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Interviews
 
Glenn German and Adam Rodgers
Tuesday, Jan 11, 2005
Author: Will Plyler
 

Glenn German
Adam Rodgers

Glenn German and Adam Rodgers, who hail from Greenville, SC and Baltimore, MD, respectively, met at New York University's Graduate Film program. Their first screenplay as writing partners, "Moving Elliot," an action comedy, sold to Universal and is currently out to talent. Their second script, the mystery-thriller "Before I Wake," is currently being set-up with Thunderpoint Studios, a newly-formed feature film and finance company. Most recently, Misher Films purchased their action-comedy pitch entitled "Mad Dog and Englishmen."

Where are you guys from and where did you both grow up?

Glenn: I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. It was a beautiful place to grow up. There were several huge theaters in the city (which have since been torn down) where I can remember seeing the movies that made me want to write movies. We also went to the drive-in a lot as a family in the summer. A lot of great memories there. After college in Columbia, SC, I moved to New York for seven years, then finally to Los Angeles.

Adam: I grew up in Baltimore, MD, in a big neighborhood with lots of kids and lots of places to explore. It was very Spielberg-esque – riding bikes until dark, sandlot football/baseball, etc. – but with a dash of Kubrick thrown in for good measure. For example, my Dad, brother and I discovered the site of an old 50's –era Nike missile base about a mile from the house, which was really spooky – concrete launch pads surrounded by woods and cow pasture. (We used the "location" for my first Super-8mm film.)

When did you become first interested in films and or screenwriting? Did you write much growing up?

Glenn: I did no writing until college. My film education began at the University of South Carolina. This was just before video tape (God I sound old). The university theater showed movies every night – and I was there every night. I took every film class the university offered. I didn't actually think about writing movies until after school. I didn't really think it was something that was available to me. I hadn't known anyone who had worked in films, and my father was very much a blue-collar guy so I didn't really even consider it. It wasn't until my early to mid twenties when I begin to believe that I could do it

Adam: Both of my parents were career journalists – mom a reporter/author, dad a newspaper editor – so writing wasn't all that mysterious to me as a kid, the process I mean. I wasn't afraid to write poems and short stories, although I didn't know anything about writing for the screen at that point. More importantly, I think the subtext of my parents' lives was that you really could pursue your dreams. I fell in love with the movies at a very young age – it was just a done deal – although I had no sense of how that might translate to a career. I'll never forget the train trip I took with my grandfather to visit U. Penn during my senior year of high school. On the ride up, we talked a lot about my interests and goals, and I think in a really sweet way, he was hoping I'd start to feel as passionate about medicine or the legal profession, or whatever, as I did about movies. When we got to Philly, we literally ran smack into the shooting of "Witness", and were both so mesmerized, I think we missed the first college tour. That was a very cool moment, one when the process of making movies was de-mystified, and both of us understood that someday, I might really do this for a living.

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

Glenn: I did take a screenwriting class at the University of South Carolina, which was exceptional. It whet my appetite. I also took film history classes, which exposed me to movies I would have never seen on my own. I was a journalism major and was employed as a speechwriter out of college. It wasn't until I went to graduate school at NYU that I realized I really loved the writing process. I was blessed to have very talented writing teachers. They were very encouraging and "developmental"

Adam: In college at Duke, I studied Public Policy, which combined a lot of things I liked – politics, literature, philosophy. I acted in several plays, and joined the film club, where I made a bunch of shorts, and of course, watched a ton of movies. This was in the late 80's, when lots of successful directors and writers were coming out of NYU, so I decided by junior year or so that that's where I should go to grad school. Once I got that idea in my head, my family supported me 100 percent, for which I will be eternally grateful.

When did you two first meet? How and why did you decide to write together?

Glenn and Adam: We met at NYU – we were part of a group of four people who worked on each others' movies. Adam was going through a good bit of writing turbulence on one of his short films, so we collaborated. It was a great experience, but one which we didn't revisit until nearly ten years later when we decided to try and write a spec together.

Tell me about writing your first script? What was your approach like? What was it like working together?

Glenn and Adam: Adam read this article about how much it costs to house someone in prison for a year. It's a big number. He thought, what if citizens could take in low-risk convicts and house them – getting paid, but much less than it costs the state? That idea grew into a spec script we sold to Universal called "Moving Elliott." We both had full-time jobs during the writing, so we worked from about 7 until 8:30 a.m. or so, three days a week. We usually met in Adam's kitchen. It took a while, but it was well worth the effort. We think the most important thing is to really believe your working on something that will be made into a movie. It's hard at times, but it reflects in the quality of the script you eventually produce.

Not to put you on the spot, but what do each of you (and the other) bring to the writing team? How do you complement each other in terms of writing?

Glenn and Adam: There's a great scene in "All The President's Men" in which Redford and Hoffman are both working on drafts of the same Watergate story. Redford leaves his desk for a moment, and when he comes back, realizes that Hoffman is re-writing his copy. At first, he's sort of ticked off, but when he reads it, he admits, "It's better." We love that scene because it's fundamentally about putting your ego aside for a common cause –Bernstein realizing Woodward's first draft is a terrific starting point, and Woodward realizing that Bernstein sees how to take that draft to the next level. The essence of partnership is that the sum is greater than the parts, an exhilarating, if not slightly mysterious process.

Both of us had written screenplays on our own, or with other partners before. That fostered a lot of respect to begin with. But of course, you can't have two people typing at the same time, so it made sense to create some type of division of labor that played to our strengths. Glenn's talents as a "first draft man" are unimpeachable – he's fast and inventive – so it works well that after we do our outlining, character work, research and discussion, he bangs out the initial pass of the daily scenes, usually 3-5 pages at a time. Adam's strengths are much more "big picture" in nature – theme, character arcs, story development, structure and overall design – so once the pages are drafted, he'll then serve as editor, either re-writing the material himself, or guiding the revision. In this sense, the overall relationship is something like Builder-Architect, although too fine a definition sort of takes the beauty and complexity out of the equation.

Bottom line is that we trust and respect each other's instincts, and do everything we can to serve the material– that's really the mother's milk of a healthy partnership.

What was getting your first agent like? How did that come about? When did it happen?

Glenn: I met a producer at a party and got a chance to give him a few sentences about something I was writing at the time. He invited me to come to his office and pitch it at more length. He also asked if I had anything finished. I sent him the first script I'd written, a kid's comedy called "Feels Like Snow." He liked it – and he liked the pitch. He asked me who my agent was and I said I didn't have one. On the spot, he made three calls. I signed with the first agent I met. I was with that agent for several years, but never sold. I felt like because I didn't bring in money, I didn't have the right to push him to "get me out there." That held me back for many years. An agent at a small agency realizes you're kind of an investment. You have to be a good advocate for yourself.

Adam: My NYU thesis film won some awards and was playing at the DGA in L.A., and so I let all the agents/producers we invited to the screening know that I had a finished screenplay ready as well (which I had co-written with another friend from NYU). After the screening, it was a classic Hollywood numbers game: Of the several hundred people invited, about 50 attended, 25 wanted to read the script, seven wanted to meet with us, and one agent agreed to represent us – so of course, we went with him!

You recently sold your script "Mad Dog and Englishmen" to Kevin Misher Productions. It was based on an idea by Kevin, so what was writing that script like? How did the whole deal come about?

Glenn and Adam: Kevin had read and liked "Moving Elliot". His idea was in the same genre. He invited us in (and several other teams) and he liked our take the best. We developed it with him for almost nine months. We then took it out as a pitch to four studios. Everyone passed saying it was really all in the execution. God bless him, Kevin decided to buy it with his discretionary fund at Universal. We're currently writing it. Kevin is a very smart producer. His story instincts are exceptional.

Regarding the process, it was a bit more daunting than writing a spec. With a spec, we come up with virtually every beat of the story before we begin writing. Having worked up the pitch already, we thought we'd just jump right into the draft. But in reality, we didn't know enough about our story. We had to go back and beat it out scene by scene before we could start. But it's been a great process and we're very proud of what we have.

Do you guys talk often with your agent? What do they look for from them?

Glenn and Adam: Our agent is unbelievable. She agents like a manager manages. When we first met her, we walked out of the office and said, "Of the top ten things we'd want in an agent, she's got all ten in spades." We talk to her four or five times a week, and think we're spoiled by how attentive she is to us. She must have forty or so clients, but we feel like we're the only ones. She's a great reader. She gives wonderful notes. Even after our first spec sold, she got it to tons of people so they'd know what we were capable of as writers. She works by herself and we can't understand how she does all she does.

We know there are advantages to being with a large agency. They can package your material more easily, but for where we are right now, our agent is a perfect fit. She's given us an awful lot of confidence.

Do you do much research when preparing to write a script? And if so what do you do?

Glenn and Adam: We're pretty big on research. Adam usually takes the lead there. For "Moving Elliot", we did a lot of research on the FBI. For "Mad Dog" we had to do a lot of research on Scotland Yard, London and Chicago. We think if you wing it – it shows.

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

Glenn and Adam: Pitching is hard. It's a real tough market right now. If you've been produced, it's a little easier. If you have talent attached to your pitch it's a little easier. As an unsold writer, however, we think it's near impossible to sell a pitch. We're sure it's done, but it's rare.

We've found that the most important part of pitching is brevity. Keep it short. Fifteen minutes or maybe a little more. You don't tell them the movie so much as what the movie can be. They should be able to recognize the moments that will be in the trailer. They should be able to see the poster. If your pitch is a comedy, they damn well better be laughing.

We've had good, not great luck pitching, but we're getting better all the time. The drawback of pitching is that you do nearly the same amount of work, time-wise, as you'd do prepping to write a spec. If you pitch doesn't sell, you're cooked. It's not like you have a great "pitch sample" to show someone. Writing a spec, at least, you have a writing sample.

How do you guys handle feedback on your work? Sift through the notes and decide what is important or "right" to change?

Glenn and Adam: We've been very lucky to work with great development people. Our experience with Universal on "Moving Elliot" was super. The notes were smart and easily executed. We mentioned our agent gives good notes. Most writers have an instinct as storytellers as to what works and what doesn't. Only a few times have we had to execute a note we didn't believe in. It's painful, but you get over it.

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

Glenn and Adam: We have a core group of readers to whom we give our first draft. Their notes are hit and miss, but for the most part, they're helpful on a macro level. We don't think you can have enough eyes look at your stuff. The more the better. You know when criticism is valid. Ego is the enemy of the writer (but it helps a ton on the business side of things).

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

Glenn: Steve Tisch came to speak to our class at NYU. The single most important thing he said we had to do is move to Los Angeles. It's true. You can write anywhere, but you need to be in Los Angeles to meet the people who make the decisions. A lot of times, particularly in pitching, it comes down to how they feel about you – how good you are in the room.

I wished I'd written more earlier on. In the past, it's been hard for me to get in the chair.

I also wish I'd read many more scripts before I tried to write one. One of the best educations I've had is sitting in the Academy Library on La Cienega and reading script after script from the films I've loved. It's important to remember that scripts are READ before they're movies. They have to read well. They have to move. You have to use the format to your advantage. If you're writing action than use short sentences – lots of spaces. Help your reader along. Go read a Shane Black script – they POP.

Also remember an agent works for you. It's hard to get into that mindset, and you don't have to be conceited about it, but at the end of the day, make sure they get you in front of people who can buy as often as possible.

Adam: If anything, I think I resisted plunging into the "business" of screenwriting for too long. Stubbornly, I just figured that if I wrote a good script, everything would sort of take care of itself. Not surprisingly, I wrote a pretty good script, and not a hell of a lot happened!

The other thing is that I'd re-set my timetable. I got out of film school convinced – CONVINCED – that I'd be making a living as a writer/director within a few years. It took the better part of ten. What happens, though, has been talked about by many, many working screenwriters: the most sure-fire way to "not make it" is to quit. So on that level, a healthy sense of denial is very important to a writer. You can't wake up every day saying that you script is one of 50,000 that will be written and submitted that year; you have to tell yourself that your story is worthy of being a great script and a great movie, and sort of block out everything else.

What's a typical writing day like for you? What is your process like in working together?

Glenn: We rent an office in Hollywood. We get there at nine, usually have breakfast, come in and get at it. We go for three of four hours usually. My father was a blue-collar guy, so it's a routine I know well and am comfortable. It's my job. I come on in whether I have a job or not.

Adam: In film school, it was drummed into us that during production, your primary responsibility (as director) was to "make your day" – a concept that we've applied to our writing collaboration since very early on. So whether we're working on a first draft, preparing a pitch, or fine-tuning the grace notes on the 9th polish, psychologically it helps to know that we'll more-or-less be "in the chairs" for a set amount of time each day.

Really thinking about writing as a "job" also allows us to shake-off bad days with greater ease. Facing story problems isn't as daunting, because on some level you know that tomorrow is another day – you've built up something of a track record for overcoming those obstacles.

It's also funny how some days, we'll be struggling with something for hours. Dead end. Then we'll put on our coats and leave for the evening, and on the way home, something'll click and we'll wind up having a very productive phone call on the 101 South. So the workday doesn't really end when you leave the office.

Do you outline all your scripts first? Write treatments?

Glenn and Adam: We work from what we call a "beat sheet." It's the fifty or so beats of the script. We also talk a lot about characters before we begin. But of course, you've got to be willing to throw big chunks of it out if you discover that stuff isn't valid as the actual screenplay takes shape.

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?

Glenn: I'm not sure what you mean by theme. We're very careful about tone. Setting the right tone for the story. We're mindful of that on every word.

Adam: Funny, the more scripts we write, the more theme interests me personally. If the overall emotional landscape isn't interesting, it's doubtful I'll have the desire to stick with the story idea for too long. The good news, again, is that our instincts are pretty well-tuned to each others' likes and dislikes. Sometimes we'll work on a story and discover it has a great theme within; with other projects, we'll have a great theme, or character, and have to put the energy into searching for a story that will be interesting and fulfilling.

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

Glenn and Adam: What we give our agent as a first draft has probably gone through as many as five or six rewrites. Once the script is done, we make notes and do another pass. Sometime the changes you make inform scenes in a different way. We keep going through until we get something we feel is neat and tight. We also make several other kinds of passes. In a comedy, we'll do a joke punch-up pass. We always do a "language" pass in which we take a look at all the scene description and make sure it's as exact and compelling as it can be. Another thing we do in subsequent passes is a lot of "planting." If you come up with something clever in the writing on page 80, maybe it can be "set-up" by slightly altering a scene on page 44. Planting and paying off goes over well with readers.

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?

Glenn: It's a very, very tough business. I keep all of my drive-on studio passes in my car. There are times I've been in one kind of meeting or another on a studio lot. I must have a hundred of them – but only on two can I write a dollar amount as to what that meeting yielded. It's all about the work. Keep writing. If you script doesn't sell, it's at least taught you valuable lessons about craft. You're a better writer because of having written. If you have even a small bit of talent, I believe you can work in the industry. I believe the people who fail are people who just stop trying. Just keep doing the work. You get better with each script and with each script, you meet someone different who might be able to help (or hire) you in the future.

Adam: I remember an accomplished actress saying on "Inside the Actors Studio" that essentially there are three basic reasons to take a job – (A) you love the project, (B) you need the money, (C) the project will help you learn something new and vital – and that she required at least 2 out of 3 to sign on to a project. For now, I'm trying to adhere to the writer's version of that mantra.

And what are some of your favorite scripts? Scripts you'd say every writer should read and learn from?

Glenn: You should read the Shane Black scripts to see what a compelling script read is. I learned a lot from his style. I remember reading "The Sixth Sense" before it was a movie and thinking – this is a GREAT movie. I just got a copy of "Spanglish" and it's wonderful... So much emotion. It's neat to me that James Brooks not only tells you what's happening on the screen, but many times tells you how it makes you feel.

Adam: My current favorite is anything by Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond. I'm just in awe of the way those guys combined romance, drama, farce, even dark comedy into single screenplays that work so beautifully. Their efforts seem fearless to me.

What are you two working on next? Upcoming projects?

Glenn: We just finished a spec, a comedy, called "You Don't Know Jack." We doing a rewrite on spec, a thriller we sold called "Before I Wake." After we finish the Misher script, depending on assignment work, we're thinking of writing a romantic comedy spec. I think it's important to move on to something else once you've finished something. The tendency is to wait and see what happens with what you've just written, but that waiting can amount to months and months. It's like crossing a creek – know what stone you're gonna step on next. Keep moving.

Adam: Having successfully adapted a short story ("Before I Wake"), we're very interested in tackling a book adaptation. We're also considering developing a true story (a comedy) that happened to Glenn into something of an indy script that we can co-produce, and I can direct. The cliché really is true – I loved making short films, and have never shaken the directing bug!

 


 

 

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