For the second year in a row, Creative Screenwriting magazine held a panel last night for all the Academy Award nominees for screenwriting. Held at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood, the theater was jam packed and there was even a line around the block of cinefiles who couldn't even get in.
All Adapted Screenplay nominated movies were represented including "District 9's" Terri Tatchell, "An Education's" Nick Hornby, the "In the Loop" trio of Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche,"Precious'" Geoffrey Fletcher and "Up in the Air's" Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (the current frontrunners). The Original Screenplay writers who could make it were "Up's" Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (good shot to win) and "The Messengers'" Alessandro Camon. "Inglourious Basterds'" Quentin Tarantino and "The Hurt Locker's" Mark Boal bailed at the last minute for "personal reasons." The Coen Bros., who were recognized for "A Serious Man," were out of town filming their new adaptation of "True Grit."
The 90 minute plus discussion covered a wide array of topics including the writer's worst jobs (Reitman won with his Universal Studios gig anecdote), the percent of Improv in the finished films and how they tackled their genre twisting films. Moreover, after a long season of campaigning they were full of funny anecdotes and one liners they had no doubt been repeating for months. But, this eager crowd ate it up.
"An Education's" Hornby, a famed novelist before he began writing screenplays joked, "I was drawn to the story of an old man picking up a young girl."
Turning serious for a moment, he discussed his biggest problem beginning the script was, "How do I get her in the car without it seeming that creepy?" An older man played by Peter Sarsgard picking up a teenage girl (Carey Mulligan) would make most audiences squirm. So, effectively "It was all about hiding his creepiness." Hornby noted that by having Sarsgard's character put her cello in the car as she walked in the rain --thereby acknowledging the situation -- he could put the audience more at ease.
Reitman, who has had an odd time dealing with his co-writer Turner (it's a long story), admitted "I hate genre and I hate plot. I would just prefer to hear characters talk."
Tatchell had the most intriguing revelations. She talked about how a huge chunk of "District 9's" original screenplay wfocused on MNU effort's inside the mothership had to be cut not because the script was too long, but because the budget rolled back how many days they could actually shoot. And while many viewers were left thinking the film's final shot leaves the door open for a second installment, Tatchell says she just really liked that ending and that she and director Neill Blomkamp "never in a million years" planned for a sequel."
And while Bloomkamp got some "rock 'em, sock 'em action" in there, Tatchell says, "I wanted to tell a compelling story about compassion."
Reitman gave Tatchell and "District 9" huge kudos saying it was "like you plucked Ricky Gervais from 'The Office' and put him in a Sci-Fi film."
The most fun was watching the "In the Loop" trio get their due in front of their American peers. The underdog Brits were a surprising inclusion amongst the adapted nominees (although certainly a happy one for its fans). Iannucci, who also directed the film, talked about how why the film appears to be mostly Improv is more the tone of the actor's performances than anything else. The original script for "Loop" was over 200 pages and the shooting one was 163 (most movie scripts insinuate one page equaled a minute of screentime, so do the math). And yes, the first cut of the movie was over four hours.
The trio also described how after showing their political farce, which bares distinct similarities to the days before the Iraq War was launched, a crowd of Washington D.C. insiders stopped laughing as war becomes inevitable in the picture's final minutes. In a Q&A after, Iannucci says someone raised their hand and asked them, "Can we apologize because that's how it happened?"
Iannucci did, however, provide the most impressive stat of the night. "In the Loop" is suppossedly the most profane script to ever get nominated or an Oscar. Gotta love that.
Much more was discussed during the evening and you'll be able to listen to the entire Q&A when it's released as a podcast on iTunes Friday. Just search "creative screenwriting" in the iTunes store.
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