Interview [Written]: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”)

A interview with screenwriter Simon Kinberg whose movie X-Men: Days of Future Past is now in theaters:

Strip away the heavy artillery, pyrotechnic eye candy, gifts of levitation, immortality, time travel, and invisibility, the capes, tights, cloaks, and daggers, and the films of Simon Kinberg are actually relationship dramas. The wildly successful 40-year old screenwriter is a maestro of the superhero and comic book sandbox these days, having penned Jumper, Sherlock Holmes, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, the Star Wars Rebel TV series, and the three latest X-Men films, including this month’s Days of Future Past.


You’ve stated that your films, most of which are big-budget genre efforts, are deeply personal. When many filmgoers think of “deeply personal” films, they’ve probably got Whit Stillman or Henry Jaglom in mind.

I feel like every film that I write is about something personal in my life. It’s just sort of exploded into an action or superhero movie. I don’t know how to write any other way. But at the core of it, these are very personal stories to me.


You’ve said that director John Woo taught you that action sequences should work in a film like musical numbers, that they explode when a character’s emotions can no longer be expressed in words alone.

At one point, John was going to direct Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and he taught me that and it’s exactly what I try to do with my screenplays. A lot of action sequences in movies tend to be an interruption of character. There are talking scenes and then there are fighting scenes, and the movie just swings back and forth between the two. It’s fine, and audiences are sort of okay with it, but they’re not the most memorable action sequences, no matter how visually stunning they are. If the audience isn’t going through an emotional journey during the action sequences, I don’t think they’re ever fully engaged with the film. James Cameron is arguably the greatest action director of all time, and he’s an absolute master of the action sequence not as interruption, but as exploration of character.

For me, I approach action sequences by naming them in a character-centric way – for example, “This Is The Sequence Where They Discover The Truth About Each Other” or “This Is The Sequence Where He Realizes He’s Not As Strong As He Thought He Was.” That means more to me – and to audiences – than saying, “This Is The Scene Where the Bridge Blows Up.”

Here is a trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past:

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview [Written]: Linda Woolverton

An Indiewire interview with screenwriter Linda Woolverton who wrote the screenplay for Maleficent which opens this weekend:

More than a decade before Frozen‘s Jennifer Lee became the first woman to direct a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature and Brave‘s Brenda Chapman became the first female director of a Pixar film, there was Linda Woolverton.

During the early stages of the Magic Kingdom’s big-screen cartoon comeback that began with 1989′s The Little Mermaid, Woolverton was the screenwriter behind the first animated film to compete in the best-picture category, 1992′s Beauty and the Beast. She would go on to be Tony-nominated for the 1994 stage version, the studio’s first foray into adapting an animated feature into a Broadway show.


What was the first Disney animated feature that you remember seeing in a theater?

I think it was Bambi. It really sticks out for me because it has the most heart-wrenching moment ever — it’s never been topped. The death of Bambi’s mother killed me. I do think Disney films have such a powerful reach, one that speaks to people all over the world, generation after generation after generation. The world is a different place. We as women came through a revolution. We are not the same as we were then. These new films speak to today’s generation but still have reverence for the past.

What do you think of the astonishing success of Frozen, whose plot has some similarities with Maleficent, with its redefining of what true love is and whose core relationship is between two women?

It’s wonderful. I’m so thrilled that these movies with female protagonists are blowing the top off the box office. There is a sea change for female characters, from the lead character in Divergent to Katniss from The Hunger Games. I’m no longer stuck in a little ghetto. These films have a broad reach and make money. They used to think boys don’t go to female movies and that is wrong.


You have become an expert in knowing how to re-invent fairy tales for contemporary tastes and attitudes without losing the essence that have made them endure so long. What is your secret?

You have to look at the story and ask, ‘What are the icons?’ You need the rose in Beauty and the Beast. You have to have Aurora prick her finger on a spinning wheel and go away for 16 years. You find those and work around them through the point of view of the protagonist.

Here is a trailer for Maleficent:

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview [Written]: Thomas McCarthy (“Million Dollar Arm”)

TheWrap interview with Thomas McCarthy whose screenwriting credits include The Station Agent, The Visitor, Up, and Win Win. His latest: Million Dollar Arm.

This story jumps around from L.A. to India and moves all around India and back, so did you block it out section by section, to break down the screenplay to digestible bits?
That was one of the most difficult things, was finding how we could condense it to a two-hour movie, or however long it is now. I think what’s really exciting about this movie, it’s structurally kind of inventive, just the fact that we start in L.A., go to India, then go back to L.A. There’s a lot of stories within stories in this particular one.

That was really the difficult thing, trying to crack that, saying, “OK, how do I make this make sense so the audience is with us on this journey?” When he comes back from India, this whole new adventure starts, which is working with these three young men, and it almost becomes a whole new story in some ways. I think threading and integrating that story into the bigger story, and finding the framework to make this barstool story work well as a script, was in many ways the most challenging aspect.

Was there any key that made you realize how to do it?
No, it was writing fat and realizing what mattered most and what didn’t. Look, every section could almost be its own movie. And you never wanted to lose India because it was such an important part of J.B.’s personal journey, and where these men came from. And it was so elemental to the story, and visually and cinematically it was an amazing place to include in the film. We were all determined to do that. I think Craig did a terrific job of even taking the script that we had and really finding what mattered most to the story.


Your leads tend to be either isolated or guys who make some moral compromises, a little unsociable. But they’re not antiheroes, which TV and film do so often now. What’s the difference?
I’m a big believer in the gray area, that there’s not black or white, or good and bad, there’s everything in between. A lot of good people make bad choices and good people make bad choices, quite honestly. I’m working on another project now where maybe one of the worst characters of the story does the most right thing in a lot of ways. I almost can’t reconcile the idea of this guy, and I wanted to ask him, why did you do the right thing, of everyone else out there? We don’t even know what his motivations are. To me, that is where it gets really interesting.

That’s why I rarely have traditional bad guys in my movies, or traditional antagonists in my movies: it’s usually a little tough to pinpoint. I don’t think J.B. is a bad guy, I think he’s like a lot of young men who are struggling to find his place, really ambitious, and their dreams aren’t happening and they’re looking for satisfaction and looking for a lot of these things in a lot of wrong places. Validation is maybe a better word than satisfaction, but both. And I just find that really interesting, and I think, look, this is based on a real story, so I’m basing it on my notes and interviewing this guy and hearing him talk about himself and his life, so some of that was already done for me.

Here is the trailer for Million Dollar Arm:

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Christopher Nolan remembers “Memento”

A recent Indiewire interview with writer-director Christopher Nolan reflecting back on the 2000 movie Memento, a film he wrote (based on a short story by his brother Jonathan Nolan) and directed.

When you were making this film, did you ever wonder if the puzzle structure would play to an audience?

There’s this weird irony, because you actually find yourself as a filmmaker in the position of the protagonist that has to trust these notes he’s written himself. It sounds a bit trite, but it’s really true. I watch the screen and think, okay I read the script three years ago and it seemed like a good idea at the time. But it’s like you really are, at a certain point, you’re so immersed in the material. You’re just having to trust yourself. You have so many points along the way where the film stops being real and you just have to say: this is what I’m making, this is what I’m doing and switch that half of your brain off and absolutely trust your initial instincts, your editor, your actor’s instincts and your own instincts about whether you’re getting what you want. The weird thing is you go through these torturous creative machinations and then you look back at the original script and it’s pretty, pretty close to what’s on the screen. It’s almost exactly the same. You say, “Thank God, how did that wind up like that?”


What personally do you appreciate about your protagonist?

Since I was a child, I’ve been really interested in the concept of empathy between individuals and the concept of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and that kind of relativism. Film, it seems to me, is this fantastic medium for drawing the audience into somebody else’s point of view. I think more so than books in a funny sort of way. In books you can use the first person — you can clearly signal that in a way that in films there’s always this illusion of objectivity. There isn’t really any first person technique.

What we tried to do in “Memento” is simply block the film from the character’s point of view as much as possible. So he walked into a room, you’re kind of looking over his shoulder, you’re exploring the room as he does and you’re always at his eye line — the camera’s always a little bit closer to him. So there’s a conscious attempt to keep the blocking that way, but there’s always this illusion of objectivity because the camera is on the side of him and you are always aware that there’s somebody choosing those shots; there’s another consciousness, another author if you like. So it’s tricking the audience, drawing the audience into this other point of view. I think it’s tremendously powerful, because people don’t realize it’s being done because it has to be done in fairly subtle ways. I wanted to have a certain element of consciously reminding people: you’re in this guy’s point of view, so they understand the structure.

There’s probably more voice over in this film than there was in the script. I kept missing it when it wasn’t there for 20 minutes, because you just needed to keep drawing people into his mind, so they understand that we’re seeing it from this guy’s point of view and that’s why you’re confused and that’s why you don’t know who this guy is. I find it quite satisfying that people will come out of this film arguing about who the good guys and who the bad guy is. Not because there isn’t one, but because we are using an unreliable narrator, calling into question the judgments of who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, which I think is like real life.

Here is the original trailer for Memento:

For the rest of the Indiewire interview, go here.