1 Distraction-Free Screenwriting Software
- BPS Presents: Writing for Emotional Impact (FREE AUDIOBOOK)
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Alex Ferrari 0:00
Today's show is sponsored by indie film hustles filmmaker process. We provide filmmakers with professional services to get their films or series funded, finished and distributed. For more information, go to filmmaker process.com. I'd like to welcome to the show jack Epps Jr. Hey doing jack. I'm doing really well. Nice to be here. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm, I'm excited to kind of get into the weeds about your career, because you've written some of some of the some, you know, classic 80s and 90s films that I grew up with. And again, the audience will get tired of me saying this, but you had an impact on my video store days when I was working at the video store.
Exactly. So all of all of your films in your especially the 80s and early 90s, all the stuff that you wrote was like I was there, moving the boxes, record, recommending them to the to the customers coming in. So let me ask you, how did you how did you get started in the business?
Jack Epps 1:04
Well, you know, it's one of those sort of long stories in the sense of, I became interested in film as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, moved out to California because I just fell in love with movies. And I said, This is what I want to do with my life. I actually came out to California to be a director, because I was making short films, had no money, virtually no contacts and the best way to direct was on paper and started writing. And, and, and through a friend I met at Michigan State Anderson house, his dad knew the producer of Hawaii Five o and said if we wrote a treatment, he could get it to him. So we actually put together treatment called the capsule kidnapping, sent it to his dad was sent to the Phil de Kok, who sent it to the the showrunner, who then called us and said, We love this idea. So quickly, I sold it exact so we sold the script, and and had a Hawaii Five o produced very, very quickly. I mean, and then we worked together for a couple years trying to get other things produced. And we sold a Kojak and things like that, but didn't really move forward a lot. At the same time. I had to pay rent. And so I was because I was a filmmaker. I was actually an assistant cameraman. And so doing a lot of work on stuff like that. I actually worked for Orson Welles on the other side of the wind. River, what was that? Like? You know, it was really great because it was there is Orson Welles. It the story of how it happened is my wife was my girlfriend at the time. She was working as a typist. And so she got a call from her temp agents agency and said Orson Welles needs somebody and she didn't she she was in Peoria, nanofilm family. So she goes Orson Welles, I know the name. I said, Don't worry, just go meet him. Because I knew the less she would know the more he would like her. And so he hired her. And then I said he got to get me on this film. You got to get me on this film. So I spent a couple months with Orson and Gary graver on the grand was great because it's Orson Welles. A really nice, I mean, he didn't throw any temper tantrum. It wasn't like this big. He was just Orson Welles and there's the guy and you're some pitching myself. I said, I cannot believe I'm pulling focus on Orson Welles here.
Alex Ferrari 3:18
That's that's amazing in that booming voice that he has and the whole persona. Oh, my God, I must have been amazing. So yeah, so and everyone listening, when you're starting off as a screenwriter, generally it works out that you write a spec pilot for a television show, hit television show, and it gets picked up right away, and then you start making lots of money just like yourself, correct?
Jack Epps 3:40
Absolutely not. What happened is I then my my college screenwriting teacher, Jim cash had contacted me and said, we should write together. And so Gemini, we went back to Michigan to pick up my motorcycle to drive back to California. I looked him up. We sat down at the school union, and we pitched out eight ideas. I didn't think anything worked. We said, thanks, goodbye. I was riding back cross country. And I said, you know, this idea actually works. And Jim and I spent the next two and a half years doing about five different drafts and figure out how to write together long distance because he was in East Lansing and I was in Santa Monica. We wrote a script finally that I felt was ready to take it to go into the business to let out because I had learned enough through internships and things to know that you really have to enter the business at a high level, the script has to be very, very good read. It's got to be a good story and show off your work as writers and storytellers. And that script was called easy and Mo. And we got representation to major agency through a friend who recommended us and it got optioned by bud yorkin, of yorkin and Lear. And so suddenly, we were paid some pretty good option money that may be Let's say we should stay at this. So we were lucky that our first spec actually got options.
Alex Ferrari 5:07
That right and again, a lot of in a lot of times when a lot of screenwriters think that just because you get to option, it's an automatic production, and that's not the case at all, most, most option scripts don't get into production. Is that Is that a fair statement? Or is that the truth?
Jack Epps 5:22
I mean, it's what it what it does is want to push it. So yes, no, Izzy mo never got made. But yorkin, who was your King Lear could not get it made. And so but what it did is it put us on a spotlight, people knew we were there. And then we did a second script, a second spec script, which was called Old gold. And that was a sort of a Charmin chase adventure set in San Francisco, about a fortune 100 looking for lost gold from the Nazis that ended up in San Francisco. And then that got that got bought on an auction. And so we earned good money. I mean, this was like, Okay, this is not we're throwing ourselves into it. But that didn't get me.
Alex Ferrari 6:04
And it was I I've spoken to so many screenwriters over the years and known many during my time in the business that sometimes you look at an IMDb filmography, and you're like, oh, they've only done three movies. I'm like, Yeah, but they've been working steadily for a decade. And just because they haven't been produced. I mean, they're still pulling in six figures a year, and working on major projects that just either they're rewriting or polishing a script doctoring. And don't get don't get made, is that your experience as well?
Jack Epps 6:36
Absolutely. And what I learned very quickly is that if a studio has a choice between their idea or your idea, they're always going with their idea. So why not develop their ideas, which they already invested in. And smartkey is you have to turn into your idea. You have to, you know, I have to make it, you've got to own it, but realize that you're writing for them, and you want to make the producers and the studios happy. So we then started writing an assignment. And we had six unproduced screenplays. And then yeah, we did Dick Tracy, for four directors that got shelved wasn't getting me. We then Simpson Bruckheimer. We actually through Jeff Katzenberg was involved in Dick Tracy because it was actually owned by Universal and paramount. So it was a joint production. They had international and domestic rights. And so Jeff Katzenberg liked our work and wanted to hire us after Dick Tracy and I had a breakfast meeting the famous ADM breakfast meeting with Katzenberg. And he rolled out six ideas of which I thought this really interesting idea be stood out to me. Yeah, based on this school pilots called Top Gun. And I thought, wow, I actually got my private pilot's license at Michigan State, they had a flying club. So I thought, well, if the movie doesn't get made, I'll get to fly in the Navy jet. So
Alex Ferrari 8:05
okay, it's a it's a win, win win. So why would this one get made but flying a Navy jet? That's a hard thing to get to do. If you've got to go through you have to jump through a few hoops to get to that tough life to say the least. So So okay, so the original idea for top gun was basic was Jeff Katzenberg kind of threw out the like, hey, there's a school of pilots figure something out?
Jack Epps 8:29
Well, actually, it was actually, Jerry Brock number. Okay, we found an article in a California magazine. Based on that there was a school and they were these pilots. And they were having fun. There was no story, no characters, but it was a potential world. And so Jerry brought it to, you know, the producer would do brought it to he was had a deal of paramount, with Don Simpson, and Paramount want to develop the idea. And so for us, it was like, okay, we just finished Tracy and that was not be going into production. And so, here,
Alex Ferrari 9:02
this is at 45. Perfect Tracy.
Jack Epps 9:04
Actually, Dick Tracy was actually in the early 80s. Right? I went for directors on that project.
Alex Ferrari 9:11
And we'll get to that we'll get to Deke Tracy it a little bit down the line. But so so with top guns, you're you're basically on assignment, essentially, you got it was an open assignment. Jerry came up with the the concept of just the world and you guys came up with Maverick and Iceman and and the whole thing. I mean, so Okay, so when you're writing this, it's another assignment. You're like, this is not going to get me both hell, we'll have some fun. And we're getting paid to do it. So you didn't think it was Did you have any idea that it was actually going to go into production? Did you feel something?
Jack Epps 9:44
Well, so basically, sips are Bruckheimer when I met with him, I said, Look, guys, I don't want to do this unless we can actually get the planes okay. really don't want to have these like little CGI is not what it is today. Right today. hold off. But then you could not. And so they agree. We went back to the Pentagon, we got approval by the Pentagon, they gave me a technical adviser and Pete Pettigrew. I went to doubt the ns, Miramar. And I got to fly jets. And
Alex Ferrari 10:18
you were in the back like you were there. Oh, absolutely.
Jack Epps 10:21
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. A couple of things happen. One is the F 14. Wow. I fell in love with the plane. I really didn't know about military planes at that time. And I fell in love with the firm for one, two reasons. One, it looks incredibly cool on the ground. It's like, wow, this thing is just the fastest, most beautiful thing ever designed. And two, it had two people flying in it, a front seat and a back seat. And I didn't really know about that. And that gave me a relationship. So I already went, yes. I don't have to have guys going from plane to going aren't Maverick, how are you doing in the country? How are you? So I can actually have these two people and former relationships, which gave me a core to develop in the story. So I said, Great. We've got a relationship. But I'm looking for all the guys there are great. Get along. And I'm going for where's the conflict? What am I writing here? I've got to look for the conflict. And then it came to me, like one of those bolts of thunder and lightning is what if one guy doesn't get along? What happens if you got a guy who sticks out like a sore thumb? What happens to this environment? Maverick is born. So I had the conflict. And then we just start building out the story from there in a sense. And I pitched the Donald jury said, Look, we're gonna do a school movie, but it's kind of a real fight in the end, guys. It we're not going to have a school. It's got a he said yeah, like Star Wars at the end. Absolutely. That's what we're gonna do. We're gonna do Star Wars, you know, then big dog fights for real stakes at the end. So I did all this research. Simply Bruckheimer great. I said, Look, guys, you gotta leave us alone, just let us go away, we're gonna have to find the story. I can't pitch it to you, you got to trust us. And if you don't want to trust us get somebody else. Because we just can't go through this development process. We have to find it. And they were great. They said guys go away. Afterwards, they said they will never do that again. So we were able to just find the story, you know, and that was a hard story to find the set in the school. I mean, so yeah, it's a school guys flying around. What's the story there? And so for us, that was the big thing, breaking that story, finding what that art was, and who those characters were in the relationships and what the whole, the drama of it was.
Alex Ferrari 12:30
And then, I mean, obviously, the top cons of a classic film. And you know, when I was when I've seen I've seen it a million times. But that whole movie is all about character. It's it's like, the plot is the plot moves things along, but it is about character so heavily as opposed to like, Sherlock Holmes story, which is all plot and character kind of rides along. It. Would you agree? I mean, this is The Iceman and Maverick and his interest and his father and that, that baggage that he's carrying and in the conflict between him and Iceman, which is just amazing. And we'll talk about all the stars aligning in a minute, but as far as the character, do you agree with that?
Jack Epps 13:12
Oh, yeah, I mean, I think that that's why we couldn't pitch it. It's almost an pinchable script, because it's like, well, what happens? And it's like, because so much came out of the research, I did about 40 hours worth of interviews with pilots. My first Pentagon had an assistant in there with me, and they wouldn't talk and I said, Look, you gotta get out. I'm sorry, I got to talk to these guys alone. No, I won't. And then they call the Pentagon. So yeah, leave him alone. And then the guys opened up and you know, learn about their lives and met these guys. So they were inspiring as people. But also, Jim and I were athletes, so we knew what it meant to be on a team and to and to try to make sure you're, you know, the sense of being, you know, one of the stars on the team, you know, you got to be the best, you know, that's part of what sort of the drive for excellence is. But it's a long way to get to your question. We had in the script, shift, Simpson breakdown, we loved it. They loved this movie, but Paramount said, I don't get it. I don't ever want to see the course. Of course, all these planes in the sky. It's like this. So they said no. And they put it on a shelf. So there's number seven unproduced motion picture. And so we thought we had something we believed in and so it sounded Simpson Bruckheimer but not going to happen. So we went on to our next project legal legals with Ivan Reitman.
Alex Ferrari 14:35
Not a bad, not a bad project, not
Jack Epps 14:37
a bad thing. And Ivan was great. And it wasn't until the studio changed
Unknown Speaker 14:43
Jack Epps 14:44
know, the executives and new jackets came in Franklin cuzzo, who called Simpson Bruckheimer. I said, Guys, we have nothing in the cupboards Do you have anything you want to make? And they pulled the script down and said, Oh, we got this project we'd like to make and they said, Go do it.
Alex Ferrari 14:58
That it's just just like And then what I find so fascinating about that film specifically is it was a perfect alignment where Jerry and Don were were coming up they had they had already started building from Flashdance. I think it was in probably a little bit before, but they started to build but they weren't yet, Jerry and that they weren't Bruckheimer Simpson completely yet. That Top Gun is what took them to the next level. So you have young producers who are about to explode. They bring in a commercial director who had done one other I think he did, what did he what was the other film that he did? Oh, hunger, the hunger. So vampire film in brought him in. And then this young actor who had been had success with risky business, but yet wasn't Tom Cruise, all of these things aligned. And it exploded into this, this supernova, essentially. And that movie was a massive for people understood triple net wasn't around at that time. It's a massive hit. And one of the best recruitment tools the Navy has ever had. And probably still as to this day.
Jack Epps 16:08
We wrote the movie for Tom. Yeah, we wrote it with him in mind from the very beginning. When we, when he gave the script to Don Jerry, I said to Don said to Jerry, I said, think Tom Cruise when you read this? And they said, Yep, absolutely. And that was the only person that they they went after Tom. Yeah, but Tom, but only factors. Part of it was because because of character. You know, Mary is a bit of a jerk. And so he's really arrogant. So you've got to have an actor that you're going to like you're going to stay with, or else you're just going to go eff this guy, I'm out of here. And so and Tom did that he was the young American, so to speak, and he represented that sort of this bravado and, you know, pushing at the limit and, and, and, and they nailed it. They got him and that was and he was great. He actually he understood it. And he's played Maverick for the rest of his career.
Alex Ferrari 16:59
It's It's such a Top Gun in the car and Top Gun. He said that's what he did. He developed to Tom Cruise's and Top Gun basically. And he's, I remember some comedians, like I love that movie with Tom Cruise with his young cocky white guy. Oh, you mean every movie? Got it? Okay, got it. All right, great. Yeah, got it. But but but all to be all fair, fair, though. That is a very slippery slope as an actor and a character to play because you're right. He's arrogant as hell but yet for some reason. You love him. What do you think about maverix character? Is it partly how it's written and obviously how Tom performed it. But I think there there was meat in the script that allowed you to feel empathy towards him. I think it might be the father baggage that you kind of, because if you don't add that baggage, I don't think he's as there's no empathy there. I don't know. What do you think?
Jack Epps 17:54
Yeah, no, I think that's all part of the story. And part of it, we made him a second chance character. He was the underdog. Remember, he didn't have he wasn't going first. He had to win. A Cougar had to hand in his wings for him to get in. So he was he was always the underdog. And we tend to root for underdogs. And Iceman, of course, immediately is a is a great counterpart. And the rivalry makes your root for Tom, you want to you want to stick a nice man's face and you're rooting for him. And, and, you know, you also feel for him. You know, he's he wants to do it, right. He's got some stuff. He's got to work out. Hopefully, you can work it out.
Alex Ferrari 18:31
Right. And he but but at the end of the day, he's a good guy trying to do good work. And, you know, he's trying to be all you can be, as they say, we've got some things to learn. Yeah, no question. And and I mean, how were you excited to know that they were breaking making the sequel? Yeah, yeah, I
Jack Epps 18:50
was excited. And I was happy that one times involved and Jerry's doing it because Jerry Be true to the to the movie. And I know that he'll keep the continuity going with that. And that. So I think, you know, I'm excited to see it. I've read it. I know, I know what they've done. I can't talk about it, because there's any talk about it, but I think people will like it because it is a continuation.
Alex Ferrari 19:11
It's a true sequel. It's a true SQL.
Jack Epps 19:13
Yeah, yeah, it is. It's a continuation it's it's it's not just a different movie. It's the characters come back and there's some there's growth and development.
Alex Ferrari 19:20
That's amazing. That's amazing. Now, so you already are you worried working illegals when before Top Gun gets into production?
Jack Epps 19:29
Yes. So we went from having seven unproduced screenplays to three films in production in 11 months Jesus, that's unheard of. It was it was insane because suddenly you have doctrines in production legalizes production and secret my successes in production. Cheese, so
Alex Ferrari 19:45
So for people again that weren't around at the time legal Eagles will start obviously, Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah and Debra Winger. That was a massive hit. It was and then and then secret of my success, which by the way, personally, one of my favorite 80s films, all I watched that. When I was a kid I watched I must have watched that story in that film 100 times because I was I was Michael J. Fox, I wanted it, you know, it was during It was during the Wall Street day. So yeah, I wanted to make it in business and all of that kind of stuff. And it was just such a wonderful film. And that was a huge that was a massive hit as well. It was it was Michael J. Fox at the peak of his powers. Yep.
Jack Epps 20:24
Right after back the future one. And he was great. I mean, Michael was fabulous. We wrote it for him, we were brought into a rewrite. So basically, it was it was a screenwriters dream. Frank price, who is the Executive of universal, newest? Well, like to work, I pitched him an idea. And they said, What if we took that idea and put it into this movie we have wasn't called secret of success, success at that time, something else? And I said, Yeah, sure. So we did a page one and just went through the whole script. But what's great is they said, we have to start on June 1, because we have Michael J. Fox, and then we have to end by August, something because he's going back to his show, family ties. And, and so they had to shoot what we wrote,
Alex Ferrari 21:05
although there was no chances to rewrite, so it was perfect for you guys.
Jack Epps 21:10
Exactly. So we just we just bust through it had a great time. And really, you know, no, you don't when you're writing for Michael J. Fox gives you a lot of fun in the script. And we also wanted to not demonize business as it always is. But as you were saying, people with ambition, and and that character, I have a you know, coming to want to make his place in the world. And also, I wanted to do a, I've always wanted to have a big Billy Wilder fan, and wanted to do a, you know, a character who's assuming an identity. So a guy who's playing two identities, I always want to work that and that's really difficult to write that and, and but it was fun. It was a lot of fun to do it. And we were really pleased with the outcome. And herb Ross, who was the director, was a Broadway director. So he liked the words. He wasn't one of your Broadway direct, you direct the words and he wasn't playing with him and was really just going for it. And I thought I thought the movie really worked out well.
Alex Ferrari 22:06
Now with those three films, I mean, it's kind of unheard of for a screenwriting team, a writer screenwriters in general, to have that many hits back to back to back in such short amount of time as well. How did the town treat you? I mean, after Top Gun alone, I mean, I'm sure your phone was ringing off the hook at that point. Well, in my as my agent would say, at that time, don't ask they're not available. Everybody was reaching out to you at that point. It was you were the belle of the ball, as I like to say,
Jack Epps 22:36
right, it was that stuff. And because we knew Katzenberg and liked him. We worked at Disney worked on SR act. You know, we did a major rewrite on that. Turner and hooch you know, Jim, Jim didn't want to write topcat originally, because he didn't like planes. He didn't like flying planes. So he had a phobia. I said, don't worry about it, we'll do it. So he did it for me. And then he wanted to turn around hoops because it's a, you know, he's has dogs. He's like four dogs. And he's, I want to write a dog movie. Okay, I owe you one. So we sort of trade it off. You know, it, you know, things just came our way. And so it was it was it was fun. It was different. Because we were unknown people left us alone. And and the more known you got the Mormons looking over your shoulder. And that was a very different experience in terms of just how that changed a little bit.
Alex Ferrari 23:25
And for people listening, especially young screenwriters coming up, I mean, yeah, you had a lot of success in a shorter amount of time, but you had been putting in the years of work. Prior to that, like you said, there was seven unproduced six unproduced screenplays. Yeah, you had representation. Yeah, you'd optioned a few things. But you would have been, it's not like you just woke up one morning and like, oh, here's Top Gun, like it took you years to get to that place. And I think screenwriters young screenwriters need to understand that you've got to put in the work, and it's not going to happen overnight.
Jack Epps 23:55
I think we were actually fortunate that we didn't get our first movies produced. I think we would have grown as writers. No,
Alex Ferrari 24:02
you're right. You're right.
Jack Epps 24:03
I think we have tapped ourselves in the back and saying how brilliant we were. And we would have been very happy at that level. And, you know, first movies are fine. They're good reads. But we had to grow. And we had to work harder and dig deeper, to basically teach ourselves how, you know, just because every trying to figure out how does this thing work, and to basically and the more and more we got to character was was really, really the breakthrough, you know, telling stories about people lives in crisis. You know, rewriting is a big part of what Jim and I did together. And it you know, we just realized you had to dig in. I mean, like I said, For Dick Tracy, we went through four directors, and for each director, we did two drafts.
Alex Ferrari 24:43
Now, let's jump into Dick Tracy really quickly. So I remember 9090 very well. I was right smack in the middle of my video store days. So I was it was in the heat and that was Dick Tracy I think and please correct me wrong. This is my assumption. Dick Tracy got greenlit and got fast tracked into production after Batman came out in 89. Because that kind of just changed that just changed the landscape all of a sudden superhero movies. Were it because prior to Batman for people not understanding because now every week there's a new Batman or Superman or Marvel film coming out. There was a time there was a time where there was one maybe and it took every two or three years before you'd get orders something like that. Before Batman, there was Superman and Superman had pretty much petered off after Donner left. So when Batman came out, which was a absolute insane, massive hit, Dick Tracy showed up and then Dick Tracy, I you know, watching it, I mean, it had Danny Elfman music, it had a lot of tonality. from Batman, it was a dark Dick Tracy was, you know, that the world was so it was, by the way, just so beautifully constructed. And the colors were so vibrant and the performer I mean, you had a look at a class but Donna alpa Chino will enforce I am Warren Beatty, it's just amazing. Was Am I am I correct in saying that? That was the reason why I got fast tracked?
Jack Epps 26:06
Yeah, I think so. I think it was the, at that point, looking for something to have the big superhero type movie like that, and it was ready to go. The script is ready. And in in Warren, people saw him as the only that was one of the problems getting that movie made is that Warren was who everybody saw his Dick Tracy, it was nobody else. And that becomes a problem because he's, well, we only make it with Warren. And when we start we first started the script with john Landis, who for my business would have been probably the most interesting, wacky, crazy. Dick Tracy. JOHN had that terrible Twilight Zone accident. He exited. Then we got Walter Hill, who was who taught me a lot. Walter was a screenwriter editor. Oh, a good director. Yeah. And he basically taught us a lot he you know, it's funny, because we're a little arrogant, you know, you know, we've been doing really well. And Walter asked us to do a fix on the script. And we push back to No, we don't want to do this. And he said, Well, okay,
Alex Ferrari 27:02
I'll do it.
Jack Epps 27:03
I'll write it, don't worry about it. And we went, Oh, hold on a second here. You know, that's not a bad idea. We'll do it. Because you don't want to direct your writing. You want to stay the writer. So we said, Oh, I think I understand what you mean. So you know, and Walter taught us a lot, how to hang in the game, and also how to focus the characters. Well, I mean, you know, and then, Walter, that, as I understand the story, you will talk to Warren and hit and Warren said, Can I watch the dailies? and Walter said, No, I never let actors walk daily watch dailies. And Warren said, Thank you, God. Movie crashes, Dick Benjamin comes on to do a cheap version, Dick Tracy. We cut the script down for budget. That doesn't happen. And then Warren ends up after a couple years of languishing, walking over to Paramount and getting the rights and moving the rights to Disney. And then once he's on board, and he's directing, I thought we met you know, more, or I went and met and talked and he's a good director, you know, I mean, so he was Should I direct this? I said, Absolutely. You know, who are doing better than you?
Alex Ferrari 28:05
Yeah, and it was it was I think people wanted it to be the next Batman and I don't remember but it wasn't once a hit it didn't didn't do good business right.
Jack Epps 28:14
It could business it wasn't quite what everyone wanted it to be. It didn't it didn't get the debt super numbers in there. There was a to me there was a lot of things crammed into that movie. Like and he had Stephen Stephen Sondheim songs. You can't complain about that. But they took up a lot of space. A bit of a musical, you know? Yeah, I'm surprised no one's done dictation the musical so far since it would work.
Alex Ferrari 28:41
Yeah, Madonna was at the height of her powers as well. So they had to put there has to be a couple of you know, song and dance numbers with Madonna in it because that's why we're hiring her. So and that's another thing that screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes don't understand is that there's there's politics involved here. There's a lot of politics involved in there's a lot of not only egos, but you know, agendas that need to be cramped like you said a lot of things were crammed in because there was so much pressure on that film I'm surprised that it did as well as it did because of the amount of pressure you they were they were hoping for another Batman and that's like that's you know, lightning in a bottle it doesn't happen very often. And it's still in we're still good enough that it did do good business but obviously didn't you know break out into what what Batman was but it still holds up very well today. I watched it the other day it was it still holds up very well.
Jack Epps 29:30
Or the Lucky's great Richard silver did amazing direction let's say the colors and Warren was working to create a sort of a comic book structure if you look at the setups are almost like it's by panels. Comic panels. He was trying to do that specifically. And you know you've got great roles with with Dustin Hoffman doing mumble
Alex Ferrari 29:48
Oh yeah. forgot to say of course. Yeah. No, it's all in everybody come in and do this little stuff. Like, exactly. He's just like, Hey, can you just come down and do this this character for us, please, but when you're watching Better you could do things like that now, but I have to ask you though, how did you convert or adapt a comic strip? to, to a feature film? I mean, it's not like a comic book, if I'm not mistaken. Right? It was mostly comic strips, right? It wasn't like this. It was just comic strips like you would read in the Sunday paper. So how do you take that and adapt it into a major motion picture?
Jack Epps 30:24
I'm a big believer in research. I did a lot of research on Top Gun secrets success. We had a technical adviser for business. So I could ask him questions about business because I didn't really I didn't want to make stuff up. I wanted to, you know, so I could put totally could feel like it's based on something for Dick Tracy. I asked. Universal. Can you get me all the comic strips that Chester Gould wrote? Like, can you get them and they got me from 1932. The first one Oh, all the way up into the mid 50s. And so I sat down and read it like a book. I just literally read every comic strip, and I fell in love. I want to understand Chester Gould writing style, his intention, his storytelling, I want to know his characters. Because I had to be true to this. And I was, I was not the fan of the strip that Jim was, but I became a huge fan of Chester Gould, the creator, because he created all these wonderful characters. And I fell in love with characters, all that all his Google's characters, and my favorite being the blank. I just thought the blank was so interesting. So it's like, okay, we're going to construct your own story, because I can't do none of the strip stories at work, but I can take the characters. And at the very beginning, john Landis said he wants to set around Big Boy Caprice in the roaring 30s, so to speak, 20s 30s. And so that was our original walking orders. That big boy Caprice at the center of the story, so we had to figure out okay, what can we do? And then once I found the blank, I said, Okay, now I've got a character I love. Let's figure out what the story is. And we and we started building that out with the blank at the center of the mystery. And then telling basically, you know, basically prohibition style type story, which is sort of funny, those tropes and reach out and do those things.
Alex Ferrari 32:01
And the funny thing is now that, you know, Dick Tracy, always just speaking to his watch, and now we speak it to our exact Yeah, exactly. It was pretty rare. It's taken. I think that was even part of the apple ad campaign. They put a little bit of Dick Tracy in there, I think was even the Warren shot of him talking into it as part of the that's part of the ads. Now, you when you did legal eagles, you worked with Ivan Reitman, who's, you know, a legend in our business? What was it like working with Ivan and it was Ivan right after Ghostbusters. So he was he was on fire and fago as they say,
Jack Epps 32:40
Well, part of that was that our agent was frustrated too, that we didn't get anything made. We didn't get top down produce. So he said, Look, I'm gonna put you in, I'm gonna put you with Ivan Reitman, because they'll make anything he wants to make. At that point, Ivan was the hottest director in the world. And so he had this. I mean, his his idea he wanted to do a thing about the art world, and why to do sort of a romantic comedy set in the art world and so is up for us to once again, figure out what's the story? Who are the people, you know, it's like, okay, that's the assignment. Now, let's go figure out what it is. So again, I went to New York, went to the pace gallery, interview people, you know, just to figure out the environment of building building out the story. He did originally this this is one of the funny things originally, he wanted to take the characters from Tootsie, the Dustin Hoffman Bill Murray characters, and and that was the original cast idea. And wanted to put them build a movie around those guys. a whole different story. But that's where we got the district attorney. And then we got the, you know, the whole the fleabag sort of guy, which gives us the relationship that I've been wanting to explore. Well, he sent he we had half a script, he said, Look, I can't wait, I gotta send it to these guys. They won't sit around and wait. I happen to have the script notes. Give it to me now. So yes, sir. You know, exactly, exactly half a script. They said to Justin, well, Warren who just, you know, talk him into doing what's that crazy movie where you know, that horrible film,
Alex Ferrari 34:04
which went, um, oh, oh, it star
Jack Epps 34:09
is j star. Right? He taught me to do a star. So okay. So Dustin was availa. Bill Murray said, I hate attorneys. I'll never play an attorney in my life. So suddenly, that idea crashed. We've got half the script. So either goes, What about a romantic comedy with Robert Redford, you think you could do that? I said, Yeah, we can do that. I can do that. So we got to fly in the Columbia plane to St. George, Utah, meet with Bob hung out for a couple hours into that world. And, you know, found out that he was, you know, sort of self deprecating guy and make jokes about himself sort of a clumsiness, which we Yeah, exactly. Really. And, and we see that I said, well, Bob, we'd love to make that as part of the character, which we did. We wrote it with that sort of character. Although when they came to set, he wasn't quite thrilled to play that game. character. So we got a couple beats of them, you know, dancing to singing in the rain in his apartment chewing on ice cream. So we got a couple of beats out of them that are sort of out of character, but not as far as we want to go.
Alex Ferrari 35:12
Now with the thing about legal Eagles is in those kinds of films. I remember them so clearly where it's a romantic comedy, but there is act, there's an action and there's like thriller esque things and like there's danger. There's real danger. I like remember, like movies like steak out. And those kind of that kind of time period. There were a lot. They don't make these films anymore. They're not really made anymore. And they're so wonderful.
Jack Epps 35:40
Yeah, they are wonderful. I mean, they get made. You can make a thriller like that right now. You can come up with a good idea. You throw it but but romantic comedies with Gemini call them charming chase movies, right? We were really influenced by North by Northwest in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Howard Hawks. Started. Yeah, Preston Sturges. And then these sort of big romantic comedies were something that we did well, but no, they don't make those anymore. And they sort of fell out of fashion. You
Alex Ferrari 36:09
know, a lot of it has
Jack Epps 36:10
to do with the appetite, comedy, and how that came in and changed the whole comic tone. And it just, they became dated, in a sense, I think that's why they've ended up on lifetime and you don't see those movies anymore. It's just it's, it's sort of comedy changes a lot. And in comedy, and and so those movies just sort of went away. I mean, you can still do the biggest action movies like that you should do them in action, and create that the fun. I mean, I think that's what's Tom's done. Mission Impossible is created that sense of that. But those are
Alex Ferrari 36:41
those, but those are mostly action with some humor, as opposed to romantic comedy with some, some really thriller esque elements and real danger elements. But it is a romantic comedy. But yeah, action films with humor. I mean, that goes. Yeah, even Beverly Hills Cop, you can argue is it's more of a comedy than it is an action film, but it's pretty even keel as far as thriller and comedy. It goes. Without question. Now, when you when you start working on a script, do you outline?
Jack Epps 37:16
Well, you know, the greatest, the greatest piece of advice I'd gotten from a writer, I was doing an internship on a movie called hearts of the West with Jeff Bridges. And the writer was really great. I Tony, Bill gave me the job. I had six months, three months of pre production, three months of production, which really showed me what a movie is not not a screenplay. But here's what movies are. And Rob Thompson gave me a piece of advice. I was talking about how you know how he does scripts and all this stuff. And he said, I use the card method. I said, What? Yeah, I use index cards, I break each scene into an index card. And, and that was like a light bulb went in, on my my head and changed my life. Because from that moment on, I've been using index cards. So I, I beat out a story, not an outline, because an outline to me. I want I don't start on page one, I don't start the first scene, I start with scenes I like to see. So what's what is the scene I like to see. And then I'm going to look at that scene, it might be a middle scene might be the ending scene. And so I don't work in any linear map method, I basically start to visualize how I see the movie and start to fill in the pieces. And for me, that allows and I also have to see my movie, if I'm doing an outline, it's I'm looking at one page, what's on page four, or five. So by laying it out in a big table, and I married the right woman, she allowed me to have the dining room table for 20 years filled with guards made the small table. And basically I'd have I movies about 55 cards, something like that. But I go through literally hundreds of them trying to figure out the movie, and I replay them. And I use colored cards to code relationships. So the main character is the white card, and then different colored cards for the relationships to show. So I can track my relationships and subplots through the movie. But I'm able then to read them in columns and see my movie in one glance, I can sit down and I can so before I work on a scene, I can get the beats the character development, and I got a hole here, I can work on the hole and fix the whole. And I also can change cards around it will. Because there's you know, it takes a couple seconds to write a new card. There's there's no like resistance to making change. Right. And when I feel I'm ready, I've got it, then I've got something to write.
Alex Ferrari 39:26
Now do you do you start with the scenes or plot? Or do you start with the character first? Good question.
Jack Epps 39:32
The biggest two things I'm looking for is one, What's the story? What's this about? What's the movie? What's the essence of it? And two, I'm always looking for where's the conflict in the story? Because I learned early on you write the conflict. I don't have the conflict. I've got nothing to write. So and then I'm looking for who lives in this world. Who is a person? What is their story? What do they want? What are they trying to achieve? What's what I'm looking for and what are they pushing against? What's antagonistic force, what's the opposition? So I'm trying to find whose story it is. I'm looking for major relationships. So I'm looking to build all these things and understand it before I start going to cards. So I have to pretty much know whose movie it is, and what I'm trying to tell. And, and that's something that I work out well in advance of beginning to plot the movie. Now, pretty much no, we story, it is.
Alex Ferrari 40:24
Gotcha, gotcha. Now, another film that you did in that time period, which I literally just watched with my daughters, who are young, Turner and hooch. And I, I was already up sorry. I always
Jack Epps 40:39
apologize because I held back from showing to my kids until they were like 12 and 13. So to break their hearts,
Alex Ferrari 40:46
it was like, so we watched it. And that was the other thing too. And like, by the way, spoiler alert, something happens at the end. But But the thing is, but the thing about that is that they were concerned about the ending when it was happening, because they were just like, Oh my God, oh, my God is he is he Yeah, but the way you were able to just bring in that light at the end with the puppy is, was absolutely brilliant, cuz I hadn't seen it since my video store days, I really hadn't watched in a long time. You know, like, sat down and watched it all the way through. And my wife and I both were just looking at like, there's so much and Tom Hanks in the 80s was just so brilliant and that huge. Oh my god, that dog was remarkable. How did turn nerd who show up? Because I know Tom. Tom loves to make jokes about these a guy did the dog movie. I don't know why did the dog but he always jokes about it in interviews. All the time. He did say is when he accepted his Academy Award for Philadelphia. Yeah, that's right. Better accurate. Exactly.
Jack Epps 41:48
I know. I know. Well, it was it was once again, we were working with Disney and Katzenberg, these things go into production. And they literally didn't have things for Tom to play, Tom, you know, because what we what we became known as the guys to come in and bring character to it. Bring story. We're, we're really good. We're good at fixing things. Like I can read the script and say, Okay, I like this. But this, here's what it needs to make it a movie. And so that was they had the dog but we just double down on the world's messiest dog, and we double down on Tom being the world's cleanest guy, and letting that sort of OCD character, sort of, you know, be a problem for him and creating a love story and creating a relationship in there. So
Alex Ferrari 42:28
conflict and conflict was in there just from the beginning.
Jack Epps 42:32
Right? Absolutely. And, and also, and making you fall in love with hooches. Just this grisly, the worst thing that could happen to the character is the best thing that happened to the character. And was so much fun about that project is a Tom was involved in development. So I would meet with the director and Tom would be there. And he'd be thrown out lines up, you're writing all these lines down? Thank you. No doubt, you know. And the thing about Tom Hanks, he is who you think he is. He's a remarkable guy. And great to work with generous as can be. And it was just such a pleasure to have somebody like that in a development meeting, just just helping develop the character because he and his concern was his relationship with OCE, he wanted to make sure that relationship was solid, because that's the core of the movie. And we worked on that.
Alex Ferrari 43:16
Now the one that one thing I really think is a learning moment here in the in the conversation is conflict, and how perfectly you know, Turner and hooch the conflict was self evident. There's no working for the conflict, like you just put two forces on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. And you just throw them together in a room and it writes itself almost because of that. And I think that is something that screenwriters writing screenplays now have written their stories. I've read so many screenplays, and you know, you know, in doing coverage and things like that, where the conflict is almost forced, like, it's like, I don't buy that, like, oh, that there's no motivation there. You know, like, the bad guy has this motivation. And the good guy has this motivation. It's like really like, convoluted. But the core of conflict from just something as simple as Turner and hooch. It's built in. And I think as you if you're writing a story, having two characters who are just completely on two opposite sides of the spectrum, without any major details, but it's it's very basic, I'm clean, you're dirty. Oh, my God, we've got to live together. It's the odd couple with a dog and a guy is actually
Jack Epps 44:30
do we agree with that? Oh, absolutely. And it's one thing I learned early in, you know, figuring out how to write and what what screenplays are about, is using relationships to produce conflict. And I'm a big believer in having multiple layers of conflict. I call them opposition forces. I want to make sure that my characters have a lot of opposition. And no matter where they turn throughout the story, there's a point of opposition there. And there are different degrees. It's not like it has to be here. Everything's huge. It doesn't matter the main character is going on a journey. And the journey is fraught with challenges of different degrees. And what that character is is trying to do is get what they want. But ultimately what they need at the end and in the process trying to get what they want, they bump into opposition characters and opposition situations, which which helps define the character because we see who is this character? Who is this person? Why do we root for them? What do we want? Are they you know, what's their growth arc through the story, and by using plot and relationship to help tell the story and create conflict? It it allows me to explore the character from from multiple points of view, and allows the character to express themselves to different people in different ways depending upon their relationship. And a lot and then I'm a big believer in in you don't want to rely on plot all the time. It's just plot. Because plot I say his curiosity Oh, what's going to happen? But emotion is character. And character is about relationships. It's not Nope, no character exists by themselves. I mean, you know, in Castaway, they had to create Wilson, because he needed somebody to relate to so what does he do? He creates this character Wilson, who I don't know about you, but when Wilson falls off, oh my god.
Alex Ferrari 46:13
Oh my god, volleyball. Oh my god, it's a volleyball but because we use emotion to it. I'm gonna Wilson though. You're like I'm Why am I crying for a damn volleyball? Like, what? If that's the brilliance of Tom Hanks. That's the brilliance of Bob Zemeckis. It's just the built brilliance of all of that. I mean, that. I mean, how he did not win the Oscar for that before. She's It's great. It's, it's remarkable. And I have to also ask you another great 90s film that you made Anaconda. I mean, where did that come from? The giant snake movie. It's like, it's pretty sharp, NATO. And it's not nearly as bad, by the way. So please, I'm not I'm not comparing them like nothing. But the big one, there's so much fun. There's so much fun, fun. But Anaconda. I remember when it showed up. And we're like, well, this is genius. I mean, this is like, why hasn't? Why hasn't there been a giant snake?
Jack Epps 47:08
Where did that come from? You know, it was once again, the agents call and said, by the way, you know, Sony's looking for rewriting this. They said, Yeah, right, whatever, you know, so we just sort of dropped in our laps. And it was a very interesting, it was very different than any other film we've done. One is there, all the CGI was already being done. So the graphics were already being worked on. So we could not change the basic graphic attacks of the snake. But the story from our point of view didn't work, the characters didn't work. There was no antagonists in the movie. And so our job was to basically rethink the story of the characters. So we came on board and recreated, who the characters were all new story of why they were going up to the Amazon, what was happening, all the relationships and people, we created all of that material, and had to weave it around all the CGI effects.
Alex Ferrari 48:02
Yeah, that's because the attacks were already that's when you have your cards up on the board. Like, yeah,
Jack Epps 48:06
these are the 10 we got to we got to navigate this. We got to make those things happen. So we had to create new characters, and and new relationships and new problems and different characters being caught by this, obviously, because that's not a problem because it hadn't been cast yet. And so that was sort of a fun thing to do. And it's just sort of fun to you know, to kill people.
Alex Ferrari 48:31
Crazy is our way I read this. Yeah, it's Yeah, there's, there's a bit of humor in it, but it is definitely not your typical, you know, as far as your filmography is concerned, it's definitely not secret of my success.
Jack Epps 48:42
It is Yeah, but I'll tell you it gets from residuals, I can see how many people watch it and it's still one of the most watched movies. Oh, yeah. And so it was actually during the pandemic, it was the top 10 of Netflix for one week. I was going through my list. down Oh, what's the top 10 ago? What anacondas number nine for the week? Okay,
Alex Ferrari 49:00
sounds like 23 years old. How is that?
Jack Epps 49:04
Well, it's cast I didn't have anything with casting the casting was marktable
Alex Ferrari 49:08
Oh, yeah, Ice Cube.
Jack Epps 49:11
Ice cube I got to meet Ice Cube years later and I said by the way, I'm the guy who stuck you in that swamp with the camera. He goes oh man, he did that.
Alex Ferrari 49:20
He did okay. He did. He did okay. He did well, Yes, he did. He did fine. Now one thing you said a lot of that you did a lot of rewriting and you worked on you know massive hits like Sister Act and diehard three and now that I know that you had a hand and diehard three. It makes sense because there's a lot of my two favorite diehards is diehard one and diehard three with four coming up and then two's the last one and I don't even consider any of the other ones. But three was such a wonderful buddy and talk about conflict. I mean, Sam Jackson and john McLaren and Bruce on that was great. How do you approach rewriting a script? Because you've done it so often in your life, and you have also have a book, called screenwriting is rewriting. So I'm sure you have a couple things to say about that.
Jack Epps 50:11
Well, you know, rewriting is the key every writer is gonna tell you that in screenwriting, is rewriting, that's where the title came from. Because you have to be willing to dive in, you've got to be willing to take notes. And you know, we become very precious with our material. We don't want to, we don't want to, you know, make changes. But when you're a professional writer, and the studio tells you, here's what we want, you can't you can argue and get thrown off the movie, that's not going to help you. Or you can stay there and try to protect the movie. And that's, that's what basically my approach is, let me work with not everybody's an idiot. Let me work with the best I can let me work with their ideas. And the key is trying to figure out not just the specific notes, but what's what are the notes saying in general, and trying to work on the bigger note, which is the response you're getting from from people. We always were pretty lucky that the notes we got, were, were on the one. We're never huge. The biggest note we ever got was john Landis. And we did the first draft of Dick Tracy, we didn't put jr into the movie. And his first note was Where's Jr. Tracy? We went, Oh, yeah, right. Okay, we got Jr, Tracy, in which we had to actually start all over again, because that's the core relationship of the movie. So suddenly, we can't just what you can't do and rewriting and just plug things in, you have to realize that there's a cause and effect of everything in the screenplay. So if you put something in this scene, it's going to relate to scenes later. And part of that is realizing the way the puzzle fits together and the way that everything sort of works. So we're always approaching, I'm always approaching rewriting, as, you know, while I'm trying to figure out what the assignment is, to figuring out what the notes are, three, getting a game plan, I'm going to address this in a certain way, I'm just not going to have at it. As a professional writer, I'm trying to save every bit of work I can. So I don't want to rewrite the whole script, a lot of people throw the baby out, and they start all over again. No, I'm gonna try to preserve everything I can, and try to weave it in the new elements into this existing story if I can, but also, I've had words changed all the time. So I'm not precious, super precious on things. I'm only precious on things that I know the story has to have. So what's the heartbeat of this story? What's the core emotional moment of this movie about? How does the audience relate to this movie, I'm not going to give that up. Because that does get damaged the story. So rewriting is about figuring out what's the game plan and then going at it. And my approach is to do a series of passes, not to try to do everything at once I like to do character. First, let's make sure we get this character's story really well told we know who this character is. I like to know what the theme is and the thematic balance, I want to make sure that I understand the plot elements are not only telling a good story, but they're helping reveal the character. And this is really important. Plot reveals character, how a character responds to the plot. Problem is what tells us a lot about the character. And so using my storytelling techniques to tell a story about a life in crisis is what I like to say movies are about lives in crisis. So is my character in crisis is the crisis substantial is enough to motor whole movie.
Alex Ferrari 53:31
Right, exactly. And well, let me ask you a question that when you're when you're working on projects, like SR act and Die Hard three, I know a lot of a lot of screenwriters don't understand why some people get credit. And while others don't, you know, Lee, you know, technically on their name on it, how does that work? And can you explain a little how the dg that the BGA kind of, you know, police's, that situation?
Jack Epps 53:55
Sure. Well, the w. j was founded basically, for to to award credits, that's what went on strike for because in the 30s, you know, the studios would give credit to the brother in law and whoever it was, and so writers had no say in how they were credited. And that's what the original one of the original strikes was four. So the DGA w j handles all of the credit determination. There's a, a anonymous arbitration panel that is convened, and they basically read the materials and there's rules that the guild is laid down, and how credit is determined. Whether it's story credit, a screenplay credit written by credit, the different layers of different different credit and depending upon the work that you've done on the script depends upon what credit you deserve
Alex Ferrari 54:42
so so that all right so that makes perfect sense because obviously, Sister Act had and diehard three both have a lot of your touches. I can sense the spirit is there.
Jack Epps 54:53
Yeah, they definitely do and sister acts as sort of a sore point with me because we were advised not to see credit because the movie was disaster on the set. And, and I always felt bad about that because I really liked the script. And so then of course, we went to Well, no, but we went to the premiere and I went like well that was unfortunate because it there's a lot on Gemini in that movie. And we've we feel a kinship to it. But you know, that's when they got away. So we're glad that we could basically put so much into it
Alex Ferrari 55:23
was it was it was there? I didn't I never heard that. I mean, I think I might have heard something in regards to the being a disaster on set. And in nobody Well, I knew no one was expecting substract to be a monster hit.
Jack Epps 55:36
Right. And then from the first I was sitting the premiere for the first note, I went ahead. And it was it was not written for Whoopi Whoopi Goldberg. Originally, she was at Les cast.
Alex Ferrari 55:46
Who was he worked for?
Jack Epps 55:48
I'm trying to think of the actress. Broadway actress. I can't think of right now. Okay. Well, she did. She did other movies. Yeah, yeah. Okay, I can look it up.
Alex Ferrari 56:03
Because now I'm fascinated because I cannot see Sister Act with anybody else other thanWhoopi Goldberg.
Jack Epps 56:07
No, no, she was the perfect cast. Absolutely. She was a perfect cast. Beth Midler no that that would have been an interesting Sister Act, though. It wouldn't have been the same by any stretch.
Alex Ferrari 56:20
but it would have been an interesting.
Jack Epps 56:22
Yeah, those who bet Midler and she didn't want to do what she said about two rows in front of me at the premiere. And I could tell that she slouched I think she even knew Oh, I you know, but what he was the perfect cast? Yeah, I think I think we bet I think she was doing a good job. She's a talented actress, it would have been funny, but what the elevated that movie and made into what it was, what it is. And I think that was a brilliant casting that made it as a standout film and still is.
Alex Ferrari 56:46
And that where can people find your book screenwriting is, is rewriting.
Jack Epps 56:51
It's on Amazon.
Alex Ferrari 56:52
It's on Amazon. And you wrote and you run it basically, because you want to help screenwriters and wanted to kind of help them in that kind of process. Because rewriting it's hard, especially when you're not a professional writer, and you're like, become precious, and like, I can't do this word. And I know Stephen King's, like just kill your babies.
Jack Epps 57:09
Well, it is you have to let go and letting go is really hard. And and also how to approach it is hard because people get overwhelmed by notes, they get overwhelmed. They don't want to do it. They tend to take it personally, they tend to feel they've lost. You know, part of things about being a writer is the creative, creative people we have a lot of insecurities, we there's a lot of imposter syndrome. And so now you're rewriting Oh, they found me out. And all this sort of stuff. And, and it's important for writers to know you're not alone. All writers virtually feel that. And that what you have to realize it's a process and that scripts don't get, you know, oh, I've written something, it's brilliant. Well, maybe there's some brilliance in there. But right now you got to get to work and make it into a movie. And be willing to let go of your darlings. And and realize that notes and feedback would help you to write a better script. But my book is about how to approach it. How do you approach a rewrite, and it's not easy. And I tell you that you get 100 screenwriters in a room together, they all do it differently. So there's no one way to do it. This, this book presents my way, which is really about organizing, I believe that you organize a rewrite, and prepare for a rewrite. If you organize it, then all the sort of the right call the circle confusion of these notes, what should I do? Where's the answer, and I'm doing it, you're gonna find me out. If you start to put it on paper and you start to organize it into categories, character, plot, theme, scene structure, you know, just relationships, if you start to break those notes down and then addressed, the notes that you're going to get most important for you. Oh, okay. These are the ones that start first to lay this thing out. It will get better over time, if you willing to give yourself time, which it's, it's, you know, it's the process, not the product. And that's where we're young writers haven't have they want the product. And I can tell you that what was what the advantage of Gemini having seven unproduced screenplays is it became the process. We didn't believe there was a product.
Alex Ferrari 59:13
Right? You just apparently, our career is just going to be writing stuff that never gets made.
Jack Epps 59:17
And there are guys who have, as you said, have earned a good living and never gotten a single thing made
Alex Ferrari 59:21
right. But are super talented writers. Absolutely talented. And
Jack Epps 59:25
there's no good reason that and my favorite script is never got produced. And he just Well, there it goes. That's just how it happened. Yeah, got close, got close and never got got done.
Alex Ferrari 59:35
I've read I've read script by by scripts by screenwriters that I'm like, this is asked him to shoot a master like this. This is amazing. This is remarkable. And there's tons of those scripts scattered on shelves in Hollywood from decades and decades. I remember when they went back and got the body guard and Unforgiven out of the archives and they brought it back out and look it turned into two hit. There's always these two. So it's It's about not only the talent, and the skill, but lack of being at the right place at the right time. There is a lot of luck, but I also think it's staying with it. Right?
Jack Epps 1:00:11
just you know, Damien chazelle said he had he had no the plan, you know, there's only a plan. And that's it. If you're in for it, you're in for it. Which means that you've got to be willing to dive in, do the hard work that has to be done. I also any writer listening to this, find yourself a writers group. Don't be out there. There's no matter where you are, what city you're in, there are people doing what you're, what you're doing, find them get together, give each other feedback, your writing support group, it helps, it helps to get feedback. Secondly, you need people just to help keep you in the game. And realize that you will get stronger, the more you stay at it. And if you want to become a better writer, learn to be a rewriter because that's where you get stronger. because it teaches you how to be a better writer, because what you find out is I don't want to rewrite. So I'm gonna make sure I have all this shit down right from the beginning, so that I don't have to do this next time. So I'm gonna make sure my characters have a really good story. They have a really good strong one. I'm gonna make sure that I have great opposition in my story that I understand, you know, what is what is driving this movie and what the emotional stake is for the reader in the audience. I mean, those things you've got to have.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
Now I'm gonna ask a few questions asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?
Jack Epps 1:01:30
Chinatown. Robert Towne who I basically interviewed my book, which was great talking about his rewriting process, and I think it really was because everybody's different and but Robert, it's it he's really opens up and he's honest guy. It's, it's really amazing. I think that's a great script. I'm not on old script, but I love it is the apartment.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:56
Yes. Come up a couple times here. Yeah.
Jack Epps 1:01:58
And I say that because to me, that script had a huge influence and Gemini because the character development, the storytelling, the emotion of it, Billy Wilder and Aiello, diamonds are amazing. Just amazing screenwriters. And I, it's always hard to say what is that other one? I'll tell you what's a good one to read? Okay, read go look for the first draft of goodwill honey. Not not the one that got produced? Yeah, go read the first draft, or the first draft of Back to the Future. Because what you see there are two scripts that they don't work too well. They got some real problems, especially back to future. And then you see what they ended up doing through a series of rewrites and needs. It teaches you that that those guys you know they didn't hit the ball on the park on their first swing. You know, they barely got the first base and and it's it's I think it's important is read scripts. That didn't work. But the movies did because it shows you Okay, they really work this they took the idea and and built it out. And they see what works. Oh, I see why this movie works. Now of course, yeah. How could Why were they? It seems obviously to have those elements, but they weren't there. And that it also gives us the back the future out, you know, the the ending takes place. They had to get to a nuclear power plant to power the car back to get back to the future. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So it's this whole big thing to go through this nuke, there was no Clock Tower. But But universal said, Guys, we got the funds for this. We can't do this. You got to do we got to do it on this on the lot. So they looked at the clock tower, and they said, Alright, well, we'll have like to hit the clock tower. You can imagine the movie without it. I know my body wasn't there. And they basically, you know, they just ate just, well, okay, here's how we made it work.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:50
And it gives us hope. When you read when you read scripts like that gives us hope as screenwriters and filmmakers alike. Look, they look like geniuses. And they are in many ways, but they don't not everyone hits it out. Like no one comes out of the womb, and writes the great American novel or the great American screenplay. It takes work, and even the best ones. I remember Casa Blanca, they were writing it on the on the SAT Writing on this is absolutely one of the best screenplays ever written. And it's like they were just trying to figure it out. You know, what looks like genius to us. was some some screenwriters in there going, I don't know how we're gonna get to next.
Jack Epps 1:04:26
You know, I asked Robert Towne. I said, Does it ever get easier? And he said, f No. Heat, to me is one of the great screenwriters of all time said, Robert, you've written all these great things is never easy. You know, it's so I mean, and that's a truth. It is a hard thing to do. But the most important thing is, is that when you're telling a story, you you're passionate about your characters that that have a story to life going on. It's a crisis at the heart of your movie and or your TV show. Why do we care? What's our emotional state? What does the audience care about? Why is it important for this character to basically achieve their need at the end of the movie, what it is emotionally that they need not only just the physical thing that happens, but what does it mean to them emotionally to do this?
Alex Ferrari 1:05:09
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Jack Epps 1:05:15
I would say that don't be frustrated, it's going to take time that what you need to do is to read a lot of scripts, see how they work. Make sure you have a support group writers group so that you know you're getting feedback as you're going along. know when your script is ready. That's a question I get a lot is when do you know your script is ready? You know, because there's a thing of, I don't wanna send it out, I don't want to send it out. I don't want to send it out. Eventually, you have to let it go. Which means that you are you telling your story as best as you can? Or the feedback you're getting from people and you do need to get feedback? Is it you know, is it not like to the heart of the story, and then send it out, take the bumps, whatever happens and then start another one? You have to continue? It's not it's not I've seen so many people I have this one idea my one idea no. My pitching story is so I go you know you're trying to go pitch ideas right to go so I got the pitch I want to sell. I walk in there I gets my you know, my eight minute pitch. I've got my song and dance routine. I'm doing the whole thing and they go What else you got? Alright, now I got my three minute pitch. Alright, here's this one. I really like this one. They go Alright, what else you got? I get my thumbnail is 20 seconds ago. I love that one. I mean, so you just don't know what is going to hit you don't know what's going to strike the chord. Right But if you write from your heart and you write pick from your passion that will come through as a writer it and it's got to be a good read. This is a reading process. It's got to be a good read. And again Damien chazelle is listening to an interview he had on on fresh air. And Robin I think it's Robin gross isn't said Damien. You did all these sort of horror movies and all these rewrites. What did you learn from that? He said, I learned how to make them turn to the next page. Is that me? I? I got chills because I think he's a wall character. And no, he learned how to hold their attention and make them read to the end. And I thought that's just brilliant and simple and honest.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:20
That's amazing. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Jack Epps 1:07:28
I think understanding character understanding what character was and I had a tough I had a here's a here's a story how I learned that meaning what how to write character, and what true character was. This the Andy and I had sold a Kodak and we pitched the idea about a cop who shoots his partner. And we want to get the script screenplays. We sold the idea for it. Right? Okay, they bought the idea. So we kept going and pitching to the showrunner. Okay, here's what the show is he goes now I don't like that we can't came back and came back. We never got the script. We didn't get it. We watched Kojak I watched the hired somebody watch the episode. And it blew me over like a like a bolt. Okay, we were pitching plot. This veteran writer wrote story of a character. And the whole episode was about this character, and about his life and about his wife who was having a drug habit. And she was chained to a bed. And he was out there and he kills a part and his whole life is falling apart. And all we were doing was doing people chasing running around shooting. It's like, no, the emotional core. That's what character is. And that taught me that I needed to center my stories to have stories about people and lives that we related.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:37
Yeah, and I think and I've said this many times on the show before is that you remember character you remember Indiana Jones, you remember James Bond, you might not remember all the details of the plots of those films, but you definitely remember those characters. And and that's, that's what we're not emotionally attached to plot plot is just a vehicle, in my opinion. You're attached to the you're emotionally attached to character, what happens to them? If they're going to make it? If they're not going to make it, they're gonna find love, they're not going to find love, are they going to beat the bad guy? Or are they going to be Are they the bad guy, whatever that is. That's what you are attached to. But you still have to have a good plot. Again, it's a vehicle. It's a vehicle. It's
Jack Epps 1:09:15
a vehicle because it's what it's what pulls us through it. But you know, when you have to have isolated, you know, cool shit happens. You have to set pieces. Well, that's sort of it. You know, I'm good at set pieces. I love writing set pieces. They're fun to write, I think is one of the joys of writing action movies is creating thinking of big set pieces. And it's hard to think they're really harder to write than people would think of, because it's all been done. You know,
Alex Ferrari 1:09:37
it was a lot easier in the 50s 60s to come up with these kind of things. It's
Jack Epps 1:09:43
really hard to write something new and sell but but if there if we don't care about that person at the center of it, it doesn't matter what happens. I mean, it's not about the explosions, it's about the person in the explosions, and we're worried is he going to get out of the explosions and and at what price
Alex Ferrari 1:09:59
right i mean drastically. arc is about dinosaurs. But we're not emotionally attached to the dinosaurs were emotionally attached to the characters and running around in that park. It's Yeah, and I think sometimes I think some sometimes screenwriters get a little bit too uppity when it comes to plot. Like you were just saying with your when you were pitching Kojak.
Jack Epps 1:10:18
Yeah, yeah. Well, that's it. And he has a tendency to, well, it's funny because you actually have to pitch plot, it's very hard to pitch character, because character development you but you have to have it there and you tell it, and then he goes, Okay, here's the story, because I'm looking for what are the events, and then how this person is woven into the story. But it's, that's that's pitching, which is a whole different game in itself.
Alex Ferrari 1:10:39
I've had many episodes about pitching just on pitching alone. And it's, it's an art. It's an art form. It's an absolute art form. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time,
Jack Epps 1:10:51
our three favorite films of all time. Okay, well, we already mentioned one, which is the apartment because it just, I saw that was really young. I never could forgive Fred Astaire, no matter what made me Fred. You know, talking about Yeah, no. Okay, so and so I love that movie. Yeah. I like Chinatown for how it works. And how it weaves? Isn't it? Yeah, it just is one that is, you know, you it's got a great sense of place. In that, and I'll tell you a movie that really had a huge influence on Jim. I was the sting. Oh,
Alex Ferrari 1:11:26
that makes sense. I mean,
Jack Epps 1:11:28
yeah, it's because it totally kept you off guard off balance expectations. And the movie just it tricked you so many times. It was really, and David eswar. Juana wrote a wonderful script that basically I went to school on June but I we did we broke that script down every line every just the way it was done.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:48
And do you do you advise that to screenwriters to actually like take structure from other other screenplays and just maybe use it as inspiration to, because if it's been if it's been not storyline, but structure of like, this happens at this point, this happens at this point, it kind of start off, it's kind of like a roadmap a little bit. And it's going to probably change obviously, as you write it. But I've seen a lot of I mean, if you look at I've said this so many times, if you look at Fast and Furious, it's Point Break, it's Point Break with cars. I mean, that's exactly the same story.
Jack Epps 1:12:18
Yeah, no, I think the danger is to make copies, right. And the danger is, I'm gonna make a copy of something because I really liked a lot, doing a large to it, you can love it, and have a feeling and tone of it. But you got to tell your own story. And yes, you can learn how we structurally put this type of movie together what have successful movies, I mean, I like to break down and understand how movies work. And and you know, what the core of the storytelling is? So yeah, I mean, absolutely. You can go in I mean, every art is referenced from something else, but you want to make it yours. And yours is who that character is, what is the story? What's that emotional relationship going on? Because that then makes it yours. I'm not a big believer that this things have to happen on page 30. And page 40. And I'm a big, I don't believe in that. There are there we definitely have a three act structure and culture. So as a beginning, middle and end we'd have we definitely have coming out of a first act where a character is thrown into a situation. I believe that I've learned that a mid mid term midpoint plot turn is really good. If you have something happened in the middle, it makes your second act easier to write because as a writer, the hardest place to write is the end of the second act. That's that's really hard, you know, easy. First acts are easy. endings. endings are fairly easy. If you know if you set it up, well, you can add it. But that big middle is really where it's hard. So you got to keep that middle moving. And that's where that's where I use relationship to keep that middle moving.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:44
But jack, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to the tribe today and, and sharing your knowledge and experience in and your screenwriting journey with us today. So thank you so much, jack. I truly appreciate it, man.
Jack Epps 1:13:56
It's been fun. It's been fun chatting with they feel like we've been chatting for a long time. Like I've known you for a while. So
Alex Ferrari 1:14:02
thank you, my friend. pretty comfortable.
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