Interview (Written): Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman (“Draft Day”)

An interesting interview, a journal of events with screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman about the writing, sale and production of their movie Draft Day. An excerpt:

Mid-2011: “We partied like we won the Olympics.”

S: This part is going to kill a lot of screenwriters: Rajiv got approached by the Sundance Institute, which asked if he wanted to submit a script for their screenwriting lab. It was around the time we were thinking we would start writing this thing, but the deadline was two weeks away. That’s when having spent eight months talking about it really helped. I basically slept at Rajiv’s place in Brooklyn, and we worked non-stop for two weeks on a script. It’s not the draft you see onscreen, but it was halfway decent for two weeks of coffee and bourbon and no sleep and constant writing.

R: After we submitted it we sat there wondering, “Did we just hand in something that made no sense at all?” Then we made it to the semi-finals, which meant we had to have a phone interview. The call happened, and we thought it went well, so we went out and partied like we won the Olympics. Then we didn’t make the finals. But since we had assumed we were going to win, we had put this week in January, the week of the lab, into our calendars. So we said, well f–k that, let’s use this week we had set aside to whip the script into shape.

S: We hadn’t said anything about the project to our agents because it didn’t seem like something they would get that excited about — it required the NFL and was kind of a smaller movie.

R: We finally showed it to our manager, Josh, when we handed it to Sundance. He gave us a lot of notes that guided the re-write. But even then, being that it was our first time writing together, we were really thinking that maybe someone would just be impressed enough to give us another job.

S: Thankfully our reps really responded to it, and ran with it.

R: It was a slow burn, where people started hearing about it and then wanted to read it.

April-June 2012: “Everything he said held true. That probably screwed us up for every movie hereafter.”

S: As it happened, I was going out to L.A. to pitch another project. It was a reboot of Private Benjamin, so you know my career was going just swimmingly.

R: I came to L.A. for some meetings and to see a friend in a play.

S: So both of us happened to be in L.A., and I got off the flight and had a message saying that Ivan Reitman had read the script, could I meet with him that day? Neither of us even knew he had gotten it. We met him the next day at CAA, and he basically said, “I love this script, and wanna make this movie. We want you guys to be partners in this. You’ll be there every step of the way.” And everything he said to us held true. That probably screwed us up for every movie hereafter.

June 2012: “We did a rewrite that got kicked up to the Paramount studio heads.”

S: Before long. Ivan was able to get Paramount to consider the script.

R: It was June 18-19 that we were in the whole negotiation.

S: There was other interest in the project, which made that week very exciting — we tried to play out all these scenarios and determine the best way to get this thing made. That turned out to be sticking with Ivan. After Paramount bought the script, a great executive over there, David Beaubaire, gave us notes, and we did a rewrite that got kicked up to one of the studio heads. By this point, Ivan had gotten Kevin Costner attached to the project. Even so, one of the muckety-mucks at Paramount said no.

Fall 2012: “The difference with ours was that Ivan wanted to direct it.”

S: The acquisition gave Paramount a certain amount of time to decide what they wanted to do with the project. After passing on it, they could have tied it up for a year. Instead, they gave us a great gift — they put us in turnaround, which allowed us to take the movie wherever we wanted.

We always believed Ivan would find a place, but that it would take a while. His company, Montecito, had probably 10-20 movies in development. The difference with ours was that Ivan wanted to direct it. So we had that, but the company was juggling a lot, including Ghostbusters III. We wanted to shoot in the fall, and thought we lost our window.

December 2012: “We were the people who topped The Black List.”

S: Because we’re idiots, we had no idea the situation was bad. We had this blind faith in Ivan, and were optimistic it was gonna work out. I don’t think anyone was telling us bad news. Then The Black List came out, and we were at the top. That got the script going again — and was a huge bump for us as writers. We were the people that topped the list. I’m sure that had something to do with the script being more enticing to Lion’s Gate, which picked up the movie right after the new year.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview [Written]: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote the screenplay for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, go into some detail explaining some of the movie’s big twists in this Vulture interview.


An excerpt from the interview:

At what point was the decision made to take S.H.I.E.L.D. down so spectacularly in this film, and who was responsible for making it?
McFeely: That’s a Kevin Feige decision. A writer can’t walk in and say, “This movie’s not happening unless I take down S.H.I.E.L.D.,” but Kevin can walk in and say, “We think this might be pretty cool.” That gave us a lot of ways to go and opened up the storytelling, that Steve could have such an effect on the world. He doesn’t change as much as characters do — he’s sort of our Gary Cooper. The world does not change him too much — maybe we’ll try that in other movies — but in this case, it’s a success because he changes the way the other characters look at the world. And S.H.I.E.L.D. going down is part of that.
Markus: That particular decision came from Kevin, but there are a lot of mythology decisions in there that we pitched. The S.S.R. being under Camp Lehigh, Zola being in a computer down there — that’s all stuff that we pitched hard and eventually they said, “Let’s run with that.”
McFeely: They’re very open to ideas, and sometimes the weirder or more challenging they are, the more excited they get. They don’t want to stand still and they don’t want to be slavish to the comics. They want to create something that’s indebted to the comics, but not a one-to-one, panel-for-panel remake.

You reveal that two recurring MCU characters, Agent Sitwell and Senator Stern, are HYDRA-aligned. Agent Sitwell was particularly surprising for me because Marvel has been using him as a protagonist in their shorts.
McFeely: That was our pitch, and that was a lot of fun. With Sitwell, we needed to reveal someone who was boots-on-the-ground, who you’d seen before, to shake you up. Short of bringing Agent Coulson back to life and turning him bad — and we didn’t know he could be brought back to life — we had to use some returning characters to make this conspiracy story ring true. It can’t be all new people where you’re suddenly saying, “And Bob from Accounting who you’ve never met, he’s HYDRA too!” You needed one or two recognizable faces to make the reveal resonate.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview [Written]: David Webb Peoples

Writer-director Lea Nakonechny interviews screenwriter David Webb Peoples (12 Monkeys, Unforgiven, Blade Runner):

Lea Nakanechny: Which do you begin with, character or story?

David Webb Peoples: Usually with a character scene. There’s an image of somebody doing something that defines them and makes you interested. Then you try to write a story around it and it doesn’t always work. I have many moments in my head I wish I could find the story for or build onto, and many instances of trying to build a story around a particular thing and not succeeding. These things linger over the years and sometimes, suddenly, you get it. But not always.

LN: Describe your writing process.

DWP: I have two separate careers. I stopped being David Peoples the screenwriter in the early 90’s and there was this other voice that came on which was David and Janet Peoples. Both work in a similar way which is, we have to have an outline. We sometimes cheat and get sloppy and our outline isn’t as good as it’s supposed to be and then we have big troubles with the ending.  Janet is much better at abstractly making an outline whereas I tend to get lost in the scenes. But, you have to have both. You have to be able to see it like you’re an actor, involved in these very intense moments, but if you can’t step back and be a god or a writer and make the moments into a narrative, then you have a problem. If you’re too removed and you don’t do the actor part then what you get is a mechanical construction. You see films sometimes that reveal that, where people just seem to be doing what some writer decided for them to do and that’s not a good place to be.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Unforgiven is one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and an outstanding example of Narrative Voice which I describe in this post. If you have the script, read it. If you don’t have it, get it, then read it.

Interview [Written]: Lorenzo Semple Jr.

A 1983 Starlog interview with screenwriter and TV writer Lorenzo Semple Jr whose credits include Papillon, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, King Kong, Flash Gordon and the TV series “Batman”. This interview focuses on Semple’s work on the remake of the James Bond movie Thunderball:

Is the man who wrote Batman for television and Dino De Laurentiis’ productions of King Kong and Flash Gordon really the best choice to script Sean Connery’s long-awaited James Bond encore in Never Say Never Again?

“Sean wanted this to be the greatest film ever made, so it wouldn’t appear to be a rip- off for the money. I was extremely apprehensive about that idea, because I felt a Bond movie-especially one that’s essentially a remake-would never be the greatest film ever made,” says screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., the Batman/Flash Gordon/King Kong veteran. “I tried to make it as sparkling as possible, but 1 think it would be a very bad idea to become super-artistic about this movie.”

One thing Semple need never fear -at least from disgruntled fantasy film fans-is the accusation of being an artist. “Perhaps I don’t take the movie business as seriously as I should,” he admits, “but I was looking to have some fun with this film, Having fun with a project is very important to me. Life is too short to do it any other way.”


“The major change we made is that James Bond is in semi-retirement, and must force his way back into action. He’s the last person M wants involved, because he’s too dangerous and.they don’t do things like that any more. They want to get Bond out of the way. When he goes to the Bahamas, they think they’ve gotten rid of him. He in no way has the resources of the British Secret Service behind him. His only support comes from his friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter [played in the film by Bernie Casey]. At one point, we even had Leiter kicked out of the CIA and working in security for an oil company, but we had to change that back for legal reasons.

“The biggest area of contention concerned the geography. The same action which. previously occurred in the Bahamas would now take place elsewhere. I kept saying the story was more important than the location, but Jack and his lawyers were very nervous about moving the setting from the Bahamas.

“We were in a Catch-22 situation. We definitely owned this material, but if our movie wasn’t something like the Thunderball movie we would be in trouble-although, at the same time, we couldn’t use anything unique to that film. However, it really didn’t worry us, as long as we could get Sean. First, we would make it as different as possible. Then, if we had to pull it back, we hoped he would understand.”

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

For Part 2, go here.