Interview (Part 3): Elizabeth Oyebode (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My 6-part chat with the writer of the winning script “Tween the Ropes”.

Elizabeth Oyebode wrote the original screenplay “Tween the Ropes” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Elizabeth about her background, her award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to her.

Today in Part 3 of a 6 part series to run each day through Saturday, Elizabeth and I discuss some of the themes weaving through her script “Tween the Ropes” and how she chose the sport of double dutch jump-roping:

Scott: I was on the fence about asking you this, but since you’ve been talking about Nidi’s like a rock and then, some other times, she’s more like a leaf. I’m going to throw this out to you. [laughs]

The toolbox and the fact that she is this resident manager or superintendent of the building, and actually Nidi even does some repairs around the thing. The toolbox is actually in the last scene. I’m wondering, were you going for some sort of symbolic or metaphorical thing about repair? The family needs repair or under repair, or was that just an extension of the job and has no deeper meaning?

Elizabeth: Of course, it’s a story about a broken family and whether or not they have the tools to mend themselves on their own. The toolbox entered in because I thought it was very important to highlight externally this idea that all this family really has to do to get itself on the road to repair is to stop turning a blind eye, to look to themselves.

By addressing some family conflicts head on, taking the hammer and banging it into the nail. Instead of the alternative, you know, keeping the box locked, all those family secrets locked away.

Scott: The major complicating factor in the story, I think you would have to say in terms of character, is Frankie. The father who has rejoined the family after several years, he’s been away in prison.

Elizabeth: Yes, for three years.

Scott: He’s a rather loose cannon at times. Present, and then at times not around. There are occasions where you see a paternal side to him, though pretty largely, I’d say, very toward narcissism because it’s all about his own experience, but there are other times where he’s increasingly drawn toward negative impulses born out of his own desperation and drug dependency.

How did that character emerge in this process? Was that early on that you had that father figure, or is that something that evolved over time?

Elizabeth: The father figure was there from the beginning. He was central to the dynamic of the family bond and, of course, to the plot.

Scott: You’ve got a couple of other people. There’s Old Lady Smith, who lives in the same apartment building. She’s got a rather negative view of Nidi.

Elizabeth: She does. I wrote Old Lady Smith in to introduce a generational perspective on self-imposed limits and denial. She strongly disapproves of Nidi’s aspirations. Again, I think that speaks to her own life experience and perhaps not being given opportunities herself.

And, now, to see this next generation of child daring to ask for things really gets under her skin because, of course, no one bothered asking her and she never got the chance to ask. I really wanted to explore the questions of who deserves love and how much of it do they deserve, and who deserves opportunity and how much of it do they deserve.

Scott: Then there’s Mr. Yee, the next door neighbor who opens up love in a very disturbing way for Nidi. I don’t want to get into that terribly much because I don’t want to give away where that goes ‑‑ in sum, that little world inside that building.

If we say that the best way to create an emotional connection with the script reader and audience member is give them a sympathetic protagonist, then you succeed 10 times over in your script because Nidi is all that. Her personality, her potential, her intelligence, her grit, her determination and then, amidst all this other stuff around her, you’re really, really grabbed by this character. And all of ten years old.

Elizabeth: Thank you. Yes, there’s this intellectually unsupportive environment for her at home and, of course, this mixed bag at school, and, in both settings, everyone’s just trying to get by, to get from one day to the next. These are the examples that she’s presented with for what adults are like. Right?

Scott: Right.

Elizabeth: Then, of course, she’s looking at her classmates and just trying to figure out…As you said, she’s an outsider. She’s just trying to figure out how she fits in to all of this, because her needs and wants are being dismissed over and over again.

There’s no real reason given as to why, especially because most of these desires are not particularly complex. The conflicts that lay before her are very challenging given, as you said, she seems to have an internal strength that a lot of the characters she encounters don’t possess.

Scott: There’s that. Then there’s this, as we’ve said earlier, surrogate family, this double dutch jump-roping team led by Miss Harper. Why that particular sport? How’d that come about?

Elizabeth: It’s interesting in that it’s this three‑pronged reliance system. The person that’s center stage is the jumper in the middle and then there’s these two turners who have to mirror each other to help ensure the jumper’s success.

It’s this team dynamic that I think is really unusual in sports. Typically, it’s either a bigger team or one person. In this, there’s three people, occasionally four or five, but three people who really have to work together. I wanted to portray what might happen when one of those people is the bully and the other is the one getting bullied.

Scott: That’s interesting because, again, if we’re going to talk about physical objects with potential symbolic meaning, a rope can be a useful tool. You can climb a rope. You can also get tripped up in the jumping, which is what one of the bullies does to Nidi.

You can also be strangled by a rope. The title of the script is “Tween the Ropes,” so there’s something symbolic going on there, yeah?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. It’s a constant balancing act for Nidi. When she’s jumping between these ropes, there’s this constant wavering, one foot going up and the other going down. I wanted to convey that feeling of swaying back and forth, not really knowing whether the ground beneath you was firm enough to stand on.

There’s a scene as well in which the ropes take on this cocoon shape because they are turning so quickly. I employed that imagery because a cocoon is supposed to be this safe space in which a caterpillar can grow strong enough to transform then break free. But, until that is possible, it has to be encased in this shell.

For Nidi, this sport is the closest thing she has to that shell.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Elizabeth talks about what it was like to win the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

For Part 2, here.

Interview (Part 3): Elizabeth Oyebode (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Interview (Part 2): Elizabeth Oyebode (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My 6-part chat with the writer of the winning script “Tween the Ropes”

2016 Nicholl winners: Justin Piasecki, Michele Atkins, Elizabeth Oyebode, Lloyd Harvey, Spencer Harvey, Geeta Malik

Elizabeth Oyebode wrote the original screenplay “Tween the Ropes” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Elizabeth about her background, her award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to her.

Today in Part 2 of a 6 part series to run each day through Saturday, Elizabeth and I delve into her script “Tween the Ropes”.

Scott: How did you make that transition into screenwriting?

Elizabeth: After college ‑‑ I think I told you this before ‑‑ I became a stand‑up comedian in the Washington, DC area and I loved it, but a lot of my bits weren’t really bits. They were stories. They were much more expansive. A few people commented that I should perform a one‑woman show just because my sets were almost like an episode of TV.

That’s when I started thinking differently about it. I was trying to write this one‑woman show. Then I just started thinking about plays. Then I saw a book about screenwriting, opened it up, and…

Scott: Here we are.

Elizabeth: Yep.

Scott: Once you discovered the screenwriting, that was it?

Elizabeth: Absolutely it. Then I read as many scripts as possible from the library and online. And I read Syd Field, Chris Vogler, Joseph Campbell. I really loved understanding the psychology behind it.

Scott: Read some books, and then reading scripts and writing pages, that was pretty much your education?

Elizabeth: Yes. I entered the occasional competition for feedback but, for the most part, it was reading and writing. Your blog is such a great repository of information as well.

Scott: Let’s talk about the script “Tween the Ropes,” a compelling drama that won the 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.

Here’s a plot summary: “A brainy, young double dutcher contends with the hardships of her life in inner-city Baltimore.” The final words in the script, at least the version I’ve read is a card. It says, “For a real Nidi,” the name of the story’s protagonist. Is this story based on an actual person you know or an amalgamation of characters?

Elizabeth: It’s inspired by a person I knew and several I have read about.

Scott: Nidi Toth, a 10‑year‑old girl, how would you describe her as a character?

Elizabeth: She’s intelligent, resourceful, and determined but also wary of external conflict. I think, for her, there’s this pride of being a rock for her family and her brother in particular. But, at the same time, when she’s outside of her home, she becomes much more like a leaf and subject to the whims of her outer environment.

Scott: She’s growing up in an impoverished neighborhood. There’s the threat of violence all around. You have to live with that, literally. In the apartment complex she’s in, I remember there’s a scene where she’s talking early on to someone about how you’ve got to stay away from the windows. It’s that kind of an environment.

There is that dualistic thing where with her family, she applies one mask. That kind of, as you said, rock, but when she’s outside and in the world with the vicissitudes of life out there, it’s interesting you say she’s more like a leaf.

Elizabeth: It’s a tough environment in which to grow up. It’s one that I wanted to explore from the point of view of a character who gets left in the background often in films.

I wanted to have an audience see the world through her eyes and to feel what she feels on a daily basis, see what her highs and lows might be like, rather than just seeing her as this, maybe, cliché ‑‑ a little black girl jumping double dutch. I wanted them to see her as a three‑dimensional, complicated human being with hopes and dreams, but also these realities and worries.

Scott: Let’s look at the family unit, and then we’ll expand out and consider the surrogate family, which she has at school with the double dutch thing. She has a younger brother, Wayne, who’s seven. They have an interesting relationship.

Generally speaking, Nidi acts much like a mother in protecting him and making sure he has something to eat, but there other times where he jumps to her defense. Could you maybe talk a bit about that sibling relationship between the two of them?

Elizabeth: It’s an interesting symbiosis. They have just each other to depend on for much of the script. Even though Nidi is a bit worried about her brother’s intellectual capabilities, she relies on him for emotional support and, to a certain extent, to keep her grounded and focused on getting through the day.

For Wayne, I think she serves more as a mother figure, a stalwart support system where, without her in his existence, I’m not sure that he’d be able to make it on his own. There’s a connection that keeps them wanting to fight for and be there for one another. They’re always thinking of each other.

Scott: They’ve been forced to by virtue of not only their local environment, but specifically the relationship that they have with their mother and father. Mom is 26. She’s known as Mom‑mom. How would you describe her as a character?

Elizabeth: Mom-mom is physically present for them, but she’s also rather neglectful and unwilling to listen to their needs or their interests. I think some of what she brings to the table as a mother is a consequence of her getting pregnant at such an early age. As a result, she often uses humor to mask a feeling of helplessness and uncertainty.

Also, she knows what it looks like to have one’s hopes dashed and she prefers to be the one to shut Nidi and Wayne down almost out of a desire to protect them. So she’s flawed but not a lost cause.

Scott: And she works a lot.

Elizabeth: Yes, very hard‑working. She’s the resident manager and handles all the maintenance for the building. She has another job working at a fast food restaurant. That’s true.

I think that added dimension of her working so much highlights that though she can’t be a wholly positive figure, she can contribute in the way she knows best. In this case, it’s either financially or just by feeling like, “I go to work. I do my job. Therefore, I’m a good mother.” The emotional component doesn’t really factor in.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Elizabeth and I discuss some of the themes weaving through her script “Tween the Ropes” and how she chose the sport of double dutch jump-roping.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Interview (Part 2): Elizabeth Oyebode (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Interview (Part 1): Elizabeth Oyebode (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My 6-part chat with the writer of the winning script “Tween the Ropes”

Elizabeth Oyebode wrote the original screenplay “Tween the Ropes” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Elizabeth about her background, her award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to her.

Today in Part 1 of a 6 part series to run each day through Saturday, Elizabeth talks about moving to Nigeria as a child and how that influenced her to write stories about outsiders, and how her background studying physics has been relevant to her screenwriting.

Scott Myers: Elizabeth, I’d like to start toward the end of the journey, for this particular interview. The night you received the 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Award, in your acceptance speech you said this ‑‑ “We watch films because our curious minds seek connection, higher truths and adventure.”

I was really struck by that, because I think it’s such a great way to describe the draw that movies have for an audience. Connection, higher truth and adventure. I was wondering, could you elaborate on that. How did you come to that way of thinking about it and what does that mean to you?

Elizabeth Oyebode: After I was born in America, my family moved to Nigeria for a few years. When I moved back here as a little kid, I didn’t speak English, so I felt really disconnected from my surroundings.

Watching films re-introduced me to how people here speak and interact, much more so, actually, than how real people interact. [laughs] And they helped open my eyes to what was possible and to what, in the end, matters most in life.

Scott: Do you remember some of those movies from your childhood that were most particularly evocative, ones you remember the most?

Elizabeth: Oh, yes. Usually, the name Spielberg is in the credits.


Elizabeth: “E.T.,” is the first film that I watched. It still gets me because I could relate to the feeling E.T. had of being displaced from his planet. [laughs] I felt that way too.

“The Color Purple” was another one that really resonated with me. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as well. Each one is epic in its own way. Each is a visual wonderland that lures you into thinking bigger than yourself.

Scott: That reference to “E.T.,” the fact that that’s the first movie you remember seeing. A pretty remarkable film to see as your first film. Julia Chasman, the producer who gave you the award at the Nicholl ceremony said when you came back to the United States, it was almost like you felt like an immigrant in your homeland.

I was wondering if that impacted you in terms of a special affinity or connection to writing characters who are, in a way, outsiders set apart from the others. Of course E.T. is an outsider. He’s like an immigrant on Earth while he’s here, right?

Elizabeth: Yes. I do tend to write about outsiders who are singular in their abilities or misfits who defy expectations. I’m sure that relates to feeling like an outsider at such a young age.

Scott: You mentioned, too, in your comments at the Nicholl ceremony you spent a lot of time daydreaming as a child and that at some point, you discovered you could put those images into words and create things. Is that how you got into writing?

Elizabeth: It is. I got into so much trouble for daydreaming during classes. I didn’t really come to the realization that I could channel my imagination into words and have that be my career until I was into my 20s probably.

Scott: My wife does research on this and has written some articles. They call it mind wandering now, that’s the preferred term to daydreaming. Scientists think it’s incredibly important for the creative process that we allow ourselves that freedom to let our mind wander.

Elizabeth: Absolutely, and I wish I could’ve told that to my teachers back then.


Scott: It wasn’t until your 20s when you made this connection about writing? Where’d you go to college?

Elizabeth: I went to Tufts. There wasn’t a film program, but I did first learn about a number of films while I was there. For instance, Stanley Kubrick films such as “A Clockwork Orange” and “Dr. Strangelove.” That was a kaboom kind of moment for me that you were even allowed to approach film in such a dystopian fashion. It really expanded my thinking.

I actually majored in physics with a minor in history, and part of the reason I loved physics was because there’s an order to how the universe works. A structure. At the time, I found that really compelling and it just gave me comfort.

Scott: That’s an interesting observation that you were drawn to physics initially, in some respects because of its structure, the appeal of structure when, of course, screenwriting, screenplays, is one of the more heavily structured narrative forms. Maybe you had a natural affinity for it.

Elizabeth: Oh, yes. I have this background in science and editing, so when I first started screenwriting I was very exacting, analytical, and rigid. Although there are aspects to screenwriting that require that high degree of structure, there’s this other side to it.

It’s the side that, as a kid, I craved — the creative side, the possibilities. I think it’s one of those careers where you get to utilize both left brain and right brain.

Here is video of Elizabeth accepting her 2016 Nicholl Award in December of last year:

Tomorrow in Part 2, Elizabeth and I delve into her script “Tween the Ropes”.

I had the good fortune to work as mentor with Elizabth in a 2015 Black List Lab for Screenwriters in San Francisco. You can read her reflections on that experience here.

Interview (Part 1): Elizabeth Oyebode (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Interview (Written): Noah Hawley

A Q&A with the executive producer of the TV series ‘Fargo’.

A THR interview with Noah Hawley who for three seasons has exec produced and been the showrunner of the FX series ‘Fargo’. His other TV credits include ‘Bones’, ‘The Unusuals’, and ‘Legion’.

The first two seasons started with these actions of shockingly serious violence that felt very unplanned and spontaneous. But the big act of instigating violence here is both precise and almost kind of Looney Tunes-y in its humor. Does that sound right to you, and is that part of the tone of the season in your mind?

The Looney Tunes tone? No. I knew from that first year that because we’re making a 10-hour movie and not a two-hour that if we did the actual tone of Fargo — which is a more comic movie than people remember — then people might think we got the tone wrong. I said to myself, “If you look at the whole array, tonally from Ladykillers or Raising Arizona on the one side to Miller’s Crossing to the other side, I think we have to lop off each end.” We shouldn’t ever devolve into farce, but I also don’t think we want to be earnest at any real point. What I ended up settling on is this idea of making No Country for Old Fargo, where we need a dramatic crime infrastructure that sustains the level of threat throughout, where you’re always a little worried about everybody and the threat of violence is always there. And within that, you can have these comic moments.

This year, there is whimsy to the setup and Ray and Nikki have a certain lightness to them that makes us really like them. And obviously, what happens at the end of that first hour between them is both horrific and entertaining. So it’s a balance, but you’ll find overall that there is a lot of comedy this year but the stakes are really high as well.

In terms of storytelling and experiencing the way that a TV story can be told, how did the Legion experience bleed into Fargo?

I deliberately kept it out. When I was behind the camera shooting the first hour of this year’s Fargo, there were a couple of moments where I thought, “Oh, the camera can do this,” and then I thought “No, that’s not a Coen brothers move.” The great thing about Fargo is that it’s a more objective style of filmmaking, the camera moves in very classical ways and the most interesting things normally are the characters. And that said, I started in season two to enhance some moments with a more obvious camera move, but in general, it was nice to go back to that language, the cinematic language of just trusting your story and using the camera to tell the story but not drawing attention to it.

So even after two, into three seasons now, the What Would the Coen Brothers Do? bracelet is still something you look at? It’s not something where it’s become your Fargo at this point in your mind? Or at least not completely?

Every year there is a little bit of a relaxation, I would imagine. For two years, I never allowed us to pull focus between characters in the sequence. I always thought, “Well, we’ll do two passes and we’ll have the focus deep on one and focus near on another and we’ll find a way to cut around that.” But this year because so much of this show is about pairs of people, it was just natural. I mean, the story was in the focus shift, the story was when Emmit and Sy are facing off against [David Thewlis’] Varga, and Varga is saying, “It’s an investment, not a loan.” And Emmit looks over at Sy, the story is what happens on Sy’s face. You want the camera, the focus to shift. So, I relaxed that. We still shouldn’t do it melodramatically or anything. But yeah, I’m always trying to think about. It has to be consistent with the filmmaking of No Country for Old Men or the filmmaking of Fargo or A Serious Man. This isn’t about pyrotechnics of the camera, it’s about telling a story.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview (Written): Noah Hawley was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Interview (Written): Ben Wheatley

The writer-director on his latest movie Free Fire.

A Film Inquiry interview with Ben Wheatley who directed the movie Free Fire starring Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, and Armie Hammer. He co-wrote the screenplay along with his wife Amy Jump. Wheatley’s other writing-directing credits include Kill List, Sightseers, and High Rise.

Each one of your films feels completely different to the last. Where do you think Free Fire fits into your eclectic filmography?

Ben Wheatley: They seem different on the outside, but there’s themes that run through all the films that are similar and link together in a jaggedy way. I think Free Fire has elements of A Field in England in it, in some respects: the enclosed space, the limited cast, while the final scene in A Field in England feels to me like a shorter version of the central action sequence that takes up the bulk of Free Fire.

As a director who makes violent movies, I was wondering if there are any portrayals of violence in cinema that disturb you?

Ben Wheatley: For me, it’s all about tone, not necessarily what you see. I mean, even I find Kill List disturbing, but it’s meant to be; it’s a horror film. I think the violence in Free Fire is considerably less disturbing because it’s slapstick and the general tone is comedic. It all relies on the individual scale of what each audience member finds offensive or what you find difficult. Mine’s obviously quite high because I’ve seen a lot of movies, but Free Fire definitely packs less of a horrific punch than something like Kill List, or even something like High Rise.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

I attended an early screening of Free Fire. You can read my thoughts about the movie here. Bottom line: It’s a hugely entertaining, bat-shit crazy movie.

Interview (Written): Ben Wheatley was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Interview: Fate of the Furious Producer Neal Moritz on the Franchise

CS: Interview: Fate of the Furious Producer Neal Moritz on the Franchise

Interview: Fate of the Furious Producer Neal Moritz on the Franchise

Original Film head honcho Neal H. Moritz has produced every film in the Fast & Furious franchise, guiding it from a small street racer movie to a global phenomenon. He just produced the eighth film in the series, The Fate of the Furious, and after this weekend’s record-breaking worldwide haul of $ 532 million dollars it seemed like a good time for to have an exclusive 1-on-1 with Furious producer Moritz about making the hit film, the Jason Statham controversy, the future of the franchise and a little bit about Shane Black’s Doc Savage movie starring Dwayne Johnson.

RELATED: The Fate of the Furious Sets New Global Opening Record As a producer, it’s your job to scout material that has serious potential. When you optioned the original article that the first movie was based on, did you ever dream that you would get eight movies deep into this?

Neal Moritz: No, absolutely no way. Anybody who would tell you any different is a liar. No. Honestly, I thought we were making a really cool kind of B-movie. And when I say B, I don’t use that as a negative way, but a really cool genre movie that was going to break the mold a little bit. The first time we screened the movie I walked out of the theater and walked into the parking lot and saw kids going crazy in their cars, I was like, “Wow. I think we have something special there.”

CS: It’s always had that kind of B-movie energy. It’s named after a Roger Corman movie.

Moritz: Yeah, and you know how we got the Roger title, right?

CS: No, how’d you get it?

Moritz: Okay. In fact, what’s funny is, my house is in LA. I can see Roger’s office 100 yards up the street from me, but I’m from a show biz family and was always going to movie theaters. My family was involved in the American Internationals Pictures, which made the Roger Corman movies, and I was always a huge fan of Roger Corman. I loved the movies he made and how he marketed the movies and so on. I went to go see a documentary with my father on AIP and Roger Corman. We were making “Fast and the Furious” at the time we had gone back and forth between a number of titles: “Race Wars,” “Red Line.” I can’t remember what the titles were, but they were all kind of, “Street Wars,” they were all bad titles. We were looking for a title, and I was sitting there watching a documentary, and I went, “I need to come up with a title like Roger Corman would.” I’m watching the documentary, and there was a movie called “Fast and Furious” that he had made, and I was like, “That is a f*cking great title.” I called Universal and I said, “I got the title” and I said, “The Fast and the Furious.” There’s just silence on that end. I go, “Ugh, maybe that’s a terrible title,” and he goes, “Well, let me think about that,” the marketing guy. The next morning, he called me and he goes, “You know what? I’ve been thinking about that title all night and that’s a great title.” So then we went to Roger Corman, and we tried to get the title and the deal that we made is, we gave him stock footage. Universal gives stock to a bunch of movies they’ve done, and in return, he gave us the title. He gave us the title.

CS: And then he used that stock on his movies?

Moritz: Yeah.

CS: Awesome.

Moritz: It’s fitting, very fitting.

The Fate of the Furious Reviews - What Did You Think?

CS: Now that you’re eight movies in, the actors themselves must feel some sense of ownership over these characters. How do you cater to their creative impulses while making sure the audience and the fans also get what they want?

Moritz: Well, look, I think that they know their characters as well as anybody. Obviously, we would be idiots to not take all that into account, and we work closely, developing these characters and the storylines that encompass them. It’s not like we’re off working and then we just hand them things and say, “Here it is.” We work closely along the way. And as somebody says, “My character wouldn’t do that,” we think long and hard and probably end up changing it because they know it as well or better than we do. So it’s a very collaborative process, and they feel an incredible amount of ownership on each of their characters and obviously, we respect that.

CS: Logistically, what do you think was the most difficult set piece to mount from your end?

Moritz: Cuba. Cuba, just because no studio had shot a movie there in 50 years or whatever it was, and we were going into—we had to deal with the US government, the Cuban government, and then all the practicalities of trying to make a movie where there were very few hotel rooms for an entire crew. We had to bring in everything from the toilet paper to the camera to shoot the movie there. I think that it was the most difficult, but it was definitely worth every ounce of difficult. To me it’s the soul of the movie, Cuba. The car culture there, the lifestyle there, the people there, the ingenuity of the people there, just to me, completely embody what “Fast and Furious” is.

CS: It’s a fantastic sequence, very well directed. I joked with Gary that it seemed like it was fate for him to direct this movie, since he’d worked with four of the actors before, and he’d done another car chase movie. Besides that surface career stuff, what do you think Gary really brought to the series?

Moritz: I think what he talked about the whole time was that he wanted to get the best performances out of each of these characters that we’ve ever had in “Fast,” and I think that he spent a lot of time and effort to make that happen. I think that that’s what makes the film different. There’s an incredible amount of heart, humor, empathy, drama, you know what’s going on. Being able to mix the qualities of all those different things is really a hard thing to do, and I think that he was able to do. Even though the scenes are very different tone-wise, he was able to keep a consistent tone through the movie, and there was just enough on each character. I think he wanted the drama, but when the drama got too much, they wanted comedy and action, and we were able to mix some stuff, and it just really helped.

The Fate of the Furious Rockets to $  ?? Worldwide

CS: The tone of the movie was pretty perfect throughout, but something I talked to Gary and Chris about was a little twinge of unease after seeing the movie about Statham’s character being welcomed within the group after he just killed Han one movie ago. In the reviews since that has become a target of criticism. Was that something you and Chris and Gary anticipated?

Moritz: Well, we definitely talked about it. Our feeling is that if that is the case I understand why there’s a criticism. But what I really believe is whether you’re Vin, whether you’re Statham, whether you’re The Rock, any of these characters, you could have a code. Okay? And the one thing that they all have in common is, is “family first.” The reason Statham did all this was to protect his family, and I think that that was the reason that there’s an understanding. It’s something that I think in future films we will probably talk a lot about it. We have some surprises up our sleeve, I think.

CS: It didn’t bother me personally as much as it did other people, because I sort of see these movies as big budget soap operas. It is amazing how attached people get to these characters. How do you and Chris, as the caretakers of this series, sort of thread the line between self aware and tongue in cheek? Like, what’s the line you don’t cross to avoid going into camp?

Moritz: I mean, we don’t want to jump the shark and we don’t want to do something that is not organic to who each of the characters are, and that’s really the guiding principle. They get tired of me saying it in a lot of meetings: I’ll be sitting in and something will come up and I’m like, “That’s not ‘Fast and Furious.’ That’s not a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie.” Everybody gets tired of it and they mock me and ignore it. But I really am serious about that.

CS: Yeah, well that is your job. You’re there for quality control and you’re there to keep it consistent and make sure it doesn’t jump the shark.

Moritz: Yeah, we try! We’re trying to grow and stay the same at the same time, because we want for people to get what they expect out of a “Fast and Furious” film, but surprise them at the same time.

CS: Vin has called these last three movies a concluding trilogy. What is it that makes them specifically a trilogy and not just another series of sequels, 8, 9, 10?

Moritz: I think it’s because of the way we’re going to end the whole thing. I think it’s all leading up to something that will be really, really interesting and cool and emotional.

CS: Are there treatments or full drafts of the next two?

Moritz: No, nope. We have a lot of ideas, but to be honest, I kind of am the one constantly saying to people, “One great movie at a time. Let’s make it great and then work on 9.” Other people want to think farther ahead. I really want to just concentrate on them one at a time. I don’t even believe there’s a nine until eight comes out, or there’ll be 10 until nine comes out. That is not the mindset. I believe that we’ve got to prove to the audience each time that there’s a reason for them to come back for the next one.


CS: Absolutely. And I also wanted to let you know, I’m a huge Shane Black fan. Since it was announced, I’ve been very jazzed about him doing “Doc Savage.”

Moritz: Yeah, we love him. We’re just waiting on the draft.

CS: It seems like a perfect fit for his sensibilities.

Moritz: It’ll be amazing. Amazing.

CS: And I know you guys are sort of waiting on Dwayne, but what kind of spin would you expect Shane to put on that character?

Moritz: Well, I just think Shane does everything with attitude, you know? He just has an ear for the best dialogue, idiosyncratic, interesting, funny, dark. He’s just a unique talent. I don’t think there’s any other writer who can write dialogue like he can.

CS: Yeah, no, absolutely. But it’s interesting because Doc Savage was in a lot of ways kind of a superhero prototype, back in the day.

Moritz: I mean, we look at him that he’s the first superhero.

CS: Absolutely. I mean, as we’ve seen in the past, with things like, for example, like “John Carter,” obviously existed before “Star Wars.” But by the time it came out, people were like, “Oh, this is too much like ‘Star Wars.’” How do you sort of avoid that pitfall of having a property where a lot of these things sprang from, but sort of make it more contemporary and avoid those comparisons?

Moritz: I just think that that’s what Shane knows how to do. He just knows how to do that. We’ve entrusted it with him. I’m a huge believer in him, and I think he’s going to make an amazing film. I think he’s going to make a film that’s going to be unlike any other superhero film.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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CS Interview: Rogue One Production Designer Doug Chiang

CS Interview: Rogue One Production Designer Doug Chiang

CS Interview: Rogue One Production Designer Doug Chiang

Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm just released Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On Demand. To coincide with the release, had an exclusive 1-on-1 chat with Doug Chiang, the Rogue One production designer who also developed the visual look of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, as well as the more recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Click here to order Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Blu-ray! So I guess this is signaling the end of a pretty long process for you, because I know you were involved in “Force Awakens” and then went right into this. So how have the last four or five years been treating you?

Doug Chiang: (Laughs) No, it’s actually been really thrilling. I’m just so happy to be back in the “Star Wars” universe. I started working with George on the prequels, I didn’t think there would ever be another opportunity to design for “Star Wars”. And I have to say, working on “Rogue One” was sort of the combination of everything in terms of when I first saw “Episode IV” when I was 15, because I’ve always wanted to do design that would fit into “Episode IV”. And so, “Rogue One” gave me that opportunity. I’m thrilled with that.

CS: Now this was interesting because I know in the prequels, you actually had a little bit of leeway, in the sense that you were so far before the original trilogy that you could kind of come up with some different looks. It was more of an art deco kind of throwback look. But on this one, it’s so close to “A New Hope”. How did you try to keep it contemporary, but also make sure to adhere to that design aesthetic?

Chiang: Yeah, that is a really good question because that’s the question we asked ourselves. We knew “Rogue One” was going to take place right before “Episode IV”. So a majority of our design had to fit seamlessly with “Episode IV”. Their approach was that what percent had to fit. And there’s fewer designs in the sense that you won’t just build the thing. So for instance, like the Yavin hangar. So we saw bits of it in “Episode IV”, but what if George had turned the camera around the other way?

NOTE: in 1st edition of DK Ultimate Visual Guide, this image was improperly credited to Kevin Jenkins.

And so, what it allowed us was to design something that kind of was heavily influenced by “Episode IV” and stayed true to it, but yet it gave us license to open up and expand the design vocabulary a little bit more, while still kind of fitting in. It was a really great approach for us, because one, we knew that the design had to feel as if we were designing a movie, as if we were designing an alternate version of “Episode IV”. But then, we also knew because the film before, there was going to be a small percentage, maybe 20 percent of new designs, and that was going to give us the excuse to bridge that “Episode III” to “IV”, to kind of have that sort of design history lineage, to make sense of all that.

And that’s one of the great things. When I started working on “Star Wars” George said, “You know, we’re going to try something new that we weren’t going to copy old designs.” And it seems like that was kind of the best thing because the process of designing for “Star Wars” was exactly the same. The only difference was the result. But I got to understand how George approached designs for “Star Wars”. And his approach was, really, he created the designs in our design history so that, you know, there are a lot of visual distinctions. Like, “IV”, “V” and “VI” can be easily anchored in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s designs, and “I”, “II” and “III” are like, in the 20’s and 30’s. And so, when you know that, you can then fill in the gaps, you know how to bridge the non-aesthetics.

And so, for “Rogue One” that was really, one of the things was filling in that 20 percent of new, that could really help kind of build out the universe. The designs that we were creating had to have a reason for existing, because in some ways, a lot of the designs don’t exist after “Episode IV”. And so, we had to figure out, well, if we create something that was too fantastic, you know, well, why did it not work? We knew that they had to fit within that timeline, and we also knew we never saw it after “Rogue One”.

And so, the thinking was that, well, maybe this was an earlier version of the—from a manufacturer of the X-Wing. It’s actually, if we’re thinking about “IV”, “V” and “VI” classic design and sort of functional practical designs, flying design, the prequels were more romantic designs, more handcrafted. The E-Wing kind of had a little bit of that. There were elements that were manufactured, but they were elements that were perhaps, you know, handcrafted. And so, it really was obsolete technologies so that it gave us the excuse to kind bridge that. But then, story line wise, universe wise, there was a reason why.


CS: Right. And now, I love the beautiful art books that they came out with for “The Force Awakens” and for this movie. What was a design that you were particularly fond of that didn’t make it through the final approval process?

Chiang: For “Rogue One”? (Laughs) There were actually quite a few. I mean, and a lot of it was driven by sort of, you know, story needs and also aesthetics. Part of the design challenges, you know, we had to push the envelope, you know, explore that gray area of what is “Star Wars”, and sometimes we would go too far and then we’d kind of reign ourselves in. And sometimes, we’ll come up with very interesting designs, that perhaps don’t quite fit or are too extravagant. There were early versions of the space dock, for instance, or Scarif, but it didn’t quite make sense for the story, that it was almost too much technology and too doped up. And then, we found ourselves struggling with, you know, trying to come up with, well, why is this here and what is its purpose? Let’s kind of strip away and see what is the logic of why this, you know, what is its single purpose?

So there’s things like that. Other things we were exploring, you know, like Dantooine Base. That was in the early version of the outline. And unfortunately, we didn’t see it in the final version, but we actually did quite a detailed design really figuring out what it could be. And so, a lot of it was kind of feeding off of really the inspiration of Ralph McQuarrie way back. When George works on these films, he likes to have the designers kind of explore a whole bunch of different ideas and then straight pick the one or two that would end up in the movie.

But there’s all, a whole wealth of designs that never made it into the movies. And one of the first things that we do for “Rogue One”, I took Gareth up to the Lucas Archives. And we went through essentially all those rough Ralph McQuarrie early designs. And there were some really wonderful designs. And then, in particular, there’s one painting that we all gravitated towards, which was an early version of Dantoonie with this grassland and a giant termite mound. And it was not just a striking image, but we felt compelled that, okay, if we’re going to do this, let’s start there and then see how it evolves.


CS: Right. Now it was interesting because I feel like “Force Awakens” kind of steered away from a lot of the stuff from the prequels, but “Rogue One” actually did incorporate some elements like Coruscant and some of those other things. I know fans are actually very high on the idea of seeing more of the prequels, like integrated within the new movies, to be acknowledged. Do you think that we’ll be seeing more from those earlier eras in the “Star Wars” universe in the new films?

Chiang: Yeah, I would hope so, I mean, because they are a part of the design history of “Star Wars” and we felt very strongly that for “Rogue One”, there should be that bridge. When you reflect on the whole design of “Star Wars”, it actually makes the designs for the specific film even more authentic, and in a really grounded reality, so you’re kind of designing with a long history of design. And that’s what I love about “Star Wars” design, is that it is grounded in history.

There is an actual foundation that underlines everything you’re seeing. The audience may never realize that or appreciate that, but it’s all there and it’s part of the homework that we do, because I think it’s very important and is a key component to creating designs that are timeless. And when you look at “Episode IV”, it’s totally in there, in terms of all designs, in terms of the design history, how things fit, why they’ve evolved, why it makes sense. And what it does is, it creates this very immersive world, where there are a lot of questions and you don’t ask those questions because the world seems like it makes sense. George always describes “Star Wars” as like a foreign film, that when you look at a foreign film, there’s so many exotic things in the background, but yet, they’re all just background material. But yet, if you go into it, every piece fits, and that’s what we’re doing for “Star Wars” is we do months of homework in terms of figuring out designing the world itself. And then, ultimately, when it’s presented in the cinema, very little of it is explained, but there is an inherent perfect feeling that you get that it all makes sense because it really does.

CS: I noticed that after “Rogue One”, that I don’t know if you’re still involved in the “Star Wars” universe at Lucas Film. Is there more “Star Wars” in your future?

Chiang: Yes. My role here is, I oversee all the designs for all of the “Star Wars” film franchise, including theme parks, games and films. So I’m very lucky.

CS: Yeah, no, absolutely. Do you think we’ll be able to see some of your work in “Episode VIII”?

Chiang: I hope so. I can’t comment directly.

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CS Interview: Their Finest’s Sam Claflin

Sam Claflin talks about Their Finest. Check out our full Sam Claflin interview.

Sam Claflin plays a WWII propaganda film producer in this Friday’s Their Finest

This Friday, STX Entertainment is releasing Their Finest, a new film from director Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day). Adapting Lissa Evans bestseller Their Finest Hour and a Half, the romantic comedy is set in London in 1940 and follows a fictional propaganda film production about the battle of Dunkirk. Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games franchise, Me Before You) plays a film producer who is teamed with Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a woman from the British Ministry of Information assigned to bring a woman’s touch to the project’s screenplay.

RELATED: Watch the Their Finest Trailer

CS recently sat down with Claflin to discuss his turn as Their Finest‘s Tom Buckley. In the below interview, he recalls the making the film’s movie production within a movie production and even recalls an amusing story about his audition years ago for Marvel StudiosThor. Check back soon, too, as we’ll soon be bringing you another conversation with Their Finest‘s Bill Nighy.

CS: Heading into a film set in England during WWII, I was surprised by how light the tone of “Their Finest” is at times.

Sam Claflin: I think that anything set in that time is kind of expected to have that heaviness. I think that part of what really attracted me to that script and that world was the real sense of a “keep calm and carry on” motto that we now use way too often. It was sort of a fresh outlook on war and the fight that went on behind the scenes.

CS: While the tone of the film may be a bit relaxed, your Tom Buckley is sort of the reverse.

Sam Claflin: He’s the atypical leading man, isn’t he? He’s the person who maybe doesn’t quite tick every box on what makes a hero. That’s what attracted me to the uniqueness of him and the original kind of relationship between himself and Catrin Cole. There’s the fact that he doesn’t think she’s good enough when she is better than him. I think that’s quite poetic.

CS: What do you do to immerse yourself in the time period?

Sam Claflin: Nothing too much, really. There’s something that Bill [Nighy] said earlier today. He said that the first thing he writes on a script set in any time period is, “This is not a period piece.” It has to be relevant and fresh and new, despite the fact that it is set in the ’40s. The props and the costumes and sets suggest that and we don’t need to play into it. I think that was quite well put without ever thinking about it myself. The costumes we wear and the clothes we use do suggest that it is of a time that is not today. I don’t really go home and read masses of books and watch masses of films. I did watch a few silent films, purely out of curiosity. Some propaganda moves and stuff. It was really interesting.

Sam Claflin talks about Their Finest. Check out our full Sam Claflin interview.

CS: There’s also a real sense of positivity in the face of adversity. Was that message something that drew you in?

Sam Claflin: Especially in today’s society, I think there’s a need for hope and unification. There’s a need to be brave in the face of danger. We live in dangerous sort of times. Everyone wants to kind of feel uplifted and be entertained. There’s that element of escapism, but there’s also that message at the forefront. I hope that it will register with people the way it did with me.

CS: You’ve obviously been on quite a few modern movie sets, but did you find things were very different on the film’s recreated 1940’s movie sets?

Sam Claflin: It’s something that I honestly didn’t know a lot about. I had never watched a film set in that time period. I wasn’t familiar with any of the props or the equipment or the cameras. It was all new to me. I was stepping on a film set within a film set, kind of completely blown away by it all. People were talking me through certain things. What really enamored me was that I had the great opportunity to play with a typewriter and get as good and efficient as I could before I started filming. After we had filmed it, I also got to go into the editing suite and see how they manipulated it to make it look as though it was of the time. It was fascinating. It really is fascinating.

CS: There’s part of the story wherein Bill Nighy’s character is complaining about getting sent scripts for films that don’t suit him at all. Is that something that all actors go through even now?

Sam Claflin: Yes. It has definitely happened to me before. I think the best was when I read for Thor. Before Chris Hemsworth was cast, rightfully so. So I read the entire script and got to the audition and realized that they were only considering people over six foot and I’m five eleven. Why did I waste an entire weekend immersing myself in this world when they were going to just say no? Which, of course, they did. But I’ve often been sent scripts, especially earlier in my career, that said, “we’re looking for a 40- to 50-year-old man.” This character, Tom Buckley, is, in the novel, a 40-year-old man. Sometimes it works out in a way that you can’t quite explain.

CS: What role does the original novel play in your preparation?

Sam Claflin: I tend to read it, just for the sake of being able to talk to people about it. I feel that the book and the script are two very different things. I’ve made so many book to film adaptations now that I’ve kind of sussed out what to do. I read the script and that becomes my world. I kind of forget about the novel. But, at the same time, it’s good to know what is available there that you might have missed or that the screenwriter might have missed. Be it a line or a character trait. Whatever it is. I feel like there are, occasionally, real gems kind of hidden there. Of course, that’s really the only book I’ve had the opportunity to read. Being a new father, I get very little time to myself. So I think it’s important to read the book, it just isn’t something that you should treat like a bible.

Sam Claflin talks about Their Finest. Check out our full Sam Claflin interview.

CS: What is it that draws you to a project?

Sam Claflin: A challenge. Something new. Something fresh. A script or story that really really resonates with me or moves me. Or makes me shudder or makes me happy or laugh out loud. A character that is three-dimensional, believe it or not, is rather rare. You’re always looking for something that is complex and human. I didn’t really grow up reading books. I watched films. What’s upsetting now is that so many films are remade. There is very, very rarely an original character. Something you’ve not seen before. Every now and then you have the opportunity to read something that is completely fresh. That’s something that excites me beyond belief. Currently, I’m about to go start a new job that I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about. It’s something completely different than I’ve done before and it’s the opposite of who I am as a person. I’m also working with a really exciting director and it’s a really great story. I think it’s best I’ve ever felt about preparing for a role. I’m very exited.

CS: There’s also a physical transformation with Buckley.

Sam Claflin: It was something I adopted. I kind of decided that I wanted to be working glass and maybe a bit lazy. Lazy’s not actually the right word. He’s very, very good at his job, but he’s still a bit of a mess. He only has one suit. I wanted him to be unlike me. I’ve got a real tidy problem. Everything has to be perfect. He has that sense about his work, but not about his life. He’s organized chaos. Or just chaos as I like to call him. The actors that I really admire are the ones who completely embody somebody else. I played a lot of soccer growing up, so the physical aspects of the job are something I quite enjoy. Christian Bale is an actor that I greatly admire. He quite literally transforms himself. I don’t understand the actors that play the same part in a different film time and time and time again. I mean, that’s me. I can certainly appreciate it, but that’s not an actor to me. That’s someone just being themselves. I personally like to embody somebody different and become somebody different. I haven’t yet had the chance to fully stretch the limitations of that, but it’s something that hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to.

CS: “Their Finest” is a fictional story but it’s set in a time and place that was very real. Would your approach to the character be very different if this were a true story?

Sam Claflin: Yes, probably. I would do a little more research into the man and the world and the people he surrounded himself with. I would probably try to adopt the mannerisms of said person, especially if was someone that lived after the point where we have archived such things. The trick sometimes is when you play someone who lived before anything really existed. I think that the way the internet works now, though, it’s very easy. If you didn’t do that research, you’d be a little frowned upon. So yeah, I suppose I would do a lot more preparation.

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Interview: Lisa Joy

My in-depth conversation with executive producer of “Westworld”.

This week, I am digging into the Go Into The Story archives to spotlight interviews I’ve conducted with some of the most talented screenwriters in the business.

Today a March 2014 interview with Lisa Joy. She got her start as a Hollywood writer working for the ABC television series “Pushing Daisies,” then as writer-producer on the USA series “Burn Notice.” She wrote the spec script “Reminiscence” which made the 2013 Black List and sold to Legendary Pictures for a reported $ 1.25M. In addition, she and her husband Jonathan Nolan are co-creators / executive producers of the HBO series “Westworld.”

Lisa Joy

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “I started reading a couple screenplays just to see what it looked like. It kind of struck me that there were some similarities between poetry, which I’d always loved and screenwriting. You don’t have that much space. You have to convey things very compactly.”

Part 2: “To me, I really never thought that it was possible I would become a working writer. It’s truly, if you told me I was going to become an astronaut who colonized Mars, that would be about the equivalent feasibility for me.”

Part 3: “I’d say that the thing I learned from him [Bryan Fuller] the most is to be bold and to try to stick to your vision as much as possible because no one else is going to do it and you can have death by a thousand cuts with an idea.”

Part 4: “But the thing that is first and foremost to me is, ‘Do I love the character? Do I empathize with them?’ I even think you have to love and empathize with the villains you write, especially them, in a way. Otherwise it just becomes caricature.”

Part 5: “The fact that ‘can you have it all’ was the question posed to women specifically — was complete bullshit. It makes everything a binary all or nothing choice. And if ‘all’ is impossible — then we must settle for ‘nothing.’ The paradigm itself is messed up.”

Part 6: “At the end of the day just sit down in front of that blank page. It’s terrifying, the tyranny of the blank page and all the expectations you put upon yourself. But then you turn off the naysaying voices in your head. And you write. Just write.”

Lisa is repped by WME.

Twitter: @lisajoynolan

Comment Archive

Interview: Lisa Joy was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Interview: David Guggenheim

My in-depth conversation with two-time Black List writer.

This week, I am digging into the Go Into The Story archives to spotlight interviews I’ve conducted with some of the most talented screenwriters in the business.

Today an April 2013 interview with David Guggenheim. He broke into the business in February 2010 by selling the spec script Safe House which was produced and has grossed $ 208M worldwide. Since that time, Guggenheim has sold two more spec scripts: “Black Box” to Universal and “Narco Sub” to 20th Century Fox, as well as the pitch “Puzzle Palace”. He also is creator and executive producer of the CBS series “Designated Survivor”.

Guggenheim 2

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “You know, I just love the craft of constructing a story, coming up with movie concepts. That’s the fun for me. Just you and a blank page and you’re just coming up with stories.”

Part 2: “I love spy movies, and that’s my favorite genre to work in. And what I like doing, is taking a piece of a movie, that’s usually isn’t the focal of the movie, and blowing that up, and saying let’s do the movie from that point of view.”

Part 3: “For me, the best action movies are always the character‑driven action movies and they’re the one’s you always remember.”

Part 4: “Obviously, for the sake of the read, you want the action to jump off the page as much as possible, but what’s more important than the actual choreography is to come up a fresh way figuring out how the characters got into the action scene in the first place and how they get out of it.”

Part 5: “I think in a spec you need to make sure you’re hooking your reader in that first 15 pages, and that it has a strong enough concept. Because your concept it what’s going to set it apart.”

Part 6: “I will take any idea and I will try it. I may not agree with it when it’s given to me, but I always give the idea a chance, and I’ll try it.”

David is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @DBGuggenheim

Comment Archive

Interview: David Guggenheim was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

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