Writers on Genre: Action-Adventure/Thriller

Writers on Genre: Action-Adventure/Thriller



I'd like to just start by saying we were we were talking earlier about panels that we've all been on in the past and it's and it was the common experience of the three gentlemen here that they might have said something in the frankness of talking with fellow writers about something and and and found themselves quoted in or some such place so if there are any bloggers or members of the working press here I'd like to say that everything is off the record okay and with that I'd like to toss out a question too to all of our we with a you know kind of put this this series of evenings together and do we do we treat action-adventure and thriller separately or do they really fall in the same category and we decided that there was enough overlap that that we should treat them together but I wonder what your thoughts are and if you draw a distinction between the two or if you think it's it's a useful exercise to talk about them together well I think it's useful I don't think that uh I think when you talk about action particular action adventures traditionally one of the most difficult you know when people talk about an action movie one man's action movie is another man's you know science fiction movie or another man's thriller or whatever I mean it's really a difficult genre to pin down in fact on Last Action Hero which was my that was the first script I ever wrote which I was feel comfortable talking about because I was fired immediately um one of the things we did was watch every action movie we could get our hands on and we tried to really my writing partner at the time we really tried to figure out well what does define an action movie what's the difference between you know why is die hard an action movie and not a thriller and you know what makes a thriller why is fatal attraction you know something that's clearly nobody would call fatal attraction an action movie right it's a thriller and we didn't come up with a good answer I things blow up yeah yeah or car chase yeah I also think that in I feel like I've never written a thriller so I feel like I'm a little bit of a fraud but um I think in thrillers like fatal attraction that all the basic instinct I guess would be a weird one disprove the rule in about to state the heroes tend to be normal people and in action movies the heroes tend to be extraordinary people they tend to be cops or bank robbers or superheroes or and I feel like I know there's plenty of it flying over West I mean normal a trailer so thriller is Rotem yeah that is really right but but I do have to say we were talking outside and the bulk of what we've written technically should be could be classified as science fiction right we're going to maybe we're on the wrong page yeah we will not quit on blonde but you know I actually I remember when we broke them down we realized that you can usually classify movies by whether it's a individual who's threatened a family unit that threatened a community that's threatened or the whole world is threatened and like certain movies you know disaster movies are always a community or a whole world thrillers more often than not tend to be about either a family or a surrogate family under threat but I know as a writer I find it really important to try to figure out what genre I'm in but for the sake of discussion it almost doesn't matter what you call it because we kind of know what we're talking about you know we know one can define an action movie but here's not what we just say is born identity and action movie or thriller because both things I could attach a movie for me but it's got thriller element know it so absolutely does for me it's animated I don't know yeah I don't know a lot of people think that see you do you approach this genre the the the amorphous action thriller genre different differently than you would another like a drama and and how what kind of German approach is there if you're writing an action movie let's say on assignment there's then a certain expectation that things are going to blow up but that you know the big events are going to happen so there's a you know I think jewels silver used to maybe still calls them whamming he does you know every every 10 minutes or something's got to blow up or has to be your car chase or something like that and there certainly were set pieces I guess they call them now how many set pieces does this film have and I've certainly been in many meetings at studios and said well how many set pieces are we talking about you know and what qualifies is a set piece and do we have enough big set pieces do you find that that's somehow valid that there does need to be a certain number of set pieces or action sequences in a in this kind of film and they have to be spaced at appropriate intervals or is that a too narrow way of looking at it I mean I don't think so but there is a there certainly is a code that you have to use when you're talking to the studios and you know certainly I mean I know what they're talking about but sometimes they'll say like well this he'll say this really is a set piece even though it's not but you tell them that it is and here's how and here's why and I think it they I they tend to approach things more so from a formula standpoint you know yeah but often it's interesting because I find that quite often there you know the understanding of what constitutes an action sequence or what constitutes a set piece what they really mean say is trailer moment what they really mean say is what are we going to put in the trailer that you know where's the moment where Angelina Jolie jumps on the train and leans backwards and goes through the station and it's interesting I talked to I met for the first time Zack Snyder last year and I was talking to him about his films just because particularly with with 300 there's things that people consider to be an action sequence or a set piece which is actually like a shot really it's just one really long slow-motion shot and he you know I hope I'm not giving away a secret but he said you know that's a big thing about the way he makes movies he feels there's this very outdated idea of what the audience expects but the truth is there's almost no car chase or gun fight that you can throw at an audience that feels new to them anymore so it's really about building two big moments and it's really more about having a certain pace to the movie in a certain rhythm and I think if you look at someone like James Cameron and look at any of his movies one of the things you'll note is that every single action sequence has these ramp ups then a stop where like the action stops literally Edward Furlong you know screeching to a stop on his moped and then turning slowly and in slow motion the thing comes over and then the action scene starts up again I really feel like the good filmmakers the really good filmmakers are kind of more looking for a rhythm to the movie and that's what people are trying to ask you to write when they say set pieces and everything else but I know in the x-men movies for example Bryan Singer didn't he would say I can't I can't think about action set-pieces I don't understand that I understand thrillers but I don't really understand you know I remember arguing with him saying let's put them over in on the motorcycle and have them do this that and the other and it'll be trailer will be him flying through the air with his claws out which you know is in the Wolverine trailer now but and he just said you know III don't I can't make a movie that way so interestingly enough we I mean this is a TV example but I'm not saying this is a negative because I actually think it was in some ways forward thinking but I'm involved in this new TV show and recently one what's a call and flash-forward now I'm not buying them I was just using this is me so I know I'm helping and and and the one of the executives higher up said you know we'd be interested as the scripts come in for the episodes if you would highlight the other the lines or you know the individual shots moments that you think are on TV you know promotional worthy and what's interesting about that that's the first time I've been asked as the creator to pick the moments which is cool and and that's what they should do and right so so because what this guy was saying and I think somewhat as stutely is he said that the promotional departments you know as they're cutting these pieces together might not necessarily as they see the scripts understand the significance of this moment as it comes down the pike so it's kind of cool moving forward we're identifying each episode and saying these five or six things are the ones that we think are kind of the standout moments you should you should build your campaign around these so I mean you were trying to L I mean III I don't personally I don't really approach the genre consciously like I don't know I've never written a drama I don't know why I don't just when I said to write for because I grew up loving action movies and those movies that I sort of dreamed about as a kid and dream about now that's what they're right I would imagine that the approach to a drama is some similar which is you start with a character in a situation you try to dramatize that situation and build the characters arc over the span of the movie and the articulation of different things of of different gear shifts over the span of the film is just a little different in a drama it's like somebody gets married or they fall in love or somebody dies or somebody gets cancer or there's different sort of plot points versus in film something explodes or they get chased or they get framed but the actual I think architecture of character-driven stories if you're writing a good action-adventure movie or a good drama is fundamentally pretty similar I think that's totally true and I think it it pops out at you and relief when you suddenly are writing a movie that doesn't have that architecture which time and I were just talking about movies you know that we've worked on rather coming up when you start to work on a movie like a disaster movie or something where the plot is happening on a macro level where you're constantly cutting around to different parts of the story you realize oh this isn't like a normal character driven story die hard you know I remember once having an argument or early in my career about whether die hard deserves to be called a b-movie and it's no more b-movie than any other movie Hollywood makes these days it's a movie about a guy he's got a problem with his wife and get stuck in a bad situation and you know the Fox Tower but um believe me there's a lot of jokes I could make there about Simon but I won't um because he's been stuck there no I'm just saying that that there is something when you start to get away from that kind of story you suddenly realize oh yeah that's what I've been doing this whole time is writing character-driven stories and now I'm not so this is the difference there I would say what cite one other difference significant difference primarily between something like drama or comedy and an action movie is that most of the time necessarily because it involves an action movie involves stunts and chases and things blowing up they're going to be more expensive and so the more expensive your project is to a certain extent there's a presupposition that it's got to reach the widest audience possible in order to you know reap the returns so again the presumption is it's got to appeal to the lowest common denominator I don't think that's necessarily the case but there is that you know there's more of a burden if you're making a 10 million dollar drama it you know it doesn't need to make back a hundred two hundred million dollars to earn back its morning but I think this like look at Dark Knight I'm sure you guys intercourse iMovie being like we have to appeal to lowest common denominator no no no not at all but we got that's it that the dark nineteen even Batman Begins was a very specific kind of the stars aligned in the right way I mean with respect to Batman the earlier iteration which was Batman or Robin they did sort of reach this or grossest excess of just I I would say like making an action movie you know you know try to buy paint by numbers and and there was this jury nullification with the franchise and seriously and people hated it and just it did poorly and in that case the franchise was so damaged by what had come before that Warner Brothers knew they knew they had to do something so dramatically different that they were I think it was only because of that bizarre circumstance that we were able to come in and and to say hey let's do the opposite let's make a real movie right but it still it still totally satisfies the needs of a giant budgeted action-adventure movie got it but it didn't we didn't we didn't approach it from we need to set Pete right that was purely what would Bruce Wayne do or not do and then on the second one we just got a free pass because of the first one right but I think that's true for Iron Man I think to some extent is true for Star Trek this summer you know it's I'm getting the approach when you sit down to write when we get notes the notes are often what are the set pieces what are the trailer moments and then you sort of jerry-rigged or expand sequences around the sort of a character shift or a moment or a scene maybe it wasn't as big but I think the approach when you sit down to write knowing your films and having worked with Zack is starting from character what would the character do there's no question in the best action films I think you really care about the character if you don't then you know it's just cotton candy but I will to be fair and since you know me and we have written together I definitely will come up with a set piece or a series of things that I think are going to be really cool and then try to figure out who should be in this movie you know I mean and and that's something that's very particularly when you know I always loved like the stuff you're told and you're in writing class like you know when you're particularly when you're in college or in high school but all the things you're not supposed to do and it's almost like a you know don't you have to believe in your characters and do this that and the other and for the most part that's true but there's plenty of times I mean on x-men too I remember thinking wouldn't it be cool if like someone shot some metal in guys butt and then magneto had to pull it out through his butt you know and it literally that's where it started and then the character twist of what mystique was doing and even where when next men three all that came out of a cool idea that I thought would be cool to put in and I'm just saying that that doesn't mean you know look if you don't come up with good characters you're going to be screwed anyway but for those of you who are aspiring writers I absolutely think sitting in your room and saying you know what I'd like to see I'd like to see a guy run up a wall and defy the laws of physics and flip over and shoot his gun and then jump up top that's a valid place to start in some way there's a lot more valid than a lot of other approaches you better come up with some good characters you better find a way to get into it but sometimes inspiration comes the opposite direction rather than through that that's all that's all I mean say you guys believe in the three-act structure and and use that as a tool or do you have a sequence approach or do you do just let it come more in a different way well I don't know I went to I went to traditional film school and was taught by Syd field so I certainly started off that way because that's I think especially when you're a beginning writer having that kind of structure or formula to adhere to to bump up against and it makes you a bit more rigorous and I think it can be helpful but I I've been writing over 20 years and I've certainly started to deviate from that and we decided on Batman Begins early on that it was a 4x structure and the Dark Knight was a 5 X truck mm-hmm and we just said who are you kidding you know it's these are and that's how we beat out the story or day it worked better there were three acts I don't know but I so I think that's it that's an example of you can't be too dogmatic but I you know there's a reason why the eros you know there's a reason why the three-act structure resonates with audiences because it's a it's a familiar rhythm mm-hmm you can say Aristotelian I know I started to pop I was like I was I was going seize every wonder sound everything it's not comic-con they don't know like the writers okay they won't know you're right I've said that before and people are kind of like oh yeah I'd like to talk a little bit about Jacques Lacan so it's okay it's a bit of us no all right sorry Ron I'd like to talk about the Andalusian dog okay well I actually think that first of all I think when people talk about the three act structure quite often it when they'd say three act structure they actually mean any act structure they're not really you know people talk about how a movie has to have three acts and even when you read like I've read some of these screenwriting books where they say it's got to have three X and then they just redefine Raiders Lost Ark so that instead of being six acts they have mini act climaxes or something and it's like this is ridiculous it's just semantics I have a feeling that these guys agree with me because I know but I've written I've read many of their scripts and I'm familiar with their work I think we're all pretty strong believers that you need to have the architecture in place for a story that there are absolutes in terms of if you don't have the architecture in place particularly these big blockbuster movies will fall in on themselves you can't when someone says to me you know and I've had this happen on big blockbuster movies like I don't we don't need to do that traditional Western storytelling where character goes from here to there and you're just like your movie is not going to work you can't do that you can't make a movie like that it unless you are a genius who has made fifty movies that have worked that way and you suddenly come up with a different way to thought it is I think exactly analogous to when you you know the thing here about Picasso you know didn't learn to paint by starting with cubism you know he knew what he was doing I think that people who say that you know story structure is you know it's ruining movies and you know Robert McKee destroys blah blah blah blah blah and Syd field doesn't he's talking about I think it's crazy I mean that sort of thing I think I think it's really important especially when you're starting out and I think if you start to get some work under your belt and you sort of more immediately understand storytelling then it's fair game to deviate right I think right come before and it becomes I think it becomes intuitive as opposed to intentional so you sit down and you just happen to think in acts structure like the grammar of studios is the three-act structure where they ask about where's this first dock break the second outbreak main action movies at least in my experience they want a big set piece at the end of the first act a bigger set pieces and at the second there's there there is a very specific structural grammar the way the studio's imagine movies partly because studio executives I think think in math more than they think in literature and when they approach screenplays and for me I actually use structure to make the process of writing screenplays less scary not necessarily because I think I would advocate this structure but when I sit down to write a script I actually break it down into eight sequences that are like 12 15 minutes long and revolve around some event in the middle of that sequence I'm not saying everyone or anyone needs to write that way for me personally it's a good habit and it just makes 120 pages less scary because I'm writing little blocks as opposed to on page five thinking I got a hundred and fifteen pages to go if you outline that what really regular is you outline yeah I couldn't sit down and just rip it on a blank piece of paper I would be paralyzed with fear so I try to do everything possible so the time I'm actually writing in screenplay form I've almost half a written script but again that's just from my own neuroses not necessarily because I think there's a Aristotelian principle to work it's just nobody do you think you smart Freudian yet principle I mean I absolutely outlined I usually have indicates of a feature I would at least a 20 page outline if not a thirty thirty-five page outline and and you know often quite often two-thirds the way through I'll find myself somewhat deviating from the outline because the characters will take on a life of their owner you'll get another idea but I think that and when I when I started out running I really resisted the outline and I understand why because the truth is the outline process is the most painful process because that's where you're actually figuring out how to get from A to B to C that's where I have to do the hard work it's really easy to write a first act you know without an outline because it's all setup and there's no consequences you don't have to pay up you don't have to say who this person is going to turn out to be or you just put all your really cool scenes in one act and and and everybody and I I fight the same urge you want to resist doing the outline just because it's so damn painful but if you if you if you start a script without an outline usually what happens is about 40 pages 50 pages in you kind of just spin out and get nowhere yeah what do you feel you need to accomplish in the first 15 or 20 pages of the script you know da I I think those kind of general rules are the things that I mean having planted my foot down as a strict structuralist I don't follow any rule like that and for example when people say there needs to be a big set piece at the end of Act one my response is actually maybe we shouldn't do a big set piece at the end of Act one because that's what everyone's used to a set in other words I think you've got to separate what are the rules that are inherent to storytelling like what you know what things you have to do your character has to change because if he doesn't something will feel wrong when the audience is watching it does your character have to jump through some plate glass at page 30 absolutely not does your first I climax have to happen at page 32 or whatever you know thing people cling to definitely not those are the parts of the rules you can break but you better have a first out climax and you better have a set-piece any better have those other elements and I remembered I you know I've gotten into this argument a lot of times with studio executives where I feel like and my wife Street executive you know I love her and I think there's some great studio executives very smart people should who are studio executives should spend more time trying to understand story structure and trying to understand what makes a movie work and less time trying to do the marketing departments job which by the way is more important than our job in a lot of ways I mean really is and god bless them and and usually they have a better sense of what's good in the movie than I do but I feel like that's where you get all confused where suddenly people are telling you well there's a rule that you got to have in the first 20 pages I need to know what my characters goal is in fact I had this said to me the other day and I said well like what is it in Star Wars they said his goal is to become a Jedi I was like not only means it's become a definite goal you know and and the problem is that's just a semantic debate about what the movie needs to Luke need to need something yes does it need to happen on page 15 no and no often you can have you can tell a story and struggling to come up with an example but I'm sure the audience can come up on many where the character needs something but it's not till the end of the movie that the character figures out what the character needs you know yeah yeah the character often starts out wanting something but what he wants turns out to be entirely different from what that character comes to realize that that yeah it's the irony of the whole you know you've heard people complain about proactive you know the big somewhere in like 1992 or something the word proactive entered our lexicon and became the most important word in the world it's interesting to me I've noticed how on so many movies I've worked on the note to make the character more active ends up in the exact opposite thing happening I don't want to pick on any specific movies I I think it's a big enough target say that there's a lot of that in the latest Indiana Jones movie where ironically the most active hero in the history of cinema is not actually he's being tossed around like a pinball the whole time and you start to realize that you know what maybe this plot isn't an active hero plot maybe this is a plot about a guy being yanked around from this way that way and in fact if he's too proactive it's going to ruin the movie you know there's really or Unforgiven with where he's right like not proactive till the very end exactly or resisting the thing with the ends up becoming that's the other guy find the most interesting characters are the ones who start by resisting the thing that they're going to come to embrace by the end of the movie it was sort of as we were talking about this at dinner tonight there's a very sort of articulated goal for the character in the first act of the movie first of all I know he's going to achieve it because I'm at a Hollywood movie so like in a weird way that suspense movie is gone and it also isn't really the way that human beings operate it's very rare that you think oh I want to grow in order to be a better husband you just sort of it happens because some trauma hits you or because something pathology where you evolve because of it not because you want to evolve right that was we were having a discussion and this might be interesting to those of you who are who are scribbling notes which by the way I think it's a really good sign seriously you know my friends used to make fun of me assignment a sign that what we're saying is relevant or not at all they're my most studious kind of saying I hope you're doing what I do which is I'm coming up with my own ideas based on what the person up there is saying all I'm saying is I used to do that my friends would mock me they'd be like what are you writing on your stupid eye when's it you know reverse Purple Rose of Cairo how's that going to be a movie and you know no I mean I just think it's a good habit honestly it's big notes but the thing I was going to say what time and I were talking about before what was the I've lost my train of thought not the intention being learning their intention of the spannabis oh right well it was about a plot that's aspirational as opposed to you know not setting something up at the beginning where your character wants to get something if in fact the kind of plot you need is a disaster plot again well that doesn't work can you know the ring in Lord of the Rings can't be a thing that everybody wants to get because the good guys hope to use it it's got to be something bad that needs to be destroyed so that the disaster doesn't happen if you change that if you made it what if they get the ring and it's all about you know look what we can do with the ring well that's going to your whole story is going to fall apart so well not so I would say by its nature than most disaster movies are going to be reactive yeah like a disasters happen we have to survive you know this is what I found from studying them all disaster movies I'm a messianic protagonist they all have a person who's walking around saying the sky is falling why didn't anyone else see it and then you know nobody ever listens to them that was just and I the other thing I realized was that all big monster movies are also disaster movies that basically a Godzilla movie has the exact same structure as you know twister or any other disaster movie twister is a really good example by the way of a it's really easy to see what's wrong with that movie it's got the stakes of like a thriller or some sort of other kind of movie stuffed into a disaster movie so like every time they try to tell you oh we got a beat Cary Elwes to that twister you're like huh what about the twister I mean forget about that guy what about the twister but that's also a very strange in the movie worked clearly but it's a very strange movie because they're chasing the disaster the whole time as opposed to being chased by it until the very end right well they're chasing the disaster and it is certain when you just like these guys are really stupid yeah okay you know well the tension doesn't work I mean I would argue because you're like will die you're driving into the center of the storms though and they keep having a manufacturer stakes for the movie to keep going and that's what that's when you know when you get that feeling like that's when you know there's something deeply wrong with the story structure that is not about the filmmaker and the shot choices or the actor that is story structure problem right there to me at least that you should write down what's the role of copy shop or comic relief is it you think about consciously as you approached movies oh this kind out speaking that for a sec because it's funny I worked in a comment a straight comedy for the first time not as opposed to gave it as opposed to not like an action comedy for the first time last year and it's a movie that's the sort of like common but it's like it's a movie with Tina Fey and Steve Carell called date night where they play a normal couple in the suburbs that goes out in the date night in New York City and like ends up in a murder mystery plot and it's a they're sort of trapped in an action movie and a lot of the comedy of the movie on that film is these ordinary people in this insane action context and in my experience on action movie a lot of the comedy comes from the inverse which is an action or superhero character in a mundane ordinary environment like Wolverine and a cat or in mr. mrs. Smith's assassins talking about the drapes it's the sort of radical juxtaposition between the ordinary and extraordinary and in comedy at least on this one experience its ordinary people in some insane world as opposed to insane people in our world so the comedy and will in the x-men movies to me is at least in those films is almost always these people have powers yeah I'll play as far I went to win against Barr sir in Batman yeah yes yeah but there's nobody on exist actually I don't think sonic is my I should think the joke is a really funny character in in a in Dark Knight and that's part of the charm in the movie to me is that like the moment where he puts the guy's pencil to the guy's head is a shocking moment but it's also laugh out loud funny my dad was definitely I mean those two movies we did not sit down and say we need some more jokes you know so we didn't work we did not worry about comedy with those two movies so but it you know you know there's comedy more so in the in the blade films just received from personal experience but I don't I don't think that the comedy is a necessary ingredient act in action I think it just depends on the sort of level of apparel you know or how naturalistic you're trying to play as a tone I mean there's so many different stones there's not a lot of comedy in the Bourne movies yeah but there is in diehard which you could almost say or likely is a weapon or even Terminator 2 which is a camera it's got a good dark sensor you know I think come I mean I've written a lot of straight comedies I realize in fact I came to funny because I sometimes Nollywood you get defined by I'm sorry everyone here has had this experience where you write one script and suddenly everyone says so that's what he does and I wrote a serial-killer script when I was 25 and I remember people saying to me have you ever written a comedy I was like how do we looked at him like that's all I write is comedies I wrote this one dark script but to me whenever you get into a place where you are trying to be funny or trying to inject comedy it's just deadly like it's what me you know what it's what killed Batman and Robin for sure like the horrible puns everything else I think you gotta and the funny thing is like you guys are we're all but I you know I won't comment myself but these guys are pretty funny and hopefully they'd say the same of me we are not add our group of guys the truth is that most of the guys who write you know mostly guys who I comedy are right there's really the inverse about our the funniest writers I know are usually the most miserable but I will tell you speaking speaking to you're trying to write I've been in situations where I mean I've I'm not generally known for comedy but there there are occasional and comedic things and some of the things I do but it's because the you know the opportunity presented itself like Batman Begins does it come in black that kind of thing but it wasn't like we were casting about for a joke there have been times in my career where I've been writing something where you know either with myself or you know writing with a partner or you know funny joke here in parentheses and then we never ended up coming up with anything funny because you can't come up with something funny that way it's got to evolved from the situation that's when they roundtable it and you get that ADR that's something that's such a mystery to me you know in a movie and you hear the off-screen joke it's like the cameras are pulling up in a way and you hear what is so clearly like Will Ferrell in an ADR session saying you know then I poop my pants and it and I love Bo Ferrell by the way I'm not I don't mean to pick on him but I find I never laugh at those ADR jokes I wonder why people keep no way they come out those usually come out after the preview screening that's gotten these you've gotten these cards that everyone fills out and they're like we need to move the humor bar up by 4% I remember one time early on at Universal in the executive he's no longer even in business game you know Winston said this skirt needs to be 23 percent of phoning area no I was like 23 not 27 majors like now 23 like he didn't even went given a chance to amend it he didn't know Minda and he was right I think there's so much I could ask but I want to give time to ask for the audience to ask questions so how do we do this we you we you we'd like you to ask a you know raise your hand and and then take a microphone before you start asking questions because we're taping this for posterity so we can charge the next group of people a lot of money right right there somebody give that man a microphone oh hey guys so I would pitching a film recently and I was comparing the distant action so I was comparing it to Variety ATAR and I was saying that they didn't good right and gladiator that you have this great story and then you have these huge fight scenes and when you get to the fight scenes the story stops and then there's a fight scene and then the story starts again and I was saying in in my version I need to have the story developed during the action see I thought that was a great idea and I went to start writing but I realize it's actually pretty hard and I'm wondering can you do that can you develop story during the set piece I mean yeah it is hard and they you know we were just struggling with that or something we were writing the other day which is can we inject these dramatic moments into the middle of a chase I mean I mean dramatic character moments in the middle of a chase and by its very nature it's hard I don't think it's impossible I first of all I think you're right I think you're exactly right about gladiator gladiators Deathwish set in Rome and those gladiator scenes are not actually intrinsic to the to the story I think if you watch a James Cameron movie you will see an excellent example of the moment that Arnold Schwarzenegger first picks up the kid is during an action scene the moment where you know you've I mean I could go on and on aliens is filled with them too he is a great example of every action scene if you took those action scenes out the movie wouldn't work I mean you'd be surprised we've worked on I mean I remember on x-men 3 we took an entire action set piece and moved it from in the middle of the movie to the end of the movie although it did end up serving a story purpose if you find that you can move things around that easily then you're clearly not doing a good enough job but there are people who can do it I think Cameron's the best and there's probably some others but you know watch more watch a lot of movies you'll see I would also say when you're writing or maybe after you write your drafts I don't know what whatever your process is pull out the action sequences look at them as separated from your from the rest of your script and look to see if the characters are evolving from sequence to sequence like they becoming more brave or they becoming more powerful they're becoming less are they becoming more scared like it's you can actually track whether or not the characters are different in each sequence and if they're not different in every sequence if Russell Krause is kicking different people's asses in every sequence then you're probably not structuring the Bark's of your characters properly and you're not using the action sequences to articulate that they're just interruptions a character like you say instead of expressions I'm literally on one of the first people I got to work with who was going to direct mr. Miss Smith was John Woo and if you look at his early movies and face off I think the way he thinks about action sequences is like I'm sure you've heard this musical sequences and musicals and it's musical sequence isn't an interruption it's just when almost the emotion of the character becomes so bombastic or so powerful that it has to sort of only express itself in song and dance and for him that's what action sequences are and if you look at his early films that that that's true the sequences are sort of an expression of where the character is emotionally um can I just I just think looking at sequences as separate from the rest of the film and as tracking some sort of evolving arc is really important otherwise you do end up with a movie where it's just a bunch of action and you better make the sequence is really really interesting visually or to solve it if you're redundant but the other thing I would say just a thought which is I think sometimes people have the assumption if I need to tell a story that it has to be through dialogue but it's a visual medium so you know you can convey a lot on the turn of a prop or you know in the midst of an action piece a photograph falls into someone's hand I just remembered that there was a film before that not that it was an action movie but before the devil knows you're dead where the whole last act turns on just you know Albert Finney getting his business car to the pawn shop that you know has to do with the Sun and I just thought that was just so cool just I've never seen so much effed up things happen as a result of an insert of just a single like he just realized oh my God my Sardis boy over here you know my son was responsible for my wife you know you know is that all right no but the point is the point is I think that's a that's not that's not an example of story in action but it's a really good example of just something visually just completely turning the whole movie on its head and you can have those kinds of things happening in the middle of an action move you don't necessarily or an action sequence have to stop for two pages of dialogue there may be a visual way to communicate what it is that you want to communicate I'll throw out another suggestion for movie to watch Last of the Mohicans Michael Mann's last the Mohicans the action sequences in that movie part of why they're so visceral is they're really well filmed but it's also that really key story moments are happening in the sequence like you as an audience know who the different players are and what they're trying to get and what they're trying to accomplish it you know Magua is trying to kill the Englishman's daughter and his wipe out his seed forever in every action scene it's just that some of the action scenes he doesn't quite get to do it so that's another good one to watch for well integrated action into a script why I would say Michael Mann in general is another of those are filmmakers that I think does it well all right although heat is a good example of hey let's stop the movie and fire our machine guns for an exhilarating 10 minutes of machine gun fire but it really is just I mean it's a understanding that you pick and choose you know some of his movies it's actually I think collateral probably has some pretty good examples of that too but not that you are totally right I just mean that but that is a good example of an action scene that's just there for action right here I had a question about character because I think a lot of times what's wrong with action film is that the character gets lost and I felt that about another action assume I just recently saw but I won't say but at the point it was one of us right it yeah Ellison is fine yeah well I'll say that I feel like like t2 because I mean I – nothing – transfers – I'm just I'm uh Kiev – yeah I can't say C – Nassif at any rate I do exist okay so what I mean I love the first one cuz of dellmore with a character and there's like you know the internet' is about a boy and his car in the second one I felt like there were just so many things just blowing up and then I was just like wait what's going on like and by the end you're like it's a robot heaven it knows it's weird stuff that was going on and I felt like they lost track of the character so what some of the techniques that you use to try to keep people connected to your characters especially since you're dealing with such a lot of time like superhero films are big action films the one up well I thought tf2 and and I don't have one – yes yes haven't seen it yet so pom well I would say about that movie is well I'm not even talk about to move it you just got to know what your characters want at every point in the film and when you lose track of that the audience doesn't want what the characters want anymore or their audience is just sort of watching things happen to your characters as objects rather than subjects and there's no identification is just like you're just watching you should explode that's close to a character that you cared about in a previous movie and I just think being really fastidious about where are my characters emotionally at every point in the film what do they want in this scene and I don't mean like want in a general huge philosophical way just know it can be from moment to moment what do they want what I want to get a drink I want to have sex with that girl it's like because it's always interesting it is an interesting exercise in every scene with the principal characters to figure out because that's where conflict comes from what do each of the characters want in the scene sometimes it's like what I want is just to not work a late shift or XYZ but in the case of tf2 also that's that's that in the film prior to that it's also kind of a unique situation because you're reverse-engineering a movie from toys and Hasbro also has you know a set of legal guidelines like you can do X with these characters but you can't do Y so that makes it you know particularly harder I mean we do we even and I'm sure on the x-men 2 and on the Batman films were reverse engineering from you know a set of guidelines but at least in in those situations we were adapting characters and not you know in other other literary forms that had pre-existed it's hard when you're I remember years ago being pushed hey you want to write transformers and look god bless Michael Bay and predict I couldn't I just was like I don't I have no idea how to do so it's interesting because I really hope nobody will quote me on this because I don't want to get a attack but um I think if you want a really good example of an action movie that screws up in terms of that totally backwards Pearl Harbor is a really good movie to watch and here's why when you're watching Pearl Harbor right there's these amazing sequences of shit blowing up left and right but why like what why are we watching that is it because I mean some points in that movie you sit back and say wait this is like a snuff movie I'm watching this like extended sequence of all these people I don't really know get killed and I know full well they're not going to survive there's not a lot of tension because there's a you know it's not like you think oh maybe they'll turn back the attack no it doesn't happen and and it goes on and on and on and it starts to make you realize it's almost like a postmodern action movie it's like let's take something that's inappropriate to make a bunch of cool exciting action for and then let's make an action movie about it and you know let's go to the POV of the bomb as it goes down why why are we in the POV of the box what are we trying to are we trying to make no diagram that was like that was the character where they figured out what the character want it right you know what by the way there might be a really great Michael Bay movie about that kind of embraces that where it's about the explosions it's about his technique is amazing I mean he's able to produce incredible I thought transformers the first one was his best movie you know I really thought about half that movie was really quite good no no I mean I by the way when I say I'm sorry half a movie being really good is amazing like I most the time none of the movie is really good it's hard to make a good movie as except for Avengers that's going to be a great movie why'd you say that for another reason sorry but anyway I'm just saying like that's a good example of action gone crazy where we have a trailer we know what we need to see we're going to blow some shit up but II going to be the wrong subject to make an action movie about I mean it but it's all I totally agree with all that but it's also about not creating a character whose peril or life you care about like Titanic's not that different than Pearl Harbor you know how that's going to end up you know that the vast majority of people are going to die there were some survivors from Pearl Harbor there were some survivors from Titanic but you know the vast majority of people ain't going to live if you create characters and a relationship that you are rooting for and you want to see survive despite the fact that you know you're in a movie where at least half the people are then you actually invest and Titanic well not a perfect movie not his best movie is obviously a movie they resonated with a lot of people and actually loved the movie right that's events it's creating suspense sequences where you're at the end you know sitting in the edge of your seat hoping your characters can survive not giant spectacle that you're supposed to think is key I would own inverted perspex re wellness is also an inverted person point of view which is like Titanic is not from the point of view of the iceberg right now but it's also I I would say because you were talking about disaster movies I would I would consider Titanic a disaster movie but just a particularly well-executed one in that regard because it's we're going to have this massive epic thing that we know historically happened but we're going to spend all this time investing in setting up the characters so that what you really care about when you see that movie really is just you know whether or not it was you know whether or not they'll hook up whether or not in and and all of the background is just spectacle but it works and you do feel bad when he floats off into the ocean or whatever be you know because you've spent all that time investing but also the spectacle is separating the characters from what they want I mean that's how this started is is you know what Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet won right and the ship turning over is fucking that up totally sorry pardon my french in Pearl Harbor not really I mean it's not it's like they want to live yeah but it's really more here's some characters and then everything gets blown up and here's the guys who are left when you're done you know and then they tell the story but anyway I do think that's what cam is a master of suspense and so even in his weakest movie I think you you have moments of suspense where the ship tilts and your hope and I hope you scrambled down there and finds rose so when you're writing your set pieces and all this action how detailed are you in the description are you doing you know shot-by-shot stuff you're doing the emotional stuff does it matter on what's important in it is it cool stuff blows up here there's I know it's not cool sub blows up here but I would I would say you guys will all speak to this but there's a difference between I at least I believe when you're writing an action sequence on spec and when you're writing it specifically for a director or on assignment and so I would argue that when you're writing something on spec the more detail and verisimilitude you can give that sequence the better because it because when you're writing something on spec you're you're writing a good movie but you're also writing something that's a good read and the more you know I always like to say that the more specificity that you can put in really into anything I mean drama but you know if there's you can take the time to do the research and action sequence it's not so much like the adjectives that you use there's a there's a I don't know it's apocryphal or not I I know that a lot of beginning writers tend to use a lot of adjectives and certainly I did myself and I remember where's the story that Hemingway gives them is early writing to Gertrude Stein and she said you know to mark up and could you sign just crossed out all the adjectives and gave it back to them and there but anyway the point is I think I think certainly specificity makes for a compelling read so if you're writing a spec be as specific as you can and that and that will seem more real because it will place you if you just say action scene here well there's when you're leaving it up you know people just can't really imagine what would possibly go there if you're working for a specific director that's a different kettle of fish which maybe you guys can I think it's tithing you're totally right it's entirely different if you're writing a movie that you know is sort of in production before you're even writing it or as you're writing it you understand the infrastructure of all the people who are going to contribute to creating action sequence although you've already gotten the job you have already gotten the job and and and and the script is not as much of a sales tool as it is a blueprint and their two sort of different things you know the second unit director and the storyboard artists and all these other people are going to contribute to the action sequence and you're actually more responsible for the drama the dialogue in the structure then for the specificity of the action but I do think when you're creating something from scratch also what's so important about the action sequences is use the sequences and the wording of the sequences to create tone like I think somebody whose scripts I love reading is Shane black and even like a bad movie like long kiss good night I love reading that script because he takes the time to be poetic and to sort of create a voice in his prose that helps define the overall tone of the movie however by the way I love having to love Shane black scripts to other than Last Action Hero but and one of the things cool explosion scene here absolutely he'll say what follow you know I remember when I first got to Hollywood reading sitting in the MPA library reading all Cheng's scripts which were two or three at that point and there's ends where it said okay studio exact hold on your wallet because this one's going to bust it open what followed and it was something like that it's like what follows is the most ass-kicking blah blah blah car chase you've ever seen since bullet but that's tone like that knows its own it is known and I and I think that was a I I read all those scripts too when they came up but I think that that was a particular kind of he was writing was he knew his audience right and and that was sort of like a one time I've seen people attempt to do that since then and you kind of roll your eyes well it's true you better be really careful but what I would say is there are times that people absolutely get away and sometimes it's valid sometimes there are times when I'm writing it where I feel like saying you know what happens here is everything gets thrown into a big action blender and depending on who the door is it either comes out good or bad I don't do that because it's good way to lose your job but but I do think that there are people look whatever makes your script entertaining and a good read whatever whatever works is what you should do one thing you definitely shouldn't do but I mean look this is a harsh reality of Hollywood I've watched it happen in my own house I've watched an executive read a script people tend to skip over the description which is it's really Pierce's my heart tend to read the dialogue they read the dialogue and God help you if you have a descriptive chunk that's more I remember hearing I mean Stephen D'Souza saying he never went more than eight line eight lines in it and I'd usually have three or four really oh I don't think I've ever had and turned on a while more than four and I of course being the stupid one no I mean normally I don't but I just wrote this Jason Argonaut script that literally has pages and pages where there's no dialogue which is to me did you break up the chunks though so not enough easier not enough I just a fighting page now no I know I didn't break it up enough and and the thing is I mean I don't I'd already had the job so it didn't matter as much but but I tried to write something you know I remember sitting there saying myself why am i breaking this up this seems so arbitrary like this is what's going to happen now you're breaking it up because as you well know from your wife that please right now for executives go home on the weekend you know and have to read 15 Toni scripts and they don't do it on Saturday and then Sunday comes around and I know I mean I've got kids and they've been I've got three hours I'm not saying that smart I'm just saying that's what I did and and and I think it's absolutely true and that that's what happens I mean it hit me when I was reading through the script again you know wow they must not have read any of these pages because there's no dialogue on them and you know it didn't you know eventually they did read it but that is something that's worth keeping in mind that that's what's going to happen they're going to take your script and they're going to glance through it and if it doesn't keep them totally entertained they're not going to read the description so you write in action scene don't write 10 pages that describe every kick and every punch unless you have a way to write every kick in every punch that blows people's minds the other side of that I would say with though is I think there's debt there's also yes yeah I absolutely really it needs to be entertaining but I the the other writer there a lot of when I was starting with Walter Hill who started out as a writer and then you know Walter we get the clap but no but Walter Hill if you go back and read the early Walter Hill scripts really early when he was purely writing they he writes with such an economy of word and the such brevity and and and and I think that's really impressive also to go through and I do this a lot is when I'm done I say well how can I say the same thing in as few words as possible and still communicate the same thing and I don't think that's just because detectives have short attention spans it's just better writing it's just better writing exactly yeah I mean if you can cut it you should get it I think is a good rule of thumb it's what's going to happen when they make the movie anyway but um I'm just saying it's a tricky thing you know a lot of fans they sit there and they want to write the action out I know I do you want to say you know what it's not going to be you know this kind of kick it's going to be a kick that I saw on YouTube that this guy did you know whatever that you just you know give them some storyboards with your script is better than right not I also think it's some one of the dangers of people salton one of mistakes people make is they're too literal about the action too so it's close on this and every bead of the action and like for me my favorite action line I've ever written a red thread rather I wish had written it was in Butch and Sundance the the scene where Butch fights Logan whose take wants to take over his crew and he kicks him in the balls the way that William Goldman describes it is he says he delivers the most exquisite kick in the balls in cinema history and just the use of the word exquisite would kick of the balls it's fucking is great I mean tells you everything about again the tone it's fun it also somehow feels like weirdly ironic and brutal and like he didn't describe he takes three steps he pulls back his leg he swings through the air it's just one sentence that tells you everything you need to know about that moment that you know I am thinking of though and in the rewrite William Goldman did of Last Action Hero no no I'm just thinking because it's so fill it's so laced with the irony that it needs to be said because William Goldman was hired I was a big fan of Shane Black and he was hired to rewrite me to my chagrin and then Shane Black is have even bigger fan William Goldman who was hired to rewrite him which made him upset but he wrote a line where it said it's a scene where the kid is operating a crane which you know is never in the original script and it you know in the original draft says you know Danny operates the crane blah blah blah and Goldman's drafted said Danny operates the crane in this moment he goes from being a boy to being a man and I me and my writing partner saying that's why they pay me the big bucks hey you know I want to see the actor who's going to pull that one off so but you know wait for the mic I want to yeah it doesn't matter they can both do it I want to know how it informs the writing when you know who the actor is going to be in advance it can inform it a lot I mean I I personally prefer not to I like to write my characters you know as a blank slate also because I've been through so many experiences where you write it a certain way you know you write it for you know person X and you get person B you know you know and and and half the time the person you get isn't even who you could have ever imagined it's just they were hot you know suddenly it's a whatever you know Will Ferrell movie instead of a Sylvester Stallone movie that kind of thing happens all the time or you end up changing the sexes because you know so I tend to try to write write I try I try to make the the character specificity through the action and I'm sorry through the through the dialog and through there actions and nuances it's I think it's harder when you're writing for a certain person I know most of the times I've written for a certain person they've ended up not doing it anyway and then you end up kind of having to change everything I don't know you guys aim for me I can't if I'm writing something that's an original character or if it's a Sherlock Holmes but that character you haven't seen but movie tipping are dumb I don't imagine an actor because it is constricting it the one time we all have to imagine the actor is when we're writing sequels and in that case actually I don't imagine the actor I imagine the character so I'm sure you imagine that man and not the Bruce Wayne and not Kristen Dale doesn't simpie know I like to write the actor I guess I'm different from these guys I mean first of all time and I both talked about this I particularly like to write free and McKellen and Patrick Stewart because you pretty much can write anything and they're going to make it sound better but usually that's true with anyone who's English yeah it's true no but those guys are particularly it is true that it just sounds your question was much more eloquent than everybody else's but like I've written a couple of parts now for Verner Herzog he's I have his voice in my head I can write for him I have a blast doing it I mean we I've done some improv movies you know I have kind of a different perspective on this for up to me like when I get the chance to make my big science fiction epic my plan is to let the actors improvise a lot more of the dialogue than you would ever see happening on an x-men movie because that's kind of the dial that's a dialogue I like the dialogue it sounds and improvised but um I love it when you have a voice that you can write to it just makes and to be fair it might just be sure laziness that it's just it really is easier for me when I know what the voices in my head but you definitely can run into huge trouble if you try to write to someone who's got a particular voice and it's clear that that's what you're doing to the reader one of the things that people seem to hate like if you if you say you know he's a Robert DeNiro type character unless you are you know Tony Gilroy or someone you know or whoever the hottest person in Hollywood is people will get very angry at you so don't do that but I think whatever gets you to the church on time I mean like if it helps you to write for an actor do it okay I got the microphone still I'm going to charge forward Hey Oh what you guys think that there's a major difference in like writing supernatural thrillers versus like horror movies azar the difference in later they are you trying to articulate the difference between a supernatural thriller movie and a horror like okay cycle are you flashing your powers like versus horror film is a psychological well to me okay what's the question but he's saying is it you're saying is there difference between a psychological film and a horror film or a supernatural thriller and horror film either one is there a major differences between like when is a thriller cross and the horror as a result the Jacob's Ladder what I mean I I would one given it gets scary right what you know but it thriller is I don't know that's it that's a good I to me supernatural is different than thriller because supernatural means you can have things that wouldn't happen in nature so so there's there's definitely a difference there I mean I think I don't know what's the difference between a psychological thriller and horror I think that is for the other panel I mean no I mean I think it's a valid question but I think you've got to pay for that panel yeah isn't there a horror panel that's come in there is no story that's available right answers there are there you know I think is a very interesting question what makes a horror film is a fascinating question and horror films are some of the most reliable and you know horror and science fiction I think the two best bhishan rows in terms of reliably turning out actually good movies that do well but I don't know what makes the different I you know there's a lot of people have written well on it and I'm not one of them I mean I look but for me I guess is like there's a difference between I suspense and horror and I think suspense is the anticipation of horror and and you can have great suspense movies you know from Hitchcock you know to all sorts of examples where where the front of it comes from just just this mounting dread and I can think of a lot of good I guess or films that were more that I tend to like those more words about the mounting dread where you're just you're worried at every moment that something is going to come out of the shadows and then you know the camera is lingering and I mean I'm just taking a stab at this I have no idea it's good but it's like the but the horror i think is when the suspense is over and it's happened and it's happening and sometimes the graphic descriptive depiction of violence that happens by surprise prices you know it's interesting is dawn in the dead a horror movie I say no I say that's an action movie particularly the remake but even the original one it's gory and it's got lots of brains and stuff but it has the feel of an action movie in a lot of ways but again that's for another week I had a question about agents had one since January great guy like my specs in at around town got into joel pitchers company Phil Silvers company and and we actually he pitched me a remake project so we went through it got excited come with the right idea and now things have kind of calmed down and I guess my question is have Yetta how would you pick directly as to get them to kind of really dump you and get you out there and because I feel frustrated right now it was like we had this momentum and now it's kind of we feel you're fresh yeah I mean since we've been there every I think every writer of every caliber as has been through that and it's you know it's it's hard because at the end of the day it's they've got a million other clients and they're just there they're just by and large just flinging things against the wall to see what sticks and they are not here I don't know if I speak for these guys did you think in your mind's eye I'm gonna come to Hollywood or if you already live here I'm going to get an agent and that person is going to go out and do shit for and believe and they're going to get and they're going to get any jobs they're going to go get the jobs and they're going to bring them to me it does not happen now it is not the way it works now occasionally if you get to be really successful some of that happens but for the most part you got to make your own career yeah I would say 90% of all even you know from the beginning and on the day of the projects that I get involved in and I do happen to like my future agent but 90% of them I generate myself or they're from yeah I mean I guess we were saying they're from relationships that you've right or our lives already tell us your frustration it honestly is something you're going to need to learn to deal with because I'm saying that feeling you have right now is going to exist for your entire career in and if you can learn to deal with it and live with it and are also a really good writer you will be successful and if you can't you will implode I mean but the other thing is don't just not let don't just wait for the phone to ring get out there make your own connections make your own I mean I mean it's like dating I mean you know she ain't gone it's over you know move on but out and I think and you have to keep dating meaning like you have to keep writing don't wait for that project to come through like you wrote one spec that people like write another one you know keep trying to generate grow and work and hope that your agent gets you something but assume that actually you're going to have to keep generating your own work they will generate interest in you I also have a really really cynical attitude towards this whole thing which is that even when things are going well I sort of subscribed in the model that maybe every five or six years even things are going well you should leave your agent have you known that gets yes because familiarity breeds contempt it does and there's always this honeymoon period when you go to new agent and so you know if you if you leave every five years you get another you've changed age another humming on every night ABL always be leaving totally you know there is a very compelling argument that I've heard and I'm not I've never been friends with my agents which III I think personally is a mistake yeah I mean I don't I can't you know I was with an agent for sixteen years but and then fired him but I do think I think it's Steven Soderbergh who doesn't have an agent right and just perpetually everybody is trying to sign him and I think that's true and and in general that's what you're going to get out of an agent is the aspiration with the other agents who are trying to sign you might do some shit for you but your agent just your job is to impress him as harsh as that sounds that's just it's a necessary look he'll be in your face it all ultimately if he thinks come Christmas bonus time he or she is going to get a big bonus based on something you sold or did I mean every once in a while there's there are people that will see see a talent and really nurture them and but I think that's a rarity yeah I think that's even rare with agents and managers to just by the nature of their business and also more often up along into a larger infrastructure where they're also dealing with the corporate culture of their own that's didn't some weird way separate from their ability to agent your work it's just their ability to exist politically and personally inside their systems yes later Bob at the end of the year it's like well how much business did you book okay well your bonus is based on that what we're giving this person is going to be a partner instead be price just don't get angry at them seriously I try to separate yourself from it that's just you know don't don't get passive-aggressive about it just say okay didn't work out got to get a new job this guy you don't assume he's going to go fix the problems he's not going to be able to all right right here sweet this is going to be a question about concept the action films that I love at heart are all character dramas mr. mrs. Smith which is a story about a marriage and yeah and how well you know your spouse yeah born which is the universal question who am i man on fire just love story and avenging the death of someone you love but I'm curious about if you could talk specifically about mr. and mrs. Smith since those other writers aren't here and also is just how you develop that idea because how you went from sort of simple or I'm not sure where you started but just you know what makes it action is that they're assassins I mean but underneath that is this very simple story so the development of an idea that's big enough to contain you know an action film as opposed to being a small character drama we're not yeah I mean I think the first of all thank you for being kind about the movie um I think if Woody Allen came up with the idea it would have been a character that would you know dramedy if somebody else came up with the eighth Robert Benton came up with the idea would've been a drama I'm an action writer I was at dinner with a friend who was in marriage therapy she started talking about the process of marriage therapy with her husband the way she was talking about it she said that their therapist had given them a five stage process that they had to accomplish which was I think initiate interact communicate compromise and adapt and I thought that was the best spine for a relationship drama I'd ever heard before and I saw good that that's already interesting to me and then the more she talked about it she was saying things like their therapist that they had to be laser-focused on each other and and had to block out the rest and literally she was like anding me the idea for a movie and and and so I thought that was interesting and I don't know how to write Kramer vs Kramer ordinary people so I went home and wrote a scene of two people in marriage there that night and wrote escena two people in marriage therapy who are assassins and aren't talking about that so it came from a place of thinking well this is sort of an interesting dynamic in this girl's life I I'm curious about relationships I'm so fascinated by marriages that go wrong more than right just because it's more interesting in its conflict and I thought it'd be a cool idea to make a movie that was about secrets and lies in a marriage but those secrets happen to be that they're killers that's how it evolved I was handed the idea in some ways I was handed the structure in some ways we're making the movie and this is one thing that you find in terms of what they were saying of inside of each scene knowing what the characters want the actors will ask you that or they'll ask the director they need to know in each moment in each beat of dialogue what they want otherwise it's dead-on he's in the same way that you have an intention behind all your actions and when we're making the movie every day on set even if we were she was jumping off a rooftop or you know they were punching each other in the face they would ask what is this about in our marriage what is this about in the relationship and sometimes I bullshit answer and sometimes more often than not I did have an answer because I structured it around their their relationship and so they kept me honest in terms of it being a really character centered story but that's where it came from and I guess I would say the only lesson of that other than I don't know you should be friends with my friend who was married survey is the ideas for action movies can come from the most random places like I don't know what the genital I guess die hard is based on a book but the genesis for that idea could have just been a guys in a bad marriage his job is getting in the way the marriage wouldn't it be ironic if his job ends up bringing them together and solving the marriage and if you're an action writer he becomes a cop or spy or a superhero instead of you know I don't know Dustin Hoffman camera screen I thought I saw back there right no right in the middle there okay thank you hi I guess I'm wondering in today's financial climate from the level that you know we're all that in here if we're about to start writing a new spec are we smarter to write something big you know write something at the level the size that you guys are making are they going to hire us with if we don't have a whole list of credits or are we smarter to do something the size of moon or momento something that Lionsgate will make something that's smart and filled with action if you find out you got it yeah me and tell me see I would argue as a beginning writer at the end of the day if if everybody wants a good script and the script can speak for itself so while yes people like us will tend more jobs because we've got the track record or whatnot every year they're still going to be X amount of scripts they're gonna come across the transom from total newbies that are just really good and how you know the spec market has cooled down a little bit right now because I think the suitors are looking to double down and and base things on pre-existing properties but that said you know it's all cyclical and you know it's want the nice thing about the script is it can speak for itself it's already written it's not like you're you know a new director that has yet to make it so I mean honestly I would argue I I think it's a mistake maybe these guys are disagree with me to try to write to the market yes I think you're right to it yeah I think you should write what you want to write and I mean look at look what happened with Juno you know or The Hangover is going to make 200 million dollars I can give you really I mean I feel like I can give you some really constructive advice in my kid my in my 18 or 19 years in Hollywood I've helped a number of people get their start as screenwriters and the people who had the quickest and easiest path where my friend who wrote a script called fish-out-of-water which was about it was said 500 million years ago in the primordial ooze it was about a fish named Darwin that wanted to be the first fish on land it was basically the right stuff about prehistoric fish here's why animated script it was eight pages long quicker read second of all when that studio executive was reading the samples that weekend they'd pick up my turgid serial killer thriller or whatever and then they got to this crazy script about a fish you know wanting to be out of land that guy got a lot of meetings out of it um my friend Mark is very successful writer Mike White was an early writing partner mine the scripts that he wrote that he tried to be commercial with nobody cared about the script Chuck and buck which if you've seen it is a weird weird movie really grabbed people the truth is it's a shorter path to write the thing that you feel like writing no matter how personal or unusual it is that is a better route in than trying to write to market there are absolutely examples of people who have written to the market there's people who've made a shitload of money that way but you know unless we knew you personally and there were some reason why that was the right thing to do in general writing Being John Malkovich is the single best thing you could do for your career no matter what yeah I think the truth is that there are plant there are enough solid writers in Hollywood that know how to write a functional conventional movie who are getting paid right now that's not what Hollywood is in need of and that's not the way you're going to break in the way you're going to break in is to have something that's remarkable that somebody's going to remark on that's unique it's an original voice and even if that thing doesn't sell it I don't know why it was not about selling yeah my first script that got me started right working was the script than ever they got option for a hundred dollars and sits on the shelf and will forever but it would it was a movie about grave robbers in nineteenth-century New York running around with a dead body in a bag for the whole film but it was weird enough and specific enough and different enough that it got me every meeting that yielded me an age and a manager the first gigs I worked on with producers relationship with studio executives I still have its that it's a voice that's different from the five other specs they're reading that all want to be transformers to specificity right but also passion I mean it's at the end of the day he's absolutely right I mean they're there and you hear about them there in the ether sometimes these scripts will come out sometimes they'll get bought sometimes they won't get bought but they but people like them because they were fresh and they had a unique voice and they wrote people in and take definitely I'm a mom I you know like things like whether it was Hot Tub Time Machine you know which my wife's friend just bought or you know there's all these weird scripts that get bought but I also think this is really important I mean I don't know what stage you are in your career you are not writing a script at that if you're at the beginning stage you're not writing a movie you're not writing a script to even be made into a movie you're not even writing a script to sell you are writing a script in the same way you would write a college essay or anything else you are trying to get your foot in the door with piece of your writing if your writing gets you an agent mission accomplished it turns into a movie you just hit the lottery and and once you get an agent your goal still is not to write a movie your goal is to write something that gets you more work you do that mission accomplished you got you know a lot of people try to think you know they they outsmart themselves or like well wait what it was probably would going to want to see what are people buying etc you're just trying to get your face in the room by the way just so you know to make all of you feel better I can tell you from having an inside track on this at the same time that we all have an advantage because we have a track record we Hollywood doesn't want to keep paying people like us they really don't yet know definitely I've been in those situations were like oh these two expenses right and also I don't think they believe I genuinely think the people in this room after this discussion probably believe more that we could deliver these and script up on this ten then a lot of the people we work for because it is there the tendency is to think do we really need to pay those guys that much couldn't we find someone who knows what they're doing was cheaper and and again familiarity breeds contempt right they hate us no I know but but it is really true people there's been a big retraction the the strike left people very angry you know there's no question salaries were inflated people are looking for people for younger writers who were cheaper beginning writers who then also pay a fortune to if you can step up and write something good they're going to be psyched as hell to hire you and and that's been I think that's more true right now and it's ever been well while I've been in Hollywood that's sad there's less job so it's also it's a bummer budgets trail and writers that they can treat even more contemptuously yeah well I don't think that's our goal thank you yes hi two of mine discussing your research techniques a little bit because what you guys are running are kind of outside the average guy's experience I believe in lot a lot just personally in research and and I reached a point I don't know over a dozen years ago or so where I started employing I mean I do research myself but I started employing people due to research as well and I'm thinking about this or that that said I mean sometimes I still write from my own experience I mean Bruce Wayne went to Bhutan because I'd been the Tibet and that's that's how that happened you know and and that that temple that he went to is based on one that I went to but obviously I didn't ride around in a Batmobile or other things but but I did you know anymore anymore but I did although I did ride in the Batmobile once the tumbler but but but what we also did was I mean they say write what you know but obviously in our instances a lot of times you can't know that but you can meet people that know that and so you know I did a lot of research in that instance with DARPA you know sort of cutting edge technologies that they were coming up because I was interested in you know what are what are the technologies that the Defense Department is developing you know long range over the next 10 or 20 years and so I would posit oh that's really interesting and probably more interesting than something I could have come up with on my own anyway so I spend a lot of time talking to those guys for instance and talking to people at MIT in the you know Media Lab and other things like that I mean I think I really believe in research and I try in the initial stage again I can't speak for these guys but I try to do I have a stage where I do research where I try not to come up with the story yet I want it to be as enjoyed as possible and not sort of in just and I just just kind of dump everything that's interesting into this big pot if I'm writing something historical I just I try not to get the story first do the research first get kind of a basic understanding of it then do the story and then as the story starts to tell itself then you can get more specific for the research and oh I need to know more about this or that I'm totally the same Angra them and you say I think the best for me research is just immersing yourself in the world and it's the less targeted you are with your research initially the more I think you'll get inspired because you're not going to be frustrated you're now going to be ignoring things that are outside of the narrow target I do the same thing I spend at least I mean depends on the script obviously depends on if I'm coming in for two weeks of a production polish but it's I'm really going to write a script from scratch or take a script over and own it for a good amount of time I'll spend at least a month or so just living in research online meeting people I also someone that does research for me and it's incredibly important for the authenticity of the script and I think authenticity is critical in these films otherwise they feel kind of flimsy and it you know it's you did another kind of research as well when you're adapting something like our comic books that we all adapt or my I'd work on Sherlock Holmes last year and so I you want to immerse yourself in every piece of literature around Batman or x-men or Sherlock oh you want to know that that text as well as possible I totally agree thought I mean I just wrote this Jason the Argonauts script I spent I think two years researching Greek mythology and reading tons of shit about it and also had people I hired just another thing to think about just because I think these guys summed up everything on that subject that I would say also watching movies and reading other stories that are similar once you do have the story Pet definitely don't do that at the beginning when you don't quite know what you're going to do I look I'm totally with you that you want that period partly just for peace of mind of saying I'm not going to even allow myself to come up with the story because it gives you a break but you can actually read all day instead of having to you know stare at your computer screen all day but also consider what kind of story research can I do you know I'm writing The Avengers movie right now I mean or will be soon and I'm thinking what movies can i watch that would be relevant to this because you know what that's kind of fun to watch movies all day and when you have a reason to do it it's better then you know taking out the trash or something that's what else I'd be doing so I really try to find what are the story precedents for what I want to do and how much time can i waste doing that and and get an odd thing to add to that which we ended up doing I don't know if you guys ended up doing this in with us on x-men but we ended up doing it with Batman Begins specifically because I went to Vegas but yeah because we were trying to you know do something different I guess then what had come before we ended up doing all this proactive research for the studio because you know when we turn in the script we knew they're gonna like whoa you know he's not in a costume for 54 minutes and all this stuff so we did we did all this research on the big super spider-man the previous Batman films Superman so we had somebody figure out in all those movies at what minute do they first get in the costume also in all those movies in total percentage time we broken down to how much are they in the costume versus and we did it so that I mean I know it sounds funny but we did so that when we went into the studio we could say well actually you know in these four movies he's in the costume 43 percent of the time and Bruce Wayne's in the costume 54 years right I'll give you a statistic that's you can use should you ever be in any meeting anywhere which is however many minutes Anthony Hopkins is in Silence of the Lambs he's like I think he's in it like nine minutes total screen time something like that you can look it up online that's a really good kind of research to do because when you're in an argument about like how many pages you know whether it's the villain doesn't they have to be well actually Anthony Hopkins was only in this movie I had this much I know it sounds yeah it but it's this proactive research it's really interesting to know because because they do talk math and formula you know and it and it and it kind of freaks them out and scared and the other thing that you this is why they hate us but the other thing on him the other thing you can do every once in a while is a remember James Cameron talked about you know his movies feel so real and that that even the things that aren't real he tries to give it the praise he coined was the veneer of authenticity and if you can sort of make it sound real and I've definitely had situations where I've had you know executives say is this really real and I say totally and it's not you know but because every once in a while you can't come up with some kind of precedent and you say totally I got I downloaded this paper from MIT and like and one time I even the guy was like show me so I gave him this like 12 page paper which I knew would never read but then it was like wow that's cool you know that's I mean I was told I wrote a script called suspect zero which I've never seen the movie of but one of the things that I came across you know I went to Quantico and I did all this research about serial crime and this was in 93 so as before it was every TV show and movie was about it and I came across this thing called episodic violent behavior disorder which is a chromosomal disorder that's in a lot of serial killers that they found and it has linked attributes and the linked attributes I believe were an elongation of the nipples and of the other toes and so like a lot of murders and rapists people like Richard Speck and whatever had this quality and for the script I knew I couldn't do something with the nipples but I did sign with the elongated middle finger that basically there's a test that the character does where if a person's if the fingers are certain length it's almost like the mark of the vampire now what I found time I just thought that's so cool I got to use it and I just made it the middle finger and I found out after that I guess it was Spielberg or one of the guy one of the partners at DreamWorks had read the script and went around checking all of his kids hands to see if the fingers were longer and and but that's a good example of there's no question that's what got me work I mean that's what made my career was that script and and probably that little detail alone so it's kind of like David said it's total I mean I think in every subsequent meeting I said that's absolutely true it's not on engagement and fingers I don't even remember I don't I think I made that part up but but it's based in truth and I never would have come across it if I hadn't done all that ridiculous research so I mostly just wanted to tell that story you've been very patient back there thank you well well right here anybody okay just I wanted to ask you all what are your feelings about backstory and informing character how important is it and what's the best way to use it – well I think it's incredibly important I think it's something you need to know I don't think it's something you need to be explicit about in the script I think a mistake that a lot of screenwriters make and I think especially screeners really less experienced tend to over explain backstory they tend to have monologues about backstory it should inform the behavior of the character it shouldn't actually be a monologue in the middle of the movie about when their mother died but I for me I do a lot of exercises before I start writing a script we're all but I don't write little biographies but I'll try to write little scene let's or scenes like the first time they had sex or the first time they fell in love or when they parent died or sort of seminal moments in their life that will never literally be in the script that maybe if I get far enough and lucky enough to survive through the production process I'll show an actor but it's just it's to me it's the same as research in researching the people in the same way that we were talking about researching the world you have to be as from there like you know a lot of personal stories about I don't notice for sure but probably your mom or your girlfriend or your wife and ultimately you want to be as intimate as possible with your characters and you can only know that through their history then that said and I most of you guys at least if you're in the beginning stages of career won't get away with this but every once in a while it's incredibly refreshing to have a character come on screen in a movie and not have a backstory and you don't you don't I mean it's just character through action which is you see more often I think in films in the late 60s early 70s I mean I loved character through action where you just you pick up things about them but but purely by by inference how they behave and not by articulating you know they were child molesters know that I totally agree with it I'm saying they're actually the only way that you can understand the only way you can for me the only way I can know that behavior is through understanding their history and who they've been that I will never want to be explicit about in the script I actually think any time you're explicit about their history the script should be in present tense it shouldn't be in past tense the script bogs down and RAM I got a disagree with time and I don't like it when the characters give a big speech about their backstory I just no but seriously I think the the curse of mistaking backstory for character is something that makes me want to shoot people it's just you know someone telling you what happened to them has no impact on what you you know it's it's one of the most frustrating things and people make entire careers I mean I'm constantly sent scripts where the person is made their entire career on writing that kind of dialogue that's a story about themselves that reveal something it's you know whatever a actors sometimes like stuff like that you know they were they want to remember working on a movie with an actor who wrote he said he wanted to add a little thing to the scene I said sure and he gave me like two pages and was it this is an action summer movie and it's like two-page monologue about his parents I was like okay so I say avoid avoid unlike Simon you really should try not to put that stuff in your sweater but also and you will Studios will often try to shoehorn that crap in code and it's and it's horrible and you're just going like oh my god because it's an easy thing to think of it feels like that's not like that's not how the in real life we don't go around often telling people are back stats what I tried to tell him yeah right but he's just a bleeding-heart who just know that's what he likes to use his neuroses know every stranger I don't know why he hints us on the backs no but in real life I mean obviously we have things should have been that that thing that happened with you should I tell that summary but the other thing is not only in real life do people not often go around spewing their backstories but but often in real life most people don't know why they're doing what they're doing they're not they're not they haven't been to seven years of therapy they haven't sort of figured out what their rosebud is most people are just operating they have known operating based on their unconscious right you guys are just lazy you

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