Go Into The Story Interview (Part 3): Jack Epps

My talk with the co-writer of Top Gun, Legal Eagles, The Secret of My Success.

In 2016 as part of the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts Visiting Artists Series, I had the pleasure and honor of moderating a Q&A panel with two screenwriting giants: Jack Epps, Jr. and Steven E. de Souza. I followed up with both to do a GITS interview. This week: Jack Epps.

Jack Epps, Jr. is an award winning writer and filmmaker who first became involved in making films while an undergraduate at Michigan State University. Inspired by a student film festival, Epps made his first film the following semester and has been making movies ever since. His student film The Pigs vs the Freaks, was purchased by NBC and made into a Movie of the Week, re-titled Off Sides. Epps produced and worked as second unit director on the film.

Upon arriving in California, Epps wrote an episode of Hawaii Five-O and Kojak. While continuing to pursue his writing, Epps also worked as a cinematographer and an assistant cameraman on various local productions. Epps had the good fortune to work for a period of time as a second unit cameraman and assistant cameraman for Orson Welles on Mr. Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind.

Epps united with his screenwriting professor from Michigan State University, Jim Cash, and began writing screenplays together. After writing seven unproduced screenplays, their first produced screenplay was Top Gun which went on to become the #1 world wide box office hit in 1986. Within eleven months, the writing team of Cash & Epps had three produced screenplays in the theaters: Top Gun, Legal Eagles, and The Secret of My Success. As a screenwriter, Mr. Epps co-authored over 25 screenplays and eight produced motion pictures including Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch, and Anaconda. Epps also did extensive revisions on Sister Act and Die Hard III.

While Epps is primarily known for co-authoring big actions movies, Epps equally enjoyed writing romantic charm and chase comedies inspired by the films of Hitchcock, Wilder and Sturges. Films like The Secret of My Success, Legal Eagles, Turner & Hooch, Viva Rock Vegas, and Sister Act are examples of the comedy of Cash & Epps. Recently, Epps wrote the video game Top Gun for the Sony PlayStation network. Epps has also written video games for THQ.

Epps had the pleasure to write for some of the most successful actors in the motion picture industry including Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Warren Beatty, Michael J. Fox, Debra Winger, Al Pacino, Anthony Edwards, Bruce Willis, Meg Ryan, and John Voight. He also worked with such motion picture giants as Ivan Reitman, Jerry Breckheimer, Joel Silver, Herb Ross, Tony Scott and Dick Donner.

Epps was recently honored as the recipient of the first Victoria and Jack Oakie Endowed Chair in Comedy at the School of Cinematic Arts. Epps was the fall 2008 commencement speaker at the Michigan State University graduation ceremonies and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Michigan State University. In addition, Epps is recipient of the Michigan State University Spartans in Hollywood Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, the team of Cash & Epps was recently honored by the American Film Institute as one of the Top 100 Greatest Quotes in American Cinema for their line: “I feel the need… the need for speed.”

Epps is a thirty five year member of the Writer’s Guild of America, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Today in Part 3, Jack and I discuss to other movies he worked on: Legal Eagles and The Secret of My Success:

Scott: You can tell the whole character-centric vibe that you and Jim brought to it just from hearing how you’re talking about it because the way that you focus on the characters, you think about Top Gun as a sports movie, these are these supreme athletes, the “no man is an island” as a theme, it gives the characters an arc, so you can see how somebody like Tom Cruise would attach himself to that project.

Jack: It’s the only movie I ever cast. I said to Jim when we wrote it, “Look, here’s this young actor by the name of Tom Cruise. He’s great. We should write this movie for Tom.” We wrote it with him in mind. When I gave the script to Jerry Bruckheimer, I said, “Think Tom Cruise.”

The producers loved it. Simpson called and said, “I will kill to get this movie made.” They agreed that Cruise was the guy, and so their brilliance was actually landing Tom. He initially didn’t want to do the movie and it took a while to get him to agree to do it.

The kicker was when we handed in the draft to the studio, they turned it down. They said, “There’s too many planes in the sky. Nobody wants to see all those planes.” They put it on the shelf. It did not get green‑lit. We were crushed. This was our seventh unproduced screenplay and it was dead. Fortunately, those executives left the studio and Frank Mancuso came in as head of Production. He looked in the cupboards and they were bare. Mancuso asked Simpson/Bruckheimer, “Guys, what have you got? We need to make a movie.” They handed him Top Gun and said they wanted to make it. Mancuso said, “Fine. Go ahead. Make it.”

Scott: That’s another little wonderful Hollywood trivia, man.

Jack: We did everything we possibly could to write a hit movie and then nothing. When the movie was initially put on the shelf, our agent put us in touch with the hottest director in town, which was Ivan Reitman, because he had just finished Ghostbusters. We were desperate to get a movie made, so it was like, “All right. Ivan makes movies, so whatever we’re going to do with Ivan, he’s going to make it.”

Scott: That’s Legal Eagles.

Jack: That’s Legal Eagles.

Scott: “A New York District attorney works and flirts with his adversary and her kooky artist client who’s on trial for a murder she didn’t commit.” You move from Tom Cruise to Robert Redford, and Debra Winger and Daryl Hannah, and working with Ivan Reitman, so that’s how you got involved in that. What do you remember from working on that project?

Jack: Ivan’s a wonderful guy. I really loved working with Ivan. Originally, he brought us on because he wanted to take the characters of Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray from Tootsie, and create a movie around them. So our first draft was a story between the two guys, with Bill Murray being sort of a wacko ambulance chasing attorney and Hoffman being a very uptight neurotic district attorney.

We got half way through the script and Ivan decides, “We’ve got to get the script to Bill and Dustin.” We didn’t want to send out an unfinished first draft. Not the way we liked to work, but Ivan is in charge. Bill looks at the script and he goes, “I hate attorneys. I’ll never play one.” Dustin Hoffman gets pulled away by Warren Beatty to make Ishtar, and suddenly we have no movie. Then Ivan calls and said, “What about if we do this as a romantic comedy for Robert Redford? Could we do that?” I said, “Yeah, we can do that.”

Scott: At this point are you thinking maybe you’re cursed? Like you’re never going to get a movie made?

Jack: Pretty much. It’s that hard to get a movie made. Much harder than everyone thinks. As the saying goes, it’s amazing movies get made at all. But Ivan is a very determined individual, and of course having Ghostbusters, they would have greenlit the phone book for Ivan. He wanted to do something a little different than the improv stuff, and so he was interested in working with someone like Redford.

Scott: You had two movies come out in 1986. That must have been some heady times for you.

Jack: It absolutely was. We were working in obscurity, seven unproduced screenplays and suddenly we have two films released in one year. Our first film produced is Top Gun and it becomes the number one box office in the world.

Scott: That leads to one of my favorite ones that you did, The Secret of My Success, which I just though was a wonderful movie starring Michael J. Fox. I guess it was pretty much at the height of his stardom of the TV show and Back to the Future, directed by Herbert Ross. Such a fun film. Could you maybe talk a bit about your involvement with The Secret of My Success”?

Jack: It was very exciting to be able to write for Michael J. Fox. It was interesting, sometimes things fall your way. Usually, they don’t, so because we had been working on Dick Tracy, we were very well known at Universal, and knew the Head of Production, Frank Price, who I think was one of the best executives of all time.

Frank had a project called “Family Affair.” They had a script they didn’t especially like, but they were going into production in eight weeks come hell or high water. Michael J. Fox had a hiatus from his TV show, Family Ties. They had to start on a certain day in June and finish on a certain day in August. They were going to shoot whatever script they had.

Early, I had pitched Frank Price an idea about a young kid trying to be his first jobs but they didn’t pick it up. Then Frank thought, “We can take that idea and marry it with The Secret of My Success.” Being that I love Billy Wilder, I wanted to my sort of homage to Some Like it Hot, and have a character who’s playing dual identities.

We came on board and basically wrote a script in six weeks. It was reboot from beginning to end. The director was Herb Ross. Herb was fabulous. Every director is a little different. Herbert basically came from Broadway, and so he was very friendly and respectful of the script.

Because they had this short window, I think the film has the truest Cash and Epps dialogue and captures our tone and comedy. Right director, right actor, right script.

Scott: It’s such an interesting comment that you make, the Billy Wilder connection, because once you said that he’s my favorite writer-director. Great run, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, but it has that sensibility. It’s kind of edgy, The Secret of My Success, and it’s got that conceit like Some Like It Hot, the dual role thing, so that’s very interesting that you made that comparison to Billy Wilder.

Jack: I hope young writers today know who Billy Wilder is and if they don’t, they should watch all of his work. For Jim and me, he was our go‑to person. We always asked: “What would Billy Wilder do?” Wilder had such an amazing career from drama to comedy. He could do anything and do it brilliantly, and move you in the process through character and wonderful stories. At the center of all his work was a character the audience could emotionally identify with.

With Secret of My Success, we had a director who could pull it off. There’s a farce scene at the end — a French farce where everyone’s changing bedrooms in this house. Very hard to write. Harder to direct. I was so pleased when I saw it in a premiere that Herbert just nailed this thing and made it work. You’ve got to have the right director to pull off something like that. It came together very well.

Scott: I’m so glad you mentioned that scene because I was going to mention it too. It’s like a classic farce. The director has a stage background and a play is like a classic farce, the whole thing. Everybody’s going from one room to the next. That’s great to hear.

Jack: It really was one of those things where it just happened, fell into our laps. We executed very quickly. We had clarity all the way though the writing and we were hitting on all cylinders. And we were writing for Michael J. Fox. What else can you say? We both really liked writing for specific actors. Really helped with the voice.

Here is the farce sequence in The Secret of My Success Jack and I discussed:

Tomorrow in Part 4, Jack talks about two other movies he worked on as a writer: Turner & Hooch, Dick Tracy.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

For Jack’s book “Screenwriting is Rewriting: The Art and Craft of Professional Revision,” go here.


Go Into The Story Interview (Part 3): Jack Epps 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

Go Into The Story Interview (Part 2): Jack Epps

My talk with the co-writer of Top Gun, Legal Eagles, The Secret of My Success.

In 2016 as part of the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts Visiting Artists Series, I had the pleasure and honor of moderating a Q&A panel with two screenwriting giants: Jack Epps, Jr. and Steven E. de Souza. I followed up with both to do a GITS interview. This week: Jack Epps.

Jack Epps, Jr. is an award winning writer and filmmaker who first became involved in making films while an undergraduate at Michigan State University. Inspired by a student film festival, Epps made his first film the following semester and has been making movies ever since. His student film The Pigs vs the Freaks, was purchased by NBC and made into a Movie of the Week, re-titled Off Sides. Epps produced and worked as second unit director on the film.

Upon arriving in California, Epps wrote an episode of Hawaii Five-O and Kojak. While continuing to pursue his writing, Epps also worked as a cinematographer and an assistant cameraman on various local productions. Epps had the good fortune to work for a period of time as a second unit cameraman and assistant cameraman for Orson Welles on Mr. Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind.

Epps united with his screenwriting professor from Michigan State University, Jim Cash, and began writing screenplays together. After writing seven unproduced screenplays, their first produced screenplay was Top Gun which went on to become the #1 world wide box office hit in 1986. Within eleven months, the writing team of Cash & Epps had three produced screenplays in the theaters: Top Gun, Legal Eagles, and The Secret of My Success. As a screenwriter, Mr. Epps co-authored over 25 screenplays and eight produced motion pictures including Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch, and Anaconda. Epps also did extensive revisions on Sister Act and Die Hard III.

While Epps is primarily known for co-authoring big actions movies, Epps equally enjoyed writing romantic charm and chase comedies inspired by the films of Hitchcock, Wilder and Sturges. Films like The Secret of My Success, Legal Eagles, Turner & Hooch, Viva Rock Vegas, and Sister Act are examples of the comedy of Cash & Epps. Recently, Epps wrote the video game Top Gun for the Sony PlayStation network. Epps has also written video games for THQ.

Epps had the pleasure to write for some of the most successful actors in the motion picture industry including Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Warren Beatty, Michael J. Fox, Debra Winger, Al Pacino, Anthony Edwards, Bruce Willis, Meg Ryan, and John Voight. He also worked with such motion picture giants as Ivan Reitman, Jerry Breckheimer, Joel Silver, Herb Ross, Tony Scott and Dick Donner.

Epps was recently honored as the recipient of the first Victoria and Jack Oakie Endowed Chair in Comedy at the School of Cinematic Arts. Epps was the fall 2008 commencement speaker at the Michigan State University graduation ceremonies and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Michigan State University. In addition, Epps is recipient of the Michigan State University Spartans in Hollywood Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, the team of Cash & Epps was recently honored by the American Film Institute as one of the Top 100 Greatest Quotes in American Cinema for their line: “I feel the need… the need for speed.”

Epps is a thirty five year member of the Writer’s Guild of America, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Today in Part 2, Jack talks about working on Top Gun and how that movie became such a phenomenon.

Scott: That segues right into this famous Cash and Epps relationship. When I broke in, you guys were on a roll. How could you describe how that worked? Because he’s teaching at Michigan State, you’re living in Hollywood. How did you make it work back then? I think it was much different pre‑Internet, but how did that happen?

Jack: Jim and I invented the Internet.

[laughter]

Scott: It wasn’t Al Gore?

Jack: No, that was us. After taking Jim’s class at Michigan State, we stayed in touch. He would read my scripts and I would read his novels. Jim was a real wordsmith and it was always a pleasure to read his writing. I went out to California and when Jim heard I had written a Hawaii Five-O, he suggested we write together.

After Andy and I parted ways, Jim and I stated talking long distance, but nothing really happened. The distance seemed formidable. I went back to Michigan to pick up my motorcycle and drive it back to California. I drove up from Detroit to East Lansing to visit with Jim. We pitched eight ideas at the MSU Union Grill but none of them stuck. While I riding across the country on my motorcycle, one of Jim’s ideas clicked and when I got to California I called him and said let’s give it a try.

At the very beginning, we didn’t know how to work together. We had no money for long distance phone calls which were really expensive because of the AT&T monopoly. We sent cassette tapes and pages through the mails. At the same time, we both had to pay bills. I was doing a lot of crew work to pay my bills. Because I had made a lot of short movies, I was very good with cameras. I was cameraman and an assistant cameraman In fact, I was assistant cameraman for Orson Welles on his movie The Other Side of the Wind. So my crew work took me to interesting places. Jim was still in East Lansing, Michigan working as a writer/producer at a local PBS TV station.

It took us about two and a half years and five drafts, to finally figure out how this relationship worked. I like to say we had a “words and music” relationship. I wrote the music and Jim wrote the lyrics. We’d talk the script through over the phone so we agreed on what it was about. At first, we sent pages to each other through the mails and talked by phone. We broke down our responsibilities so we would do hand offs and then come together when each of us completed our work. We’d go away and work on our own and then come back together. Invariably, we would have the same solution time and time again. I think the key to our collaboration is that we had the same taste and the same instincts. We also did different functions so we didn’t compete with each other as a team. There was Cash, Epps, and Cash & Epps.

It wasn’t until much later, after Top Gun, that computers came in and we could link up our computers and work on the same page at the same time. That was a miracle and save a whole bunch of time.

Scott: What about those times when, say, you may have disagreed like on a particular story point? How did you go about resolving that?

Jack: We’d just hang up the phone.

[laughter]

Scott: Whoever hung up first wins.

Jack: I’ve worked with partners in the room, and one of the tough things about that is, it’s a lot of face time with somebody. The fact that Jim lived in East Lansing, and I lived in Santa Monica, meant that we didn’t have to have social lives together. On the weekends, we didn’t have to get together. It really allowed us to get away from each other and then come together to do the work. Usually, we’d come back and have the same solution to a story or character problem.

We agreed more than disagreed, and ultimately on a partnership, it became about passion. If one of us was so passionate about an idea and said, “No, I think this is the way it should be done,” we’d do it. We’d try it, and the worst was it didn’t work. Once we made a decision, it was “our” decision. If it didn’t work, we’d share it. We didn’t mind taking chances and running some things out, seeing how the story worked. We weren’t in a hurry. Let’s get it right. Best idea wins. We really learned quickly to bury the ego.

For instance, I wanted to do Top Gun. Jim had a fear of flying, so he really didn’t see it. His initial instinct was, “I don’t get the movie.” I had my private pilot’s license — I’m a pilot — I got the movie. I had the passion. He said, “All right, let’s do it.” Then on Turner and Hooch, Jim had three dogs, “Oh, I want to do a dog movie. I love dogs.” I’m going, “I don’t really want to do a dog movie,” but he was passionate, so I said, “All right. Let’s do it.” But once we committed, 100 percent in. We both owned it success or failure. No recriminations.

Scott: Let’s talk about this. I want to focus on five movies that you had in a string of five years. It was a great run. As I say, I broke into the business in1987, so I was able to watch this firsthand unfolding. Of course, Top Gun, which has become a cultural phenomenon, you really hit the floor running with that in 1986.

I think it’s like three‑quarters of a billion dollars in box office revenue if you figure the adjusted gross for today. The movie stars Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, director Tony Scott. I know you have an aviation background, so how did you intersect with that project?

Jack: I had a breakfast meeting with Jeffrey Katzenberg. At the time, we were working on Dick Tracy. Tracy was a co‑production between Universal and Paramount, so I got to know Katzenberg at Paramount, and Jeffrey liked the work that we had done on Tracy.

So we had one of those 8:00 AM breakfast meetings. He had 10 ideas that he threw out, and Top Gun looked interesting because I had my pilot’s license. We had six unproduced screen plays up to that point, and I sort of figured that if the movie didn’t get made, I get a Navy jet ride out of it. Very hard to get up in a Navy fighter jet. But we didn’t say yes immediately. I was very concerned about whether this would get made. We had six unproduced screenplays and needed to get a movie produced.

So we set come conditions. One of the concerns was that we felt that if we couldn’t get the Navy’s planes, if we couldn’t get the Navy’s cooperation, then the movie would never get made. The movie to be shot at 28,000 feet or it wouldn’t work. The producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, agreed. So, we went to the Pentagon, we met the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, talked to admirals, pitched them this heroic movie about these pilots, and they said, “OK. Great. We’ll give you all the gear you want.” That was nice.

Then I was concerned about the movie, The Right Stuff, coming out. I had read the book and the Chuck Yeager story had a lot of the same fighter pilot elements. The producers got me the script and I read it, and said, “OK, this is a very different movie.”

At this time we had a lot of work, and were turning down offers virtually every week, so we said, “OK, we’ll write you this movie, but we’re not going to pitch it to you. We’re not going to show you pages. You’ve got to trust us and let us go and just figure out this movie.” We all agreed the movie was about “the best of the best,” “the highest level of competition” and it would end in a real fight. Those were the only working orders, and because we had said “no” so many times, they said, “OK, we’ll agree to it.” Then I went and did a ton of research. I went on the base and flew on navy jets several times.

That’s when the breakthrough happened. The pilots love to take you upside down or flip you around, and pull eight Gs, and do all sorts of crazy stuff. I mean, they were taking me for my first ride and they kept saying, “Oh, we’re not supposed to be doing this but…” and then they go do something crazy.

I was so exhausted when I got off from the G forces, all the upside‑down, and the physical exhaustion of it all. I immediately called Jim and said, “This is not what we thought this was. We’re not some guy sitting in a cockpit. This is a sport, and these guys are the world’s greatest athletes, and this is what this movie is about.”

That became our metaphor. So for me, Top Gun is a sports movie. It’s about these amazing athletes trying to figure out who’s the best athlete. It’s really a team movie. That’s sort of how we found the heart of that movie.

Scott: I don’t think I’ve ever heard that particular take on it, but it makes perfect sense. It is a sports movie, isn’t it?

Jack: It is. I was a goaltender at Michigan State. I was a walk on and made the freshman team and beat out the scholarship kid from Canada for the position. As a goal tender, you have to be the starter. There’s only one guy on the ice. Sitting on the bench is not an option.

[laughter]

Jack: Jim was a quarterback in high school, so he was that guy. To be a starter you have to be the last man standing. The script was really personal for us. We understood the psychology of it. That’s also why there was a lot of locker room scenes because as an athlete, things happen in the locker room. You put your game face on, and you get ready to play, or you have the consequences of a bad game.

Scott: Did you have any idea, when you were writing this, that it was going to become the phenomenon that it did?

Jack: No. Absolutely not. It was just a movie. No one was paying a lot of attention. That’s why Don and Jerry said, “Yeah, go off and write this thing.” No one really cared about it. It was another movie in development. When was the last time anyone had a hit aviation movie?

I think the best thing we did was not pitch the movie. If we had pitched the movie, it would have been an entirely different movie. I would have pitched a plot like saving the admiral or some mission driven plot. Instead, it really was about this extraordinary world and these amazing pilots, and all that came out of the research. It’s really about this man’s journey. “No man is an island” was our theme. But because we were left alone to discover the movie, we became absorbed with the pilots and found the story between them and not the action.

The Top Gun pilots were some of those most amazing, charismatic, crazy people I’d ever met in my life. And the stories they told were just remarkable. One of the other keys in doing the research was that when they talked about losing somebody, somebody they had lost on cruise, or who has been shot down over Vietnam, their countenance completely changed. They became silent. You could feel it still hurt and how deeply it affected them. I realized that my goal as a writer was to capture the emotion these guys felt and put that up on the screen. If I could get the audience to feel the sense of loss that these pilots felt, I would have achieved something.

Not only did I want to have Maverick’s heart broken, but I wanted to break the audience’s heart broken so they had a stake in it emotionally, too. Then when Maverick loses his confidence, and is overwhelmed by his guilt for Goose’s death, the audience feels it, too. We also broken one of the cardinal rules of motion pictures which is don’t kill off the most popular character in a movie.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Jack shares some stories about two other movies he wrote as part of Cash & Epps: Legal Eagles and The Secret of My Success.

For Part 1, go here.

For Jack’s book “Screenwriting is Rewriting: The Art and Craft of Professional Revision,” go here.


Go Into The Story Interview (Part 2): Jack Epps 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

6 great Miley Cyrus facts from her sweary interview with Howard Stern

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Get ready for Hannah Montana to drop a tonne of F-bombs.

Miley Cyrus went on Sirius XM with shock-jock Howard Stern for a long, in-depth discussion of her life from Hannah Montana right up to her newest album “Younger Now.” The full interview is about an hour and a half long, so here are some highlights, straight from the Cyrus’ mouth.

1. Miley got kicked out of school for teaching the other kids to french kiss

According to Cyrus she came back from Canada having learned what a French kiss was and gave a demonstration for the kids in her class. This didn’t go well at her private religious school and so she had to leave. Read more…

More about Miley Cyrus, Howard Stern, Liam Hemsworth, Culture, and Music
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Interview: Kelly Marcel

Reprising my Dec. 2013 interview with Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter.

Kelly Marcel is the screenwriter of Saving Mr. Banks and Fifty Shades of Grey. Other projects she has in development include Reunion, Mr. Chartwell, and Cruella.

Kelly Marcel

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

Part 1: “Working in that video store was my education. Nothing is going to teach you structure like watching endless movies and TV shows. Seeing what’s good and why it’s good. Seeing what doesn’t work and figuring out why it doesn’t.”

Part 2: “I loved the idea that this sweet film, this huge part of all of our childhoods, was born out of terrible tragedy. I was taken with the idea of redemption and the effect that our parents can have on us all the way into adulthood.”

Part 3: “I loved it, I wanted to write it, and that was that. It was only afterwards that I thought: ‘Oh fuckitty shitballs! This ain’t EVER getting made.’”

Part 4: “It cannot be said enough that no matter how good anyone thinks a script is, if you don’t have the right director -­- a person who will love it and own it as much as you have up to this point -­- then you are completely screwed.”

Part 5: “I wrote everything I wanted to say, it ran to 17 pages or more and then I cut it down and then I threw it all away and then I started again.”

Part 6: “I’m personally a big fan of knowing what your theme is before starting. I think they can arise as you tell the story, but writing within and for a theme seems to me to help the process along.”

Kelly is repped by WME.

Twitter: @MissMarcel.

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Interview: Kelly Marcel 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 with Atsuko Hirayanag, director of Oh Lucy!

Ahead of the UK premiere of Oh Lucy! at the Raindance Film Festival 2017 Opening Night Gala, we sat down with director Atsuko Hirayanagi to talk about the film.

Raindance: Why did you decide to adapt Oh Lucy! from a short film to feature, and what were the greatest challenges in doing so?

Atsuko Hirayanagi: I actually had the idea for the feature before thinking of the short. My then grad school professor told me… ‘no, that’s not a feature, it’s a short!’. I guess it was too ‘thin’ to be a feature. So, I wrote it as a short and shot it as my thesis film, in the back of my mind viewing it as the first twenty minutes of the feature. The greatest challenge of going from the short to the feature was not diluting the core story of Setsuko/Lucy.

I first compressed the idea into the short, and then expanded it to show what happens next. One inspiration for ‘what happens next’ came from a true story of a Japanese woman travelling alone to the Grand Canyon to celebrate her birthday. She was later found dead at the bottom of a small fall in the canyon. That woman’s trip to the US and the tragic component of that story resonates through multiple characters in the feature.

Setsuko is an unlikely protagonist – unstable, unfulfilled and a touch delusional. Was it important for you to portray such an unconventional female character?

As a storyteller, it is important for me to find and portray a character that I haven’t seen before on screen. Everyone has a story to tell and things to say, and I feel this is especially true of the quiet ones. I remember being asked during the admissions interview for film school, “describe a person in your life you don’t like”, and then the interviewer goes, “now make that person the protagonist in a movie, and tell me that story…” This question somehow stuck with me, so I often find myself looking for the unlikely protagonists.

Despite her character flaws, it’s impossible not to be endeared to Setsuko. What is it about her character that gets audiences to connect with her?

I believe that in the centre of things, at the very core, we are all the same. So if we dig into that core, I believe our fears are buried in there. If we’re open to showing these fears, being honest, we may be able to understand each other better — and just connect. We, humans, are often so weak; some of us are more disciplined and know how to hide our fears better than others. Some have better and thicker masks than others. But deep inside, we’re scared little chickens. Perhaps audiences connect with Setsuko because they see some of those raw and unmasked moments, and can relate to her fears.

Setsuko tries to conform to an “American way” of living, which eventually leads to her downfall. Is the film acting as a cautionary tale of the possible repercussions of living in an increasingly globalised world?

Wow, such an intimidating question! I feel like a PhD thesis student right now! I simply used ‘America’ as a device to stretch Setsuko as far away and opposite direction as possible from her Japanese self. ‘Freedom’ is the word associated with America for me, ever since I remember it as a kid. It’s okay to laugh loudly, and it’s okay to put your feet on your desk (right or wrong!). That’s America, which is completely the opposite of Japan. I wanted to unleash Setsuko by giving her that freedom and see how far she would go. I personally don’t see this process as her downfall, as long as she can find her center, which is neither Lucy, nor the quiet office lady, Setsuko.

After a period of intense suffering for Setsuko, the film ends with a train approaching the platform she’s standing on. Does this ending signify a new beginning for her?

Spoiler alert? Yes, this is the first time in her life she’s confused and being honest. She’s facing her fears, asking the question …who am I? Sometimes if we don’t destroy something, nothing new will be born.

How did Megan Mullally’s cameo come about?

It was luck! She’s with the same agency as mine and one of our producers just finished a film with her, so we sent her the script. She read it and said yes! We couldn’t believe it. She’s super cool, down to earth, and obviously an extremely talented artist. She makes acting look so easy. I wish we could have all her scenes. She is hilarious. We should put them in the DVD.

Given the film is about a clashing of cultures, have you noticed audiences reacting differently to it around the world?

I feel like I haven’t seen enough reaction from audiences to answer this question yet. For the short film however, the reactions were definitely very different in different countries. People would laugh at different parts of the short, even when there was no specific comedic intent for it. The universal question that came out was what would Setsuko do next.

What projects are you working on next?

I’m working on a couple of originals that I am not ready to discuss, but it feels so good to be writing again. I’m also considering projects that are not mine, but have similar DNA, kind of tragic and funny at the same.

Book your ticket for the premiere of Oh Lucy! at the Opening Night Gala of Raindance Film Festival 2017, followed by a Q&A with Atsuko Hirayanag and an after party.

The post Interview with Atsuko Hirayanag, director of Oh Lucy! appeared first on Raindance.

Raindance

‘Bojack Horseman’ Showrunner Talks Season 4 (and How Jessica Biel Asked Him to be Meaner) [Interview]

bojack horseman 3

“Where’s Bojack” is the mystery of Bojack Horseman’s fourth season, and also the feeling of fans who’ve been waiting since they binge-watched season 3 last summer. Last season featured the landmark episode “Fish Out of Water” in which Bojack (Will Arnett) attended an underwater film festival, featured Bojack finding out he had a long lost daughter, and introduced Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) plan to for office.

/Film has been pursuing Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg for several years now, so we had a lot to talk about when we finally spoke by phone. We spoke vaguely about season 4, so that you could read this either before or after you watch the season, and discussed general questions that have been percolating about the show for four years.

Was it a big risk to introduce Bojack so late in season four?

It’s not that late. We did talk a lot about how much do we want to keep him hidden, and how much do we want to keep him not in L.A. There were talks of could he go half or most of the season up in Michigan or driving around going from place to place? We definitely considered that, but we also thought we teased the idea of his daughter character in the end of season three. That’s also a really rich story we want to get into and if he’s driving all around, we can’t really explore that relationship. For the benefit of that story, which we think ultimately is going to be a deeper, more interesting story than whatever he’s doing in these other places with these strangers, it makes sense to get him back to L.A. somewhat quickly but we cover a lot of time in those first episodes. In world, he’s been gone for a full year but the audience isn’t missing him too much. Did it feel like a risk to not have him in the first episode at all?

I was wondering how far you’d push it, but I was ready to spend that time with the other characters. 

I think it’s interesting too because I think a lot of the audience’s perception is going to be shaped by the marketing. We’re really pushing the “Where’s Bojack?” of it all. There might be some disappointment of, “Oh, I thought it was going to be the whole season.” Or it might end up helping it feel like more time because they’re already wondering now where’s Bojack. We’ll see. It felt like a fun thing to try, to have a show called Bojack Horseman and have no Bojack Horseman for an episode. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing we do. Let’s go for it.

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Did you already have the political story for Mr. Peanutbutter when you set up his campaign at the end of season three?

No. We didn’t know what we were going to do with it. We just thought, “Oh, that would be a fun thing to explore.” I think if we’d thought ahead for even a second, we might have predicted that maybe by 2017 people would be sick of following stories about politics and it won’t be the most enticing thing to do. I like to think we did a good enough job to make it feel fun and interesting and not feel like it’s rehashing a lot of the vitriol and torture of what the last 16 months have been. As we were working on the story, we tried to say okay, what if it’s less about politics and the personal relationships. What does this campaign do to Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship with Diane and what does it say about him and his ex-wives?

It sort of fell into your lap that you had a candidate who never thought he’d actually get elected.

Right, but what I’ll say, while we were making the season, there was a lot of talk of where is this going? Do we want him to win or not and what does that say? I think that changed as stuff was happening in the real world. Is this funny or is it horrifying and what does that mean, what is the precedent for it? It shifted a little bit so I think we were very conscious not to too closely ape anything specific from the election. We didn’t want to just be like this is like this and this character is like that guy. Certainly I think what was happening in the world definitely seeped in because we’re humans and we have thoughts about the world and the way it work.

Did you always know the history of Mr. Peanutbutter’s House or was that all new this season?

No, sometimes what’s fun about this show is we’ll write stuff in as a throwaway gag and then we’ll return to it and go, “Okay, what does this actually say about the world?” The very first season of Bojack, you see a clip of Mr. Peanutbutter’s House. At the end, the credit pops up: Created by David Chase and Steven Bochco. We’re like oh, that’s a funny gag if those two guys wrote Mr. Peanutbutter’s House. So then when it was time to show the flashback to it, we were like, “Do you think we could get David Chase or Steven Bochco?” David Chase was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” It was a really fun way to start the season I thought. A lot of the backstory of these characters we’re finding as we go which is fun. We’re making the story forwards as well as backwards. This season there’s a lot of backstory, especially with Bojack’s family. That was really fun to dive into, stuff we’ve hinted at before or intimated before. I was like, let’s really explore that and what was that and how did that work?

Is episode 11 this season’s “Fish Out of Water?”

I don’t know. I guess that’s for the audience to decide. I don’t necessarily think of it that way. When we go into every season, we’re not necessarily trying to top ourselves or match certain things, like okay, we’ve got to have this kind of episode and that kind of episode and this kind of episode. It really is more like what sounds fun for us this year? I’m always excited to see which episodes pop with the audience. It’s not always the episodes that I expect to so it’s fun. I’m excited to see what people think about all of the episodes.

bojack horseman 6

You address that Margo Martindale is still lost at sea. Didn’t all the spaghetti strainers catch her?

No. She’s still missing and presumed dead perhaps.

Even though Sarah Lynn is gone, was it important that her catchphrase (“Suck a d***, dumb sh*ts”) still lives?

Yeah, that felt like a nice way to pay tribute.

It’s my favorite thing to say.

Good. Well, be careful who you say it around.

When Bojack meets Eddie, was that a nice chance to introduce a tragic character for a single episode arc?

Yeah, that was really fun. We talked about who does Bojack meet and in what ways is this character a reflection of what Bojack has gone through? Even though his backstory is very different and distinct, can Bojack see in him a model for what he would like to be and/or not like to be. We thought he made a really interesting foil for Bojack in that moment. Colman Domingo’s an amazing actor we were lucky to get, and to have him sing is pretty incredible. He’s a Broadway star which a lot of people don’t even know about him. They’ve just seen him on Fear the Walking Dead. That was really cool for me. I was like, “I saw you on Broadway in Passing Strange and now we wrote this song for you to sing.”

Was Lin-Manuel Miranda a Bojack fan?

I don’t know if he was a fan, but we asked him to do the show and he said yet. Either he was a fan or his agent thought it’d be good for his career. He was also very sweet, very friendly. One of our writers is a huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fan so Lin-Manuel recorded a little message for them which was really nice.

There’s a joke in the finale about a Matthew Perry SNL sketch that’s really poignant. I won’t give away the joke but did it take a long time to figure out how to describe a sketch we don’t see? 

It actually came from a very old bit I had way back in college from my own sketch comedy group. I was trying to write the finale and I was stuck on this one scene. I couldn’t figure out how to move from one thing to the other. So of course I was procrastinating. When I write, I try to turn my internet off so I can’t procrastinate through the internet, but then I just get deeply involved in whatever I have just on my computer. So I was going through old documents and pictures and looking at stuff just so I wouldn’t have to think about the episode. Then I found this joke that I thought, “Oh, I bet I can do something with this.” So it turned out my procrastination helped me unlock a piece of the puzzle.

Continue Reading Bojack Horseman Showrunner Interview >>

The post ‘Bojack Horseman’ Showrunner Talks Season 4 (and How Jessica Biel Asked Him to be Meaner) [Interview] appeared first on /Film.


/Film

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

ComingSoon.net

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


FirstShowing.net

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

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