CS Interview: Jeff Bridges Talks Only Living Boy in New York

CS Interview: Jeff Bridges Talks Only Living Boy in New York

CS Interview: Jeff Bridges talks Only Living Boy in New York

ComingSoon.net had a chance to chat with Oscar-winning legend Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski) about his new romantic comedy The Only Living Boy in New York, in which he plays an eccentric New Yorker. We also discussed his work in films like Tucker, Tideland, Starman and the upcoming Kingsman: The Golden Circle, as well as a potential new sequel to The Last Picture Show!

Amazon and Roadside Attractions’ comedy/drama The Only Living Boy in New York also stars Callum Turner (Green Room), Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye), Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City), and Kiersey Clemons (Dope). It follows a recent college graduate adrift in New York City who seeks the guidance of an eccentric neighbor as his life is upended by his father’s mistress.

Directed by Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, Gifted) from a screenplay by Allan Loeb (The Space Between UsJust Go with It), The Only Living Boy in New York is now playing in select theaters.

ComingSoon.net: You took an executive producer credit on “Only Living Boy in New York.” What did that entail besides your usual skills as an actor?

Jeff Bridges: I got to be in on the decisions of the shoot and the style of the film. And I got to put in my views, and put in my vote for [lead Callum Turner] who was wonderful for the part really. He did justice for the story beautifully, I can tell you that.

CS: What was something specifically that sparked for you when you saw his tape or his audition?

Bridges: His acting! It was very real.

only-living-boy-in-new-york-turner-bridges1

CS: Yeah, for sure. And speaking of your character, W.F., I don’t want to spoil it for our readers because there is sort of a twist. How did you walk the line performance-wise so you didn’t tip the audience off?

Bridges: Well, you’ve seen the movie – and I love going to movies myself but I try to know as little as I can about movies that I want to see so I get to experience it fresh like the filmmaker intended. And that was how Mark [Webb, the director] and Allan [Loeb] the screenwriter did this. And there’s a wonderful device in the movie where you are wondering because my character is kind of mysterious. I love that the audience finds out that I’m [*redacted for spoilers*]. And so that satisfies the audience’s sense of mystery of who this guy is. That sort of put the kibosh on the surprise, but it is largely due to the fact that you think you discover the surprise.

CS: This movie is very much the kind of movie that Woody Allen and others used to do about Upper West Side, New York literati. Nowadays not only is that world sort of disappearing, but books in general seem to be disappearing as well. Do you think that is accurate?

Bridges: Yeah! It’s a sad thing that bookstores are disappearing. But it’s just inevitable that things change and nothing is permanent. It’s always changing, but you’re always nostalgic for the way it was. But when it changes there’s nothing we can do about that.

CS: Unfortunately not. One of the legendary bookstores still left in the city is The Argosy, which they show a lot of in this movie. Can you speak a little bit to your own relationship which books and maybe which authors had the biggest impact on you?

Bridges: Well the best part of going into bookstores is just being there for hours. Just looking around for books. And one of my favorite movies that I was in that did wonderful things for my career was “The Last Picture Show.” It was written by McMurtry, who was one of the best screenwriters as well writers of fiction and historical fiction. And it was such a wonderful book and I’m hoping that I get to continue the McMurtry saga of my character Duane. There are three more books in that series where “The Last Picture Show” was the first one.

CS: And then “Texasville.”

Bridges: “Texasville,” and then there’s two other books, so I’m hoping those work out.

CS: Are you actually in active development on that?

Bridges: Well, I wouldn’t say active development. I’m having dinner with Peter Bogdanovich tomorrow night so I’m sure we’ll talk about it, we always do. Maybe we can it get fired up. You know, it’s hard to get movies made! Our writer Allan [Loeb] was about to shift careers if this movie didn’t sell. And he had been trying to work with a director to sell the script for 10 years! So it is a tough road.

lps-kids

CS: I remember when this script was on the Black List and this was considered a hot property. I remember when he was considered a hot writer and now he’s a veteran, but, this movie was written when he was much younger, and that brings up an interesting point actually. You have been doing this for a bit; this is not your first rodeo, you have read a bunch of scripts. What do you think is the biggest difference between the writing of an old pro and the writing of a hungry young writer?

Bridges: I don’t think there really is much difference. They can both be open and fresh. For my tastes in all of the arts, the most advanced artists have a freshness where it seems like it’s happening for the first time. When it seems like it’s happening for the first time, you think Picasso or something like that with the big things that you haven’t heard of before. And great writers have that, or you can have “psychic” powers where you could touch what hasn’t been touched before. I don’t know, but if you look at directors who had some wonderful success, especially with first-time directors, I don’t think it gets much better than “Citizen Kane.” Like, how old was Orson Welles when he made that? 25? So it goes the same with arts and artists across the board, the freshness and things like Sidney Lumet’s movies. I got to work with him too, where his later movies were just as fresh as ever.

CS: So if you do get to do the third “Last Picture Show” movie, is the plan to bring everybody back with Tim Bottoms, Cybill Shepherd and Randy Quaid?

Bridges: Sure, if we’re still alive.

CS: Well that would certainly be awesome. I think that what was cool about “The Last Picture Show” is that even when Peter did that movie, it was more of an old-school type of movie. That was during the era of “Easy Rider” and all these other counterculture things and he was doing a kind of throwback.

Bridges: To me, that movie kind of sits by itself. I can kind of see that he had these other peers, but it was made in a time where these kinds of movies weren’t being made and it kind of sits by itself in its own funny way to me.

CS: Yeah and I think now we are entering an era where movies like “Only Living Boy” and “Last Picture Show” are only becoming rarer and rarer when there are less movies about people and more about guys in super suits.

Bridges: But yeah I think we’re going to see more of these types of movies being made – Amazon is a good thing and I think that they’re planning on making more low-budget movies and not ones with $ 300 million budgets. More low-budget movies, I think, are more enjoyable to see.

CS: Yeah, do you they think they would be a good fit for “Last Picture 3”?

Bridges: Yes, that would be wonderful. Have you read those other books?

CS: No, I haven’t.

Bridges: Cool, if you’re a fan of McMurtry, they’re really very terrific stories.

CS: He was one of the best for sure. One of my favorite movies of yours that I don’t really hear talked about much is “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.” The themes of “the innovator versus the forces of Industry” are so powerful and still horribly relevant.

Bridges: You don’t say.

n-francis-ford-coppola-tucker-the-man-and-his-dreams-3017-3

CS: Can you talk a little bit about that movie and also about working with the late Martin Landau?

Bridges: Yeah gosh, I have such fond memories making that movie. My father also was working on that movie. We made a couple of films and it was one of the times I got to work with him as an adult so that was wonderful. And Francis [Ford Coppola], gosh, what working with him was like. What an amazing artist he is. He got me going on that movie. I can talk for hours about how innovative he was, what he did. Martin Landau and I became close with him on that film, he was such a wonderful actor and such a generous person. And Francis, one of the things he did for our relationship in the movie is he said, “How do you think you guys met?” We talked and created this story about how we met on the train, he was an old man and I bummed a cigarette off him, and we started up a conversation or whatever. And then Francis said, “Why don’t we start up an improv of that meeting right now.” And we were going on for about five or ten minutes and he set up chairs for us to use as the train. We did the improv and Francis said, “We won’t do it anymore, it will be just that one time, but now that’s in your brain I don’t have to make up how you did it. You’ve got that story actually in your brain, it really happened.” And that’s an example of what Francis did which brought us a little bit closer together. You know, playing our parts getting to know each other better.

CS: What is interesting for me about that movie is that Martin had been in the weeds career-wise for awhile and that movie very much brought him back. After that he did “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Ed Wood” got an Oscar, all that good stuff. You think he knew that that part was a turning point for him?

Bridges: Yes, I think he did know.

CS: I also want to talk to you about a film of yours that I don’t think gets enough ink, which is “Tideland.” That’s a doozy that movie. I’m a huge Terry Gilliam fan and I loved the book the movie was based on, but I think it is a challenging movie for even some of the more hardcore Gilliam people. Are you a fan of that film?

Bridges: I am, it’s probably the weirdest movie I ever got involved with. I must say it’s also the weirdest one of Terry’s, I would think.

CS: Which is saying something.

Bridges: It was so bizarre, but I had a ball doing it. And Terry is a huge master of sublimity. He’s been working on that “Quixote” movie for God knows how many years.

CS: I remember when you narrated the documentary.

Bridges: You are right about that!

CS: But “Tideland” definitely has some people who are passionate about it like me. What do you think made audiences react so violently to it when it came out come?

Bridges: Well, there is this little girl who starts shooting up her dad… starts shoving doll hairs up her father’s carcass. (laughs)

CS: It was a little too much for people, but I love you in it and I love that movie.

Bridges: It was also where I got to sing a song by my friend in the opening scene, and it always puts a smile on my face.

Jeff Bridges i Kingsman- The Golden Circle

CS: I was also lucky enough to get to see the first 30 minutes of “Kingsman: Golden Circle.” It’s very wild stuff, but I think I did not actually get to see any part of your scenes with the Statesman. I was curious, what excited you about doing that project?

Bridges: Well I was a big fan of the first one. It was the best spy-genre-James-Bond-type film that I’ve ever seen. It was executed so brilliantly by Matthew Vaughn, and they do all the special effects now and used them in a really brilliant way like the first one. And when I got invited to be a part of this one — which they never really like to call it a sequel, they always want to call it an extension of the first story — I said “Okay, let’s go.” And I play the head of an organization called the Statesman, which is the American version of the Kingsman.

CS: Yeah, you are with Channing Tatum and all that. It was just interesting to me that you chose that because outside of “TRON” and I guess “Texasville,” I don’t really see you as a big franchise guy. Was it something that you tried to avoid in your career?

Bridges: No, no, I mean, I was in the first “Iron Man” which was a franchise.

CS: True.

Bridges: Also, doing the “TRON” movie was big, but I am game for all of the different formats, you know. I guess I’ll probably do virtual reality when it comes up. The question is if theaters will be taken away soon, will we all be watching movies on our iPhones?

starman

CS: If you were to go over your entire filmography and make a sequel to any one of the movies you’ve done, which one would you want to revisit the most?

Bridges: I was kind of surprised that they never did one for “Starman” because it was all set up for one. Karen Allen is pregnant with the “Star Baby” and there’s a silver ball with the kid. Whenever I see Karen, we always jam about different ideas for a sequel.

CS: Like where did her character go? Where is her kid?

Bridges: I heard that there were talks for making a remake, but I still think that they should have made a sequel and stuff.

CS: That movie was always fascinating, because I am a big John Carpenter fan, and that was one of the only movies he got to make that really showed his breadth, that he wasn’t just a horror filmmaker.

Bridges: Yeah, I think so too.

CS: He had this really great facility with comedy – it was rather Howard Hawksian in that way with the romance there. Do you have any other memories of working with him?

Bridges: Yeah, he was terrific. I remember, I always had these ideas, and I would come up to him with my ideas and then he would look at me sometimes with an implacable expression on his face and he would say, “Yeah, but what do you know?” (laughs)

The post CS Interview: Jeff Bridges Talks Only Living Boy in New York appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

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Interview: NY Filmmaker Jim Strouse on Making Uplifting Indie Films

Jim Strouse

«You really have to drive your own train and you have to keep it running.» Yes indeed. Meet Jim Strouse. Also known as James C. Strouse. Jim is a filmmaker originally from Indiana, who now lives in New York City. If you don’t recognize his name, hopefully you will recognize his films — Grace Is Gone (in 2007), The Winning Season (in 2009), People Places Things (in 2015), and now this year he has brought us The Incredible Jessica James. Jessica James stars the talented Jessica Williams as Jessica James in an optimistic, engaging story of a struggling playwright in New York. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, like every film Jim has made, and is being released by Netflix — it’s available to watch now. I caught up with Jim at the Sundance Film Festival this year for a chat, and I’m happy to finally present our interview in full. I love his films and I’m glad I had the chance to talk with him out there. ›››

Continue reading Interview: NY Filmmaker Jim Strouse on Making Uplifting Indie Films


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Interview (Video): Sidney Lumet

One of the greatest movie directors of all time.

Two cinema legends: Sidney Lumet, Paddy Chayefsky on the set of “Network” (1976)

I was on Twitter last night exchanging movie book recommendations with other writers and one of my very favorites came up in discussion: “Making Movies” by Sidney Lumet. Although known as a director of such notable movies like Twelve Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and The Verdict, he also wrote and directed Prince of the City, Q & A, and Night Falls on Manhattan. So I found this interview with Lumet from 1995 on ‘The Charlie Rose Show’ in which Lumet discusses his book among numerous other topics:

Here is an excellent review of his book “Making Movies”. As I say, highly recommended for screenwriters and anyone interested in movie storytelling. Lumet was a master.


Interview (Video): Sidney Lumet 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): George A. Romero

A previously unreleased interview with legendary horror writer-director.

George A. Romero died Sunday at the age of 77. Most remember him as a movie director, but he was also a screenwriter, penning most of the movies he made including Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, Day of the Dead, and Creepshow 2.

In honor of Romero, here is a previously unpublished Little White Lies interview with the legendary writer-director.

A drawing of George A. Romero.

LWLies: Night of the Living Dead has just been archived by the American Film Institute and the Museum of Modern Art. Are you still surprised by its longevity and its lasting impact?

Romero: God, I really am. I mean, it’s amazing to be honored like that, but it’s been 45 years now… Lord!

There’s been so much writing about the subtext of the Dead movies. How does that feed into the writing process, is it something you start with or does it feed in later?

Yeah, well, ever since Dawn of the Dead. The first one I never thought would go anywhere. Certainly when we were making it, no one could have envisioned what would happen to the life of that film. I didn’t really have any rules, I was just thinking of it as one film. Then when people started to write about it as though it were important, I got intimidated. Everybody was after me to make another one. I said, ‘I don’t want to just make another one, I have to have an idea, I have to have something to say!’ So that was it, and it took me 10 years to come up with that idea.

I knew the people socially who were developing this big shopping mall, and it was the first one in western Pennsylvania, the first one that any of us had ever seen. I went out to visit it before it opened and saw the trucks coming in, bringing everything that you could ever possibly want in your life into this enormous building. So the concept was there, it just seemed like this temple to consumerism. The light went off and I thought maybe I could do something with this, so I started to write the script. That was the moment I realised I could use zombies, couching whatever it was I wanted to do or say within the context of a horror film, that it would give me the chance for a little social criticism.

Have you ever been seduced by the lure of Hollywood?

My partner and I spent four or five years where we let ourselves be seduced. We made some deals and ended up writing a dozen scripts, probably. I made more money than I ever had in my entire career. Writing, re-writing, developing a version of one thing or another for Nicole Kidman. Then she says no, so it’s, ‘Let’s do one for Meryl Streep!’ We just kept re-writing, in typical development hell. We actually had a deal at Universal to do The Mummy, it was green-lit. But MGM wouldn’t let us out of a deal with only 12 days left to go. So MGM and Universal got into a pissing contest over it and neither happened. I just got so sick of that shit. That’s what brought me to Toronto, because I’d written this little film called Bruiser. We got the money from Canal+ and in Toronto that $ 5 million turned into six.

How do you feel about the auteur label?

I take pride in it. That’s the reason I’d never want to go do a Masters of Horror episode if I couldn’t write it, or go direct and episode of The Walking Dead. I mean, I wouldn’t wanna do that anyway. I really just wanna do my own stuff, and writing is the first line of defence. You can’t defend something forcibly if you didn’t write it.

For the rest of the interview, go here.


Interview (Written): George A. Romero 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): Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley

A conversation with two of the screenwriters of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

A Creative Screenwriting interview with Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley who share a co-writing credit for the newest iteration of the Spider-Man franchise along with Jon Watts & Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, screen story by Jonathan Goldsetin & John Francis Daley, Marvel comic book by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko.

Let’s get that obvious question out of the way — being that this is the third cinematic iteration of Spider-Man, what did you consciously try to do differently to set your version apart?

Goldstein: We went in with a take that was diametrically opposed to the Spider-Man movies that had come before. Instead of a movie that focused on the drama and weight of the tragedy that leads to the origin of Spider-Man, we would lean into the high school movie aspects of it.

We really let the adolescent issues that Peter Parker faces breathe, to imagine what it would be like to be a real kid who gets superpowers.

Daley: We think that aspect of the character is what sets him apart from any other superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s a kid that doesn’t have his shit together, is immature, and is very often using his powers for his own personal gain — at least in the beginning.

We liked the element of a learning opportunity, for him to not only learn to be responsible with his abilities, but to also learn how to survive the atmosphere of high school.

Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Speaking of that high school angle, a name that has been tossed around in reference to the film’s storytelling is John Hughes. Can you talk about his influence on the screenplay?

Daley: We’re huge John Hughes fans. A movie that we wrote and directed, Vacation, is a reboot of one of his beloved movies. We are very familiar with his work.

What he did so well was find the relatability in his characters. Even characters that you wouldn’t think you would relate to, like the jock in The Breakfast Club, ends up having a whole backstory where he is just trying to fit in. He’s as desperate as the nerdy kid.

We think there’s something very cool about being able to see the world through the eyes of someone like Peter Parker who we can truly relate to — unlike Captain America or any DC Comics superheroes, where you don’t really know what’s going on in their heads.

Goldstein: Another thing I would say that John Hughes did so well was to embrace the reality of what it means to be a kid, and not shy away from it or sugarcoat it. I think that’s why his movies resonate so well with each generation. That’s what we tried to with Peter Parker’s world — put him in a real high school, have it be a real coming-of-age story, and just add spider powers to it.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Twitter: @CreativeScreen, @JohnFDaley.


Interview (Written): Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley 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 (Audio): Adam Kolbrenner

A half-hour conversation with Madhouse Entertainment manager.

A Final Draft interview with Adam Kolbrenner, manager-producer and founder of Madhouse Entertainment.

I know a bunch of Madhouse writer clients: Carter Blanchard, Liz W. Garcia, David Guggenheim, Aaron Guzikowski, Justin Kremer, Daniel Kunka, Justin Marks, Greg Russo, probably some others.

Think you’ve written a great spec script? You can send a paragraph description of your story to Madhouse Entertainment by going here.

To listen to the podcast Adam Kolbrenner, go here.

To read my 2013 interview with Adam, go here.


Interview (Audio): Adam Kolbrenner 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): Stephanie Shannon

2013 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting winner and Black List honoree.

Stephanie Shannon not only is one of five recipients of the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, she did it with her very first full-length screenplay: “Queen of Hearts.” Beyond that, the script landed on the 2013 Black List. And just last week it was announced that Seth Gordon is going to direct “Life in Rewind”, based on a script Stephanie wrote. A great opportunity to reprise my March 2014 interview with Stephanie.

Today in Part 2, Stephanie discusses how she made a plan to write “Queen of Hearts” for the Nicholl competition deadline… and followed through with it:

Scott: When did you start picking up the screenwriting again in that process? Was it when you went to Los Angeles?

Stephanie: When I got out here I decided I wanted to give it a real shot, because I hadn’t allowed myself to before. Ever since I graduated college I had kind of put it out of my mind as something that I couldn’t realistically do. I was afraid that if I really tried to go for it, I wouldn’t be able to, that I would prove to myself that I couldn’t do it. That was just a fear of mine, I think.

When I got out here I was like, “I’m going to be 28. I need to do it now if I’m going to do it.” I started talking to some friends in the industry who put me in touch with their writer friends. So I started setting up coffees with several TV writers. They were all so gracious to meet with me and give me advice. It was really eye opening to talk to so many people who were my age who had made it as professional writers. I thought, “Wow, this is really possible.”

I made a promise to myself that I would write a screenplay that year and enter the Nicholl. This was around November of last year. I started researching in December. Then I started writing in February.

Scott: Assistant gigs, from everything I’ve heard, a great way to learn the business, but they’re notoriously challenging, especially hours. How did you carve out time to write?

Stephanie: I just became really singularly focused. I was determined I wasn’t going to let another year go by without finishing a feature. I told myself there was no way I was going to miss the Nicholl deadline. I have never been more determined to do anything in my life.

It was a pretty isolating time for me, though. I’d work all day as an assistant, I’d get home at night, and I would write. I’d wake up and work a little in the morning, then go to work. Sometimes I’d just pull out my laptop and write at my desk while answering phones, or in my boss’ office while he was out at lunch. Then on Fridays I would go home after work, and I wouldn’t really reemerge until Monday. I was so into the story that it didn’t feel like I was torturing myself. I was excited, and I looked forward to working on it, which was a really great feeling.

Scott: I’d like to talk to you more in depth about the script, but let’s cover the fun part. You write the script “Queen of Hearts,” and it wins the Nicholl competition. How did you learn you had won? What was that feeling?

Stephanie: It was amazing! They notify you throughout the summer via email saying, “You’ve advanced to the quarter finals. You’ve advanced to the semi-finals.” I tried to put it out of my mind, because I didn’t want to obsess.

What was actually great about my situation was I had given my boss the script to read the day before I submitted it to the competition. As his assistant, I was like, “I’d really appreciate it if you took a look at this. I’m going to turn it into this competition. I’d love to know your thoughts.”

I was really scared to do this because I didn’t want to be that assistant that’s like, “Hey boss, so I’ve got this script…” I was always hesitant to be that person, but I felt like I had worked for him long enough and I really wanted his opinion. I remember the day I gave it to him, I went into his office after he left for the night and noticed that the script wasn’t on his desk. I literally checked the trash. Turns out he had taken it home and read it over the weekend. He was really, really great.

On Monday morning he brought me into his office and told me to shut the door. I literally thought I had done something terrible and was about to be fired. I kept trying to figure out what I had screwed up. He sat down and was like, “I read your script. It’s really good. We’re going to put this out there and get you an agent”. He asked me if I was ready to start my writing career. It was just the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.

So, because of that, over the summer, while the competition was going on, I signed with CAA and my boss became my manager. I was leaving my assistant desk pretty frequently to go on general meetings around town. I was coming out of a meeting on the Disney lot when I got the call that I was a Finalist. It was just very surreal, to look down at your phone and have a missed called from The Academy (I had the number because I had all my boss’ contacts saved on my phone). I think I said this in my speech — the voicemail was in between like 15 missed called from debt collectors, which I thought was so ironic. It’s just a very surreal moment. You think that there are over 7,000 other people that didn’t get this call. You just feel very, very lucky. I held my breath until a few weeks later. Then they called me that I had won.

I was at work, it was lunchtime. I got the call, and I went into my boss’s office to take it. And they have everyone on speaker phone when they call you: Gale Anne Hurd, the whole Fellowship committee, and all the judges. Eric Roth is on the phone and Robin Swicord, these legendary writers that I’ve spent my life worshipping. It was so amazing to hear those people clapping for you on the phone, one of the best moments of my life, to be recognized by people of that caliber, for my first script, too. It was just incredible. I’ll never forget it.

Stephanie with a super-sized version of Oscar

Tomorrow in Part 3, Stephanie reveals what inspired her to write “Queen of Hearts” and how she worked with the story’s Protagonist Charles Dodgson a.k.a. Lewis Carroll.

For Part 1, go here.

Stephanie is repped by CAA and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Twitter: @stephshanz.

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Interview (Part 2): Stephanie Shannon 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 5): Michele Atkins (2016 Nicholl Winner)

A 6-part chat with the writer of the winning script “Talking About the Sky”.

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

Today in Part 5, Michele answers some of my craft questions:

Scott: Let’s jump in to some of those talent‑related questions about craft. In your Nicholl acceptance speech, you mentioned writer’s groups and teachers. You had mentioned it earlier here too. How important have they been for you in learning the craft and then in writing the script?

Michele: The writer’s groups were terrific. I met a man named Howard Casner. He has a blog and he does script notes. He ran a writer’s group in Hollywood that I went to for a couple of years. It’s defunct now.

I still have a relationship with him. I get notes from him. What Stephen King would call your ideal reader, that person who likes the same films that I like and the same projects that I like, he likes.

This is someone that I have a relationship with now that I can notes from and show my work to. As well as other folks in the classes and the groups that I read their scripts and they read my scripts.

There is also a producer named Andy Fraser who gives me awesome notes. He was interested in my projects when no one else really cared. It takes time to read and give notes. I was fortunate that Andy gave me his time.

You have to give to get. You have to read and give notes and spend some time with other people’s work. Those writing groups taught me that that you just don’t go in and show your work and never show up again.

It’s something that week after week you go to and you read other people’s work, and you try to be helpful to them as well. Not only that but, learn how to give notes that are constructive and not overly critical, so that the person receiving the notes can actually hear them.

Scott: I always tell my students when we do workshops it’s really valuable for you to provide feedback to other people on their work because you’re developing your own critical analytical skills.

Michele: Absolutely. No, I agree with that.

Scott: Let’s talk a little bit about because I’d the rest to hear you path in terms of we’re doing commercials. Is there a cross‑pollination for you from working in the storytelling world of commercials and screenwriting? Have you found some cross‑pollination there?

Michele: I wanted to get better, and I wanted to work on my directing. I’m very familiar with the commercial world, so I ended up getting a project through Levi’s. They did this contest with AFI.

I did a short film for Levi’s that essentially I won money to do a short film for them. It was shown at AFI fest 2012. It was more about commercial advertising type of a short than the actual film narrative short.

After that, I ended up getting that spot got some press. I ended up being in this commercial magazine called Shoot Magazine, up‑and‑coming director to watch.

I got signed shortly after that. Every time I go out, and I shoot and I direct a commercial, I’m just working on my craft and to be a better feature director. I would like to direct TALKING ABOUT THE SKY.

Scott: Is that your goal with the Nicholl script?

Michele: Yes, it is my goal.

Scott: Eva Marie Saint, who you mentioned, was your champion in terms of the script and introduced you at the award ceremony had an interesting comment.

She said, “When reading a script, you hope to find truth, reality, well‑defined characters, and a good story. I found all of the above in talking about the sky.” What do you think when you hear that comment?

Michele: Wow, it was something. I felt really lucky that that script got to her, that she was able to read it, that the Nicholl committee read it, and that they liked it as much as I did. I’m glad the script spoke to them. You never know what the ultimate end is going to be for anything. Eva is a class act and I am trying to find the right words to describe the thrill it was to have her like my writing, but there aren’t good enough ones! If you look at her career it is amazing and not many people have the talent and successes she has. It is remarkable.

When I wrote that script, and was driving for rideshare I was making the transition from producing commercials to directing commercials. I put myself on a strict schedule every day.

This is how long I’m going to drive. I’m going to come home and write.

I was excited every day to get home and be able to write. At the end of the day to find out a good outcome happened to something that I put an immense amount of work into is very pleasing.

Scott: One thing that jumped out to me was the idea of well‑defined character. Maybe you could drill down to that a little bit because the characters in your script are very strong. How do you go about developing characters?

Michele: I have a picture in my head, or it’s something that I see on the street, or just a little snippet, a little slice of life.

I’m one of those people watchers that when you go to the airport, or you’re taking a train, or you are waiting for a coffee. I like to watch people and how they interact.

I start off with something like that, and then you start painting layers.

At first, you have a little sketch and an outline, and then you pick up something else, a certain speech pattern or word that somebody repeats over and over again. You think, that would be good for my character.

A lot of times when I was driving around or even now I have my phone, and I will dictate notes into the notes app or the voice app.

I’ll run dialogue back and forth, or I’ll hear something, a response, or a certain way a voice sounds. I’ll put it into my phone as notes for a certain character, and then I’ll go back and see how it works.

The going back to your script over and over again creating layer after layer after layer really enriches your characters.

I know some people suggest you do that character outlines in the back story, and I did do that a lot of times in the treatment. For instance, I just wrote a treatment for a script that I’m working on now and it was 50 pages, which is far too long for a treatment.

A lot of it is dialogue and a lot of it is history that I very well may not put in the screenplay.

Scott: Reminds me of that Tarantino quote. He said, “The audience doesn’t need to know everything about the characters, but they need to know that I know everything about the characters.”

Michele: That makes a lot of sense.

Eva Marie Saint, Michele Atkins

Tomorrow in Part 6, Michele provides some advice to aspiring screenwriters.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

For Michele’s commercial reel, go here.

For my interviews with 24 other Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winners, go here.


Interview (Part 5): Michele Atkins (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 4): Michele Atkins (2016 Nicholl Winner)

A 6-part chat with the writer of the winning script “Talking About the Sky”.

Michele Atkins

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

Today in Part 4, Michele and I discuss the structure of her script:

Scott: I want to ask you about the structure of the story. There’s a mystery quality to it where there’s a series of these questions that arise as we follow Walter along in his pursuit of Delilah.

Who is Delilah? What happened with he and Lin? Why did they use to drink? Why did he stop? How did he lose his musical career, or what did they do to end up in prison?

How conscious were you of it that it does play out like a mystery? How challenging was that, for you to structure each one of those moments of revelation, so they built on one another leading up to essentially a confession at the end?

Michele: I wanted Walter himself not to be able to face his past. That I wanted as the story was to be revealed to us as it was being discovered by Walter. I wanted it to be at a place where Walter could actually take it in and understand it. Then the audience could know what it took for Walter to confront his demons, his mistakes.

As I was writing it, although you do see him go to the graveyard, I didn’t want that to be revealed as to why he was going there. It was too dark and painful for Walter to discuss, therefore the reader could not know either. I also did not want his musical past to be brought up a lot because I wanted that to be something that Walter put behind him.

I don’t think Walter was able to face a lot of his secrets along the way until he was emotionally ready. Until he ended up growing stronger. When we first met Walter he was not able to face many of these problems he had buried.

Little by little, he was able to reveal to us and revealed to himself what actually had been going on.

I don’t know if you realized, but in the opening when the two younger cowboys working at the slaughter house, they were listening to the Walter’s music. It was actually a song that he and Lin Lynn sang at the opening on the radio.

He didn’t even bring it up to them. Most people who would be in that situation would probably say, “Hey, yeah, that’s me. That’s me on the radio. You want to be a big country star. Well, you hear that song? I’m singing it.”

He didn’t even want to do that. He wasn’t at that place. He was so beaten down that something like that wouldn’t even had nurtured him.

He was somewhat forced to tell Lily and Hank that he was famous because they discovered he was famous. It wasn’t something that he ran around telling everyone.

Scott: That brings up the last thing I want to talk about in terms of the script, which is music, obviously a key component. You’ve got a lot of lyrics in there. I’m guessing some of those are original.

Michele: I wrote all of them except for one set, but all the other lyrics I wrote.

Scott: One of them, “The wheels turn below me as I’m looking for the light. When I hear a voice that’s calling, I know I’m going toward the light.” That’s an original?

Michele: Yes, I wrote that.

Scott: That’s symbolic of what he is trying to do, trying to find the light.

Michele: Yes, very much so.

Scott: It’s a great script. I really enjoyed reading. Let’s get to the fun part here, which is Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. How did that all go down?

Michele: I got an email from someone that I had met briefly last year at a dinner. He was a young.

He asked me what were the final, he said, not your process, or not that you got notes, but the final thing that you did to your script before you turned it in? Was there anything special?

I thought back to when I actually enrolled in the Nicholl Fellowship. I really didn’t think that much about it. I had spent so much time on my script I just lived and breathe the characters so that all of them made sense to me.

I was fond of them I really enjoyed visiting each and every one of them every time I had to do a rewrite. I just really loved those characters.

When I sent my script in. It was just a last minute. Oh boy, better send this in, the Nicholl Fellowship is going right now. Why don’t I just push this baby through?

It was quite shocking that I kept moving forward into the semifinals, or the quarterfinals, and then the finalist. I really was not prepared for that.

Scott: Where were you when you got the call?

Michele: Visiting my dad in North Carolina. They set you up on Skype and just tell you to be on Skype during the certain time.

I was there with my dad, one of my sister lives in Durham, and the other lives over in High Point Archdale area. My husband was there, so we had a house full of people. This day that I was going to be with my family was predetermined months in advance. It wasn’t anything that I could shift.

I just told them that morning, “Hey, this call may or may not come through, so I’m going to have my Skype on just so you all know.” They all ended up being on the phone call as well.

We got a little bit of feedback on the phone call. There was some reverb going on. We had the Facebook opened, so we kept hearing what we were saying and what the Nicholl committee was saying twice. It was a little bit chaotic, but it was nice to have my family around.

Scott: What was the experience like doing the whole Nicholl week?

Michele: It was wonderful. They have quite the week setup for all of the winners, and very informational, and quite nice, and a lunch in with, I got to hang out with Eva Marie Saint, who championed my script, which was amazing.

I’ve talked to her about a lot of her stories, and I’m a huge admirer of her work. I was over the moon about that, not to mention that she was my grandmother’s favorite actress. My mom was just in a tizzy about that, so that was quite fun.

To be able to talk to all of the writers and writer directors who have massive amounts of experience.

It was just incredible, and not to mention all of the other Nicholl winners. They were a lovely crowd. It’s not just saying, oh, well, I was with these people for a week and we all got along.

The other winners were just fantastic and nice people. We had a lot of laughs. The laughs, that you’re actually crying by the end of it, because they were just so funny and so lovely.

Scott: I’ve interviewed all of you now for the 2016 class and it’s just a terrific group of people.

Michele: Yes. I feel really fortunate. You just don’t know when you’re walking into a situation where you’re going to spend a lot of time with folks. You never know, but they’re just really nice. It was a good time, very nice and very talented as well.

Here is a script reading from “Talking About the Sky”:

Tomorrow in Part 5, Michele discusses what it was like to win a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

For Michele’s commercial reel, go here.

For my interviews with 24 other Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winners, go here.


Interview (Part 4): Michele Atkins (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 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

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