Friday 19 March 2010

Alex Chilton, RIP.

I don't know a great deal of Alex Chilton music - but this song, 'The Ballad Of El Goodo' from him and his band BIG STAR, is one of my favorite songs.

Care to share?

Thursday 18 March 2010

If You're Going To Burn Out, Do It Conciously!

It occurred to me this morning; in the midst of creative burn out, that I have two options. I can struggle to write, force ideas, and beat myself up for not getting anywhere. Or I can have a sandwich, spend time with friends, and have a nice cup of tea. Either way; I'm not writing or creating anything useful, so I may as well accept it and be happy with what the burn out is telling me.

I have written a feature this year, I've put a short out, I've written a blog on a daily basis; and by and large have been very happy with the quality of the output. I have also taken on other projects in the past few months; filming and editing videos every week for a charity organization, doing filming work with psychotherapists - and many other things. I can conclude that, yes, I've been busy.

As soon as I wrote a feature screenplay a couple of months ago, I immediately set the task of creating a new one. Being that the one I wrote wasn't a comedy, and I'm most comfortable in comedy, I felt pressed to begin another screenplay. Hence I've had a month of trying to force it out when there's not, really, anything to force out. It's like going to the bathroom; you can do it when you're ready or you can force it out early and cause yourself a lot of damage.

The burn out is a message, either I've done enough work for now or I have nothing to say at this moment in time. The problem with us creative fools is that we feel major guilt and anger when we don't create. But years from now, when we look back at our successful careers - whether we created or didn't create on this particular Thursday and Friday will hold little relevance.

A factor in this is external pressure, or perceived external pressure. Everyone I know tends to see me as creative, always doing something. I've often found myself playing up to that role. When people ask 'Kid, what are you working on?' I feel a pressure to name six things and have an excited look on my face. It gets harder and harder to say "I have nothing on the go right now, maybe I'll make a ham salad sandwich."

It can be really crippling to be asked what you're working on; because the question can often be an attack. The attack is "I work 9-5 in a hard underpaid job, supporting my family and paying my bills. So Mr Filmmaker, what have you been doing?"

This is crippling because you feel a victim of their judgement. Personal growth, or psychological growth (whatever you want to call it) has allowed me to not be oppressed by the question; I take it on board and say; "I'm working on a sandwich today. Ham salad."

More often than not though; nobody is attacking me or pressuring me, I'm doing it to myself. And that, in essence, creates burn out, or is at least a large factor. Not only do I create, I also do it when resting; I am constantly on the look out for ideas. I was watching 'Ally McBeal' the other night; and I recognized that when I watched it ten years ago, I was completely involved-- but this time I was half involved, half thinking about starting a script, wondering what I had to say; and considering blogging about it. And this is NOT 'Kid In The Front Row' behaviour. I want to be passionately involved in watching things I love and passionately involved in creativity; but I want them to be separate.

And therein lies the lesson of this particular burnout. It has enabled me to regain that rested, happy child who wants to hide out in his room and watch 'Ally McBeal.' I am thankful for that!

Care to share?

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Interview With Film Make-Up Artist STEPHANIE WISE

One of the most important elements of a good film, is good make-up. However, especially in the low-budget independent film community - the needs of the make-up department are often misunderstood and overlooked. This is usually because of a lack of interest and/or awareness from producers and directors; but a lot of it also comes down to a lack of representation; somebody to speak up and explain to the rest of us why it's so important. Luckily, there are people like STEPHANIE WISE: A New York-based Make-Up Artist of over a dozen features and numerous short films.It isn't just her knowledge and experience; but her passion for what she does that is really inspiring. I've had the privilege over the last couple of years of becoming good friends with her and learning a lot about what she does; and I hope we're able to bring some of that to this interview.

What made you want to become a make-up artist?

Makeup is something that has always intrigued me, sometimes I think that I was predisposed to becoming a makeup artist. When I was a child, probably around the age of 10 or 11, I saw behind-the-scenes footage from the set of The Exorcist. At that time, I knew nothing about makeup artistry, and I wasn't particularly fond of horror movies, but I was genuinely fascinated by the special effects work that was showcased. I know that it's not difficult to genuinely fascinate children, but of all the things that captured my attention when I was young, the imagery of that makeup team working their magic stuck fast and actually remained in the forefront of my impressionable young mind. I remember telling my grandparents that I wanted to be a special effects makeup artist back then, and I used to experiment with my mother's makeup and face paint and a menagerie of other materials that I thought looked like blood or monster skin, etc. I have pictures of my cousins with cheese-wax "bullet wounds" on their arms that I must have done when I was 12 or 13.

During my time in college, I was in pursuit of an art degree, but I didn't want to be a secluded fine artist or an art teacher or an employee in a gallery. I didn't know what I wanted exactly, and no one could really satisfy my questioning. So, I finally decided to return to something that had always been interesting to me, which was makeup. A bit of research and the counsel of a trusted professor lead me to believe that I could, and should, take makeup and special effects seriously. I'm so happy that I did, because I love that this profession. I love that the work of a makeup artist in the film industry is a blend of painting, sculpture, event coordinating, and human relations. I love the camaraderie of working with a team, as well as the entirety of the film crew. I enjoy using brushes and paints and powders, and I love applying the various mediums of makeup to faces and skin. I have a fascination with faces in general, so it's very satisfying to finish applying a makeup design and then watch my work perform as the actor speaks and gestures and expresses emotion.

So how did you get started in the industry?

I began by chasing after any opportunity that I was qualified for. I had some legit makeup experience from work I had done for theatres in my hometown, which definitely helped me obtain jobs fresh out of make-up school. Of course, I wasn't getting paid then, but I was meeting people in the industry, which was of much greater value. No job was too small, I didn't care if the script was promising or if the director was determined to get festival attention, I didn't even care if the makeup I would be doing was challenging or not. Sometimes I worked as a set PA, not doing anything related to makeup at all. I just wanted to be doing what I wanted to do, wanted to be a part of something creative and engaging, so I took advantage of every chance that I got. During that time, I was working in cosmetics shops to pay the bills and stay close to my desired field. After about two years of this, I had finally met enough of the "right" people and had gained enough experience to quit the day job and start freelancing full-time.

How do you find work?

These days I get most of my work through referral, which is wonderful because it means that I work with the same people quite often. The independent film world in NYC is like a family that way; the higher-ups find that they work well with certain people, so they continue to hire them job after job. Trusting work relationships develop, groups of professionals become units, colleagues become comrades. Often I'll get calls for jobs that another makeup artist was offered, but couldn't take, so they recommended me instead. I have likewise passed-on many jobs to other makeup artists who I know and trust.

I also still peruse Craigslist and for work when there aren't any upcoming jobs on my horizon.

I feel there are a lot of misconceptions about what you do, from the attitude "It's just make-up," to another belief that, on a low-budget, the needs of the make-up department can be overlooked - have you ever come across this in your work and how does it affect you?

Unfortunately, I come across such attitudes fairly often in the low-budget indie world. The effects can range from something as simple as not being provided with a surface to place my tools on, to not being allowed to stand by monitor.

It seems that in the film community, many professionals are familiar with the purpose and function of multiple departments, not just their own. I imagine that this stems from either studying the film-making process in school, or having been a part of so many productions that the different jobs become common knowledge. My job is an exception.

Why is that?

In general, no one besides my fellow departmental colleagues fully understands what makeup artists do. I feel that the misconceptions and improper attitudes are merely the children of inexperience. Perhaps one reason why makeup can be seen as unnecessary is because the history, advancements, and purposes of the makeup industry have not been canonized along with the more "important" aspects of the motion picture legacy.

That's interesting...

Makeup is a very specialized discipline, just like camera, lighting, and sound, but unlike those fields, few are taught about make-up in film school.

I wish that others knew more about what makes a good makeup artist good, and what their needs are. It wouldn‘t just be a benefit to makeup artists, it would save so many productions a lot of unnecessary stress and headache. It just goes to show that ignorance is not bliss. It can put a strain on people who are relying on one another to get a job done; If one doesn’t know what the other needs, then both suffer. For example, I want to have the actors ready in a timely manner, but for that to happen, I need for them to be called at the proper time. I try to discuss and confirm certain logistics like this before a shoot starts, but that’s not always possible, (or taken seriously).

This is a shame, because a good makeup artist can be a valuable ally to the crew. Besides developing the visual qualities of the characters and affecting the overall aesthetic and mood of the on-screen imagery, there are many things that makeup artists do that others wouldn’t think of or know how to fix. We hide sunburn, cover unwanted tattoos, scars, and birth-marks, maintain continuity if an actor starts to noticeably suffer from a cold, allergies, or sleep deprivation, keep a look-out for eye and nose boogers and ear wax, correct signs of aging or too-prominent facial features, and put artificial structure and color back into a face to prevent it from looking flat or distorted. It's not always glamorous work.

The dexterity of a makeup artist and quality of his or her makeup design can add production value, or diminish it. No makeup supervision, (or poor makeup supervision) can lead to problems with photography, lighting, post-production work, disposition of the talent, and cause audiences to become distracted.

Makeup is necessary and important because it is a part of the whole. The makeup department is a member of the team, we are on the side of the greater goal of the production. With that said, I admit that I did choose this line of work for myself knowing that I would face stereotypes and misconceptions, and I still like and want to do what I do. Everyone faces discouragement, such is life, but it would be nice to receive as much respect as the better understood departments do.

Leading up to a shoot - how much preparation do you do?

I do as much work in pre-production as I do during a shoot, or perhaps even more. It is an arduous process. A well done pre-production is usually impossible for me to achieve without plenty of caffeine, eye-strain, and mental anguish, as I'm sure most professionals in the film industry can relate to.

Most of the minutiae of my job needs to be organized before principal photography begins because so much hinges upon the importance of continuity. For a feature film, my prep work begins with reading and re-reading the script. I have to identify and familiarize myself with every detail that will affect my department, and conceptualize ideas for each character before I can do anything else. Then, I compose a scene-by-scene breakdown which itemizes the individual continuity notes for each character who appears in the scene, as well as relevant information from the script.

I can be a bit over-zealous when it comes to my break-down, but it makes my job so much easier when every detail is accounted for prior to principal photography. The movie-making process is stressful enough as it is, anything that I can do in advance to help myself and my department work more efficiently is worth the extra effort.

Apart from the continuity break-down, I also have to plan the final makeup design for every character, as well as all special effects makeup and effects gags. This involves a lot of dialogue with the director, since I have to make sure that we share a common vision and come to an understanding about certain logistics and design elements. When all of the organization and designing is done, (or, sometimes, while I'm still in the midst of it) I also have to figure out a budget breakdown, obtain the products/materials needed for the shoot, and make sure that they are organized, clean, and ready for use.

That sounds like a lot of work. I think us Director's have it easy!

It is very common for me to become a recluse during the pre-production process, because I spend so much time racking my brain to develop ideas and fine-tune the accuracy of my continuity notes. But it's always a worthwhile endeavor.

What do you want from a Director? What is the ideal relationship?

What I want from a Director is a collaborative, mutually respectful relationship. I think like an artist, so when I have an idea, it is usually more of a conceptual brain child than a practical solution. In order to develop satisfactory makeup looks, I envision characters in various spaces and under lights of varying colors and intensities. I consider mood and emotion and symbolism. I also consider realism and practicality, when appropriate. So, when I sit down with a Director to talk, I want the chance to creatively engage with the person who is responsible for the creative vision of the entire film. I ask lots of questions, and I appreciate lots of carefully considered, insightful answers. I also greatly appreciate reciprocality and collaboration. I work best when both the Director and I can present solid ideas to one another, and then use what we like to formulate new ideas.

I don't particularly like it when a Director has no ideas about the makeup at all and leaves me to guess at what the desired look is, but the absolute worst case scenario is when a Director is completely unwilling to trust my expertise. I hate, hate, hate, being shown a picture and told, "This is what I want, do exactly this".

My work is a thing of pride for me, I want to create my own new and interesting work for each film, I do not want to re-do something that someone else has already done. I want to share and participate in a holistic vision, I do not want to be force-fed it or left to figure it out on my own. I like it when a Director values and encourages that.

Stephanie Wise was the Make-Up Department Head on the feature film 'Meskada' (Dir: Josh Sternfield), which is premiering at the the Tribeca Film Festival in April, 2010. .

Care to share?

Sunday 14 March 2010

The Secret To Manifesting Abundance Positively - A Short Story.

All through life, Geoff Fripp struggled to make his dreams come true. More than anything, he hated to admit, he struggled financially. He tried everything. Most of all, he kept listening to positive thinking life coaches and always found them inspirational, but he couldn't help but wonder: why didn't their formula for success ever work for him? And then one day, it did.

He became a life coach. The job was very easy -- all he had to do was write articles using the words 'abundance' and 'manifest,' and keep a steady sun-tan. He wrote a book called 'Manifesting Positive Abundance' and sold the book to twenty three year old actresses everywhere. Now, when young actresses are asked how their careers are going they state "I am currently manifesting positive abundance," whilst struggling to make $5 in tips a night.

Geoff realised how foolproof it was being a life coach. He inspired people by making them believe they could achieve positive outcomes using visualization and belief. And if that didn't work there was always his twelve-step $500 plan, which helps manifest plenty of abundance - even if only for Geoff Fripp himself. When people failed to achieve their dreams-- he told them, "you're being negative! You're not believing in the universe, you won't succeed until you gain abundance." The person responds, "But I believed in the universe and I posted Epicurus quotes on my Facebook wall, I did everything. Now I'm getting tired."

"Aha, getting tired," said Geoff. "Tiredness is when you're not on song with the universe. You won't be not tired until you're ready to not be tired and are in alignment with your untiredness."

"Now I'm confused?" said the tired and confused man.

"Confusion indicates your positive vibrations are not active. You are not vibrating," explained the Life Coach. The tired and confused man, feeling confused and tired, played it safe and enrolled in a discounted online seminar for "Vibrating And Shaking Positively," but soon realised he'd joined an online support group for Parkinsons Disease.

Geoff had come a long way. It was amazing how a man who, up until a year ago worked as a repair man for a supermarket, could know so much about the laws of the universe. Despite often struggling to fix the faulty sink in his old job, his new career was easy. His YouTube video of the Earth spinning around, overlapped with Martin Luther King quotes had garnered him eight million hits and four million dollars in advertising revenue.

It turns out, after all, that all of the life coaches/positive thinkers/law of attraction people/makers of The Secret were right: You can attract abundance - and you do it by being a life coach and selling books about the law of attraction.

Kid In The Front Row GOOD KARMA THOUGHT VIBRATIONS are now on sale. For the small fee of $5 I will think positively about you. This will manifest endless joy and abundance (just not for you).

Care to share?

Saturday 13 March 2010

Screenwriter SCOTT ROSENBERG Interview.

Scott Rosenberg wrote 'BEAUTIFUL GIRLS.' With that alone, I am happy to stop right there and declare that he is one of my favorite screenwriters. But, as it happens, he also penned 'CON AIR,' 'THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD,' 'GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS,' and many others - as well as creating one of the best TV shows of recent years, 'OCTOBER ROAD.'

I'd like to start by talking about 'Beautiful Girls,' because it's one of my favorite films. I wish there were more films like this. Did you know it was going to be something special when you wrote it?

“BEAUTIFUL GIRLS’ came about because I had been working for months on the script for “CON AIR”. In those days, the studio would make you write a detailed treatment before sending you off to script (it was a way for them to avoid paying a step). Between “THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD” and “CON AIR”, I was fully submerged in a kind of nihilistic porn: violence, anger, racial epithets, death. I was numb as a statue. And I found myself, back in my hometown outside of Boston, during one of the worst winters ever. I was waiting for Disney to approve “CON AIR”. I had just broken up with my girlfriend of seven years. The snow plows were driving by my window. Many driven by my buddies from high school. When it occurred to me: “there is more quote “action”, going on with my buddies here -with turning 30 and not being able to deal with the women in their lives - than in twenty Jerry Bruckheimer movies. I remember very clearly, saying to my kid brother: “I am going to go into my room and write a script called “BEAUTIFUL GIRLS” but it’s going to be all about guys.” Five days later I emerged with the script. It just poured out. I didn’t think it was special. It was a piece of catharsis. It was entirely written for myself. Which is probably why it resonated with so many people. And, inexplicably, still does to this day...

I think it's the kind of screenplay that everyone tries to write when they begin screenwriting, the script about a bunch of friends in a small town figuring their lives out. But rather than having the complexity and subtlety of 'Beautiful Girls,' they tend to be quite boring and soap operatic -- were you concerned about this when you were writing yours? How confident were you?

Nah. Because I don’t think it was such a common trope then as it is now. There was the gold standard, of course, Barry Levinson’s “DINER”. But I tried never to even think of that one. Because then I would have just been paralyzed. Because that film is nearly perfect. A few years ago, I was skiing in Colorado, and I was in a bar and some snow-boarders in their early 20s came up to me. They had heard I was the dude that wrote “BEAUTIFUL GIRLS”. And they wanted to tell me that their whole group of friends watch the film once every few months. I told them that is so cool. And that MY friends and me used to watch “DINER” once every few months. And the snow-boarders shrugged and asked me: “What’s ‘DINER’?” And I realized that “GIRLS” was for these kids, what “DINER” was for some of my friends. And that was perhaps the coolest thing of all...

The film feels like it's been made by a writer/director - you can really feel a singular voice coming through. What interests me, is that it's really hard to know what is your voice, and what came from Ted Demme. What was your working relationship like with the Director; and what things, for you, did and didn't work out how you wanted in the film?

The journey of that film was insane. Originally, James L. Brooks was going to direct it. Which was kind of like we’d hit the lottery? Huh? James L. Brooks? The living legend? Who never directed a film he didn’t write? How is this possible? And why? I worked with Jim for 5 months on the film. Meeting actors. Hearing them say the words. Refining the script. And then, Jim dropped out. It was rather devastating. I think he just felt, end of the day, that he was a Jewish in his 50s, who’d been rich for a long time, how much commonality did he really have with a bunch of blue collar mooks from Boston? But working with him had been like the screenwriter equivalent of going to Harvard Business School. It was amazing. After he dropped out, we flirted with some other names. And then the idea of Teddy came up. I wasn’t that familiar with his work (he had only done a few films; and worked at MTV), but upon meeting him, one thing was clear: he WAS one of the guys I grew up with. He just had this amazing one-of-the-lads quality about him. And his enthusiasm was infectious. And he loved the script.

Were there disagreements? Sure. There will always be. But most of those came during post. Teddy and I agreed whole heartedly on every piece of casting. On locations. On set design. If we argued it was over some things in the final edit. But nothing terrible. A perfect example of how we worked was the day Teddy came to me and said there should be a sing-a-long a la “THE DEERHUNTER”, in The Johnson Inn. Wouldn’t that be a great way to introduce Uma’s character and show the guys’ special bond. But what song? Teddy was thinking maybe “HAPPY TOGETHER” by The Turtles. I knew, immediately (and this was well before it became a karaoke favorite and Boston Red Sox anthem), that it had to be Neil Diamond. “Sweet Caroline”. Teddy wasn’t so sure. One night, we took the cast to a bar in Minnesota for some after-wrap cocktails. There was a piano player there. I surreptitiously gave him ten bucks and asked him to play “Sweet Caroline”. He did. The place went crazy. Everyone singing along. Including Matt Dillon and Noah Emmerich. But Teddy always said, it was when he saw a waitress, gliding by, holding a tray laden with cocktails, wailing to the song, that he “knew Scotty was right... And that it had to be Neil Diamond..." That was how it was with us. He made a wonderful film. I miss him...

Do you think you would have worked together again? Were you close friends?

Teddy and I were good friends. We had a complicated relationship. Sometimes we were as thick as thieves, and planning on doing our next thing together. Other times, we were at each other's throats. He was the one who first convinced me to do television. We did a pilot based on a novel I wrote, called "GOING TO CALIFORNIA". Sold it to the WB. We shot a pilot but it didn't get picked up. Years later, Showtime bought it. We recast and did 20 episodes. So, you see, Teddy and I were always looking for shit to do together. His passing was great tragedy, as he was really starting to happen; to really come into his own as a filmmaker.

It's amazing how you went from 'Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead' and 'Beautiful Girls' - to working on a giant blockbuster like 'Con Air.' How did you get involved in the project?

“DENVER” was the hot script that year. It was one of those “No One Wants To Make It But Everyone Has To Read It” things. And I got a ton of attention. Disney brought me in and handed me an “L.A. TIMES” article about the real Con Air -a Federal Marshall program that transports prisoners across the country. They wanted me to come up with an idea. But they “didn’t want ‘DIE HARD’ on a plane. Good luck.” So I just noodled on it for a while. Listened to a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records. And once I happened upon the notion of the guy who had never met his daughter - that his wife had been pregnant when got busted - I saw how I could make this thing work. That sightline was so clean. It allowed me to adorn the thing with the craziest motherfuckers; the most absurd dialogue and set-pieces. Because, when all is said and done, he was just another man trying to find his way back home...

There's a big myth for writers trying to get into the industry; who feel that to work on anything with a big producer or studio, means no creative control and constantly having to incorporate other people's ideas - has this been your experience?

The script is always going to be co-opted. Because with a budget that big, it’s the only thing they can constantly tinker with; it allows everyone to sleep at night, knowing that, somewhere, someone is working on the script. I think you have to do your best work, and hope much of it flies. But you also have to be realistic: “SPIDER-MAN” or “GONE IN 60 SECONDS” or “THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER” -these are not the sad, sweet personal stories about my ancestors coming over from the Old Country. So I can be mercenary. I have to care. I have to make it deeply meaningful for me, so I can do good work. But I also have to divest myself emotionally. Because chances are good you will be re-written. My motto has always been: "Don’t Fuck With My Small Movies. Do What You Need With The Big..."

With 'Con Air,' you were writing about characters who were murderers, rapists, pedophiles -- is that particularly challenging?

First things first: I have never understood why people thought Buscemi’s character was a pedophile. He was described as a mass murderer who killed a bunch off people up and down the Eastern Seaboard. And that the way he killed made “the Manson Family look like The Partridge Family.” There was never a single mention of children. Somehow, when he has the scene with the little girl, people just jumped to that conclusion; that he was pedophile. It was the strangest thing to me. I was simply ripping off “FRANKENSTEIN” -monster with little girl. Did anyone ever accuse Frankenstein’s monster of being a pedophile? Nope. I think Garland Greene deserves the same respect. Ha-ha.

As far as writing murderers, rapists, etc., I have always believed one has to find the humanity in even the most dreadful of characters. No one - not even Son Of Sam - is without a shred of decency; Ted Bundy had a mother who loved him at one point. If you can find an access point - a way to give make even the most unsympathetic of characters mildly sympathetic in places... Then you will have a fully dimensionalized villain. Or so it seems to me...

I noticed when watching 'Highway' that you also produced it. Did you hire the director yourself?

I did. Along with the execs at New Line. Todd Phillips was originally going to direct it. It was called “A LEONARD COHEN AFTERWORLD” -which is a terrible title, but is a part of the lyric from the Nirvana song “Pennyroyal Tea” (”give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/So I can sigh eternally... “). This was before Todd was Todd. And he eventually bailed because this movie he had been trying to get set-up finally got a green-light. That was “ROAD TRIP”. Which was rather ironic. Because my film was a road trip picture, too. Albeit a much darker one. Involving drug dealers, mobsters, circus freaks, hookers and the weekend Kurt Cobain killed himself.

After Todd dropped out, and we were looking for his replacement, a short film made by an NYU student came across our desk. It was called “ATOMIC TABASCO”. We were rather knocked out by its balls, its bombast, its confidence. We met with the director, James Cox. And were rather knocked- out by his balls, bombast and confidence. There was something about his manic madness that I thought was perfect for this film. The tone I wanted the movie to have, was sort of the manner in which James Cox lived his life. So we hired him. And we made a pretty cool film. Jared Leto, Jake Gyllenhaal, Selma Blair, John C. McGinley. And, in a show-stopping scene, Jeremy Piven (who replaced Vince Vaughn at the eleventh hour). But the exec at New Line who had championed the film left just after we delivered it. And the head of the studio never liked it. So they re-cut it; replaced all of our dope songs with lesser versions. And sent it straight to DVD. I have actually never seen the new version. And never will. It’s too painful. But I learned a lot making that film. And had a good time doing it...

Are you interested in directing at some point?

I think I would like to very much. I am not sure if I would be any good at it. Have come close a number of times. And for various reasons, it didn’t happen. Having spent a lot of time on many sets, watching many directors, there are some days you say to yourself “God, I could do better than this moron!” and then other days, you think: “wow, this guy is talented. I could never do what he does!” So I go back and forth. The “year of your life” thing kind of freaks me out. Insofar as I could work on so many projects in a year as a writer. But as a director, you are basically eating, drinking, sleeping and fucking that one film for at least an entire year. But we’ll see...

I was re-watching 'Gone In Sixty Seconds' the other day, and during the big car chase at the end, I wondered-- how the hell do you write something like that? How do you make a chase scene or a fight scene exciting? Whenever I try to write them scenes, they read like instruction manuals.

Funny that you ask. I wish I had a copy of my first draft handy (I can find it for you eventually), because that is exactly what I wrote in the stage directions. I wrote something like “look, I ain’t lazy. But chase scenes are like sex scenes - the only thing more boring than reading them is writing them. So I’m not gonna do it. We’ll hire a director and he will make shit happen!” Or something like that. For the final chase - the big one - I actually scripted all of the beats... But not for any of the earlier ones... I, quite literally, wrote, “and now DIRECTOR’S CHASE SCENE #2 begins... “ It actually gained a bit of notoriety.
A lot of people thought it was ballsy of me. It wasn’t. I just had no desire to waste my time. But that movie turned out to be a huge disappointment to me. The original script was very, very cool. It got that amazing cast. And then we hired a director who just wanted to shoot car porn. Another film I have never seen the final cut of...

What is it about not seeing a final cut, would it be that painful? It reminds me of Woody Allen, when he says he's never watched any of his films again, I'm never sure I believe him. I bet he has 'Annie Hall' on DVD..

With some of these films, you sort of grok that they are going to be shit; that they are not going to be what you intended when you first got that tiny spark. Which is why, yeah, I don't buy the Woody Allen thing. 'Cause he has made so many amazing movies. But I have not. So things like "DISTURBING BEHAVIOR" and "KANGAROO JACK" and "GONE IN 60 SECONDS". Yeah. Easier to just not watch them. And remember what they once were. And what they might have been. (mind you, not a one was on its way to being "HANNAH AND HER SISTERS". But still... )

Small, character based dramas, or big action films, which do you prefer writing?

I love it all. I really do. At this moment, I am deciding on what I should write next. I have six ideas I am currently toying with. Three of them are small and entirely character- driven. One is a whacked-out sci-fi horror thing; the other two are hugely commercial, big ideas. So I really am all over the map. What I’m most interested in is that the next one is different in tone, scope and story than the one I wrote just before. That’s all.

Nick Hornby is another writer with a really distinct voice, did you consult with him at all when adapting 'High Fidelity' or did you take the book and go your own way with it?

I didn’t. I wish I had. I am such a fan. But I was working with the director, Mike Newell, who was attached to it at the time. I am sure he met with Nick. But I didn’t. That was a case where I was sent the book in galleys. I had no desire to take on another project (I was way overbooked at the time). But I read it anyhow - because I was a fan of Newell’s (who had directed “FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL”) among other things. And the book just spoke to me. I was, like, who is this Nick Hornby and why is he living in my brain? Because I am a huge music guy; and I have had lots of struggles with girls and commitment and all that stuff. So I took the job. And did several drafts I thought were pretty good. I moved it from London to Boston, of course.

But I don’t think Mike was ever going to really direct it. Because “FOUR WEDDINGS” had been such a huge success. I think he, too, wanted to do something different. Not another romantic comedy. So we both sort of left it at the same time. Then John Cusack and his gang came in. And Stephen Frears. The movie is excellent. But let’s be honest: nearly everything that’s great in the film came from the novel. The novel was just so damn good. I hope to meet Nick someday. We’ve had several near-crosses but it’s never happened. But I continue to read his novels. Always awaiting the next one with delight...

“October Road' was something really special. How did the opportunity arise to make the show?

My friend, Gary Fleder (he directed “THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD”) was in a meeting with the ABC president, Steve McPherson, when McPherson commented that “BEAUTIFUL GIRLS” was one of his favorite films; why doesn’t someone do a TV version of that? Gary called me and asked me what I thought.

I was coming off of a few years where I had sold lots of scripts, but none had gotten made... And if actors aren’t saying your words, then the process isn’t complete, I don’t care how much dough you’re making. So I said “sure”. I brought in Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, who I had worked with on a short-lived Showtime show I created called “GOING TO CALIFORNIA”, which ran for 20 episodes in 2001, before Showtime was cool. Josh and Andre had been working on “ALIAS” and they were game to create a show with me. We were sort of looking for a way in, an access point, and then Andre said: “why don’t we dramatize what happened to you, Scott, in the wake of ‘BEAUTIFUL GIRLS’?” Because “GIRLS” was based entirely on my buddies from home. And some of them really got their feelings hurt and felt exposed (we are all pals again now; in fact, I am on the train to Boston as I type this, for this is the weekend of our annual ski trip!). We all collectively thought that was a great idea. Changed it from a movie to a novel; added the whole “is he your son is he not your son” and went to town. That was a great experience. I loved that cast. I loved that world. We had a very small but very rabid fan base by the time we went off the air. People still freak out when they find out that was my show. They gush in ways they never gush about any of the other stuff I’ve done...

There's something very dramatic and compelling about someone coming home, and the effect that has on him and the people he originally left behind. We see it again and again in your work - in 'October Road', 'Beautiful Girls' - and even in 'Gone In Sixty Seconds' --- is it coincidental that you've revisited this theme or is it something that fascinates you?

I jut think it’s something that is so utterly universal and relatable. It’s not a clerical error that perhaps the most famous line of dialogue in the history of movies is” “there’s no place like home.” We all come from somewhere. And we are always trying to get pieces of it back; no matter how good or bad it had been. Youth is a state of grace. Even if you were impoverished or abused or infirmed. You were young. You were unformed. You were home. It’s funny because we played with a lot of those themes in “LIFE ON MARS”. I find myself writing these overlong tone poems about the exigencies of “home”. And, yes, all through my work “DENVER”, “GIRLS”, all the TV shows, “GONE”. Hell, even Cameron Poe in “CON AIR” just wanted to get the fuck home.

But I don’t think it’s very unique. It worked for Homer. Why shouldn’t it work for the rest of us?
I can never put my finger on what it is exactly, but when watching your films, I always think of Billy Wilder - is he a big influence on your writing?

Well, that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. I am sure there are a lot of film and TV critics that would beg to differ with you on that one. Wilder is my all-time favorite. An old girlfriend of mine and I used to have “Billy Wilder Night”, where once a week, we’d watch one of his films, so we were sure to see the entire canon. And it’s rather astonishing that the same guy made “DOUBLE INDEMNITY”, “THE APARTMENT”, “STALAG 13”, “SOME LIKE IT HOT”, “SUNSET BOULEVARD” “THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH”, “THE LOST WEEKEND”, “WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION” and “SABRINA”. I mean, really? Are you kidding me? The range of subject matter; all of it, no matter how hilarious, suffused with a kind of darkness, a skewed morality that was just so bold and compelling. And the dialogue! I mean, the guy was just off the charts. I devoured that Cameron Crowe interview book with Wilder. And it is my second piece of advice I give to neophyte writers (the first being: “just write!”): watch Billy Wilder movies. Watch them all. And try not to be intimidated but rather be inspired...

It disappoints me when perfect shows like 'October Road' get taken off the air. Would you have liked to have taken it a lot further?

Of course, I would have loved that. “LIFE ON MARS”, too. But television is a funny thing. There are so many variables. So many factors. In both cases, we hadn’t begun to scratch the surface of those characters, nor the places we wanted to take them. But the good thing about the creative process is that no character ever truly dies; parts of them are reborn into other characters. In the new show, “HAPPY TOWN”, you’ll see some traces of some O-ROADERs. As well as in the script I am currently writing. It’s like some weird form of Buddhism. The souls of a character is reincarnated long after he is no longer a corporeal being...

Despite the fact that 'October Road' seemed very much like your baby, there were a lot of different writers working on the show -- how do you work with writers on your TV projects?

We have a staff. A writers room. Storylines are generated out of the writers room. Approved by the network and studio. And then a writer goes to script.

But every script goes through my computer. I am in charge of “the top edit”. The “voice pass”, as it is sometimes called. So all of the scripts feel like they are of the same piece. Sometimes I have to rewrite 80% of a writer’s script. Sometimes it’s only 20%. But we have been blessed, in that we have managed to assemble some truly talented, truly splendid writers on all three shows. We really are just hoping for a hit, so we can keep these people coming to our
offices rather than to someone else’s..

What can you tell us about 'Happy Town'?

“Happy Town” came about during the writers strike. We were still working on “OCTOBER ROAD”, but we could read the tea leaves. The was walking the creaky steps of the gallows up to the waiting hangman’s noose. But we so loved the world. The small town aspects. And we thought: what if we did a version of “OCTOBER ROAD” where shit actually HAPPENS? Wouldn’t that be novel? We were also thinking that nobody does scary on TV anymore. And I mean scary but not “CSI” or “CRIMINAL MINDS” forensic porn scary. And not vampires and werewolves and zombie scary either. I mean, just scary. My partners, Josh and Andre, were degenerate “TWIN PEAKS” fans. I was not. But Stephen King’s novel, “’SALEM’S LOT” is, for my money, one of the most perfect horror tales ever written. So you can find much of the “HAPPY TOWN” DNA in those two works. Plus “OCTOBER ROAD”, of course.

It’s a small town spook show, centered on bucolic Haplin, Minnesota, a place that knew darkness years ago - when seven disparate people disappeared, over the course of seven years. Locals called it the work of “The Magic Man” -so named because he “had the ability to make people vanish that bordered on the mystical.. “ Well, by the end of the third episode, he returns. And he has returned at the worst possible time! It is a very cool, very unique piece of television. It stars Geoff Stults, who played Eddie on "OCTOBER ROAD" (as well as other O-ROAD alum Jay “Physical Phil” Paulson and Warren “Big Cat” Christie), and Amy Acker, Sam Neill, Lauren German, Robert Wisdom, Francis Conroy, M.C. Gainey, Steven Weber and Abe Benrubi. A truly wonderful cast. I hope you’ll watch...

Of course! Definitely. What advice can you give to upcoming screenwriters? What is the biggest mistake you see young writers making?

The biggest mistake I see young writers doing is thinking they are ready to be read after writing one or two scripts. Bullshit. You ain't. You are still learning your craft. Learning to crawl. And don't let that story you read in "VARIETY", about the college freshman who sold his first script to Warners for 3 million dollars. Sure, he might have. But God also made Michael Jordan and Eddie Van Halen and Alex Rodriguez. There are always gonna be Talent Freaks. You ain't one of the them. How do I know? Because they are rarer than rare. Keep writing. Always Be Writing. I wrote ten scripts before I got an agent. 14 before one was made. If I look back at those old scripts, sure there were some decent parts. But most of it was crap. How could it not be?

The other mistake made is to try and get a job in show biz while you are paying your dues. Jobs in show biz are for the folks back home. So Ma can say to the ladies in her book club: "Petey is working for Ryan Seacrest!" The problem with working for Ryan Seacrest? It will be a 16 hour day. And you will think about it when you are getting ready for bed. No. Get a job bagging groceries. Or driving a truck. A job that you don't give another brain cell to when you punch the clock at the end of the day. So you can go home and focus on what is truly important at this phase of your life: which is writing.

When a writer is convinced they have a great script, or two; what should they do?

When you think you have a great script - if it really is great - they will find you. The town is starving for great scripts. It sounds awful and pat and overly simplistic: but if you want to succeed as a screenwriter, write a dope script. I am not saying that shitty scripts get made. Of course they do. More times than not. And a good 65 % of working screenwriters should have their laptops revoked. But at some point, they wrote that one. That one that people noticed. A Zen approach is a good one. Don't do a mass mailing introducing yourself to every agent in town. Don't foist your script on the guy at the next table in the diner, who happens to be reading "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER". Just know that they will find you. It sounds strange. It's not. L.A. is a city fueled by the frantic frenzy to find the next great script. The key is write it. And then watch them tumble...

Care to share?