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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Five Question Interview: "Going The Distance" Screenwriter GEOFF LATULIPPE

A few weeks ago I wrote about the film 'Going The Distance' in my article 'The Moment You Connect'. Teri, over at the Year 31 Blog, sent the post to the film's screenwriter Geoff LaTullippe via his Twitter account. Then Geoff left a lovely comment on my blog. After that, it was Christmas; and Geoff didn't get me a present. I soon forgave him and decided to interview him about 'Going The Distance', to find out a little more about its journey from script to screen. Here is a picture of Geoff dressed as a Banana, followed by the interview. 

How many drafts did you write of 'Going The Distance', and how long did it take in total?

The first draft of the script was written in three days; however, those three days were spread out over a period of about six months.  I was writing the script on spec based on some ideas that I had and the experiences of my good friend (and GTD exec) Dave Neustadter.  At one point I wrote about 30 pages, then stopped; a month or so later I wrote another 30 pages, then stopped.  And then came the writer's strike, and even though I wasn't a WGA member yet, I decided to curb writing until it was over.  In July 2008 I wrote the last 60 pages all in one night.  I sent that to Dave, we did some serious rewriting the next weekend, and then we turned it into New Line that Monday.  It sold that Wednesday.

When we got into actual studio rewrites, I'd say we handed in about 20 drafts overall, though many were for minor tweaks.  And then I tinkered with it at various times the whole way through production.  At one point the director brought in a writing team to do some rewrites as well, though I'm not sure how many drafts they actually did.

Did the script have an easy or difficult journey from script to screen?

Well, let's get this out of the way: there's never been a script written that's had an "easy" journey to the screen.  Especially when you're working on a film for a studio, there are seemingly a billion moving parts that all have to click within a very tiny window, and seeing that process up close and behind the curtain...I can't believe anything ever gets made.  I think it all comes down to luck.  Fucking luck and hard work and a willingness to be a total asshole on occasion to push things through.

Now, that in mind...on a comparative scale of 1-10, 1 being the easiest it's ever been to get a movie made and 10 being the hardest, I'd guess this was about a 3.  We definitely had our arguments and battles and moments where it was like, "Oh yeah, this is falling apart," but we also had a group of people - and I know how cloying this sounds, but trust me - who really believed in the movie and wanted to see it happen.  And I think that's what won out at the end of the day.  We went from script sale to shooting in just a shade under a calendar year.  That's almost unheard of.  I know it'll never happen again to me, and that makes me curl up in a ball and cry in the corner.  It's all uphill from here, goddamnit.

When you were writing, did you really believe someone like Drew Barrymore would be saying your words? And when it finally happened, how was that experience?

Not in a million years.  Even though the project moved pretty quickly, until we got a greenlight (after Drew and Justin had attached to the project) I never thought it would get made at all.  It's just not something that's possible to fathom.  In fact - and I'm not at all joking - it still doesn't seem real.

The first time I saw the movie I thought I was going to have a joy aneurysm. It was cool to see the actors play out the things I'd written, but it was even better to see them ad-lib into things that I might never have thought of.

Since the film came out, up until now, have you had more opportunities come your way?

Absolutely.  Even though the movie bombed, I'm still really proud of it, and for the most part people seem to like it.  So that doesn't hurt.  And I was lucky enough to get a good buzz off the script well before it ever went into production.  I sold another idea just a few weeks after I hired my agent and manager, and the ball just kept rolling from there.  I've lucked into so many great opportunities that it spins my head, and even the ones that didn't quite pan out can lead to something on down the road.  The goal now is just to try to keep doing the best work I can possibly do and make myself indispensable so this can be my job for the long haul.

'Going The Distance' had a big beating heart all the way through it, a quality which is so often marginalized by American films, or simplified into cheesiness, how did this film manage to escape that?

First of all, thanks.  That's one thing I never get tired of hearing and the thing about the film that I'm most proud of.

One of the things that Dave and I were dead-set on from the start was wanting to make this real.  The joke he makes now is that, "People pay you to write like we talk."  Which is 100% true.  My theory is that even if someone doesn't live a life similar to yours, they at least know someone like you.  And when you're watching an observational comedy, THAT'S what you want to see - the experience you want to have is one of parallel.  You want to be watching that movie saying, "YES! That's EXACTLY what it's like for me," or, "Oh HELL yes, I know THAT guy!"

The trick to achieving this is balance, and the key to that for me is hitting a chord of universality without being broad.  I think "heart"comes from a combination of shared experience and someone being able to say something that you weren't ever quite able to put words to.  And that's my job as a writer - expressing the things the audience wants to express but, for one reason or another, can't or hasn't been able to yet. It's almost like putting someone in front of a dirty mirror; I'm the guy that wipes off the grime.

And the only way I know how to do that is from personal experience.  I take the things that have happened to me in my life and either use them exactly or borrow wholesale.  Everyone's had that experience of walking away from an argument or a fight or a long conversation or whatever and later thinking to themselves, "OH JESUS CHRIST I SHOULD HAVE SAID THAT."  The greatest thing about being a writer is that I get to say "THAT" the first time.  But you never want to go too far with that - a movie has to imitate life, but not seem exactly like real life and not seem like a movie.  It's a tightrope walk.  And when you fake it it generally sucks.  So I try to fake it as little as possible.  It seems to have worked so far.

Care to share?

1 comment:

  1. I was hoping you two were up to this!

    I agree that Going the Distance had a lot of heart and realistic, relatable dialogue. It's interesting to hear how it went from spec to screen, and in such a short amount of time. That must have been some trip.

    Thank you, Geoff, for sharing your story and offering a little insight into how the studio system works.