Ang Lee to direct Billy Lynn dramedy as James Schamus takes aim at Hollywood screenwriting
Director Ang Lee and writer-producer James Schamus are one of industry's inspiring pairs. Over 22 years, they've worked on nine out of Lee's 12 feature films together, everything from the director's 1992 debut "Pushing Hands" to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to "Hulk" to the little seen "Taking Woodstock." But the relationship doesn't define them — they're two distinct voices approaching the film business from their personal experiences. Case in point: This week, Ang Lee signed on to helm a biting war drama for Sony while Schamus cut the artistic ambition of screenwriters off at the knees.
Deadline reports that Lee is onboard to direct an adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk" for Tom Rothman's TriStar Pictures and Film4. Described as "a razor-sharp satire set in Texas during America's war in Iraq," the book follows the title character during a media-friendly "Victory Tour" that takes him to a Dallas Cowboys halftime show. Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire," "127 Hours") wrote the dramedy, which frames the story around the Thanksgiving Day game with flashbacks to Billy's time in the platoon.
Meanwhile, Schamus kicked off BAFTA’s 2014 Screenwriters’ Lectures on Thursday with potent remarks on the state of the industry. The former Focus Features CEO put it bluntly: Hollywood is not American. "Its revenues are only 30 to 40 percent American," he told the audience [via Deadline]. "Its primary purpose right now is to make movies that 20-year-old Chinese people want to see."
More startling were Schamus' views on the screenwriting craft — which he doesn't consider an art. “While we ask for respect as artists, we really don’t know what we mean by art," he said. Schamus compared it to other crafts: Unlike a play, audiences don't walk out complaining about the screenplay. No one would write a poem "on spec." According to Schamus, screenwriters don't pen art, they write “124 pages of begging for money and attention.”
The producer in Schamus attempted to justify the position. “The work that we do [as writers] is work that creates, inspires, catalyzes and motivates, but just as importantly, it’s the grounds under which the control, the money, the executives intervene in the most effective way.” Cynicism singed the insightful lecture. Schamus' advice to the next generation? “If you’re an aspiring screenwriter who’s not already screenwriting, you’re probably not an aspiring screenwriter."
Fans of the Lee/Schamus collaboration shouldn't be too down. Lee will move into production on "Billy Lynn's" in the spring, Schamus is writing an adaptation of Reza Aslan’s somewhat controversial "Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth" for "Harry Potter" producer David Heyman, and the pair, as director and producer, are currently developing a 3D boxing picture written by Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon") about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's "Thrilla In Manila" fight. Word is the screenplay isn't a work of art, but the end result very well could be.