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Interviews
 
Jeremy Doner
Thursday, May 4, 2006
Author: Will Plyler
 
Jeremy Doner graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1994 with a B.A. in English and a focus on Shakespearean drama.  He went on to receive a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles in 1996. His first feature was the Showtime Original Movie LEGEND OF THE LOST TOMB (1996), an archaeological action-adventure that sent two mismatched teens on a voyage up the Nile with veteran actors Stacy Keach and Rick Rossovitch.  Before he worked exclusively as a screenwriter, Doner was a story analyst and researcher for some of Hollywood’s top directors and producers, including Michael Mann and Doug Wick at Sony, Wolfgang Petersen at Warner Brothers, and Tom Jacobsen and Jerry Bruckheimer at Disney. He is currently writing and co-producing THE JAZZ AMBASSADORS for New Line.  Doner is represented by agents Dan Rabinow & David Unger at ICM, and by lawyer Carlos Goodman at Bloom, Hergott, Deimer, Rosenthal, LaViolette.

Where are you from and where did you grow up?

I was born in Detroit and lived in a small town nearby, called Franklin.  It was more rural than suburban.  We had horses across the street and woods.  When I was 9, my family relocated to NYC.  My mother is an artist and she needed studio space, so in 1983 we moved into a loft in SoHo where I grew up and where my parents still live.  Needless to say, this was a change of pace.  I’ve got a soft Midwestern core and a hard NYC shell.
 

When did you become first interested in writing?

When I was thirteen, I started hanging around the East Village with my older brother’s girlfriend who was a ballerina.  He had gone off to college and wanted me to look after her.  She was living on 6th between Avenues A and B.  And she took me to this abandoned gas station on 2nd and B that this Venezuelan guy had turned into a poetry and performance space.  It was called Space 2B.  I saw Allen Ginsburg read there and the Puerto Rican poet Pedro Pietri and various comics.  We would sit on cushions and mattresses on the floor of the garage, and listen.  I started reading a lot of Ginsburg and the beats and writing my own poetry on the train to school and in a bar nearby called Sophie’s.  Eventually, I met Ginsburg and got up the courage to read my stuff at Space 2B.  When I graduated high school, my school published a little book of my poems, which was pretty cool of them.  But I didn’t think I’d become a writer.  I didn’t want to live on the Upper West Side and give readings in musty bookstores.  That was my vision of the writer’s life.
 

Where did you go to college? Did you ever study film/writing?

I went to Harvard but I didn’t study film there.  At the time, they didn’t embrace film at all.  I took what few courses they offered on film as literature, but stayed away from the technical courses they offered through VES (Visual and Environmental Studies).  Instead, I double majored in Biological Anthropology and Psychology.  I wanted to learn about human behavior from an evolutionary perspective.  Junior year, I switched to English so I could try to write a screenplay as a creative thesis.  And I took every course on Shakespeare I could.  To my knowledge, the department had never let anyone do a screenplay before.  But Spike Lee was teaching a screenwriting seminar that year.  The winds of change were blowing.  So I went before a panel of seven and persuaded them to let me do a script.  It was my first attempt at writing a feature.  It was so bad I nearly didn’t graduate with honors as a result.  But I used it to apply to AFI as a Screenwriting Fellow.  And I got in and went.  So I got a 2-year MFA there.  AFI was a great experience for me because I lucked into a great teacher, Leslie Stevens (who passed away shortly after I graduated).  That said, I don’t think film school is at all necessary for writing.  Anyone with the raw talent and the drive to pursue it has all the means at their disposal to succeed.  The Web, with its script libraries and writer’s blogs, is a great resource.
 

Tell us about writing your first script?  What was your approach like?

Like I said, my first attempt was a total disaster.  I was writing blind.  I didn’t have any innate sense of story structure. And I wasn’t writing from inside my characters, but from the outside.  It’s almost hard to oversell how blind I was.  My seminar teacher gave us Syd Field’s first book on story structure.  So that was my reference point. I tried to obey three acts and turning points.  But I didn’t know what I was doing.  I am very happy not to be there.  And frankly, based on that experience, I don’t know why I thought I could or should persist.  Except that I’d gotten myself into AFI.  And it’s what I wanted to do.  So now I had to do it.  I’ve never looked back at that first script, with good reason.  It sucked.  But my first short project at AFI came naturally, was well received, and gave me cause to go on.  Early lesson for me: every script is a new and different relationship; sometimes it’s better to just move on than stay in an abusive one.
 

What was your first “break”?  Did you place in a contest? Meet someone? Write queries?

Getting into AFI was a break.  It gave me some grounds to say to myself and others, someone thinks I have a shot.  Then again, anytime you’re paying money to write, instead of getting paid, it’s not a real break.  Summer before AFI, I worked on the set of a film for producer Julie Corman (Roger Corman’s wife).  They’ve given young talent a first break for literally decades.  I knew their daughter from college.  Beginning of second year at AFI, I showed Julie my short scripts from AFI.  She liked them enough to give me a shot coming up with a “take” on a young-adult adventure book she’d optioned.  I wrote a treatment on spec.  She took it to Showtime.  They gave it the go-ahead.  So Julie hired me to write the script.  Showtime greenlit the project and it filmed during spring of my second year at AFI with Stacy Keach, Rick Rossovitch and two teen actors.  It was called “Legend of the Lost Tomb”.  It didn’t turn out to so great.  Partly my fault, partly the budget.  But it was good enough.  And it was good to know I could write and get produced.  But it’s not like that led directly to more work.  So I got my big lesson about breaks early on: they earn you the right to need another break.
 

Your current agent is Dan Rabinow at ICM.  How did you find representation with him? And what is your relationship like? Do you talk often? Is there a lot feedback?

After my Showtime film, I did a couple odd script jobs.  I still had no agent.  I then went years with no work, just trying to write the same spec that kept dogging me.  While driving from Paris to the Sahara with my wife, I passed through southern Spain and saw the Muslim fortresses the Moors built.  The Alhambra in Granada blew me away, for pure size and the refinement of the culture that created it.  I started reading everything I could on it. I discovered that the Moors had occupied the land for seven centuries and that one man, the Marquis of Cadiz, had started a guerilla war that finally led to the liberation of Spain in 1492.  He was a Christian hero – and yet he risked all he had to hide Jews on his estates from the flames of the Inquisition.  He died at age 42, penniless and spent.  Here was William Wallace meets Oskar Schindler.  This became a pitch which I sold to independent producers.  I set aside my failed spec, and I was working again.

“Cadiz” was the first feature script I was proud of.  When writer friends liked it, I passed it to a friend who’s a studio exec.  He knew I’d been writing for years, but I’d never shown him anything.  So he knew two things: I am tough on myself and respectful of his time.  He liked the script.  So he gave it to Dan Rabinow.  At the same time, a producer friend slipped it to another ICM agent, David Unger.  Both agents liked it.  So I met with them and signed.  To Dan and David’s credit, even though I wasn’t earning them any money for several years, they’ve stuck by me.  They’ve advised me on choice of material, connected me with people (general meetings), sent my scripts as writing samples to get the word out, and handled my little deals (like a brief stint at DreamWorks Animation).

Agents can also help “package” material, and this is one of the advantages of being with one of the larger agencies.  When I found the story for “The Jazz Ambassadors”, David Unger matched me with his client at the time, Antoine Fuqua.  David had also put together the package that became “Training Day”.  When Antoine came on board ‘The Jazz Ambassadors,” my ball was rolling.

One thing my agents don’t do is participate heavily in the story process.  I develop stories on my own or with the producers and my agents get it when I am confident it’s ready to go out (to sell or get packaged).  If I don’t think it’s ready, I don’t show it -- even if my agents pester me to read it.  Now that I have a manager, Tom Lassally at 3 Arts, I expect I’ll do more development with him.  This is one of the niches that managers have filled: helping you get your stories ready to go out.
 

Carlos Goodman at Bloom Hergott Deimer Rosenthal & LaViolette is your attorney.  How did you get hooked up with Carlos?  Why do you feel it’s important to have an entertainment lawyer along with an agent? Advantages?  What is your relationship like?

The agencies have legal departments, but they have internal business to look after in addition to a thousand clients.  An entertainment lawyer offers more attention and often more expertise.  Lawyers can negotiate your deals for you, too.  For a while, I had a lawyer but no agent.  You can work this way.  Shortly after my Showtime film, I signed with an excellent New York-based attorney.  He is very selective about his client list and very attentive.  I was lucky to have him.  Still, I felt I needed an L.A.-based lawyer who is more enmeshed in the daily dealings of this town.  Legal can slow things down enormously.  I decided I prized efficiency – somebody with the insider connections and clout to push deals forward – above attentiveness.  The same studio exec friend who passed my script to Dan at ICM hooked me up with Carlos.  Carlos came highly recommended from all quarters.  Turns out he is not only lightning fast, but attentive too.  He also takes a creative interest in his clients’ stories.
 

You recently set up your pitch “The Jazz Ambassadors” with Morgan Freeman’s Revelations Entertainment.  Freeman and his partner Lori McCreary are attached to produce. How did you come up with this story? What was the pitching process like?  Have you started writing yet?  How is it working with an actor turned producer?

I was driving home and heard a news segment on the radio about how the U.S. government used jazz bands as a “hearts and minds” weapon against the Soviets during the Cold War.  I thought there might be a timely story in there about music, politics and war.  I did some research and discovered that the U.S. sent Duke Ellington and his Orchestra to Baghdad in 1963 when the coup happened that put Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party in power.  I tracked down Tom Simons, the young State Department guy who led Ellington’s tour, who is now a retired U.S. Ambassador and a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He agreed  to make a deal with me for his life rights.  He got that I’m a little guy with no money, so it was a very cheap option to start.  And the best money I think I’ve ever spent.

I liked Simons’ story because it was really about how a young, white Kennedy liberal finds an unlikely father in an aging black Republican (Ellington).  Red State vs. Blue State, right there in my two leads.  If they can find a way to work together on behalf of the country they both love, despite their differences, then there is hope for America’s future.  The fact that this story unfolds against a backdrop of U.S. involvement in Iraq added a further dimension for me.  Here was a story that embodies all of the major issues that America grapples with today, from Iraq to the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans.  And yet, it’s character-driven.  It functions on its own terms as a coming-of-age band-on-tour film, a bit like “Almost Famous”.

My agent David Unger immediately thought of Antoine Fuqua, then his client.  I pitched it to Antoine, who told me he was in.  We both agreed Morgan Freeman would be ideal for the role of Ellington.  David Unger set a pitch meeting for me at Morgan’s company Revelations to see if we could get him on board.  If we got him, no one could say, ‘Great idea, but there’s only one guy who can play this role and what if he doesn’t want to do it?”  I pitched Morgan’s VP Tracy Mercer and CE Ryan Dornbusch.  They were really excited by the story and by the idea of pairing Morgan with Antoine.  I came back to pitch their CEO, Lori McCreary.  She’s great, but I hope I never have to play poker against her.  At the end, she said, “Thank you, we’ll be in touch.”  I had no idea what she thought.  But she must have found it interesting, because she ran it by Morgan.

Tracy Mercer called and suggested I put my pitch in writing to send to Morgan who was shooting in Europe.  She and Ryan worked with me to get a short, 7-page “pitch notes” document together.  Basically, it was a treatment without being called a treatment.  Then I waited.  I went to Morocco with my wife, who’s from there, with a friend of ours.  One night, I stopped into a little cyber café to check my email off Djemma al Fna, the medieval central square of Marrakech which hasn’t changed for a millennium.  There are still fire breathers and snake charmers and families from the mountains who put on street shows.  I’ve even seen boxing there.  At midnight, there are thousands of people.  It’s spontaneous entertainment by the people for the people. I pulled up my email to find a message from Tracy Mercer.  Morgan had read my treatment and committed on the spot.

Our friend, who’s a producer, said, “You have a movie now.”  Well, I had a star as well as a director, both of whom were perfect for this story.  But I knew that both “Ray” and “Walk the Line” had taken over 7 years to find financing.  So I was sober about our prospects.  We all decided it was worth trying to pitch it a few places.  But my agents and I felt this was unlikely to succeed.  A period biopic with music and politics is not the kind of material that gets pitched.  Or bought, even as a finished script.  But Revelations generously offered to hire me to write it for them if our efforts failed.  So it was win-win.

The pitching process got drawn out far longer than I’d wanted.  It was frustrating.  Paramount had a first-look at the project.  And they took eight weeks to pass.  I was furious that we let them take that long without putting them in competition with other buyers.  Nobody seemed willing to push the pace, and as the smallest guy on the project, my power to do so was limited.  We pitched three or four places over the next two months.  VP’s liked it, but none of them could get their bosses interested in this story as a pitch.  This seemed to confirm our doubts.  Last stop, day before Christmas, was New Line.  It had been four months since Morgan came on board.  At this point, I just wanted to get the last pitch done so we could move on to the script.  The exec, Richard Brener, really liked it.  Then again, they’d all liked it.  Christmas came and went.  After New Years, Brener called to say he wanted Toby Emmerich, the President (who has a music background) to hear it.  This was the first time any exec had called me back to pitch his boss.  This was a positive development.  So Tracy Mercer and I went back in.

On the couch opposite me the president, his golden retriever, and Brener.  Toby’s notorious for having his dog with him in his pitch meetings.  I found myself making eye contact with all three – and praying the dog wouldn’t yawn.  This was the first studio head I’d ever pitched.  And conventional wisdom dictates the pitch shouldn’t have been more than 10 minutes. But mine was 30 minutes long.  And I really nailed it.  By this time, I’d had a lot of practice.  Toby seemed into it.  Hell, that he’d even sat through it was a good sign.  Morgan put in a phone call to follow up the next day.  We waited a couple days.  I figured it was over.  Then Dan Rabinow called.  New Line bought it.

I think working with actors’ and directors’ production companies can be difficult, because the principal is often unavailable on set.  And the executives who work for stars can be loathe to contradict them.  But that hasn’t been much of an issue with Antoine, Morgan or their companies.  Morgan’s execs worked with me from day one in a really collaborative and supportive way.  And Antoine, while he was less involved in the selling phase, has been incredibly supportive.  Right now, this is my movie.  As it moves forward, it will become more and more his.  I am concluding an additional layer of research for the story while the legal work is concluded.  I expect to be writing within a few weeks.
 

Do you do much research when preparing to write a script?  Do you travel? Take tours?  Visit libraries?

I love doing research for stories.  The truth is usually so much better than what I can invent.  So I throw myself into the reading and research.  I just soak it all up, taking notes.  On “The Jazz Ambassadors”, I actually got to meet one of the guys I’m writing about.  That was an amazing experience, to be able to spend time with him and his wife.  To actually ask one of my characters, “How did you feel about that?”  Or, “What did you eat?”  I’ve found that when I have real-life material to draw from, even in a script that’s wholly fictional, it motivates me a lot as a writer and fuels my creativity.  As far as traveling goes, that’s how I’ve gotten many of my ideas, like “Cadiz”.
 

Have you done many pitch meetings?  How have things gone for you?  Do you have any recommendations or pointers for other writers?

I think pitching is the single most important skill to have right now, aside from being able to write.  Every job I’ve ever gotten started with a pitch.  That’s true from the Showtime movie as a film student to a job at DreamWorks Animation to this project now at New Line.  The spec market has really dropped off in a big way over the last five years.  More and more movies are based on previously exploited material.  So producers and studios are looking for “takes”.  And that means pitching.  Even if they’ve read and liked your script, it’s no guarantee you’ll see eye to eye on their story.  No, they want to hear what they’re getting before they commit.  Pitching is a performance art.  I used to dread it.  Now I look forward to it.  It’s the core of all storytelling.  Can you sit in front of a group of people and get them to listen and respond?  It hasn’t changed since cave man times around the fire.  I think about that every time before I pitch.  And I rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  Then try to forget I’ve rehearsed.  And deliver the story as spontaneously as possible.
 

What about feedback on your work? How do you handle that?

Believe it or not, I’ve usually found the notes I get help me move my material forward.  And I’m usually grateful for it.  I think maybe I’ve just been lucky so far and the other shoe is going to drop any day.  On the other hand, I don’t think it pays to be too defensive.  I rarely feel like my work’s bulletproof.  Frankly, I usually want and need help getting my material to where it needs to go.  I’m married to getting the story right: theme, characters, the audience’s ride.  As long as I feel someone’s helping me get there, I’m not attached to the particulars.  I think it’s important to establish with your producers and executives as much as possible in advance what the story is your telling, and how you plan to tell it (things like tone).  If you can get on the same page from the start, you can save a lot of time and heartache down the line – on both sides.  That’s why I don’t shy away from doing treatments or thorough pitches.  If our views of the story are radically different, I want to know as early as possible.  So it can be cured, either by collaboration.  Or by pulling the plug.
 

Do you rely much on feedback from friends and or your agent or manager?

I test-market my ideas with friends, agent (and now manager) before I choose what I’m writing.  I want their feedback.  Does the story engage my friends?  Do the agents feel there’s a place for it in the market?  Are there packaging opportunities?  But once I start writing, I’m in my bubble till I have a solid draft.  Then, I want my writer friends to read my material first to give me their honest and brutal feedback.  If they give me the attaboy, then I pass it to the agents.  I engage my agents as strategic partners, advocates and salesmen.  I don’t see their job as creative developers, though I value whatever notes they give me when they do read.  And they frankly don’t have the time to develop story anyway.  So it’s my job to get my stories there using all the means at my disposal (including friends).  And it’s become the manager’s job too.  I’ve only just signed with Tom Lassally, so it’ll be a new experience to have someone to give me rigorous notes during the writing process.  But it’s something I’m looking forward to.
 

What are some things that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out? Do’s and don’ts?

I wish I’d known exactly how hard it is to succeed at this profession.  I think we tend to dream big when we’re young and first entering the world of film, and we skip the road there in our imaginings.  If I could go back in time with the benefit of what I know now?  I would work harder every day.  And mind you, I’m no slacker.  I just think it takes an oversized amount of dedication and drive to make it, and stay made, in film.  There is never a point where you can kick back and glide.  Each new success earns you the right to work harder… or fail.  It’s sobering on the one hand.  And yet fulfilling at the same time.  Nothing’s more perilous to me than success you haven’t earned.
 

What’s a typical writing day like for you?

I wake up, shower, grab a bite and head out the door like any working Joe.  I need to have this separation between home and office.  I even like being in morning traffic.  But instead of renting an office (which was never financially possible anyway), I got into the habit of writing at cafes and coffee shops.  I show up at the same table at the same place every Monday through Friday between 8:30 and 9:30.  I write till lunch, which is sometimes a meeting, a friend, or time to do research while I eat.  Then I wild card the afternoon.  I have a few different coffee shops I go to then, or I write at home.  Or I have meetings.  If I’m behind schedule, I add a third writing session after dinner (at a third coffee shop).  I try to take one day off per weekend or write half-days.
 

Do you outline all your scripts first?  Write treatments?

I imagine some writers have an innate sense of dramatic story structure.  Not me.  I need to construct it.  I start with a logline – what’s the story in one sentence?  Then a short paragraph summary.  Do they grab at this level?  If not, it’s probably a bad sign.  Once I’m squared there, I’ll do a 5-page treatment.  This is also what I show to producers, execs I’m working with.  I’ll then flesh it out to 15-25 pages, which is typically when I’m ready to start the script.  Meanwhile, I keep a journal for the project with every idea, scene, dialogue, etc., I come up with.  When I’m finally ready to write the script, I merge the two: my treatment and my notes.  The notes keep growing as I write.  These documents often end up 75 pages long or more.  It’s a way for me to play, experiment, etc, in parallel to the script.
 

How much of theme do you keep in mind overall? Scene by scene? And do you find yourself initially or eventually asking what's the point?

I know some writers don’t care about theme.  And I respect that.  The story’s the thing.  But I’m very conscious of theme when I write.  To me, it’s the organizing principal of the story.  It helps guide the choices.  It also gives me a sense of higher purpose as I write.  My characters are ideally not only engaged in conflict with each other, but are acting out conflicts that exist within each of us, or within our society, or between societies.  I aim to engage the mind (theme) as well as the heart (drama) in that way.  That said, I don’t think theme should overshadow character: that’s when films become “message movies”.  To me, the ideal is when all choices in the movie seem to come organically from the characters.  But at the end, you recognize in them a thematic harmony.  I think it’s Robert Towne who said that the theme is a gong that, when struck, resonates through every scene .  I like that image.  And it’s definitely true of “Chinatown”.  In the development process, there are a lot of choices to make.  And everybody has an idea to offer.  How do you choose?  Who’s right?  Well, I find that having a strong theme helps dictate the choices.  Does it help serve the theme?  If not, it’s interesting but ultimately neither here nor there.
 

How do you approach rewrites?  Any method or path that you typically follow?

The first thing I do is try to separate myself from the script I’ve written.  Sometimes, that happens naturally.  Time passes between when you’ve finished a draft and pick it up again or receive notes.  Either way, I try to approach it like it’s somebody else’s, where I have no attachment to anything.  Often, I’ll go back to the core idea and re-outline.  If it’s a substantial re-write, I’ll go through the same exact process I did when I first started the script.  I forget that a script exists.  When I’m writing the new draft, if there’s anything that’s usable from the prior draft, I’ll grab it.  But I try to force myself to reinvent.  And I continue to keep a journal of notes and ideas.  Once I’ve got a critical mass of these notes and ideas, I’ll turn it into a checklist.  And I’ll literally go down it and check off each note as I incorporate it into the script.  Occasionally, I’ll hand this checklist into a producer prior to starting the re-write to say, “Here are my planned changes, what do you think?”  If it’s a minor re-write, a checklist of notes suffices.  If it’s major, I’ll do a treatment.
 

Since you sold your first spec script, how has the industry changed in regards to spec scripts?

Well, my first studio project sold as a pitch.  So I’ve actually escaped the spec requirement.  Which is a good thing, because the spec market has shrunk.  Scripts that would have sold three, four, five years ago in a heartbeat… are instead going unsold.  Original has almost become a dirty word, except in the comedy and horror genres, which remain active right now.  The Internet has also changed the game.  Tracking boards allow studios to know what the consensus is on a script immediately, making it harder for agents to generate a sale through spin and hype.  Studios are also buying less because they’re more focused on their own slates and strategies, and less caught up in direct competition with their rival studios. In the 90’s, the spec was the thing.  How much has it changed since then?  On a recent round of general meetings, every single exec bragged that they’re not active in the spec market.  Instead, they like to hatch their own ideas and then find writers.  Because of this, I think it’s harder than ever to break in.
 

What’s things do you feel more writers need to know or recognize about themselves and/or the industry?  (What “hard” realities do aspiring screenwriters need to be aware and keep in mind?)

Well, one harsh reality is that it’s harder than ever to break in.  Since the spec market has shrunk, and producers and studios are generating more and more ideas internally, it’s more difficult to make your debut.  The big spec sale splashed across the trades – the standard right of passage for every writer from the late 80’s through early 00’s – is more rare now.  That said, the basics haven’t changed.  You have to be able to write really well.  And I think for most writers, that takes time.  Maybe it’s just because it’s taken (and taking) me so long, but I don’t think many screenwriters hit their stride in their 20’s.  Many of the guys I look up to (like John Logan, Scott Frank, Bruce Joel Rubin, for starters) had their first big break after 30.  So every writer needs to ask himself how he’s going to survive that far.  For me, it was tutoring, bartending, travel writing, and doing lots of coverage.  And discipline too.  Yeah, it ain’t sexy.  But every writer I know who has an enduring career (as opposed to a big moment of success) has (or develops) a fixed schedule and a serious work ethic.  They’ve got my respect, and I want the same for myself.
 

What should aspiring writers either writing query letters, making phone calls or even going on their first meetings know about working with development executives?  What have you learned over the last few years, particularly in regards to their comments, feedback, suggestions, etc.?

Well, aside from the above comments on getting notes, I think I would add that most executives have something positive to contribute to your story.  Some are just jerks, but that’s true of anyone.  Lots of writers are jerks.  Execs are often just as wary as you are. Put yourself in their shoes.  They have fears and dreams too.  First, this demystifies them.  Second, it’ll help you know what you need to say to assuage their fears… and speak to their dreams.  If you can go in with an open mind and a collaborative spirit, at least things will start in a good place.  Your genuine enthusiasm for film is also your biggest asset.  Most execs started with this kind of enthusiasm.  But the system grinds it out of them.  They want to be re-engaged on that level.  They want to dream again.  Even if they’re not allowed to.  If you think about connecting with people in that way, first and foremost, you might find they’re more keen to help you and your stories along.  I’ve found that when execs sense you’re just in it for the money or for the sale, their enthusiasm wanes.  And their instincts to fight on your behalf diminish.  I think this is true from entry level to the top.  In short, it’s not about you -- it’s about the story.

And what are your favorite scripts?  Scripts you’d say every writer should read and learn from? Or writers you admire?

I just read a Steve Conrad script I love called “Pursuit of Happyness”.  I like how Conrad makes a hero out of a common man.  The movie’s about to be released with Will Smith in the lead role, and I hear it’s great.  In the sci-fi genre, I often re-read the scripts to “Alien” and “Bladerunner”.  The former is a great example of economy, of how a writer uses the scarcity of words on the page to convey the desolation of space travel.  The latter is a great example of hybridizing genres, fitting the film noir into a sci-fi context.  The script to “Chinatown” remains one of the best mystery/thriller reads ever.  In the so-called epic genre, “Braveheart” is a great script.  Randall Wallace takes a good 45 pages to set up his hero, something that David Goyer did well in “Batman Begins”.

What else are you working on now or next?  Spec scripts? Assignments? What are they are they about?

I have a script that a director has just come on board, Louis Leterrier, who did “Unleashed” with Jet Li and Morgan Freeman and both the “Transporter” films (though he was only credited with the second).  It’s sort of an update on the “Incredible Shrinking Man” idea, but taken to the level of Nanospace. There’s a lot of action, so it’s got a “Matrix” thing going for it.  I originally sold it as a pitch to the company my wife worked for, and now runs, WAM Films, which is financed through Canal Plus.  I’m doing a round of notes from Louis right now, getting ready to take it out to U.S. studios as a spec.  And I’m also deep into research preparing to start “The Jazz Ambassadors”.

 


 

 

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